1 Project management methodologies: overview and definitions

Learning Outcomes

  • Assess what constitutes project management methodologies.
  • Determine the importance of methodologies in project management.
  • Contextualise the various types of methodologies.

What exactly are methodologies in project management?

Methodologies for project management are a series of distinct processes that have been developed to offer assistance to project managers and team members. There are various definitions of a project management methodology but they all have the same grounding: it is a set of procedures, concepts, and regulations for managing a project to a successful end.

We would like to define it as: a collection of guiding principles and procedures for managing a project.

Project management methodologies describe the way we operate and communicate while managing projects. Methodologies are collections of guiding ideas and procedures that can be used to plan, manage, and execute projects. These methods of managing work are focused entirely on determining the most effective way to begin, plan, and carry out tasks. However, as a project manager, remember that your choice of approach for managing projects will impact how work is prioritised and how it is carried out.

When it comes to project management, using these methodologies serves 2 purposes: first, it expedites the completion of the duties associated with the project, and second, it provides solutions for dealing with problems as they appear. In addressing these two main purposes, the methodologies also guide the team through the entire project and provide them with steps to take and goals to work towards, while aiming to achieve the successful completion of the project.


Why use a project management methodology?

One of the most important objectives of a methodology is to standardise, structure, and organise the many methods within which the work is performed. This helps us to integrate all initiatives in the same way while offering us the capacity to reproduce successful components of the project. Well-adopted methodologies will also help us to learn from our previous errors, and ultimately lead us into a process of continuous improvement. Therefore, using a methodology can be a very helpful tool for developing project efficiency.

  • Using a methodology in project management offers the opportunity for project managers to:
  • better organise project life cycles
  • adopt specific tools that allow for a precise time and cost estimation
  • oversee and mitigate risks associated with the project
  • improve the cost-benefit analysis of the project resources in a pragmatic way
  • develop the team capabilities and competencies

In terms of resources, a methodology may help to speed up the learning curve of the project team, as it provides a well-established framework and structure for executing the project. When it is used in complex projects, methodologies can be adjusted and updated to be more in line with the individual working style of the team members as well as the strategic direction of the organisation. If a project manager selects a methodology that is acceptable and standardised, it is quite possible to improve the work performance while simultaneously lowering the need for extra resources to accommodate any changes triggered by the complexities of the project.

There is no doubt that the project team benefits from having access to a set of standards – a methodology that assists them to initiate and manage specific projects to a successful closure. Consequently, an effective methodology should have clear and transparent definitions, guidelines, and sample processes for the numerous project management activities that must be accomplished to execute successful projects. A project management methodology establishes a common basis for all the organisation’s activities. But most importantly, it establishes the grounds for success.

Project management methodologies offer the perfect planning framework to support the project throughout its life cycle. However, before attempting to implement a certain methodology style, it is necessary to have a thorough understanding of its benefits. Different project types require different management approaches. As a project manager, if you do not have a complete understanding of the benefits, you will be unable to maximise these effectively. Every methodology can be thought of as a reference framework, some of which are better suited to specific circumstances than others. Having the right methodology is critical. The right methodology adoption and implementation will assist project managers to lower or mitigate potential risks, prevent unnecessary duplication of tasks and activities, and eventually boost the overall outcome of the project. A methodology is a form of control mechanism that will enable and potentially ensure that the project closure is reached in the most efficient and effective way. Organisations that use a methodology in a disciplined, well-managed, and consistent manner will gain a competitive advantage and achieve consistent project success.

Figure 1. Project management methodologies support areas, by Carmen Reaiche and Samantha Papavasiliou, licensed under CC BY (Attribution) 4.0

Some of the benefits of having a project management methodology are shown above in Figure 1. But there are five significant advantages to using a project management methodology that we would like to focus on.

Advantage 1: Communication flow

When the project team members adhere to the same method, the communication channels and inclusive language become standardised. Because organisations often have many projects going at once, communication might become quite challenging. Having clear communication channels enables interaction and integration between various projects managers, allows team members and stakeholders to integrate their views, and helps sponsors to make decisions that are consistently sound and based on accessible information. Organisations should prioritise communication as an important goal and having a good methodology can support this goal.

Advantage 2: Control management

When project managers implement and run the right methodology, they are better equipped to monitor how the project and their management initiatives are progressing. A methodology provides a control system that enables project managers to monitor what is working well and what isn’t and determine whether objectives are meeting their maximum potential.

Methodologies are control management systems. When applied correctly, these systems act as governance tools that can guarantee that everything that is going on in the project life cycle can be easily identified, and that governance decisions are transparent and on time. In fact, project governance and monitoring make up a considerable portion of the components that comprise a project management methodology. They pave the way for project activities to progress in a manner that is not only organised but also easy to comprehend and communicate.

Advantage 3: Global competence

Tendering can be a complex process and in the globalised arena in which we live today it can be especially challenging for businesses to win contractual projects. The tendering process asks an organisation to respond to a formal request for the supply of goods, services and/or projects. Adhering to a consistent process can help an organisation win external contracts. In project management, there are a lot of bids that demand the use of specific methodologies. For example, in the engineering field there are many bids that list PRINCE2 as a prerequisite. In the public sector, tendering will require the application of Agile tools. Even if your role as project manager doesn’t require you to be involved in tendering or to participate in the bidding process of a contractual project, adopting a methodology (of any kind) is an essential component of good project management. It serves as a safeguard against everything that could possibly go wrong with projects and helps us to get back on track.

Advantage 4: Providing support during uncertain times

Methodologies can also assist project managers with overcoming the unknowns and uncertainties that are an inherent part of project management. With the support of procedures such as end-of-phase and gate reviews, it is possible for projects to transition from one stage to the next in a controlled and effective way. Without the proper control tools and methodology, many project managers would find it difficult to manage a project and access the information they need.

According to the literature (see, for example, Betts and Landsley 1995; Charvat 2003; Bondarenko 2017), the methodology capability of assisting with organising and structuring information is one of the main reasons why methodologies are important, particularly to project managers new to the trade. They provide supportive mechanisms that ensure that a project manager sticks to all the set protocols, follows the relevant processes, and obtains the required authorisations when required. These mechanisms are particularly useful and relevant in the face of uncertain events, ensuring that project managers do all the required tasks at the appropriate times. If project managers don’t have access to a set structure or guide, or lack instructions that might assist them, then they may be forced to access more management support to avoid managing their projects to failure.

Advantage 5: Mapping processes to success

Project managers with any level of expertise may benefit from methodologies that display a degree of flexibility as they provide the required level of support to aid efficiency and facilitate the project manager’s work. Methodologies can be very regimented, which means that they do not provide a great deal of room for deviations. To some project managers, this could be a disadvantage as it can restrict creativity. However, a well-structured methodology is more likely to guarantee successful project completion. Distinctions between the steps of the process can enable users to divide tasks more quickly and minimise errors that would otherwise be impossible to manage. Because of a methodology’s rigidity, project managers are required to pay meticulous attention to each stage, which in turn results in an automatically improved, controlled approach to the final outcome of the project.


From a practitioner’s perspective we could extend the list of advantages presented above; however, it is also important to highlight some of the disadvantages that are prevalent when a project management methodology is adopted. The advantages of having a methodology are very encouraging, but there is some research that suggests that methodologies provide no value to projects (see, for example, Bondarenko et al. 2018; Perrin 2018). The lack of value is seen in scenarios where project managers are experts in the field of the project, have extensive expertise in managing complex large projects, and have a clear understanding of the organisation’s strategy. Methodologies have been proven to be effective in situations where they replace and/or complement project managers who lack the necessary expertise and skills, and this has generated a misconception that it is the only value they bring to projects. However, we should acknowledge that, when it comes to mid-level, experienced project managers who have an average amount of experience and accountability, there is also a point in the middle of managing a project, where the benefits of using a methodology begin to diminish.

Another disadvantage that we have seen is the disconnection that sometimes exists between what project managers believe to be of value for the project and what the organisation believes to be beneficial on a strategic level. Therefore, it is critical to establish a good communication system between all stakeholders and have everyone on the same level of understanding when implementing a methodology.

Methods aren’t flawless, but they do offer a lot of benefits to the individual project manager as well as the organisation. There are many different routes that can be taken to successfully implement a methodology and complete a project. The best and most popular approaches, strategies, and frameworks are always evolving so we cannot suggest a single example for you to adopt. Behind any successfully completed project is a plethora of different strategies, methodologies, and procedures. In fact, you will most likely have the opportunity to make use of more than one of them during your project management career.

In this book, we will discuss some of the key methodologies, as well as specific components of these methodologies, that you may apply in practice in order to successfully deliver projects to completion. Table 1 lists some of these key project management methodologies and provides a brief explanation of the techniques that will be covered in the next modules.

Table 1. Project management methodologies groups, by Carmen Reaiche and Samantha Papavasiliou, licensed under CC BY (Attribution) 4.0

The uncertainty methodologies
Event Chain Methodology (ECM): analysing uncertainty models and optimising schedules
Extreme Project Management (XPM): managing stakeholders and eliminating uncertainty via efficient collaboration
The process-based methodologies
PRINCE2: 7 principles, 7 themes, 7 processes
Lean Project Management: maximum efficiency, minimum waste
Six Sigma: improvement by eliminating defects/bugs
Lean Six Sigma: no waste + zero defects
The traditional, sequential methodologies
Waterfall: do task A first, then task B, then task C
Critical Path Method: string dependent tasks together from start to finish
Critical Chain Project Management: reserve resources for the most critical tasks
The agile family
Scrum: sprints, clearing out roadblocks
Kanban: tasks made visual in lanes
Extreme Programming: short work sprints, frequent iterations, constant collaboration
Adaptive Project Framework: using Requirements Breakdown Structure (RBS) to define project goals, stakeholders can change scope at each sprint
Other methodologies
PRiSM: managing projects the eco-friendly way
Benefits Realisation: delivering the benefits the customer expects
Soft systems methodology
A system approach integrating all parts of the project situation to problem-solve with a holistic approach.

In sum, the various methodologies, strategies, and frameworks available to project managers are also useful to others. Figure 2 below shows a few guidelines for adopting a new methodology, but keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all framework. As discussed earlier, the whole team working on the project will benefit from these as they will need a tool to help them gain a solid grasp of the project objectives and maximise the project’s and organisation’s resources. The right methodology will help the team achieve these. Irrespective of the methodology option you select, the processes embedded under each methodology will ensure that the rest of the project requirements and procedures are carried out without a glitch. Keep in mind that there is no such thing as a standard organisation strategy, typical project or team members – each of these are unique to the environment in which they and the project operates and resides. Therefore, each methodology must be understood and applied accordingly. Keep in mind that it is also possible that you will not find success using a methodology or an approach that has been successful for someone else. Because of this, we highly recommend that you try multiple methodologies and forecast in which way you might use these effectively for each of your unique projects.

Figure 2. A project management methodology roadmap adoption, by Carmen Reaiche and Samantha Papavasiliou, licensed under CC BY (Attribution) 4.0

methodology roadmap

Test your knowledge

Key Takeaways

  • As a project manager, aim to establish a productive culture for project management which will enable you and your team to employ a project management methodology in an efficient manner.
  • Enhance the abilities of your project team members and provide them with a comprehensive understanding as well as a stable basis so that they may effectively manage their projects.
  • A methodology should facilitate the clarification of goals and the scope of the project by integrating the organisation’s strategy and best practices of all project management group processes.

Betts M and Lansley P (1995) ‘International Journal of Project Management: a review of the first ten years’, International Journal of Project Management, 13(4):207–217.

Bondarenko S (2017) ‘Synergetic management as a management technology of enterprise innovative development’, Journal of Applied Management and Investments, 6(4): 223–230.

Bondarenko S, Lagodienko V, Sedikova I and Kalaman O (2018) ‘Application of project analysis software in project management in the pre-investment phase’, Journal of Mechanical Engineering and Technology, 9(13):676–684.

Charvat J (2003) Project management methodologies: selecting, implementing and supporting methodologies and processes for projects, John Wiley & Sons.

Perrin JM (2018) ‘The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry: the disadvantages of project management’, Project Management in the Library Workplace (Advances in Library Administration and Organization, Vol. 38), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, 71–88.


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Management Methods for Complex Projects Copyright © 2022 by Carmen Reaiche and Samantha Papavasiliou is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.