Kanban. Waterfall. Scrum. Project management methodologies can sound foreign to newcomers (and often like their own language), especially when there are so many options to choose from.
While someone could try to convince you that a specific methodology is the best way to manage projects, the truth is that it entirely depends on your needs and the needs of your team. There is no single magic bullet solution to “solve” project management.
With that said, let’s demystify the five most-used project management methodologies. One of these might be the perfect solution to better manage your work in 2020!
Have you ever used post-it notes to track a project visually, or tried out Trello?
You may have been dipping your toes into the Kanban methodology without even realizing it!
Kanban is a visual project management methodology in which each task is represented as a “card.” Each card is then placed in an organizational column, usually to reflect its current status — think “to-do,” “in progress,” and “done”.
Pros and cons of Kanban
- Flexible and adaptable
- Easy to implement, even with low tech (all you need are post-it notes and a wall)
- Provides transparency on task progress
- Difficult to track complex and long-term projects
- Not ideal for hard-coded deadlines (no calendar function)
What is Kanban best used for?
Because of its visual nature, Kanban works best with smaller, flexible projects that don’t require too much iteration for each task.
Does your project seamlessly flow from ‘To-do’ to ‘Doing’ to ‘Done’? Do your priorities tend to change on the fly? If so, consider giving Kanban a try.
Unlike Kanban, Scrum is much more structured in its rules. At its center lies five values: commitment, courage, focus, openness, and respect. This methodology is one of the many approaches to Agile management, which we’ll cover below.
Within Scrum, your team works in “sprints,” which are cyclical periods of work with one main goal. A team is made up of:
- The Scrum master: This person ensures the Scrum methodology is understood, followed, and respected by the team.
- Product owner: the central stakeholder (or representative of stakeholders) for the product in development.
- Development team: the people who create and deliver the product.
Pros and cons of Scrum
- Complex tasks and projects can be broken into smaller chunks
- Supports a fast-paced workflow with a high level of focus
- The team can manage itself and set its own priorities
- Not flexible since in Scrum every team member should be crucial to whatever project they’re working on
- While Scrum often lasts in increments of two weeks or a month, it’s cyclical in nature. Teams move from one task to the next one. This doesn’t leave much time for reflection or lend itself to long0term planning.
What is Scrum best used for?
Scrum is perfect for iterative development projects, especially with teams who are experienced, disciplined, and motivated. If you have a large project with a small but mighty team, this one may be for you.
Agile is arguably more of a framework — or a mindset — than a methodology. Some teams will use Scrum or Kanban methodologies as a means of executing Agile development.
Still, Agile needs to be in the conversation as it’s extremely popular in software development circles. This methodology values prototypes over documentation, evolving solutions over concrete plans, and the collaboration of cross-functional teams.
The goal of Agile, as the name suggests, is to stay ‘agile’ to support the constant evolution of software development. Many teams find success by transitioning from traditional to Agile project management.
Pros and cons of Agile
- Extremely flexible and adaptable, making it perfect for creative projects
- Smaller incremental changes mean lower risks
- Requires close collaboration from several departments and depends on fast communication, which can be a problem in some organizations
- Lack of one concrete plan, which can make management difficult
What is Agile best used for?
Agile methodology works great when you want to prioritize a working prototype, don’t have a fixed project end date, and need to adapt to changes quickly.
If project planning isn’t your team’s strong suit, but you’re pretty good at collaboration and know-how to communicate effectively, Agile can work for you. Be sure to brush up on all the Agile lingo if you haven’t already!
Waterfall is much older than the other project management methodologies on this list and is very much linear. As the name suggests, all progress in your project flows in a single direction.
When your current project phase is completed, you and your team can move onto the next phase. The phases and their orders are all determined in advance and cannot be moved around.
With Waterfall, documentation is key! If someone leaves the team, their replacement should be able to read up on the docs and start exactly where the other left off.
Gantt charts are one example of the waterfall methodology that you’ll frequently encounter in project management.
Pros and cons of Waterfall
- Reliable and predictable
- Can accommodate large and long-term projects
- Good for tracking tasks with dependencies
- No flexibility, even in the early stages of your project
- Quite a bit of time must be spent keeping documentation up to date
What is Waterfall best used for?
If you have hard-coded deadlines for large projects, or repeated initiatives that have become predictable, Waterfall can help you keep all the required tasks in a single view and drive you towards your deadline.
In Lean methodology, the main goal is to give high value to the stakeholder and continually make more responsible decisions in the creation process.
This methodology is often used in reference to resources and actually originated in the manufacturing world. But Lean can help any type of business boost innovation by reducing your consumption of resources, finding more efficient ways to eliminate waste, and improving your processes.
At its core, Lean is all about continuous improvement and putting the customer first.
Just like Scrum, Lean is often used in conjunction with Agile methodology, as the projects are iterative.
Pros and cons of Lean
- Helps you and your team increase overall productivity by decreasing the amount of wasted human resources
- Emphasizes a reduction in project budgets
- Is a great method when it comes to identifying your biggest problems
- Your entire team needs to be highly committed, and if they are not, this methodology can fall apart
- Lean’s emphasis on constant change may be difficult on your team
- There is little room left for error when so much focus is placed on streamlining the process
What is Lean best used for?
If you are working on a project with small teams in a relatively short time frame, Lean could work for you. This tends to work well for startups, too. If you are working on a complex project, you can use Lean to streamline and cut down the complexity of the project, or skip this methodology for the time being.
So which project management methodologies are best for you?
If you’re still not sure, here are a few questions you can ask yourself before picking one methodology:
- How complex will your project be?
- How many people are on your team?
- What is your team’s biggest strength? Communication? Organization?
- How much change do you anticipate on your project?
- How firm are your deadlines?
No matter which project management methodology you choose, keep in mind that you will need some project management skills to make it work. No methodology can magically solve your problems, but these supportive structures provide a foundation on which your team can build success.