A businesswoman standing in an office.

The Ultimate Handbook on Project Management Methodologies for Leaders

by Elite Staff

Project management methodologies serve as roadmaps guiding teams smoothly from project kickoff to successful completion. As dynamic technologies and business needs shape faster, more collaborative workflows, implementing the right project management methodology differentiates between a disjointed scramble and an expertly choreographed achievement. Once relegated to IT and engineering, project management now spans every function. Deloitte’s 2022 Global CIO Survey found that 78% of organizations have adopted agile project management, with 42% planning to scale agile methodology usage.

This growth spotlights the multiplying options for managing initiatives of any size and industry. While no universal formula exists, PMPs can pull from a toolkit of popular project management methodologies to custom-fit solutions. This guide will decode today’s go-to methodologies—from venerated classics like Waterfall and Critical Path to the mainstay Agile project management framework Scrum. Weighing strengths and limitations equips leaders to strategically blend techniques for optimized workflows. Whether launching products, expanding offices, or improving services, understanding available methodologies as a project manager paves the way for maximizing quality, innovation, and bottom-line impact. Let’s explore the project management methodology landscape and spark ideas for elevating your next mission-critical endeavor from chaotic to seamless.

Waterfall methodology

Of all project management methodologies, the Waterfall method is perhaps the most linear project management method in its approach—true to its name, work flows steadily downward through a predefined sequence of phases. Waterfall project management was first developed in the 1970s for managing software development projects, its systematic, step-by-step approach, guided by a project manager, quickly expanded beyond tech to be applied across sectors like manufacturing, construction, and product development that rely on highly structured workflows.

In the Waterfall project management framework, projects proceed through five key phases:

Waterfall method requirements gathering

This initial stage, led by the project manager, focuses on comprehensively defining the project scope and parameters. Detailed requirements documentation is created, clearly outlining project deliverables, exact specifications and features needed in the final deliverable, project budget and costs, deadlines, and quantifiable success metrics.

Waterfall model design

With requirements fully specified by the project team, the technical design is mapped out to meet those predefined needs. Engineers or architects create detailed technical specifications, plans, and schematics showing exactly how the product or service will be built.


With the Waterfall approach, the actual hands-on building and development of the product or service is based strictly on the approved technical design. Coders, construction crews, or assembly line workers bring the specifications to life.

Waterfall methodology testing

In this quality control phase, the completed product or service undergoes rigorous validation testing to ensure it fully meets all specifications and requirements outlined in the original documentation. Bugs are fixed, and changes are implemented until it is passed by the project team.


Once launched, the Waterfall model includes an ongoing maintenance phase focused on upkeep, support, and incremental improvements to enhance performance, user experience, and value.

Progress flows linearly through these phases, with strict boundaries between each stage—work cannot proceed downstream until each phase is 100% complete, reviewed, and formally approved. This upfront planning and requirements gathering aims to reduce missteps and mid-project changes down the line, while stage gates provide essential quality control to ensure the final output aligns seamlessly with the project teams initial vision.


A highly regimented sequence improves organization and accountability. With detailed requirements, predefined, time and cost estimates can be highly accurate. Comprehensive documentation at each step ensures continuity if changing team members.


No flexibility to significantly change course or backtrack once a phase is complete. Unforeseen needs or shifting priorities require redoing some or all of the previous upstream phases—an expensive prospect. Due to siloed stages, Waterfall is slow to respond to evolving needs.

In summary, Waterfall maximizes success when project requirements, budget, technology, and specifications are locked down upfront. Its rigorous sequencing safeguards quality control and costs predictability for fixed-price contracts with unambiguous deliverables. It works for hardware projects with built-in testing, like medical devices and giant construction initiatives, where every piece must seamlessly integrate.

For software development, Waterfall excels on projects using stable, familiar tools and technologies, with no ambiguity around required features—for example, a payment processing company updating its financial platform to comply with new industry regulations. Its inflexibility becomes far riskier when end-user needs are unclear, emerging technologies are involved, or innovation is a main goal. Waterfall brings disciplined order and accountability across business sectors and project types when properly applied to well-defined undertakings.

Agile methodology

In contrast to Waterfall’s single development project life cycle, the Agile project management methodology employs an iterative, incremental Agile approach with continuous feedback loops from project stakeholders. Rather than complete long sequential phases, Agile breaks work into smaller, manageable chunks. These increments are executed in repeated cycles versus one long process.

Requirements evolve through close collaboration between self-organizing, cross-functional teams and key stakeholders. There is less emphasis on extensive upfront planning and more focus on adapting quickly based on user feedback.

Work is broken into short development cycles, or “sprints” lasting 1-4 weeks. The team plans, builds, tests, and reviews a product increment in each sprint before cycling again. They start small, delivering the simplest viable product version at first. Based on user inputs, more features or enhancements are added incrementally over successive iterations.

This cyclic process allows continuous refinement and improvement as information surfaces. Features can be added, altered, or dropped rapidly in response to market feedback and emerging needs. Agile accepts change as the norm rather than the exception. The team and product adapt incrementally based on empirical data, not predefined processes.


Embraces change throughout projects, allowing continuous improvement and refinement. Faster ROI with more frequent releases incorporating real user feedback. Customers get working software earlier, fueling faster adjustments.


Scope creep can lead to budget/timeline overruns without proper boundaries. A lack of upfront planning can impede large projects. Requires frequent involvement and quick decision-making from business leaders.

Agile shines when requirements are unclear upfront and will evolve over time. It provides the flexibility to adapt and experiment for innovative endeavors with many unknowns. Agile drives transparency, accountability, and velocity by continually inspecting work and adapting based on findings.

Some examples of initiatives well-suited for Agile:

  • Software development, to release functional build early during the software development life cycle and improve via user feedback
  • Marketing campaigns, optimizing through rapid testing and analytics
  • Product design, utilizing prototyping sprints and customer co-creation
  • Business transformation, making incremental changes based on empirical results

Several frameworks provide concrete processes to implement Agile values:

  • Scrum uses fixed-length sprints, daily standups, small cross-functional teams, and role definitions like Scrum Master.
  • Kanban focuses on visualizing workflow on a board and limiting work-in-progress.
  • Lean drives out waste to deliver maximum value with optimal flow.

Skilled Agile practitioners thoughtfully blend elements of these frameworks to custom-fit their team and project context versus following one specific methodology. While Agile provides adaptability and speed, it requires expertise to steer toward completion amidst constant change. Incorporating Agile thinking introduces flexibility to capitalize on opportunities and satisfy users, complementing more linear methods.

Scrum methodology

Among Agile frameworks, the Scrum methodology stands out for enabling teams to deliver complex projects at speed iteratively. Its structured Agile framework rituals foster tight collaboration, continuous feedback, and collective accountability in meeting sprint goals.

Scrum projects progress in a series of fixed-length sprints, typically 2-4 weeks long. Before each sprint, the team forecasts functionality that can be delivered within the timeframe based on priority features from the backlog. The Scrum team then works in a timeboxed iteration to build a potentially releasable increment aligned with the sprint goal.

Daily 15-minute standup meetings, called “scrums,” are a core Scrum event. In these status checks, each team member shares the following:

  • What I accomplished since yesterday
  • What I plan to complete by tomorrow
  • Any impediments blocking my progress

These quick daily synchronizations expose obstacles early so the Scrum Master can promptly remove barriers and keep the team on track to complete the sprint commitment.

Two key roles guide the Scrum project lifecycle:

  • Product Owner: Responsible for maximizing business value; they manage the backlog and prioritize upcoming features for the team to work on.
  • Scrum Master: The team coach facilitates events, guides the process, resolves issues, and promotes high performance.

At the sprint end, the team conducts a sprint review meeting to demonstrate the new functionality to stakeholders and gather feedback to shape upcoming priorities. The sprint retrospective offers time to discuss achievements, best practices, and areas for improvement as a team.


Thorough continuous delivery and feedback, faster ROI, and adaptability compared to Waterfall. Daily cooperation and visibility of blockers.


Significant involvement is needed from business leaders to actively attend events, set priorities, and provide rapid input. Daily standups consume team time.

The Scrum Agile method thrives in software development and new product initiatives with fluid requirements. Its short cycles enable continuous refinement while keeping teams focused on predictable deliverables versus sprawling scope. The structured rituals establish cadence and accountability without stifling creativity.

Examples where Scrum delivers results:

  • Software engineering, to ship high-quality product increments
  • Mobile app development, iterating based on user analytics
  • Marketing campaign management, optimizing based on results
  • New healthcare product launch, pivoting based on clinical feedback

For projects with evolving goals and stakeholders eager to steer outcomes actively, Scrum’s empiricism, feedback loops, and collective ownership enable teams to thrive amidst uncertainty. This Agile framework keeps initiatives on track and stakeholders satisfied by embracing change.

Kanban methodology

Kanban is a visual project management methodology that Toyota originally developed in the 1940s to optimize manufacturing processes. The word “kanban” literally translates to “visual signal” or “card” in Japanese. Kanban visualizes workflow by limiting work-in-progress (WIP) and displaying tasks on a Kanban board.

The Kanban board is the central tool used in the Kanban method. The board consists of columns that represent the various stages of a process. For example, common columns are “To Do,” “In Progress,” and “Done.” Each task or work item is visually represented on the board using cards or sticky notes moved from left to right across the columns as work is completed.

Limiting WIP is a core practice in Kanban. By limiting the number of items allowed in each column, Kanban ensures that new work isn’t started until capacity becomes available. This prevents team members from becoming overburdened by too many parallel tasks. Studies show that multitasking leads to slower output and more mistakes—a problem that Kanban solves.


  • Visualization of workflow and status—The Kanban board provides an at-a-glance view of what work needs to be done and who is doing it.
  • Improved focus – Limiting WIP minimizes context switching and distraction, allowing for greater focus.
  • Enhanced efficiency – By smoothing workflow, Kanban can reduce lead and cycle times.
  • Better collaboration – The transparency of the Kanban board enables collaboration across team members and departments.
  • Increased agility – Kanban supports continuous delivery and responding to change. New items can be added to the backlog at any time.


  • It isn’t well-suited for projects with complex processes that don’t follow a simple linear flow. The single Kanban board can become unwieldy.
  • Resource allocation isn’t very visible or optimized since Kanban focuses on the workflow.
  • There is less emphasis on planning and forecasting compared to other methods.
  • Team members must diligently update the boards for Kanban to be effective.

Kanban works best in contexts where visualization and focus are important, such as:

  • Software development – Kanban originated in software development and is widely used by agile teams today.
  • Operations and production – Manufacturing, logistics, and other operations can optimize flow.
  • Marketing and creative – Designers, writers, and marketers can visualize workflows.
  • IT and support – Organizing IT workflows and triaging requests.

So, in summary, Kanban leverages visual boards, WIP limits, and continuous delivery to provide an agile way to smooth and optimize workflow. While it has limitations for complex projects, its focus on visualization and efficiency makes it a versatile methodology for various teams.

Critical Path method

The critical path method (CPM) is a project management technique for scheduling tasks based on dependencies and determining the shortest possible duration for a project. Developed in the 1950s, CPM aims to identify the sequence of dependent tasks that ultimately dictate the timeframe of the project.

CPM starts by identifying all the tasks and milestones needed to complete a project. Next, the duration of each task is estimated. Tasks are then linked together based on dependencies. Certain tasks must be completed before others can begin. These interdependencies create a sequence of tasks from project start to finish.

Once all tasks are defined and networked together, the critical path emerges. The critical path is the longest continuous sequence of dependent tasks determining the project’s earliest completion date. If a task on the critical path is delayed, the entire project will be delayed. Therefore, the critical path highlights which tasks are “critical” and require close monitoring and management.

The optimal project schedule can be produced after determining task durations and identifying the critical path. The critical path methodology enables project managers to establish time estimates and deadlines. It also helps coordinate resources and budgets.


  • Helps develop realistic schedules and delivery dates
  • Identifies tasks that can’t be delayed without impacting the timeline
  • Allows project managers to focus resources on critical path tasks
  • Enables tracking project progress and measuring delays
  • Determines how much scheduling flexibility (float) exists for non-critical tasks


  • Difficult to determine accurate task duration estimates
  • Complex networks of interdependent tasks can be hard to manage
  • Static and doesn’t account for unexpected changes
  • Not useful for managing continuous processes

CPM works well for projects with clearly defined tasks that have set precedents and dependencies. Examples include:

  • Construction and engineering – Building requires set sequencing of tasks
  • Product development – New products progress through defined stages
  • Event planning – Conferences and events require meticulous coordination
  • Software implementation – IT projects often follow strict roadmaps

In summary, the critical path method models the sequencing of project activities based on task dependencies. Identifying the critical path tasks allows project timelines to be compressed and resources optimized. However, its static nature provides less flexibility for dynamic projects. Overall, CPM is an important scheduling technique for projects with interdependent steps and defined milestones.

Hybrid methodologies

While Waterfall and Agile are often positioned as opposing approaches, many teams successfully combine these two methodologies into a hybrid project management methodology. A hybrid methodology aims to get the best of both worlds by blending Waterfall’s structure and planning with Agile’s flexibility and collaboration.

A hybrid approach typically involves utilizing Waterfall techniques such as requirements gathering, scoping, and planning during the initial phases of a project. This gives the team clear direction and definition around goals, timelines, budgets, and deliverables early on. However, once development begins, the team transitions into using more Agile processes, including sprints, daily standups, continuous integration, and frequent stakeholder demos.


  • Structure combined with flexibility – The early Waterfall planning activities give the project definition and clarity, while Agile processes allow the team to adapt to changing needs later on.
  • Leverages strengths of both frameworks – Hybrid combines the useful aspects of Waterfall and Agile while minimizing their weaknesses. For example, Waterfall’s defined requirements prevent scope creep, but Agile’s sprints add velocity.
  • Gradual transition – For teams accustomed to traditional Waterfall, introducing some Agile practices over time can be easier than going full Agile immediately. It allows for incremental culture change.
  • Appeals to diverse preferences – Some team members may strongly prefer the plan-driven nature of Waterfall, while others thrive under Agile’s flexibility. Hybrid accommodates both mindsets.
  • Predictability with adaptability – The business gets the predictability of defined specifications, while the team benefits from being able to inspect and adapt when needed.


  • Mismatched processes – The documentation-heavy planning of Waterfall may feel out of sync with Agile’s collaborative delivery style.
  • Added complexity – Having aspects of multiple methodologies makes project management inherently more convoluted.
  • Lack of clarity – Team members may be confused about whether to follow Waterfall or Agile practices at a given moment.
  • Inefficient hand-offs – Transition points between Waterfall and Agile phases can create productivity lulls and misalignment.

Overall, hybrid project management methods tend to work best in these situations:

  • High-level requirements are known, but details will emerge – Waterfall offers direction, while Agile supports discovery.
  • Initial planning is mandatory – Waterfall allows for scoping, budgeting, etc., before starting Agile.
  • The team is new to Agile – Waterfall provides familiarity when first introducing Agile concepts.
  • Compliance demands documentation – Waterfall upfront plans satisfy governance needs.
  • Large, multi-phase projects – Waterfall plans the big picture while Agile accelerates delivery.

While certainly not a perfect solution, hybrid project management can allow organizations to improve upon the shortcomings of established methods like Waterfall and Agile. With careful implementation, hybrids offer a flexible middle ground that fits the needs of many modern IT and software development teams.

Choosing a project management methodology

With so many project management methodologies to choose from, it can be challenging to determine which approach is the right fit for your team and project. Rather than sticking rigidly to one methodology, modern project managers must remain flexible and open-minded to find the best model for each initiative. Here are some key factors to consider when devising project management strategies:

Team Dynamics – Consider your team’s size, skill sets, location, and experience level. Lightweight, agile methods often work well for relatively small, nimble teams. More traditional approaches like Waterfall provide the needed structure for large, complex teams. Also, assess whether your team prefers rigid planning or thrives on collaboration and fluidity.

Organizational Culture – What are the norms and values of your organization? Startup cultures tend to embrace agile techniques, while bureaucratic enterprises often prefer traditional techniques. Also, consider leadership’s preferences and appetite for change vs. structure.

Industry – Look at what project methodologies are commonly used in your industry. For example, manufacturing frequently uses Six Sigma, while software development relies on agile techniques. Let your industry norms guide your methodology selection.

Project Type – Clearly define your project goals, deliverables, timeline, budget, and success metrics. Consider if requirements are fixed or will evolve, as well as risk factors. This context will indicate whether traditional or agile methods are more appropriate.

Compliance Factors – Determine if strict documentation and planning are required, such as for regulatory compliance. More flexible agile methods may carry more risk than Waterfall in these cases.

Client Expectations – Understand what project management style your client expects. Show clients multiple options if unsure of what project management frameworks would work best. Educate them on tradeoffs between predictability and flexibility.

In practice, no methodology is one-size-fits-all. Striking the right balance requires assessing all of these factors. Be willing to customize your approach and use certain techniques from different methods rather than force-fitting a rigid framework.

For example, for a marketing website redesign, you may gather business requirements using Waterfall techniques, turn those into user stories using agile backlogs, and then develop iteratively in sprints. Such a hybrid model provides the needed structure while still allowing for flexibility.

Similarly, balance is required even within different project management methodologies. For example, agile teams can still have high-level plans and roadmaps. And Waterfall projects can build in contingency buffers for when requirements change. Avoid dogmatic adherence to the “rules” of any given method.

The reality is that today’s dynamic business environment requires project management approaches that blend structure, collaboration, adaptability, and visibility in the right measures for each project. Rather than wearing methodology blinders, keep an open mind, trust your judgment, and find the recipe that enables your team’s success.

Methodology perspectives

In today’s business world, organizations rely on project management methodologies, including lean project management, to deliver key initiatives on time and budget. While early methodologies like Waterfall and critical path provided needed structure, the diversity of modern projects requires more adaptable techniques.

Agile principles have transformed how teams operate, emphasizing collaboration, customer feedback, and the ability to respond to change. But pure agile methods aren’t always feasible either, depending on team dynamics, compliance needs, and project types.

Other frameworks like Kanban and Six Sigma address specific aspects of project execution and quality improvement. However, no single methodology universally applies. Factors like team capabilities, organizational norms, and project goals should guide methodology selection.

Rather than rigidly adhering to one model, flexibility and situational fluency across methods allow project managers to customize their approach. Techniques can even be blended, such as combining Waterfall planning with Agile execution for “hybrid” methods. The right methodology provides a recipe for project success, but that recipe varies by circumstance.

Looking ahead, project management methodologies will continue advancing as AI, new collaboration tools, and work models like remote-first evolve teams. While foundational methods will endure, expect new techniques to emerge that integrate modern technologies and work styles.

The methodologies may change, but the fundamentals remain constant—skilled project leadership, stakeholder alignment, and teamwork are essential. Ultimately, project success hinges on people using processes intelligently rather than blindly following prescriptive step-by-step models.

Today’s project managers can deliver standout results by understanding the spectrum of proven techniques available while also staying open to emerging innovations. They adopt the mindset of a methodology chef—curating, testing, and blending approaches as needed to create the perfect recipe for their project. The future lies in this kind of informed, forward-looking project leadership.

Request more information

"*" indicates required fields

Inquiry for
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Learn how Elite helped Aimbridge Hospitality stay ahead of the competition.
View Study