by Moira Alexander

Project management methodologies: How to choose the best for success

Apr 13, 20217 mins
Project ManagementProject Portfolio Management

Selecting the best project management methodology (PMM) for the job relies on developing a sound evaluation process. Our guide to evaluating PMMs will ensure you pick the perfect fit for your next project.

planning / organization / strategy / development / project management / notes
Credit: PeopleImages / Getty Images

Every project — and project team — is different, and to ensure success, the project management methodology (PMM) chosen to steer each project to completion should match not just the project and team’s needs, but also those of the project’s stakeholders and the organization at large. 

The right project management methodology will establish guiding principles and processes that define how teams work and communicate throughout all stages of project execution. Without an appropriate methodology, it can be difficult for team members to stay on the same page and complete their tasks, meet deadlines, or deliver solutions to specifications. So, choosing the right project management methodology is the first step to success.

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The following guide aims to give you a deeper understanding of how to select the right PMM for the job — a process that includes evaluating how a PMM impacts goals and priorities, and how each project management methodology can have the greatest positive impact — or derail your organization’s likelihood of success.

OPM3: A model for PMM selection

The process required to assess, document, and select the right project management methodology is detailed, time-consuming, and complex, but worth it in the end — assuming the most appropriate PMMs have been selected.

The Project Management Institute (PMI) has developed a globally recognized standard called the Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3). This assists organizations in identifying, measuring, and improving PM capabilities, and in standardizing processes. It helps to solidify successful project outcomes, to determine best practices, and to strengthen the connection between strategic planning and execution. OPM3 focuses on overall organizational strategic effectiveness, incorporating project, program, and portfolio management in the process. In 2013 it was recognized by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) as an American National Standard.

Within its Implementing Organizational Project Management: A Practice Guide, PMI discusses high-level processes for tailoring PMMs that organizations should carefully evaluate and use to determine which methodologies work for various projects. Decisions should also be based on factors in the PMI Methodology Tailoring Process to maximize strategic benefits.

Benefits of OPM3

It may make sense for your business to adopt OPM3, given that a primary goal of OPM3 is to achieve strategic alignment — a key factor in successful project outcomes. Organizations will need to include enterprise program management offices (EPMOs) in high-level planning sessions to ensure the right methodologies are deployed for specific projects, with an eye toward increasing productivity and customer satisfaction, gaining competitive advantage, improving cost control and communications, and providing predictable performance. Ultimately, this will improve and expedite decision-making as well as support alignment with company-wide goals.

There is a large range of project management methodologies available to organizations today. For a brief overview of the most popular PMMs, as well as a better understand of each PMM’s focus, check out our “Top 20 project management methodologies.” Because of the various strengths and weaknesses of each PMM, organizations may want to consider adopting multiple project management methodologies based on the unique nature of their project, organizational makeup, and project goals. Either way, organizations must develop standardized best practices that can be refined as factors change. Here, the key is to figure out how a specific project aligns with company-wide objectives. Once success or failure criteria can be isolated, it’s easier to find the most suitable methodology or methodologies that will enable your organization to effectively and efficiently reach the desired business result.

Key considerations in choosing a project management methodology

When evaluating methodologies, here are just a few of the numerous factors that should be carefully considered:

  • Organizational strategic goals and core values
  • Internal and external changes
  • Key business drivers
  • Project complexity
  • Team readiness, knowledge, and capabilities
  • Constraints
  • Stakeholders
  • Risks
  • Project size and cost
  • Availability and access to resources

For example, if your project teams have projects already under way with limited stakeholder involvement, it may be better to stick with waterfall rather than making a sudden shift to agile, which will require more stakeholder involvement through iterations. Smaller companies with limited resources and budgets may find PMMs such as Lean Six Sigma posing training and funding challenges. Larger teams may have trouble adapting to Scrum, which can fail or be subject to scope creep if all team members are not fully engaged and committed. Take the time to develop a process to assess and choose the right methodology for your project focus.

PMM assessment process

Once assessment criteria have been established, you will need to develop a process to identify the best PMM option(s) for your specific project. This process will need to be revisited and modified from time to time to keep up with evolving business and stakeholder needs. Here are some general steps:

  1. Identify whether any internal or external environmental changes have occurred that have impacted your organization.
  2. Assess the impact and severity of each change to portfolios and projects.
  3. Determine new project drivers by identifying and weighing the primary goals and priorities of the project.
  4. After determining project drivers, requirements, and goals, identify all the criteria that a methodology will impact and vice versa.
  5. Identify all available/possible methodologies that are most relevant for the project.
  6. Spend time comparing and contrasting each PMM in relation to the project.
  7. Consider which methodology will yield the best results and offer the least risk.
  8. Gain feedback and buy-in.
  9. Re-evaluate whether your organization has the available skills and knowledge for the selected methodologies and hire or assemble teams.
  10. Train teams on the methodologies as needed.
  11. Document the methodology and rationale.
  12. Implement the methodology.
  13. Monitor and modify as required.

What to include in the PMM assessment

In organizational development, as well as within projects, this list of relevant assessment criteria applies. When it comes to selecting a methodology, these same criteria should also factor in. These can be broken down as internal and external criteria, with relevant subcategories for each.

Although the biggest risk factors are likely to fall within organizational capabilities and preparedness, any other criteria mentioned previously can create significant problems if they are in breach of a key project requirement. Also, ensure your teams have the necessary training and skill to get up and running and all stakeholders understand and are committed to adhering to the methodologies.

Before picking the most popular methodologies, develop a solid understanding of your organization’s risk appetite, strengths, weaknesses, team capabilities, and environmental changes. This helps in selecting the best methodology for the job.

As mentioned, PMMs are definitely not one-size-fits-all, even within the same company, project type, or industry. In one situation a specific methodology may work best, and in others, it may be more suitable to use a different project management methodology or even a hybrid approach. The same methodology is unlikely to work in the same organization on all projects; a best practice is to develop and implement a streamlined methodology assessment process (MAP) to determine the best approach for each project. Keep in mind, this process itself may require reassessment and modifications as business factors change.