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Updated Dec 13, 2023

7 Project Management Styles

Understanding these project management styles can help you determine which would be most effective for your small business.

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Written By: Max FreedmanBusiness Operations Insider and Senior Analyst
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This guide was reviewed by a Business News Daily editor to ensure it provides comprehensive and accurate information to aid your buying decision.

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When starting a project for your company, you need a plan to keep everything on track. A project manager’s job is to be the point person for this plan, overseeing every step of the project to ensure its success. There are several project management styles, and the one that’s best for you will depend on both your team and the scope of the project.

Why determining your project management style matters

Determining your project management style allows you to coordinate your team and the project at hand effectively. This promotes the success of your project and your organization as a whole. Regardless of the project management style you choose, a set framework like this can make the process significantly easier for you and your team.

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Good project management ensures that your project aligns with your company’s strategic goals, such as your mission statement, and establishes a clear and focused process to achieve them. It sets realistic and achievable goals for each phase of the project, holds all team members accountable for their part in the process, and ensures all steps are completed correctly and in a timely manner.

Project managers must lead this process from start to finish, using their expertise and knowledge to mitigate risk and adjust the scope as needed. Once the project is complete, you can evaluate its success and learn from any failures or missteps made along the way.

FYIDid you know
Your project management style should complement your business objectives and your team's work style. Hiring or learning to be a good project manager is an indispensable part of this process.

7 project management styles to consider

You know the importance of project management, but how do you know which project management style to choose? Here are seven of the most popular types of project management, as well as their pros and cons.

1. Waterfall project management

Waterfall project management is a straightforward, linear system in which a project is divided into distinct phases and the next phase cannot begin until the prior one is complete. The process and each team member’s responsibilities are clearly defined and mapped out from the beginning; they are not expected to change over the life span of the project.

Waterfall project management is ideal for longer, linear projects that require step-by-step phase completion, as well as projects with a static goal and scope. If your project has overlapping timelines or requires frequent modifications along the way — for example, incorporating customer feedback on an ongoing basis — the Waterfall model can be limiting.

2. Agile project management

In contrast to the linear nature of Waterfall project management, Agile project management is an iterative system. A project using Agile methodology has several iterations or releases, providing plenty of opportunities to adjust along the way. It breaks the larger goal into smaller, more manageable chunks that can be worked on simultaneously, thus decreasing the time required to complete a project.

This management style works well for projects that require frequent innovation, collaboration and modifications. This is why it’s highly popular in the field of software development, where technology and customer needs are constantly changing.

Note that “Agile” is an umbrella term for a set of guiding principles, rather than its own distinct step-by-step method. Agile project management can be subdivided into two schools of thought: Scrum and Kanban.

3. Scrum project management

Derived from Agile project management, the Scrum methodology focuses on completing work in short bursts called sprints. Teams have daily stand-ups, which are brief meetings to discuss task progress and address any issues. These meetings are led by a Scrum master, whose main responsibility is to oversee the day-to-day work and remove any impediments to productivity.

Scrum project management helps teams turn projects around quickly while maintaining quality and flexibility for changes as needed. It emphasizes productivity and collaboration and is an especially effective system for small organizations or teams.

4. Kanban project management

Another system derived from Agile project management, Kanban methodology helps managers visualize and organize their team’s workflow. It emphasizes the elimination of wasteful work and inconsistencies to increase productivity and efficiency. To do this, Kanban divides projects into smaller tasks, allowing team members to focus on one actionable task at a time.

Team members and project managers can easily visualize assigned tasks and progress in real time with a Kanban board. A Kanban board has separate columns for each stage of the process, such as “to do,” “in progress” and “complete.” While Kanban is commonly associated with software development, its principles can be applied to nearly any industry.

5. Lean project management

Lean project management is a philosophy that focuses on increasing efficiency across processes. In the principles of Lean, project managers must first specify what value means for the customer. Then, they must identify the project’s value stream — the sum of all the actions necessary for the project to reach completion — and eliminate actions or processes that don’t add value. This evaluation process is ongoing, allowing for customer feedback and continuous improvement.

The Lean project management style can be applied to a number of industries and be used in conjunction with other principles, such as Kanban.

6. Six Sigma project management

Similarly to Lean project management, the Six Sigma method focuses on understanding the needs of the customer, eliminating waste and continuously improving processes to deliver a high-quality project.

Despite the number in its name, Six Sigma has five phases, delineated by the acronym DMAIC:

  1. Define the project.
  2. Measure data.
  3. Analyze the root of any problems.
  4. Improve processes.
  5. Control by implementing solutions. 

Six Sigma also keeps in mind the four constraints of a project: scope, time, cost and quality. It focuses on clearly defining and planning for each of these constraints without compromising any of the others. This has the obvious advantage of increasing efficiency and organization. However, the rigidity of the process makes for a more cautious approach and can potentially inhibit innovation and flexibility.

7. PRINCE2 project management

PRINCE2 (Projects in Controlled Environments) project management focuses on organization and structure through the project’s life span. With PRINCE2, projects must have a business justification, including a detailed cost assessment and baseline requirements, before they are initiated. Team members’ roles and responsibilities are clearly defined, and the project is broken into phases, with plenty of time for quality control and reflection.

The PRINCE2 project management style emphasizes an organized and controlled process while still offering the flexibility to make changes as necessary along the way. The time spent reflecting on each stage allows team members to learn from the project and apply these lessons to future projects. However, the highly detailed process often requires extensive documentation and can be slower than other project management styles.

Did You Know?Did you know
Some project management styles might be more suitable for your business than others; there is no right or wrong option. Consider your business’s circumstances to choose the best style for your team.

Choosing a project management style for your business

You may find that using a combination of project management styles is the best solution for you and your team. There are also options beyond these seven main styles that could work better for you. For instance, Strato Doumanis, chief technical officer and creative director of MediaCutlet, said his company has seen the most success with a hybrid approach of incremental project management and process-based project management.

“Many of our projects are complex, large-scale endeavors … [that are] multifaceted with fluid requirements that change as the project evolves,” Doumanis said. “Incremental project management allows us to remain agile while also keeping the project closely aligned with phases and deadlines.” He combines this methodology with that of process-based management to “build out technology flowcharts and business flowcharts that are set up to scale and run in parallel with other processes.”

In short, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to project management. Consider the skills and needs of your project, team and company, and don’t be afraid to use elements of two or more project management styles. 

Consider the realities of your projects, your team’s workflow and your team's communication style. What type of planning best supports your goals?

The importance of the project manager

Even if your company follows all of the steps of a certain project management style, the outcome of the project depends largely on the person behind it. A project manager must possess or cultivate several leadership qualities to bring the project and team to the finish line successfully.

A project manager must have excellent communication and interpersonal skills. They must be able to clearly convey goals, expectations and the big picture of the project to their team, which comprises people with various roles and personality types. They must also build the trust of others, both at the individual and team level. To do this, a project manager must demonstrate not only their competence but also their commitment to upholding both their personal values and those of the company.

Successful project management also requires a certain temperament. A project manager must maintain a positive attitude and keep themselves and the team focused on the project at hand. They must be able to make informed decisions and take responsibility for the outcomes. This means a project manager needs to stay calm under pressure, working quickly and creatively to solve any problems that arise. 

Cultivating these leadership traits while applying a strong project management style that aligns with the needs of your team and project will help you ensure the success of your project and your company as a whole.

FYIDid you know
Project managers should be excellent communicators and highly organized. An effective project manager will ensure proper implementation of the best-suited project management style.

Managing your projects means managing your people

A major part of project management is ensuring your employees are hitting your shared goals while staying happy. When employees like what they’re doing, they’re more motivated to do it, leading to higher-quality project outcomes. This is why, as you master your preferred project management style, you should learn how to boost employee happiness, too. If you can effectively manage both your projects and your people, you’re heading in exactly the right direction.

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Written By: Max FreedmanBusiness Operations Insider and Senior Analyst
Max Freedman has spent nearly a decade providing entrepreneurs and business operators with actionable advice they can use to launch and grow their businesses. Max has direct experience helping run a small business, performs hands-on reviews and has real-world experience with the categories he covers, such as accounting software and digital payroll solutions, as well as leading small business lenders and employee retirement providers. Max has written hundreds of articles for Business News Daily on a range of valuable topics, including small business funding, time and attendance, marketing and human resources.
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