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7 Project Management Styles

Sean Peek
Sean Peek

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

  • Project managers are responsible for coordinating teams, allocating resources and ensuring projects are completed on time.
  • Project managers can employ a wide range of project management styles, including the seven listed below.
  • Your project management style should align with company goals and team workflows. Consider these factors before implementing a specific style.
  • This article is for business owners and managers who want to organize their teams, track costs and expedite deadlines through efficient project management.

When starting a project for your company, you need a plan in place 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 not only ensures that your project aligns with your company's strategic goals, but also 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.

Key takeaway: Your project management style should complement your business objectives and the way your team works. 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 and determining the right style for your team, but how do you know which one 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 lifespan 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, 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.

It should be noted 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 cycles called "sprints." Teams have "daily standups," which are brief meetings held 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 as well as 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 to visualize and organize their team's workflow. It emphasizes eliminating 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 different industries and 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, referred to as 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 structured nature of the process makes for a more cautious approach and can potentially inhibit innovation and flexibility. [Read related article: Six Sigma Certification Guide]

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.

Key takeaway: 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

Of course, 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 the seven main styles listed above 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 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 correct way to manage a project. 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. [Looking to streamline your project management? Check out our picks and reviews for the best online project management software.]

Key takeaway: Consider the realities of your projects, your team's workflow and how you communicate. What type of planning best supports your goals?

What makes a project manager an effective leader?

Even if your company follows all 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 varying 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 their commitment to upholding their personal values as well as the company's.

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. [Read related article: How to Be a Better Project Manager]

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.

Key takeaway: Project managers should be excellent communicators and highly organized individuals. An effective project manager will ensure proper implementation of the best-suited project management style.

Image Credit: fizkes / Getty Images
Sean Peek
Sean Peek,
Business News Daily Writer
Sean Peek is a writer, small business owner and SEO specialist. He began his career in digital marketing as a freelance writer in 2013 and has over five years of experience in the B2B space. You can learn more at lightningmediapartners.com.