In order to deliver a successful project, you’ll need to manage it properly — and, the best way to do this is to use the right project management technique for the type of project you’re working on.
In this article, you’ll find out:
- What are project management techniques?
- When you should use them?
- How you should apply them?
- What are the best 17 project management techniques for different project types?
- What are the best practices and tools you can use to help you in your project work, regardless of the project management technique you use?
To learn all that and more, read on.
Table of contents:
- The introduction to project management techniques
- The list of the best project management techniques and methodologies
- Best project management techniques for any type of project
- Best project management techniques for simple projects
- Best project management techniques for complex projects
- Best project management techniques for software engineering
- Project management techniques and tools
- Project management techniques and best practices
The introduction to project management and techniques
In this section, you’ll learn what Project Management Techniques are, when you should use them, and how you can apply them.
To understand what Project Management Techniques are, we’ll first need to understand what constitutes a “Project” and what “Project Management” is.
A Project involves a specific set of operations that an individual or a group of people needs to undertake in order to reach a predefined goal. Each project has a specific set of requirements you need to fulfill in order to be able to call it a success.
At the end of the project, you analyze the outcomes. Now, in order to carry out these analytics, you’ll need to have the right data — for example, you can track the time you spend on the project with a project time tracker and use this data for the analytics.
Project Management is the application of your skills, your experience, and the right tools for the purpose of carrying out the specific set of operations needed for you to meet the project’s set of requirements. A typical project timeline in project management involves the following 5 phases of project development:
- Conception and initiation
- Definition and planning
- Launch and execution
- Performance, monitoring, and control
What are Project Management Techniques?
The main difference between project management and project management techniques is specificity. So, a Project Management Technique is the specific approach to applying your skills, your experience, and the right tools to carry out the specific set of operations needed for you to meet the project’s set of requirements.
Now that you understand what project management techniques are and how they relate to projects and project management, let’s see when you should best use them.
When to use Project Management Techniques?
Now, despite a definition that seems to encourage widespread use, there is no real need to use specific project management methodologies for each project.
Sometimes, a straightforward, linear organization of project tasks will do.
However, in other cases, a specific project management technique is the most efficient solution.
Here are 7 project elements that indicate you should use a specific project management technique with your project:
- Higher magnitude of effort — the goal of the project is to create a specific product.
- Higher importance — the project is of high importance to the company.
- Higher risk — the project represents a higher risk to the company due to a larger number of uncertainty factors.
- Lower effectiveness of the current management structure — your current management structure involves projects that miss deadlines, breach their budget, or miss their specific sets of requirements.
- High unfamiliarity — the project is different from “normal”, either in scope or expected work routine.
- High interrelatedness — the project requires tasks to be undertaken simultaneously.
- Impact on organizational reputation or financial situation — the project may result in a severe reputation or money loss if not handled correctly.
All of the listed elements indicate you should select a specific project management technique before diving into work.
How to apply project management techniques?
Your application of a project management technique will depend on the type of project you are working on, as well as the technique you’ve selected to work with.
Now, your best solution to finding a suitable project management technique for your project is to test out and combine several project management techniques. As you advance your work, you’ll likely be able to identify the practices that work for you and your projects, and which don’t.
With that in mind, let’s move on to the list of the best PM techniques and methodologies.
The list of the best project management techniques and methodologies
In this section, you’ll learn about the 17 best project management techniques and methodologies you can use today.
Based on the type of project, we’ll differentiate between 3 types of projects, and sort the project management techniques based on whether they are best for:
- Simple projects
- Complex projects
- Software engineering projects
Of course, some of these types of PM methodologies may overlap — you may be able to use some simple and complex project management techniques for your software engineering, depending on what you’re looking to achieve.
There is also one other, more general subtype of project management techniques that can be suitable for:
- Any type of project
So, let’s start with them.
Best project management techniques for any type of project
When in doubt about the type of project management technique you should use for your project, you can’t go wrong with:
- The Classic Project Management Technique
- Kanban Project Management Methodology
These two are universal enough that you can easily adjust and use them with any project.
1. Classic Project Management Technique
What’s it about?
The Classic Project Management Technique is one of the simplest, most-often used entries in this list:
- First, you make a plan for your project for the upcoming week
- Then, you estimate the number and type of tasks you’ll need to work on
- You allocate the resources
- You monitor the quality of your team’s work throughout the project
- You monitor the team’s deadline throughout the project
- You provide feedback to the team throughout the project
This basic type of project management, on the whole, originated in the 1950s. However, we can trace the first glimpses of project management way back to 5570 BC and the completion of the Great Pyramid of Giza. So, it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact origin of this most basic type of project management technique.
- Small teams and straightforward projects that don’t require complex workflows.
2. Kanban Project Management Methodology
What’s it about?
Kanban is a popular subtype of the agile project management methodology meant to help you visualize your project and then track your progress on it. One of its main perks is that it facilitates work transparency.
A simple Kanban board consists of three distinct columns. You move your tasks across the columns to signal the progress and current status of a task:
- “To Do” column — When you first define a task you need to work on in the future you place it here.
- “Doing” column — When you start working on a task you place it here.
- “Done” column — When you finish work on a task you place it here.
We can trace Kanban back to the company Toyota and their “Just-In-Time” (JIT) production system — this system mandates you do only what you need to do, and only in the amount you need to do it.
- Software development projects
- HR projects that focus on recruiting, interviewing and hiring new employees
- Any type of project with a well-established workflow and deadlines
Best project management techniques for simple projects
Moving on from PM methodologies for any type of project, we have project management methodologies for “simple project”.
You’ll recognize a simple project based on the following project parameters:
- It is expected to take less than 6 months to complete
- It only requires part-time effort
- It involves 10 team members or less
- It is expected to cost less than $75,000
- It has the expected cost amount readily available from the start
- It has a single goal
- It has a straightforward solution
- It has a narrow project scope
The best project management techniques to use with simple projects are:
- The Project Charter
- Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)
- Deliverable List and Task List
- Project Schedule
- Risk Register
1. The Project Charter
What’s it about?
The Project Charter in project management is a simple technique that lets your team:
- Define the objective of the project
- Make the measurements & assumptions for the project
- Define the project restrictions
- Define the project scope statement
- Select the project manager authority
- Form the team
- Extremely small projects, as you can further condense the number of project elements you need to tackle. You can even use an official abbreviated version of The Project Charter — this condensed version may only require you make a project scope statement.
2. Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)
What’s it about?
The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) requires you to break down your project into its component parts — i.e. the tasks and sub-tasks you’ll need to tackle to complete the project.
Visually speaking, it is a top-down breakdown of the project into its tasks and the tasks into sub-tasks. All of your work within the Work Breakdown Structure needs to be properly identified, estimated, budgeted, and scheduled.
- Simple projects that mostly focus on the task dependencies within the scope of the project.
3. Deliverable List and Task List
What’s it about?
The Deliverable List and Task List, as its name suggests, is a project management technique that helps focus your attention on the deliverables and tasks associated with your project.
A task is treated as the lowest level on the list — each task represents an action or step you need to undertake to complete a deliverable or a set of deliverables.
The difference between a Work Breakdown Structure and the Deliverable List and Task List is that the latter strictly defines who is responsible for each task. You can even define deadlines for each task or deliverable, to establish more control over your work.
In addition to all that, you can frame your list as a simple checklist and track your progress by checking each task and deliverable once you’re done with it.
- Simple, straightforward projects where your main focus are project deliverables.
4. The Project Schedule
What’s it about?
Creating a Project Schedule involves sequencing tasks and allocating them to calendar time slots. You define tasks, define the resources needed to complete the tasks, assign the tasks to specific team members, and then have tasks allocated to specific time slots in your calendar.
- Simple, time-bound projects (such as planning events) that have at least one strict deadline.
5. The Risk Register
What’s it about?
Creating a Risk Register in project management means focusing on the potential problems and challenges you may encounter while working on a project.
These potential problems are also called “negative risks” — they require that you anticipate them, write them down, clarify how serious they are, and then define solutions for them. You’ll also need to clarify who is responsible for implementing these solutions.
Of course, you may also encounter “positive risks” in your work — they are additional “project opportunities” you may want to define as separate projects and tackle separately.
- Simple, yet uncertain projects, with several variables and potential challenges
- Experimental projects
Best project management techniques for complex projects
Next up, we have complex projects and their specific project management techniques.
You’ll recognize a complex project because it is:
- Challenging to anticipate project outcomes
- Challenging to anticipate project behaviors
- Challenging to standardize the roles in your team
- Challenging to estimate the number of elements in the project
- Challenging to grasp the dependencies between project elements
- Challenging to anticipate project profitability
The best project management techniques to use with complex projects are:
- Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT)
- Critical Path Method (CPM)
- Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM)
- Extreme Project Management (XPM)
- Projects IN Controlled Environments (PRINCE2)
1. Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT)
What’s it about?
The Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT) in project management entails visual tracking of complex, detailedly planned projects in specialized PERT charts. The emphasis of this technique is on constant task analysis.
PERT was first established in 1957 by the U.S. Navy Special Projects Office in order to help the U.S. Navy carry out its nuclear submarine project. It would later be used across various industries — one of the more famous uses of PERT in its earlier history includes its use in the organization of the Winter Olympics in 1968.
- Complex projects with a large number of non-routine tasks
- Large projects with complex requirements
2. Critical Path Method (CPM)
What’s it about?
The Critical Path Method is a scheduling algorithm for identifying critical tasks within the longest sequence of tasks in a project — these tasks are crucial for beating the project deadline and as such demand the team’s sharpest focus.
- First, you identify and categorize all project tasks
- Then, you define the expected duration for each task
- You define the dependencies between tasks
- You determine the type of dependencies between tasks:
- You need to work on Task 1 and Task 2 simultaneously
- You need to finish Task 1 before you can start working on Task 2
- You need to start working on Task 1 in order to start working on Task 2
- You need to finish work on Task 1 in order to finish work on Task 2
- You schedule and work on your tasks in the order dictated by their task dependencies type
The Critical Path Method (CPM) was established in 1957 at the DuPont Company, one of the historically largest chemical companies (in terms of sales). The founders of the technique were two mathematicians who wanted to avoid the schedule-related added costs of shutting down and restarting plants — their solution included working on the right tasks in the right order.
- Projects with several interdependent tasks
- Projects with repetitive tasks
- Projects that have strict deadlines and timelines (e.g. software development or construction projects)
3. Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM)
What’s it about?
Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) is essentially a scheduling algorithm that places great emphasis on the resources needed to carry out the project, the dependencies that exist between tasks, and the buffers you need to account for in order to complete the project on time.
The purpose of this project management methodology is to help you manage your resources better, minimize the time you lose on various aspects of the project, and distribute your workload evenly.
There are 4 types of buffers associated with CCPM:
- The Project Buffer — i.e. the one that makes sure the project is completed before its expected end date.
- The Feeding Buffer — i.e. the one that is positioned between the last task on a non-critical chain and the last task on a critical chain.
- The Resource Buffer — i.e. the ones that make sure the right resources are available to carry out the project processes throughout the project development.
- The Capacity Buffer — i.e. the one that ensures additional resources are available in the case of unexpected issues with the budget.
The Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) derives from the Theory Of Constraints — it was first introduced in 1997, by Eliyahu M. Goldratt in his book Critical Chain.
- Companies where each team works on one project only, without any overlaps in resources
- Teams who have trouble keeping up with deadlines
4. Extreme Project Management (XPM)
What’s it about?
Extreme Project Management (XPM), as its name suggests, is a project management technique made for complex and fluctuating projects — i.e. projects that require an extreme approach in their management.
This technique focuses on the human side of the project — it makes use of the known principles of how people interact with each other in order to properly tackle and arrange collaboration within a project.
- Projects with a low possibility for failure
- Projects with short deadlines
- Projects who aim for innovation
- Projects with factors that are difficult to control
- Projects characterized by sudden, spontaneous changes
5. Projects IN Controlled Environments (PRINCE2)
What’s it about?
Projects IN Controlled Environments (PRINCE2) is a structured project management technique that provides a framework to help divide the project into stages. It is a methodology that consists of 7 principles:
- Continued Business Justification — The business case is regularly updated to make sure that the project is still usable.
- Learning from experience — Each project has a lesson log you can refer to avoid remaking already established workflows from scratch.
- Defining roles and responsibilities — Team members may have several roles in a project, or share their roles with other team members. Roles are structured into 4 different levels:
- The corporate management/program management level
- The project board level
- The project manager level
- The team level
- Managing by stages — You manage each stage of project development differently, by updating the business case, risks, and project plan.
- Managing by exception — When a specific project element (such as the project scope or project costs) changes, the question on how to continue moves to a higher level of management.
- Product focus — Focus is placed on the quality end delivery of the developing product.
- Tailoring to suit the project environment — This technique is meant to fit the project environment, i.e. the size, complexity, risk estimation, and overall importance of the developing project.
PRINCE 2 is a variation of an earlier method named PROMPT II — in 1989, the UK government adopted this PROMPT II variation as a standard for project management in the IT sector. Today, it is the official project management methodology for all UK government projects.
- Complex projects that have a fixed set of requirements and a complex environment.
Best project management techniques for software engineering
A typical software engineering project involves gathering requirements, developing and testing the software, and performing regular maintenance on the software product.
The best project management techniques to use with software engineering projects are:
- The Waterfall Technique
- Rational Unified Process
- Agile Project Management
- Scrum Methodology
- Extreme Programming (XP)
1. The Waterfall Technique
What’s it about?
The Waterfall Technique mandates a sequential execution of tasks — you can only move on to the next step if you’ve finished with the previous one.
This technique mandates that you have a clear idea of what the project requires and how it will unfold before you start working on it — once you’ve moved on to the next step, you cannot go back to the previous to make corrections.
The concrete steps will depend on the type of project, but usually involve:
- Analyzing and identifying software requirements
- Designing the best approach to develop the software according to the requirements
- Implementing suitable solutions to problems by writing appropriate code
- Testing out the code and verifying that it works the way you intended
- Carrying out regular maintenance to make sure the code keeps working the way it was intended
The Waterfall Technique was first formally described by Winston W. Royce, in an article published in 1970. However, it wasn’t described by that name — the term “Waterfall technique” would first be mentioned in a paper by T.E. Bell and T.A. Turner in 1976.
- Short and simple software development projects
- Software development projects which have clear, predetermined requirements
- Creative project management
- Projects that require a strict work structure in order to succeed
2. Rational Unified Process (RUP)
What’s it about?
The Rational Unified Process (RUP) is an agile management structure for software development teams that makes a project unfold over time in 4 distinct phases — Inception, Elaboration, Construction, and Transition. Each of the 4 phases has a main objective and involves 6 development disciplines — Business Modeling, Requirements, Analysis & Design, Implementation, Testing, and Deployment. Unless you successfully reach the main objective of the previous stage, you won’t be able to move on to the next stage.
Some development disciplines are more important than others, so they take up more time than others.
The Rational Unified Process was established by the Rational Software Corporation in 2003.
- Software development projects with a predictable time frame for completion and a predictable end budget.
3. Agile Project Management
What’s it about?
Agile Project Management is a methodology for software development that emphasizes self-organization and cross-functionality in a team, as well as reaching customer satisfaction.
Instead of implementing specific processes and tools, this technique places emphasis on interactions between individuals in a team.
Instead of compiling comprehensive documentation for the product, this technique places emphasis on creating a fully-working software.
Instead of focusing on contract negotiations, this technique places emphasis on utilizing client collaboration in order to facilitate the development procedure.
Instead of following a strict project plan, this technique places emphasis on the best ways the team can respond to changes in the project.
- First, you divide projects into short sprints
- You adapt your project plans as you work and aim for constant improvement
- The project manager encourages the team to be self-organized
- Your aim is to produce maximum value and functionality from the service/product you want to offer
Agile Project management was officially developed in 2001 as a part of the Agile Manifesto.
- Projects who don’t have strict deadlines, but do have a general idea of the final outcome/product
- Projects that imply unexpected changes
- Projects that depend on efficient team collaboration rather than efficient project planning
4. Scrum Methodology
What’s it about?
Just like Kanban, Scrum is another popular subtype of the agile project management methodology — its aim is to help software development teams deliver working software more frequently, with the help of incremental and iterative practices.
Project progress is measured by following the sequence of short, timeboxed periods named sprints — the end of each sprint should mean the completion of one scheduled amount of work.
As previously mentioned, Scrum now officially falls under the umbrella term “Agile” — yet, it was first by that name introduced by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka in 1986, in their paper The New Product Development Game.
- Complex and ambiguous projects — traditionally, these are software development projects, but Scrum can also be an efficient approach for marketing projects and leadership teams.
5. Extreme Programming (XP)
What’s it about?
Extreme Programming (XP) is a specific agile software development framework whose main aim is to help the team produce higher-quality software.
Extreme Programing mandates the following project-related activities and principles:
- Maintain constant communication — with an emphasis on face-to-face discussions coupled with whiteboard drawing.
- Do the simplest thing that works — with an emphasis on doing only what’s necessary and addressing only the current project requirements.
- Provide regular feedback — with an emphasis on the “build-gather-adjust” work cycle. The team builds a feature, gathers feedback about the feature, and then adjusts the feature based on the feedback.
- Act with courage — with an emphasis on accepting difficulties, acting on feedback, reacting quickly, and asking controversial questions when needed.
- Promote respect — with an emphasis on providing feedback to others, accepting feedback from others, and all that with respect.
Extreme Programming (XP) was first established in the 1990s by Kent Beck who implemented this technique in the work on the C3 payroll project.
- Dynamical, ever-changing software development projects
- Co-located development teams
- Risky projects with fixed time frames
Project Management Techniques and Tools
Regardless of the specific Project Management Technique you’re using and the type of project you’re working on, you’ll still need to tackle and carry out certain general tasks and processes — namely, you’ll need to:
- Organize and plan the project workflow
- Schedule the project in some capacity
- Manage your time properly
- Communicate with your team
- Collaborate with your team
- Handle the accounting & finance aspect of the project
Now, the best way to do all that is to use project management tools.
But, not just any project management tool — according to research that investigated popular demand in terms of PM features, the set of tools you use for project management should offer the following functionalities:
As you can see, File Sharing, Time Tracking, Email Integration, Gantt Charts, Custom Reports, and Invoicing features take the lead with the highest shares (from 51% to 43%) — while Cloud Storage Integrations, Industry-specific features, API, PM method-specific features, Real-time chat, Mobile access, Social Media Integrations, and Video Chats follow closely (from 42% to 28%).
With that in mind, here’s a list of the best project management tools with the said features, for each type of tasks and processes associated with work on projects:
PM tools for organizing and planning the Project Workflow
To organize and plan your workflow, you can use Trello, a traditional Kanban-based project management tool.
This tool allows you to organize and plan your tasks, and then track their progress across aptly named columns.
Other efficient apps you can use to organize and plan your project and project-related tasks include ClickUp, Taiga, and Asana.
PM tools for Project Scheduling
To schedule your workflow, you can use Google Calendar, a simple online calendar you can use through your Gmail account.
This tool allows you to schedule meetings and consultations with your team in straightforward calendar slots.
Other efficient apps you can use to handle task and project scheduling include Doodle, Calendly, and Any.do.
PM tools for Project Time Management
To manage your time while working on the project properly, you can use Clockify, the leading time tracker on the market.
This tool allows your team to track the time you spend on project-related tasks as you work (or after you’re done working), generate reports of your time use, and use them to identify where you could make improvements in your workflow.
In addition to using Clockify, you can also use Rescue Time or WakaTime to have the time you spend on specific apps tracked automatically.
PM tools for Project Communication
To communicate with your team during project work, you can use Chanty, a simple team communication app.
This tool allows you to send text messages, conduct audio and video calls, as well as share your screen with the team.
Other efficient apps you can use to handle team communication include Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Hey Space.
PM tools for Project Collaboration
Team collaboration is a broad term. For example, to collaborate with your team on data entry and statistical analysis, you can use Google Sheets, an online spreadsheet.
This tool allows you to add and calculate data, create charts, and analyze project statistics — multiple members of your team can manipulate data at the same time, and all your changes are saved instantly and automatically.
Other efficient apps you can use to handle various collaboration tasks include Dropbox (for online file sharing), Visme (for team brainstorming sessions), and Jira (for agile project management).
PM tools for Project Finance & Accounting
To handle your project-related Finance & Accounting tasks, you can use Sage Accounting.
This tool allows you to analyze your finance, as well as invoice your clients upon project completion.
Other efficient apps you can use to handle project Finance & Accounting include Quickbooks, Wave Accounting, and Freshbooks.
Project management techniques and best practices
So, you understand how popular project management methodologies work, when you should use them, and with what tools. Now, it’s time to highlight a few best practices in project management that help make your efforts in project management really efficient:
1. Document all project requirements 📝
You’ve figured out what goals you want to accomplish and what tasks and steps you need to undertake in order to reach the said goals.
Now, it’s time to document this data for future reference, both for the sake of your team, and the sake of potential future project investors.
2. Estimate projects in accordance with your other obligations 🔄
Your company will likely work on several projects during the same time period.
So, you’ll need to consider your teams’ other projects and obligations when setting deadlines and defining responsibilities.
3. Manage the workload carefully 📋
Are you sure you have allocated tasks, roles, and responsibilities equally?
Or is one team member overworking herself with 5 different tasks, while another team member has barely anything to do?
Keep a close eye on this, and distribute work equally, for the best resource use.
4. Monitor project progress at all times ⬆️
Is the project progressing as planned?
Is everyone doing their share of the work?
Is the team working at a pace that aligns with the expected project deadlines?
Is there a hold up in one phase of the project?
Monitoring your team’s work and progress will help answer all this, and prevent mishaps and delays.
5. Communicate everything 💬
In order to stay on track with what everyone is currently working on, how well they are progressing, and whether there are problems with the project, your team will need to communicate.
So, for every question, problem, or dilemma you have, talk about it. Answer the questions, figure out the problems, and solve the dilemmas together.
6. Take precautions against project scope creep 👻
If you plan your project carefully and anticipate all the tasks and subtasks you may need to tackle before project completion, you’ll be secured against scope creep.
To do so, carefully calculate the budget and time you’ll need to finish all tasks and subtasks on time, and with the expected quality.
7. Consider all project risks ⚡
Each project has potential problems that may arise before project completion. We brushed against this subject with the Risk Register Technique earlier, now it’s time to emphasize its importance.
The trick to making sure you painlessly cruise past these problems lies in anticipating the problems before they happen.
So, aim to use your past experience to define potential problems with project stages and tasks.
Then, define the solutions you’ll implement if the need arises.
8. Take the time to analyze the project after completion ✅
Once you’re done with the project, take the time to analyze it.
Highlight what you did well, and what you could do better in the future.
Analyze the time it took to finish each stage and single out the tasks that took the most effort. You’ll want to allocate more time to such tasks in future projects.
And, of course, commend the team for their hard work and dedication. They’ve earned it.
Before you start working on a project, think about the best Project Management Methodology you can use for your work. Then, combine your chosen PM Technique with the right tools and best practices, for enhanced results.
If you follow the prescribed principles of the selected Project Management Technique, you’ll speed up your workflow, maintain control over project procedures, and streamline your management process. As a result, you’ll finish faster and turn over a high-quality end product.