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Volume 5 | September 2022


Human-Centered. Solutions Driven.

What Project Management Methodology Works Best for Your Projects

 By Matthew Steigerwald, Manager Systems Engineering


Projects come in many shapes and sizes, and similarly various project management methodologies are available to help you plan, execute, and control them.  As the US economy continues to shift from a manufacturing focus toward services and information, attention has naturally shifted toward agile practices showing success in these areas.  Nevertheless, traditional project management techniques and approaches continue to offer value.

There are a tried-and-true range of methodologies to deliver smart solutions for clients:

  • Waterfall
  • Critical Path Method
  • Earned Value Analysis
  • Agile and Scrum
  • Rolling Wave

These methodologies can provide alternatives to manage projects, or they can be used to complement each other.

Waterfall, or traditional, project management is so named because the project phases cascade sequentially.  The approach focuses on requirements, with each project stage completes before moving on to the next.  Properly executed, the analogy of a waterway lock system might be more appropriate than, say, a Niagara moment.

When to use it:

  • Projects where requirements can be clearly elaborated up front and little change is expected along the way

Avoid when:

  • You don’t really know how you’re going to get to the end and the requirements aren’t clear


Critical Path Method

Critical path scheduling involves building a network model that includes all activities to achieve the scope in the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), the activity durations, and dependencies between activities.  It is used to estimate the minimum project duration and determine the amount of scheduling flexibility on the paths within the model. [i]  The technique identifies critical activities that must be completed on time to avoid affecting the project schedule, and the critical path – the longest path through the model.

When to use it:

  • CPM is used more heavily with Waterfall projects than Agile ones
  • For large, complex projects, the specialized Project Scheduler role may be needed

Avoid when:

  • Lack of a well-defined WBS is a sign that your project needs additional structure before CPM can be usefully applied


“All models are wrong, some are useful.”  – George Box


Earned Value Analysis

Also referred to as Earned Value Management, EVA uses a Cost Schedule Control System to manage project costs and schedule to the established performance measurement baseline.  Traditionally used on large government projects with R&D cycles that span many years, EVA provides the basis for payments to the supplier prior to delivery of production units.




EVA is often used in conjunction with a CPM schedule, which provides the schedule baseline.  Resource and fixed costs associated to schedule task from the cost baseline.  Actual cost information is also needed at the task level.

When to use it:

  • EVM principles can be applied to projects of any size provided the necessary PM discipline and tools are in place

Avoid when:

  • The project organization has not adopted the necessary discipline
  • The project plan is not well enough defined to support the reporting requirements


Agile and Scrum

Agile project management prefers a faster and flexible way of working, as opposed to waterfall.  It is iterative and incremental in response to evolving requirements.  Scrum is an approach used in agile project management – it focuses on teams and daily standup meetings.

Project work is time-boxed into iterative short bursts called sprints.  The team gets as much done as they realistically can before moving to the next set of requirements.  New features and requirements can be delivered rapidly in a customer deployable form, while encouraging incremental feedback from the end users.  To quote the author, it is “a structured way of making it up as you go along.”

When to use it:

  • Projects where you want to incorporate quick wins and build iteratively

Avoid when:

  • You work in a traditional environment and the change to agile methods hasn’t yet been completed or understood


Rolling Wave

Involves progressive elaboration to add plan detail on an ongoing basis. Allow activities to proceed on near term deliverables while planning is still underway for future work packages.  The Rolling Wave approach can be used in conjunction with Waterfall, and its basis is reflected in the iterative sprint planning of Agile.  A high-level plan established early in the project serves as the basis for near-term detail planning, when it is most appropriate and useful.

When to use it:

  • All the time, it’s gnarly dude

Avoid when:

  • You’re a totally straight ok boomer


Each of these techniques works well when applied in the correct situation. It is also key to success, as noted in our Culture Corner article, that culture will play a key role in determining which is the smart solution for your organization or project.


[i] PMI Lexicon of Project Management Terms – Version 3.2, p. 3, 2017, Project Management Institute, Inc.

[ii] Cost Control in Building Construction: Inhibiting Factors and Potential Improvements – Scientific Figure on ResearchGate. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Earned-Value-Management-EVM-SOURCE_fig2_331071401 [accessed 3 Aug, 2022]