Demystifying the Various Project Management Frameworks and Methodologies

By Kate Eby | September 16, 2016

People have been relying on the basic elements of project management - planning, scheduling, and organizing activities - throughout history. But in 1917, Henry Gantt developed the Gantt Chart, and modern project management was born. In the following years, many different frameworks and methodologies evolved as the need for organized, successful projects grew in different industries, for various products, and to meet the needs of changing management styles.

This article will explore the history of project management, discuss the most popular project management frameworks and methodologies, and offer insight for selecting the appropriate method for your project or team.

A Concise History of Project Management

There is a long history that has shaped what project management embodies today. Beginning with Gantt Charts that allow people to visually chart dependencies, project status, and timelines through the eventual development of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, modern project management is still growing today. Several methodologies are widely used today; below is the timeline chronicling advancements in project management.

  • 1917 - The Gantt Chart, with its combination of times and tasks, provided a formal method for documenting and displaying the project lifecycle stages (Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring, Controlling, and Closing). With the evolution of the Gantt, chart, these could all be described in a simple chart that allowed a project manager to see the status of the project. The Gantt Chart was used in the development of the Hoover Dam in 1931. Less well-known than Henry Gantt was Louis Fayol, whose Functions of Management became the basic set of project management functions still observed today: Planning, Organizing, Staffing, Directing, Coordinating, and Controlling.
  • 1957 - Morgan R. Walker of DuPont and James E. Kelley, Jr. of Remington Rand developed the Critical Path Method (CPM), which predicted how long a project would take by focusing on the least flexible activities. CPM proved itself in the first year DuPont tried it by saving the company an estimated $1 million.
  • 1957 - Right after CPM was the Program Evaluation Review Technique (PERT), which was invented for the U.S. Navy's Polaris submarine project. PERT focused on defining both the tasks and the time of each task needed to complete a project. A PERT project determined the total, minimum time required for project completion, and was primarily used to estimate project schedule risk. Curiously, while PERT became popular following the success of the Polaris project, it was not used in a majority of the project.
  • 1965 – This year saw the formation of the International Project Management Association (IPMA), which began in Vienna as a professional association of project managers. It is currently a federation of roughly fifty project management associations around the world. 
  • 1969 - The Project Management Institute (PMI) is the most well-known project management organization in the United States. It was founded in 1969 as a non-profit dedicated to the practice, science, and profession of project management. It held its first symposium in 1969 and has been promoting project management as a profession ever since. The Project Management Institute offers certifications for Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) and Project Management Professional (PMP)®. In addition to its other services and activities, PMI developed and published the text, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) as a white paper. The guide has since grown and become a seminal work in project management. The white paper was revised into a book in 1996 and revised again in 2000 and 2004. The PMBOK Guide defines project management as “the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet project requirements.” 
  • 1975 - The PROMPTII Method originated due to a crisis in computer projects, which were consistently running behind on time and budget. PROMPTII focused on setting guidelines for the flow of a project from one phase to the next and was adopted by the UK Government’s Central Computing and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA) in 1979. 
  • 1989 - PROMPTII led to the development of the PRINCE Method in 1989, which was published by the same Central Computing and Telecommunications Agency. The PRINCE Method was too cumbersome to be successful, but it was revised in 1996 into PRINCE2 and was far more successful. A committee comprising 150 European organizations contributed to its development. While PRINCE was intended to reduce IT cost and time overruns, it was also developed as a project management methodology for any type of project. PRINCE2 issued a major revision in 2009 that made the method simpler and introduced seven basic principles of project success.
  • 1984 - Dr. Eliyahu M. Goldratt developed the Theory of Constraints (TOC) in the novel The Goal in 1984. The TOC was intended to help organizations achieve a goal by focusing on removing constraints that hinder achievement. Goldratt later redeveloped TOC into Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM). A CCPM network keeps resources levelly distributed, but requires flexible start times so that they can switch between tasks and task chains to keep the project on schedule.
  • 1986 - Scrum, the Agile software development model based on multiple small teams working in a fast-paced, collaborative environment, was developed. Takeuchi and Nonaka gave the method the name “Scrum” in their paper “The New New Product Development Game” (Harvard Business Review, 1986). Scrum has been adopted and adapted beyond the software development world and is used in a number of places.
  • 2001 - In February 2001, seventeen software development thought leaders met at The Lodge resort in Snowbird, Utah to discuss their frustrations with traditional project development methodologies and frameworks. From this meeting came the Manifesto for Agile Software Development . Agile is generally referred to as a “movement” rather than a methodology and is embodied in Four Values and Twelve Principles. A variety of methodologies have grown out of the Agile Manifesto, including Scrum, Kanban, eXtreme Programming, and more.

Project Management Guide

Your one-stop shop for everything project management

the 101 guide to project management

Ready to get more out of your project management efforts? Visit our comprehensive project management guide for tips, best practices, and free resources to manage your work more effectively.

View the guide

Project Management Frameworks

The PMBOK Guide describes a project management framework as a basic structure for understanding project management. There are several frameworks available and project managers will choose the framework that works best for the project or projects within their business. Organizations often leverage multiple frameworks that are specific to a departmental unit or the type of project.

  • PRINCE2  
    PRINCE2 combines the original PROMPTII method with IBM's MITP (Managing the Implementation of the Total Project) methodology. PRINCE2 focuses on defining and delivering products that precisely meet requirements. It is less focused on dividing tasks than it is on producing the product. As such, it markedly differs from Agile. For example, PRINCE2 is highly concerned with the planning stage of the project - team members focus on defining the product requirements upfront to limit change down the line. By contrast, Agile promotes flexibility with the ability to respond to change throughout the development process.
  • Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM)  
    CCPM is designed to deal with the uncertainties inherent in managing projects. CCPM focuses on resource allocation, including personnel, skills, management, and capacity during the project. The goal is to keep the load level for all resources.
  • Lean  
    The core concept of Lean project management is to deliver high value with minimal waste. Lean seeks to achieve this through standardization, maximized compatibility, safety, repeatability, interoperability, and quality. Lean often employs the Six Sigma methodology, which is geared towards quality improvements through the elimination of defects. Defects are eliminated by standardizing and formalizing processes. The Kanban method is considered a Lean approach. Kanban is a maintenance methodology that starts with the existing process and seeks incremental improvement over time. Tasks are placed on a Kanban board and pulled from the board as resources become available. Kanban does not have a set project end date; the project simply continues and resources continuously perform new tasks.
  • Extreme Project Management/Megaproject (XPM)  
    Extreme Project Management (XPM) is a framework developed to meet the needs of very complex and often highly elastic projects. XPM is more concerned with managing the stakeholders than with timelines and Gantt Charts. In a traditional project, the deliverable is far less complex, change is expensive and therefore minimized, the technology is assumed to be relatively unchanging, and the project is driven by the project plan. This does not scale well in high-tech environments where change is a constant because rapidly evolving technology drives the market. XPM is intended to pair with eXtreme Programming (XP) and is characterized by very short development periods (sprints) of two weeks or less, innovation, and very high collaboration.
    An XPM project manager must be able to embrace change as much as the development team. The XPM project manager is involved in negotiating with stakeholders, communicating with team members, removing obstacles to success, and helping team members maintain the appropriate mindset. 
  • Scrum  
    Scrum is similar to XP in that it relies on short sprints, but Scrum sprints are longer, typically two to four weeks. A single day is devoted to planning, and then development begins. A daily meeting is held to go over what has been completed, obstacles to completion, and what is still outstanding. The completed tasks are demonstrated to stakeholders at the end of the sprint cycle, testing is done, and a new sprint begins.
  • Waterfall
    The Waterfall methodology is generally regarded as a traditional approach to project management. Waterfall was based on the notion that everything happens in sequence, with one phase of a project ending before another beginning. This created many dependencies and also resulted in some fairly disastrous situations for software development: projects were often behind schedule or over budget. Additionally, Waterfall could not accommodate rapidly-changing technology, so projects were often cancelled before they could be completed because they were already out of date while still in development.

Why are There So Many Project Management Frameworks?

Each framework has its own strengths and weaknesses, but more importantly, projects have their own needs and resources. Some elements that may determine which framework to employ are the type of business (big vs. small, manufacturing vs. software), the unique nature of the projects (developing a product versus maintenance), or the different departments using the method.
For example, the PRINCE2 framework might be used to control costs in an environment where cost overruns have been common and management is seeking to slow them down. CCPM might be introduced in an environment where there are many obstacles to completing a project on time, such as a customer who wants new features or even developing entire products that are outside the initial scope of the project. In that particular scenario, an Agile framework might be introduced in order to accommodate change rather than a method to overcome change

Project Management Roles and Knowledge Areas

In order to fully understand project management frameworks, it is important to understand project management roles and project management knowledge areas.

There are a variety of roles that contribute to effective project management, which each person being responsible for their assigned tasks.

  • The Project Manager - The project manager role is critical to overall project success and are in responsible for the overall initiation, execution, and control of the project. In addition, they are accountable for completing or closing the project. The project manager applies the lessons learned from previous projects to the current project, defines team roles and jobs, leads project planning and monitoring, manages risk, looks for opportunities to implement best practices, communicates with the team and stakeholders, promotes client involvement, and performs any other tasks required to keep the project within the specified budget and delivered on time.
  • Executive Steering Committee—The Executive Steering Committee usually comprises representatives from different departments within the larger organization, all of whom are stakeholders to a certain degree. The steering committee is responsible for approving deliverables and alterations to the scope of the project, as well as providing overall guidance for adhering to strategy. Other steering committee activities can include obtaining resources and communicating with senior executives. The Executive Steering Committee’s role is reasonably fluid in that additional duties can be added as needed.
  • Executive Sponsor—The Executive Sponsor has a strong interest in project success because they are directly impacted by the outcome, and is often responsible for securing funding and resources for the project. The Executive Sponsor champions the project, stays informed in all major project activities (such as the status of deliverables), is the ultimate decision-maker, has final approval of scope changes, and signs off on approvals.  Any major milestones or jeopardies should be communicated to the Executive Sponsor.
  • Project Owner—The Project Owner is often the project's key stakeholder, and must have a clear vision of what is to be built and communicate that vision to the rest of the team. The Project Owner understands users, the marketplace, the competition, and future trends.  
  • Subject Matter Expert (SME) —A Subject Matter Expert is an expert in a particular area or topic and provides guidance, usually to the Project Owner, when clarity is needed in understanding a feature and its development.
  • Project Management Office or Portfolio Management Office (PMO)—The Project Management Office is the group, team, or organization business unit that is responsible for setting the project management standards, providing tools, and acting as a point of contact for the project management team. Different levels of PMO exist, including, but not limited to Enterprise PMO, Project Support PMO, and Center of Excellence.
  • Project Management Team—The Project Management Team executes tasks and produces deliverables as outlined in the Project Plan and directed by the Project Manager.

Knowledge Areas
In order to manage a project, the PMBOK Guide defines the basic knowledge areas a project manager should understand. These knowledge areas are the method the PMBOK Guide uses to categorize areas of expertise required to successfully manage and complete projects.  

  • Project Integration Management—Coordinates all aspects of a project, ensures that all processes run smoothly, and produces a series of deliverables.
  • Project Scope Management—Ensures a project's scope is defined and mapped accurately and allows project managers and supervisors to allocate resources appropriately.
  • Project Time Management—Builds processes and outputs into a project that assist the manager and team to complete it in a timely manner. 
  • Project Cost Management—Plans and controls the budget of a project, including estimating, budgeting, financing, funding, managing, and controlling costs so that it can be completed within the approved budget.
  • Project Quality Management—Ensures activities necessary to design, plan, and implement a project are effective and efficient.
  • Project Human Resource Management—Identifies, documents, and assigns project roles, responsibilities, and reporting relationships.
  • Project Communications Management—Ensures that stakeholders communicate successfully and determines which communication artifacts are exchanged during the project.
  • Project Risk Management—Identifies, analyzes, and responds to risk factors during a project.
  • Project Procurement Management—Oversees work done by third parties outside the project team, including administering and managing contracts, changing control process, and purchasing orders.
  • Project Stakeholder Management—Identifies, analyzes, plans, and implements actions designed to engage with stakeholders. Individuals or groups with an interest in the project and may be involved in the work or affected by the outcome.

Selecting the Right Framework is Critical to Success

With so any frameworks and each with its own strengths and weaknesses, choosing the right framework for a project is critical to success.


comparison chart of project management frameworks

Project management has evolved to include a vast array of best practice frameworks and methodologies. Agile, for example, offers a number of methodologies beyond the few described above. The right framework is essential in bringing a project to successful on time and on budget conclusion. Choosing the right framework means carefully observing the stakeholders and team members and understanding their strengths and weaknesses, gauging the project and knowing what its requirements are, matching the resources to the tasks, and understanding the degree to which all of this may change. If you take a careful approach and choose the right framework, you will very likely complete your project with great success.


Why Smartsheet is an Ideal Tool for Any Project Management Framework

From simple task management and project planning to complex resource and portfolio management, Smartsheet helps you improve collaboration and increase work velocity -- empowering you to get more done. 

The Smartsheet platform makes it easy to plan, capture, manage, and report on work from anywhere, helping your team be more effective and get more done. Report on key metrics and get real-time visibility into work as it happens with roll-up reports, dashboards, and automated workflows built to keep your team connected and informed.

When teams have clarity into the work getting done, there’s no telling how much more they can accomplish in the same amount of time. Try Smartsheet for free, today.


Discover a better way to streamline workflows and eliminate silos for good.

Try Smartsheet Free Get a Free Smartsheet Demo