Types of Project Management: Methodologies, Industries, and More

Written by Coursera • Updated on Sep 10, 2021

Project management methodology, industry, and personal strengths can shape your work as a project manager.

A project manager in a research facility goes through project plans on her laptop with a team.

Project management has many faces, and can vary greatly depending on the approach, methodology, industry, or project manager themselves. That means your day-to-day work as a project manager in construction using a Waterfall approach will look very different from an IT project manager's who uses Scrum to rally their team. Here’s a look at the many different types of project management.

Types of project management approaches and methodologies

A project management approach is a philosophy or set of principles that describe the way a project is tackled. A methodology on the other hand is the actual set of rules and practices used to implement an approach.

1. Waterfall

Waterfall is often called the “traditional” project management approach. In traditional approaches, projects are completed one stage at a time and in sequential order—like a waterfall would flow down a collection of rocks.

When to use Waterfall:

Waterfall is an approach often used in projects with strict constraints and expectations, or very few anticipated changes to the project plan. The Waterfall approach can be effective for projects like building houses, where one stage must be completed before others can begin, or where timelines, budgets, regulations, or other factors make it necessary for your project to have a predictable outcome.

2. Agile

Agile is an approach to project management that is built on small, incremental steps. It’s designed to be able to pivot and incorporate changes smoothly, making it popular among projects where unknowns and new developments are common.

Agile’s twelve principles are enshrined in the Agile Manifesto, which was written in 2001 by project managers in software development.

When to use Agile: 

Agile is best used in projects in industries that expect a certain amount of volatility, or in projects where you won’t be able to know every detail from the outset. Agile project management is very popular in software development, where changes are almost constant. You might also use an Agile approach when you’re launching a new product, and aren’t fully aware of where pain points might lie until closer to the end of the project.

Read more: Agile vs. Scrum: Which Should You Use, and Why?

3. Lean

Lean is a project management style with roots in the manufacturing industry (Toyota’s cars, to be exact). It aims to cut down on waste and increase efficiency. Key Lean principles include emphasizing value from the customer’s perspective, and mapping out your entire project in the initial stages to see where to generate value and cut waste.

When to use Lean:

Lean can be a useful project management approach to adopt when you’re looking to reduce costs, shorten timelines, and improve customer satisfaction. It’s best used for projects that anticipate some flexibility and change.

4. Scrum

Scrum is the most-used type of Agile methodology, with over 66 percent of Agile adopters using Scrum [1]. Scrum implements Agile principles through small teams, short development cycles, frequent communication, and designated roles to keep the project organized and on track.

When to use Scrum:

Scrum can be a powerful way to tackle projects that thrive on change and adaptation. Like Agile, it is often used for projects in industries that anticipate frequent change or unknowns.

Did you know? Though Scrum is a type of Agile project management, Scrum came before Agile. The founders of Scrum developed the framework in the early 1990s, and were among the signers of the Agile manifesto in 2001.

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Read more: 7 In-Demand Scrum Master Certifications 2021

5. Kanban

Kanban, which means “signboard” in Japanese, is a method of visualizing the workflow of a project. In Kanban, the tasks of a project are represented as cards divided into columns on a physical or digital board. As progress is made on the tasks, the cards advance to the next column until they are completed. The Kanban method emphasizes a continuous workflow. 

When to use Kanban:

Kanban’s way of visually displaying tasks makes it well-suited for projects that have several tasks that need to be completed simultaneously. Kanban is often used in tandem with other methods, like Scrum or Lean.

Types of project management across industries

The project manager is a staple role in many different industries. Though the fundamentals of what they do are the same—lead projects to fulfill goals while staying on schedule and within budget—the details of what they do can differ.

  • Construction: A construction project manager organizes people and resources to oversee the process of building structures like houses and office buildings. The project manager generally works closely with architects and engineers.

  • IT: A project manager in IT works with teams to solve IT-related problems in a company. They can, for example, carry out a project to install new software across a company, update networks, or help roll out cloud computing services.

  • Software development: Software project managers orchestrate project teams to develop new software and software updates. They may have professional experience in developing software themselves.

  • Healthcare: A project manager in healthcare leads projects in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Healthcare project managers often have to have a good understanding of healthcare legislation.

  • Energy: In energy, project managers carry out projects that develop new energy infrastructure or improve existing ones. They might also work to roll out energy-efficient practices at individual organizations.

  • Marketing: A project manager in marketing might work at a tech company, advertising firm, large retailer, or any number of other organizations that have marketing arms. Projects can include marketing campaigns, research efforts, and new product launches.

Types of project managers

There are many different types of project management—but what about project managers themselves? What kind of project managers are most effective? If you’re a hiring manager, what are you supposed to look for in a candidate? Differences in personality and leadership style can vary from manager to manager, and lead to natural strengths and blindspots.

A 2017 report published by the Harvard Business Review divides project manager personalities into four different types—executor, prophet, expert, and gambler [2]. Knowing how you or other project managers operate can be useful in discerning what kind of project management style is best for the situation.

  • Executor: An executor stays in line with a company’s current growth strategy, and is a reliable leader of projects. The report identifies this type as one of primary importance to have at a company to execute projects. However, the other types are valuable for unearthing growth opportunities, particularly in the long term.

  • Prophet: The prophet might not necessarily stay within the company’s current strategy, but has a long-term vision and can be useful in seeing new growth opportunities. These types of project managers might be leading moonshot projects, for example.

  • Expert: The expert is an analytical professional who acts on facts and advice. They can be relied upon to make sound business decisions and may pursue opportunities outside of current strategies.

  • Gambler: The gambler stays within the existing strategy, but might not be able to predict the success of their ventures due to lack of data. They might bet on and find new growth opportunities that were overlooked by analysis.

Getting started in project management

Project management can look vastly different depending on the methodology or approach used, and what the project manager themselves bring to the table. For aspiring project managers, that’s good news—you’ll likely be able to find work in most any industry.

If you’re interested in leveling up your project management skills, it’ll be useful to be familiar with the basics, as well as a few different approaches and methodologies. Consider checking out the Google Project Management: Professional Certificate and learn to use and implement project management strategies, plus the basics of Scrum and Agile.

Article sources

1. Digital.ai. "15th State of Agile Report, https://stateofagile.com/." Accessed September 9, 2021.

2. Harvard Business Review. "The 4 Types of Project Manager, https://hbr.org/2017/07/the-4-types-of-project-manager." Accessed September 9, 2021.

Written by Coursera • Updated on Sep 10, 2021

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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