Types of Project Management: Approaches, Industries, and Personalities

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Project management is categorised into different approaches that managers can adopt, industries, and personality styles. Find out about some of the most common ways to describe project managers in this article from Coursera.

[Featured Image]:  Project Manager discussing approaches to a project with team members.

Project management can be categorised into different types of project management based on the approaches you take as a project manager, the industry you work in, and the way your personality reflects in your personal approach.

Project management isn't a one size fits all job function. There are different types of project management. The way projects are managed depends a lot on the type of project and the project manager who is in charge. The work of a project manager will equally be different depending on the approach they take on the project to be done. 

For example, a project manager working on a construction project to build a high-rise building may take a highly structured WATERFALL approach. A software development project manager trying to understand the functional requirements and translate them to technical specifications in a project may take a far more AGILE approach to software development.

This guide will take you through some of the different ways you can look at project management and help you understand how they differ.

Different types of project management approaches and methodologies

An approach to project management is the set of guiding principles that dictate the flow and progress of a project. The methodology of the project is the protocols and processes that help you roll out a project with a certain approach.

The Waterfall approach

The waterfall approach is a very traditional project management approach. It follows a sequential order with a clear process and clear milestones. The sequential process of the waterfall approach makes it ideal for projects that:

  • Can be ordered and segmented

  • Have subsequent stages depending on the completion of previous ones

  • Require predictability in timelines, budgets, or regulatory control

The Agile project management approach

An Agile approach is an incremental approach to project management where small steps are taken in sprints. Agile was initially developed for software development but is now used more widely. It involves constantly checking and reworking plans in order to meet project targets. 

An Agile approach is ideal for:

  • Product development where there is ongoing research into consumer needs

  • Software development where there are frequent change requests from across the business

  • Projects with volatility or uncertainty from the beginning

Lean project management

This approach to projects was first seen in the manufacture of Toyota cars. Its key emphasis is the reduction of cost and waste throughout the project life-cycle. 

The lean approach involves:

  • Understanding and defining the project in the initiation stage and deciding on priorities for generating cost savings

  • Focusing on what value the customer is getting from the project

The lean approach to project management is most useful when you are looking to:

  • Minimise spending on a project

  • Reduce the amount of time taken on a project

  • Leave room for project changes and task flexibility

  • Focus on what the customer is receiving

The Scrum methodology

Scrum is an Agile methodology. Around two-thirds of those taking an Agile approach to project management use Scrum.

Scrum keeps projects flexible and adapting to the requirements of the user by:

  • Organising the project into small teams

  • Clearly defining project roles

  • Having a clear and regular communication schedule

  • Organising the project into short phases, or sprints, with constant feedback

When a project has the need to change and adapt to new requirements and constant uncertainty, Scrum can be a powerful methodology.

PRINCE2 project methodology

PRINCE2 is focused on the project schedule, budget, and quality delivery. PRINCE2 is one of the most well-recognised project management qualifications held by project managers in the UK.

Projects that are run through a PRINCE2 approach look at:

  • The business case

  • Constantly learning from experience

  • Defining team roles and responsibilities

  • Managing the project in stages

  • Managing stages in limits and with boundaries

  • Focusing on the end product

  • Adapting the project to its size and complexity, scope, and overall project environment

PRINCE2 uses seven main processes for the control of a project. These are: 

  • Starting up the project

  • Initiating the project

  • Directing the project

  • Control stages of the project

  • Managing project deliveries

  • Managing the stage boundaries of the project

  • Closing the project

The Kanban project methodology

This methodology uses a signboard approach where cards are utilised in digital project management software or physically on boards in the office. As tasks move through phases they move into new columns.

This project methodology works well for projects that:

  • Have many tasks to complete by different users

  • Have tasks to be completed simultaneously

  • Have tasks that move through discrete stages or between teams

  • Require a sequential approach by different teams or team members managing the same tasks

Kanban is a flexible methodology that can be built into other project methodologies and approaches and is a visual way of tracking project progress.

How project management differs across industries

Project managers are crucial to diverse industries in the UK. Much of what project managers do on a day-to-day basis is similar wherever they work; defined by the need to manage project scope, deliver on a budget, and deliver on time. However, projects in different industries lend themselves to different types of projects and different ways of completing them.

Software development

Many project managers come from a software development background and demonstrate the aptitude to move into leadership roles where they plan, control, and deliver new software and software enhancements, often through an Agile approach.

Construction project management

There are degrees in the UK focused solely on construction project management. Project managers in this industry collaborate with site foremen, utility companies, architects, and engineers. Construction project management often follows a structured waterfall approach for the process of building residential, commercial, and industrial sites.

Marketing project management

Marketing project managers work on a variety of different types of roles, from delivering website content for an e-commerce company through various stages to developing whole marketing campaigns based on significant data research. 

Marketing project managers may find themselves taking a waterfall approach and using a kanban methodology for the delivery of content and website materials. However, they may take up a much more Agile approach when developing analytics-based campaigns or running search engine optimisation.

IT projects

IT projects involve anything from solving IT problems and rolling out new software to managing an office move. IT project managers may take a more Agile or more structured PRINCE2 or waterfall approach. 

IT project managers often have a technical background and may be leading cross-functional teams with disparate priorities. IT project managers who move between projects on a contract basis require a diverse skill set and knowledge of multiple project approaches and methodologies.

Health care project management

As a project manager in a health care environment, you may need to be keenly aware of health care legislation, and, if working in the NHS, may benefit from health care experience. Project management of clinical projects often requires a lean approach due to budgetary constraints and the need to progress swiftly through project phases.

Financial project management

With the financial conduct authority bringing out new legislation regularly, and software requirements of financial businesses changing rapidly in the race for a competitive edge, there are multiple diverse roles in financial project management. 

Canary Wharf in London’s CBD is a hotbed for careers in financial project management, with Credit Suisse, American Express, Citi, Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan, and many other companies having their headquarters in this trendy area. It seems that every financial project manager has Barclays on their CV, due to the plethora of contract projects the company runs.

A note on security clearance

Many project manager roles require security clearance, particularly in the NHS, the MoD, and IT transformation programmes. Project managers are sometimes defined by whether they are security cleared, and to what level. ‘Security-cleared project manager’ has become a category of its own.

The personality and style of a project manager

There are many approaches and methodologies used in project management across different industries. There is also a clear distinction in the way that project managers work based on their personality and leadership style.

In 2017, Harvard Business Review published a report that divided project managers into four different styles.


The executor style of project management is defined by their goal to understand what a company needs and deliver projects in line with company strategy. In the UK, executors may use any project methodology but may lean towards PRINCE2 and waterfall-style structured approaches.


Prophets tend to be more visionary in their approach, looking past the current project and company strategy to see opportunities for growth and realignment with the future marketplace. Product project managers working with new product launches may benefit from a prophet mentality and may take an Agile approach.


Expert project managers use an analytical approach to understand facts and objective truths in order to build sound projects. Marketing project managers that lead a highly data-driven project may be led by the data they analyse when developing their strategy.


The gambler project manager works within a company and project strategy but may take a less data-driven approach. As a gambler, you may make subjective decisions based on feel and may end up pursuing project routes that identify new opportunities that could not be uncovered by purely following the data.

Becoming a project manager

After reading this guide, you probably get a feel for the diversity of the project manager role. It can be difficult to know where to start in this industry.

If you're considering your first steps into junior project manager roles or working in a project management office, you might want to consider a qualification like the Google Project Management: Professional Certificate.

A foundation-level course like this will provide you with information to help you understand project approaches and use project methodologies including Scrum, Agile, and kanban and help get you ready for a job managing projects.

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