List of Project Management Techniques & Tools & When to Use Them
Everything we’ve done, each task completed and goal smashed, has its origin in the project. The project is everything from ideation, to iteration, to completion. And every successful project needs great project management techniques to succeed.
In this article, we list the top tried-and-true techniques out there and their applications.
What are project management techniques?
There are many different project planning techniques one can try depending on the size of your team, the scope of your project, or the preferred way you like to work.
Before we go further, it must be stated that project management techniques are distinct from project management methodologies. These days the two terms are often used interchangeably, so it can get confusing.
This article focuses on “techniques,” which can be defined as actions taken to accomplish a specific task. This is distinct from “methodologies,” which encompass stages of work, provide measurable outcomes, and are independent of digital tools or project management systems.
With that out of the way, it’s also important to know what is meant by agile project management. Agile project management is like “just in time” work reminiscent of the Toyota method. It stressed remaining light and nimble in terms of teams and inventories, adaptive to changes, and breaking down large tasks into smaller ones that can be done with a degree of flexibility and independence.
This “just in time” system is opposed to the “just in case” system which was associated with the Ford method, that is, big heavy rigid companies, lumbering dinosaurs too slow and sluggish to adapt to fresh worlds.
The next point is that many project management techniques are built around visualizations. Charts, graphs, views, dashboards are the top tools of project management. Some everyone knows about, like calendars. The idea is to let project managers and team members have both good clear overviews of everything that needs to be done, but also ways of visualizing the more specific task orders or requirements.
Why are these project management strategies and techniques important?
The strategies for project management and the basic reasons why teams use them are clear. Good project management helps plan a project, understand its requirements, expenses and timelines from the outset, which is necessary to close deals with clients.
Project management strategy helps avoid mistakes, or catch them early enough so as to avoid them causing unnecessarily long setbacks. For this reason, project risk management is a key part of project planning.
These are some of the most important reasons why strategic project management is necessary for achieving a high level of project success.
Complete list of project management techniques
Can anyone learn these project management techniques on their own and put them into practice? In a way, the answer is yes. However, there are also institutions like the PMI which certifies that individuals can be considered a professional project manager.
The Project Management Institute (PMI) bestows titles like Project Management Professional, Scheduling Professional, Risk Management Professional, Agile Certified Practitioner, Disciplined Agile Scrum Master, and Disciplined Agile Coach.
Now on to our project management techniques list. Here are the 10 best project management methods and tools:
Critical path method (CPM)
CPM, which stands for critical path method, is a technique popular for understanding the total project scope. It prioritizes the time it will take to complete a project and all its tasks and subtasks. A key part of CPM is arranging task dependencies. This will help the project team see which tasks cannot be begun until other tasks are complete.
The critical path method is best used for planning priority lists of tasks and for helping to optimize the order of tasks for complex projects. It is also useful for figuring out the total duration of a project before submitting deliverables, as well as making it easy to re-adjust those expectations in case any individual task is delayed.
PERT (Program evaluation and review technique)
PERT stands for program evaluation review technique. It is similar to CPM in that it is good for large scale project planning. But unlike CPM, the PERT chart is visualized as more of a 2D graph, which shows points for events like project goals or milestones, and connecting lines to show the work required to make them happen, work durations, and the relationships and dependencies between tasks and project team members.
PERT is also leveraged for managing project activities in terms of their range of durations. The three metrics often used to do time estimation are optimistic time, realistic time and pessimistic time.
Scrum: Agile project management
Scrum is considered a common form of agile project management. Software development is one area where the Scrum technique is common. Scrum is a bit like the waterfall technique, but instead of large phases the project is broken down into what are called sprints. These are short bursts of dependent tasks and are meant to require no more than two weeks per sprint.
Scrum requires a good deal of teamwork to figure out the sprints, as well as regular meetings called stand-ups which take place before work begins. Here, everyone or department says what they accomplished the day before, what they plan to do today, and what obstacles they anticipate.
Kanban boards: Agile project management
Using Kanban boards is another major workflow method that is an agile project management system. The highly adaptive Kanban board system is perhaps easier than Scrum, and requires less tight teamwork. Here, a basic Kanban board is divided into columns for stages, with the most basic being: to do, in progress, complete. Then, tasks are put onto cards, and sometimes the colors of cards can also denote something like assignee or department, or prioritization.
Kanban is more appropriate when there are fewer task dependencies and more flexibility with the amount of time needed for tasks and the overall project schedule. It also gives more autonomy to individual workers. While most software development projects use Scrum, many use Kanban boards too.
Gantt charts: Agile project management
The Gantt chart can also be considered an agile project timeline. The major point of a Gantt chart is to show the project schedule in a step by step process within time estimates and due dates. It appears as a linear chart with project tasks stretched horizontally over time frames, while vertically it can be divided by assignee, team or department.
Stakeholders who get access to keep up with projects especially like Gant charts. It allows them to be confident of timely project progress and deliverables. For this reason, it’s also popular for milestone visualization.
The waterfall technique
The waterfall technique places a strong emphasis on the workflow of the project being divided into phases, and for all team members to work simultaneously on the same phase to complete it before beginning the next one. Some of the most common phase templates go something like this: requirements, design, implementation, verification, deployment and maintenance.
Waterfall techniques are ideal for intermittent testing and feedback periods because each completed phase will produce some results to test. It’s also convenient for planning budgets and timelines as there is less randomness throughout the project life cycle. Note that waterfall is sometimes classed as a project management methodology.
Work breakdown structure (WBS)
In some ways, a work breakdown structure, or WBS is like a more complex project management version of the waterfall technique. Again, large projects are broken into individual sections, sometimes by department. WBS is also solid for managing deliverables, which are iterations that could be used by a customer or stakeholder.
A common visualization of WBS is the tree diagram, often inverted. This puts the total completed project at the top with branches coming down into different project requirements for separate deliverables, and below those there the project tasks are listed. With work breakdown structures, you also get a good sense of task dependencies and milestones.
The critical chain project management system is also highly task-dependency based, imagining the project lifecycle as dependent links in a chain. It visualizes a project as beginning from an initial start task or date, branching out, and ending in completion.
One of the most useful advantages of critical chain project management is for planning resources related to a project. This includes raw materials, human labor, fixed capital like equipment, space, bandwidth, etc. What’s more, as far as risk management goes, critical chains are great because moving along the critical path requires already having made sure you have everything you need in terms of resources, thereby minimizing any chance you’ll be held up waiting for resources at a later point in the chain.
Rational unified process
The rational unified process was the creation of a software company somewhere in the larger IBM subsidiary family. It is an agile project management system that relies heavily on iterations. This is most generally used in project life cycle trial and error projects, where each new try produces an iteration for further testing and feedback for improvement.
A common way to think of RUP is in several elements. There are blocks, which are roles, tasks, and completed works. The next elements are life cycle phases, which are inception, elaboration, construction and transition. By “transition” it means a part of the project will move to new departments, eg: from design to construction, or to completion.
Extreme project management
Sometimes spelled as XPM, extreme project management is mainly useful for less clearly planned projects with more uncertain metrics for project success. Like this, XPM is a very creative project management technique. It rarely functions well with fixed costs, deadlines, or milestones. One can say this is another agile project technique, but that would be putting it lightly.
Extreme project management is great for research and development projects. It thrives on things like trial and error, or unexpected side results which may become center stage. There are no set visualization methods for XPM, though you could combine this with another agile method like Kanban or Scrum. The point is, the team should be ready for wild changes in time frames, expenses, tasks and project results.
Project management ideas: harmonizing project management tools and techniques
We’ve already written a project management tools comparison covering how teams are using to complete successful projects at record streamlined capacities. So, which ones would be our top suggestions for practicing the above techniques? Here are some tips:
When it comes to some of the best project management techniques and tools, Wrike is often considered a top project management software. It offers great visibility on all tasks and projects, and also gives you some awesome project plan template options. Wrike has to-do boards, Gantt charts, and good project analytics.
Trello provides its users with some amazing tools and techniques of project management. Chief among these is the Trello Kanban board, one of the most popular Kanbans on the market. Other good Trello project management tools include a simple workflow builder to automatically trigger events and move your project along.
LiquidPlanner is a platform for project management methods and tools. It’s highly adaptive and helps with tracking and reacting to changes. LiquidPlanner is great for task prioritization as well as scheduling. You got your Gantt charts, Kanban boards and more.
As for project analysis tools, most people would say to look no further than Monday.com. Above all, Monday.com has a great look and feel and this shows through in project reporting. Monday Projects is the name of their project management solution with planning, dashboards, tasks and higher strategic project optimization.
One can also really hone their PM tools and techniques with a project management tool like Asana. Asana has a smooth learning curve for things like project overviews, task management, and team collaboration. There are many great dashboards like timelines, vision boards and list mode, as well as document management.
Finally, another solution from a big name brand when it comes to project control techniques is Zoho Projects. Zoho brings you their version of Gantt charts, Kanban boards and timeline views, with simple customizability. There’s also an easy drag and drop workflow builder and template library.
Which of these project techniques is right for me? Our conclusion
It really depends on you and your project team which project management techniques will be best. If you’re staring down the barrel of a mega project with many moving parts and lots of money at stake, think of beginning with the critical path method or critical chain.
Your project management workflow will dictate what works best. If it’s something more agile and flexible and iterative you want, Kanban boards, Gantt charts, and Scrum are all ways to go. If you’re highly organized, check out RUP. Likewise if you’re chaotic and freewheeling, dig into XPM.
Now that you’re all caught up, you're that much more prepared to take on any task, project or long-term goal with the right panning strategy and entire project management mastery.