The 7 main styles of project management: Pros, cons, and tips

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It’s tempting to think that only credentialed project managers with that dedicated job function need to worry about project management styles, but that isn’t the case. 

Planning and organizing are two of the four main functions of management, so people managers also need to know the right way to plan and manage projects, not just specialized project managers.

With that in mind, let’s walk through an overview of the seven dominant project management methodologies. See the pros and cons for each and explore scenarios where each style stands out. 

1. Waterfall project management

Waterfall project management is a traditional, even “old school” approach to managing projects. It’s highly linear and hierarchical, with meticulously planned project phases cascading downward (like, say, a waterfall?) It’s heavy on details and light on flexibility, but it can handle projects of considerable complexity and length.

You’ll usually see waterfall project management on linear projects with very firm dates, deliverables, or phases  —  especially when something tangible is involved. Building construction has to follow a specific order, for example, which is why you see waterfall project management throughout trades.

When the goal and scope are firm and unlikely to change, waterfall can work extremely well. On the other hand, waterfall is quite weak for projects with many variables or that must be launched without sufficient data or planning. The higher the likelihood of significant change, the less you should consider waterfall.


  • Allows teams and individuals to focus on one thing (phase or task) at a time

  • Creates thorough, accurate schedules and uncovers realistic budgets

  • Adapts well across industries, specializations, and contexts


  • Inflexible — can’t handle significant change well

  • Requires most or all of the facts upfront

  • No strong mechanism for iterating (such as incorporating customer feedback mid-project)

Why managers should consider this project management style

If your phases, goals, and scope are set  —  and we mean really, actually set  —  waterfall can be a powerful choice. The same is true if you can draw a straight line that runs through all tasks and subtasks.

But if the scope and objectives are likely to change, avoid this project management style. Waterfall also struggles to accommodate overlapping tasks and concurrent tasks. If you can’t draw a straight line from start to finish, you probably can’t waterfall it.

2. Agile project management

Agile project management is somewhat the antithesis of waterfall: Agile expects that the goals and scope will change, and it doesn’t mind at all. At least, not very much. Most Agile methodologies (there are several later in this list) operate in short, iterative cycles that gradually improve a product.

Software development is the ultimate use case for Agile (in fact, the Agile Manifesto was created with IT and software in mind). In software development, teams work simultaneously on wide-ranging and complex projects until they have a stable release, then keep iterating and adding more and more features over time.

You could never draw a straight line through the tasks completed in a work cycle, and you don’t need to. Agile is, well, agile enough to handle it.

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  • Extremely flexible, and mid-project changes aren’t a deal-breaker — they’re expected

  • Ideal for collaborative projects and those with concurrent tasks

  • Fast — work cycles are shorter, and teams can make adjustments at the end of each one

  • Doesn’t demand a full understanding of the end product before planning can begin


  • Imprecise because Agile can struggle to provide immaculate schedules and budgets

  • Requires a certain comfort level with change

  • Starting a project with numerous unknowns, while possible with Agile, can create complications, delays, or budget overruns later on

Why managers should consider this project management style

“Move fast and break things” has gotten a bad rap lately, but plenty of businesses and industries can identify with that motto. If that’s you, you’ll probably use Agile or one of its variants. Any project (not just software projects) that would benefit from iterative product development or where you don’t know everything about the end goal at the outset is a good candidate.

On the other hand, if you’re leading complex, interconnected projects that must follow a set timeline and reach a clearly defined goal, Agile will be weaker.

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3. Scrum project management

Scrum is a tightly developed form of Agile project management that puts all work to be completed into the backlog, then selects from that backlog what should be completed over the next sprint. In Scrum, a sprint is a set period of time, often two weeks and not longer than a month. At the start of every sprint, the Scrum Master will work with the Scrum Team to define a sprint goal and then select tasks from the backlog that achieve or work toward that goal.

At the end of each sprint, the team evaluates and recalibrates. Scrum is iterative like Agile but is more capable of breaking down large, interconnected projects.

In other words, Scrum eats the elephant one bite (er, sprint) at a time.


  • Provides intense focus on what to do when

  • Extremely flexible, so the team can adjust and recalibrate at the start of each sprint

  • Promotes transparency and time management (daily meetings minimize the ability of team members to hide)


  • Intense daily meetings (and intricate ones at the start of each sprint) can eat up work time and resources

  • Continuous improvement is good but can invite scope creep

  • Doesn’t scale well to very large teams

Why managers should consider this project management style

If you like the idea of Agile but need a little more definition to what gets done and when, Scrum can be a good variant. The same is true if you’re wanting to focus the team, increase ownership of tasks, and collaborate extensively.

Just be aware that Scrum can be a significant time commitment — for the project manager (whom you now must call by the smirk-worthy title of Scrum Master) and the scrum team.

4. Strategic project management

Strategic project management is a growing discipline that isn’t exactly the same thing as the others on this list. It looks at the big picture, evaluating how (or whether) projects fit into an organization’s wider strategy.

If the other methodologies here represent the 1,000- or 10,000-foot view, strategic is a satellite sitting in orbit. You won’t use strategic management without another methodology, though you’ll use similar skills in both.


  • Delivers better clarity into the why behind projects

  • Helps companies with a project backlog select the best, most impactful projects

  • Can drive better overall project results by focusing organizations on the projects most likely to deliver market impacts


  • Isn’t a standalone project management methodology

  • Can’t define what should be done when on an individual project level

  • For team members, it may feel too academic with few to no real-world implications

Why managers should consider this project management style

If you’re leading a department of project managers at a large company or are serving in a senior strategic role, strategic project management could be a powerful complement to what you’re already doing in project management. Most SMBs and agencies won’t dedicate a full-time resource to this discipline, though.

5. Kanban project management

Kanban is another one of the Agile-based types of project management that have since evolved. Kanban helps project teams move through tasks and quick projects with speed and grace. The trademark of this system is the Kanban board, which displays available tasks as cards on a (digital) board.

For the right project, Kanban cuts through the complexity and lowers the amount of decision-making you have to do before people can get to work. The system is adaptive enough to accommodate many types of projects, but it has its limits as projects grow in complexity.

See how helps Kanban teams flourish.

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  • Visual approach helps teams understand what to focus on next

  • Simple categories for tasks cut through complexity for the PM and keep people focused on tasks, not complicated workflows

  • Easy for managers to see progress and, to a degree, employee participation levels


  • Doesn’t easily accommodate long or complex projects

  • Requires additional project planning outside the Kanban board, which must be tracked elsewhere (such as in project management software)

  • Doesn’t iterate well

Why managers should consider this project management style

If you lead small teams with similar skill sets (so that it doesn’t matter much who pulls which task), Kanban makes sense. The smaller, shorter, and simpler your projects, the better. This style of project management works well with a delegative leadership style and highly motivated team members.

On the other hand, if you’re dealing with long project durations, multiple subtasks and dependencies, or significant specialization, Kanban’s simplicity may become the project’s downfall. And if you need to iterate like in a Scrumworkflow, Kanban doesn’t quite cut it.

6. Lean project management

Toyota made lean production famous in the mid-to mid-late 20th century as it quickly rose to prominence, making better quality vehicles more efficiently than the competition. 

Lean focuses on eliminating waste in three forms (waste from tasks that don’t generate value, lack of standardization, or inconsistency). The system is most applicable in manufacturing contexts but the ideas have been adapted across industries. 

The idea is to “cut the fat” and work as efficiently as possible while investing in and perfecting the tools that are truly needed to achieve your goals. 


  • Ruthlessly eliminates inefficiency, driving better results

  • Increases the quality and consistency of the end product

  • Ongoing evaluation allows for continuous improvement


  • Efficiency at all costs can deliver results, but it can quickly burn out your people

  • Its application in creative fields is limited

  • Tends to be more tactical than strategic (doesn’t capture the big picture)

Why managers should consider this project management style

The more your business is like manufacturing, the more success you may have with lean project management. Certainly, if you’re in manufacturing, the principles of lean are worth exploring. Even if you don’t fully adopt lean, applying certain elements can improve outcomes.

Just don’t lose sight of the big picture. Agencies and creatives in particular must avoid interpreting creativity as waste or inefficiency.

7. Six Sigma project management

Six Sigma is a complex and highly developed project management style that focuses on process improvement and has its own language and frameworks. It adapts the ideas of eliminating waste and continuous improvement from lean and adds many more layers that help to understand, define, and center on customer needs.

With five phases and four product constraints to keep in view, Six Sigma is a significant investment that requires lots of upfront planning. But done right, you’ll virtually assure success before committing to a project  —  so it’s easy to see the strengths.


  • Uses data and statistics to focus processes on customer needs

  • Meticulous planning nearly assures success before a project is executed

  • Can predict and resolve errors before they occur


  • Requires statistics and analytics that smaller firms may have trouble producing and understanding

  • Implementation is complex and requires a significant shift in processes

  • Like the waterfall approach, it’s extremely front-loaded, so not ideal for projects likely to change

Why managers should consider this project management style

If you’re in an industry where reducing waste in extremely focused ways is a priority, Six Sigma will help you do so. (For some technical background, the system’s name relates to process efficiency that’s so good you’ll see a defect rate of only 0.0000034%, or 3.4 defects out of a million, which means that errors rarely happen — only with “a six-standard deviation event from the mean.”)

That said, the approach is not very flexible, and it rarely makes sense in creative or knowledge work.

What’s the best project management style?

We wish we could tell you — we really do! But the truth is, there’s no single best project management style. That’s why there are so many to choose from.

The best choice for any organization is based on that organization’s needs: What do you produce? What problems are you encountering? How much variability, complexity, and dependency do you have in your work and workflows? Are you making things or formulating ideas?

Questions like these can help point you in a good direction. As far as more detailed guidance, we’ve written about that before: Check out our guide to which project management methodology you should use.

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Manage your team efficiently with

Choosing the perfect project management style for your team or organization is important. But no matter which style you land on, tracking tasks and project data is even more important than the style itself. Every single style depends on clear and visible project schedules, task lists, and workflows to succeed. is a powerful yet flexible project management solution that adapts well to many project management styles. Whatever you need to do with your project data, whatever you need to track: can get it done.

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