PSOhub Blog

Are project management methodologies relevant anymore?


“Many methods, techniques, and tools have been developed, covering all aspects of managing projects from their genesis to their completion. Nevertheless, project management remains a highly problematical endeavor.”
Fernandes et al

Traditional project management methodologies, aka PMMs, serve as cornerstones in the majority of formal educational programs for project managers. 

Most even relatively familiar with project management know the most popular approaches by heart, from waterfall to agile, SCRUM, lean, and hybrid models.

Let’s not forget critical path, critical chain, horizontal vs vertical, and PRINCE2. Not to mention the endless combinations that form those evolving self-made models that organizations create themselves. 

There’s a ton of online certification programs for major project management methods, and various businesses still want to see these credentials during the hiring process.

But as with so many disciplines, books and concepts only go so far. 

Real-world experience often turns methodologies on their heads, be it in project management, medicine, finance, you name it.

Which begs the question: Are project management methodologies as relevant as they once were? 

Let’s explore the answer using a few published studies that dove deep into the subject with real-world examples.

Study #1: When PMMs work and where they fall short

In this survey-based study, How Effective Are Project Management Methodologies? An Explorative Evaluation of Their Benefits in Practice 2012, the findings suggest that project management methodologies aren’t as useful in specific situations. 

Case in point: when the project manager is themselves an expert or has a wealth of high-level experience.

Wells finds out that almost half (47.9% to be exact) of the project managers in the case studies said that PMMs were ineffective. 

The conclusion is that leveraging a tried-and-true project management methodology is more useful when there needs to be compensation for lack of what the study author calls ‘tacit knowledge’. 

Tacit knowledge, or the ‘knowledge behind the knowledge’, is personal, earned through experience, successes, and failures. 

Wells, the study’s author, acknowledges that tacit knowledge is difficult to standardize since it’s so specific to the person and the context. But it is precisely this factor that can make applying a PMM obsolete. 

Furthermore, PMMs fail most at the weaker points in the project lifecycle, aka those that are less codified, less standardized. 

Wells calls these moments of ‘mobilization of tacit knowledge’, where an expert or highly experienced project manager is going to take over to steer the project. Also, of the surveyed project managers, these moments were especially pronounced in the IT services sector.

Another key point from the research data revealed that PMMs worked best in situations where control and standardization are more heavily in focus. Ipso facto, they translate well to larger organizations and companies that are working on codifying their processes and scaling the business.

Startups and smaller agencies that are more focused on product development and service delivery, inversely, won’t see as many benefits from adopting a PMM to guide their projects.

Finally, Wells explains that the data shows a preference for PMMs at higher levels of management that doesn’t always translate to success:

“This research contributes to knowledge by showing a gap between the intended benefits of the PMM by senior managers at the organization level and the actual benefits and support offered at the project level.”


  • PMMs come in handy to fill a void in experience or expertise on the part of the project manager.
  • PMMs are less useful for highly skilled PMs and at points in the project lifecycle, common in IT services, where intuitive guidance can and should take over to promote project success.
  • PMMs work great for standardizing and scaling. They fall short when product development and product delivery are the focus.
  • PMMs tend to be favored more by upper management and often don’t provide the intended outcomes at the organizational level.

Study #2: A Case for an applied, evolving PMM 

Here’s an interesting 2019 case study on PMMs, specifically with the oil and gas business in Bahrain. Using a cross-sectional survey of 95 businesses in the country, the authors tried to determine the impact of project management methodologies on project success, as well as what the strengths and weaknesses were in applying each method. 

In The Impact of Project Management Methodologies on Project Success: A Case Study of the Oil and Gas Industry 2019, as far as project success is concerned, there’s a positive correlation with using an applied PMM. 

Using a supplemental PMM, however, was not correlated with project success:

“In contrast, supplemented PMMs are not correlated to project success as project managers could supplement and use methodology elements that are not appropriate for the project activities at hand. Supplementing a methodology with missing elements is based on subjectivity and the judgment of the project manager which requires considerable professional experience to carry out such exercise.”

The authors found that the successful oil and gas businesses used PMMS in a constant state of evolution, adapting to shifting organizational requirements as they came. This evolution is considered a big plus on the part of the authors, who reference previous studies to back up its advantages.

One example of this evolution in action that we can see in the study is onboarding new project management tools:

“The evolvement in all methodologies took the form of incorporating new tools and techniques such as planning and scheduling software and risk management measures.”

Another strength they found with PMMs is that in the case of these oil and gas companies, they provided a framework for multidisciplinary teams. These well-coordinated teams were found to be one of the biggest factors in project success.

On the other hand, weaknesses were observed with the application of PMMs, most distinctly with regard to the bureaucracy they create. When people constantly have to jump through these bureaucratic hoops, the authors argue, the project becomes more ‘cumbersome and time-consuming’. Again, they cite previous research that coincides with their argument. 


  • Applied PMMs correlated with project success, whereas supplemented methodologies did not. 
  • The evolution of the PMM is key to enduring project success.
  • Multidisciplinary teams are critical to any PMM for oil and gas projects.
  • PMM’s weaknesses lie in their bureaucratic nature which operationally slows things down. 

Study #3 - PMMS actually have no bearing on project success 😯

We found this 2018 study, A Correlational Study on Project Management

Methodology and Project Success, which contradicts the findings from study #1.

Unlike the first UK study, this methodical survey of North American project managers came to the conclusion that project management methodologies in actuality have no bearing on project success. 

The authors acknowledge that their findings contradict multiple research endeavors into the subject, not just study #1. 

However, they still consider their findings useful, mentioning that regardless of advancements in tech, methodologies, etc, project failure is still a ‘wicked problem’:

As is common with wicked problems, no two projects are the same and the solution (often a project management methodology) deployed in one setting rarely is successful unilaterally. The resulting occurrence is what is currently seen – consistent project success remains just out of reach. 

They also found, similar to the research in study #2, that evolution and flexibility of methodologies are critical, particularly for cases in which volatility and uncertainty are at constant play, like in many oil and gas projects. 

Because of the disparity between the research here that suggests PMMs don’t really matter and previous studies that indicate they do, the authors suggest more studies into the topic.


  • PMMs aren’t correlated with project success.
  • Flexibility of any chosen PMM is critical for the health of projects.
  • Further research is needed to explain the fluctuations in correlations between PMMs and successful projects.

What we learned 🤓:

This article explores the relevance and usefulness of project management methodologies (PMMs) across three academic studies. Here are the most important takeaways:

Project methodologies may or may not have any bearing on project success.

The research on this goes both ways, suggesting that while choosing an established PMM and sticking with it may be beneficial, it might not translate into projects actually getting delivered on time and within budget. 

Internally developed, evolving methodologies may be the exception.

There has to date not been any studies on the relationship between self-made project management methodologies and project success. In sectors like oil & gas as well as IT projects, these models are uber-tailored to the nuances of the organization, the product, and the business sector, making them attractive for long-term success.

It might not necessarily be about choosing the ‘right’ approach, but just choosing one at all.

This point references the second study that showed that comprehensive methodologies, when executed full throttle, do correlate with project success. Remember that the ‘supplemental’ application did not. So, choosing the right project management methodology may not be as important as just making sure you actually choose one. 

This echoes some of our clients’ experiences in content production and digital marketing, where the process itself is often not as critical as simply having a process in place.

And if we’re not sure any one method correlates with project success anyway, there’s not as much to lose if you decide to go with an approach that maybe doesn’t fit perfectly.

The experience of the PM is a huge factor in whether or not a PMM is even used.

Stricter adherence to PMMs is more important for project managers with less experience. Project management methodologies are perhaps more useful cases where the project manager is less experienced, sort of like an autopilot option. Managers who possess adequate ‘tacit knowledge’ to drive the ship where methodologies fall short may inversely feel constrained by their structure. 

PMMs are often not useful for many projects

Almost half of the participants in the first study not only said that PMMs were not beneficial, but that they actually hindered effective project delivery. Simple, straightforward projects or even in-depth, creative ones like software development are not always going to benefit from adopting a PMM. 

Further studies post-pandemic are needed

Project management and countless other disciplines had to adapt drastically to accommodate the work-from-home model that has stuck around for professional service businesses like marketing agencies. The project management world is a different place than it was when all of the currently available literature was published.

It would be super-interesting to see some more studies on the effectiveness or relevance of PMMs in the post-pandemic world. What would be even better is if we could poll the businesses that took part in the surveys of studies 1 and 3 to see if there is a significant change in the responses. 

So, how important is choosing the ‘right’ project management methodology?

At the end of the day, the research goes both ways, indicating that most experienced project managers with relatively low-risk projects don’t need to stress about selecting the right PMM. The right answer lies in the context of the project itself. In cases where the project manager lacks tacit knowledge or scaling and standardization are of utmost concern, choosing the right PMM matters. 

For more straightforward projects, many IT services, and for businesses hyper-focused on product delivery, it won’t be as important. 

In the case of the oil and gas industry, enterprise-level service businesses, and companies that are scaling, PMMs remain relevant to daily operations. Creative agencies and IT providers, however, may not afford them the same level of importance.