Which project management methodology would be best suited for a research project/environment?

A research environment is different in many ways, including, for example:

  • Some of the team members are probably not directly working for the PM - they may be professors, students or otherwise members of public institutions, participating in the project without directly working for the PM
  • The project doesn't have a well defined end point or set of deliverables ("we think we can get 100 iPhones talking to each other and doing some cool stuff as a result, we'd like to experiment with them")
  • There may not be a well defined client for the project until partway through
  • There are still the standard problems with allocating funding, resources, and keeping track of dependencies, made more complicated by additional reporting requirements

2 Answers 2


I think you need to develop a hybrid waterfall for this. I have managed these types of projects before. not research, but projects where there's no clear deliverables or unclear clients.

I use the waterfall methodology for each phase - not quite agile. Plan to the next phase and drive the project there. For each phase you can identify what you need to achieve and what it will take to achieve it. As you proceed through finding the clarity, your planning phases become more clear and you are able to plan to the end when you can describe the end.

  • 2
    Nice. Only thing I might say is that having lots of little waterfalls can be quite agile. Most agile teams go through most of the waterfall phases during each sprint. Commented Feb 13, 2011 at 4:53

Any methodology that encourages communication and frequently delivery would work well here. In an R&D environment, you as the PM have a team of educated, opinioned professionals and have to manage a lot of strong personalities. Perry Wilson's answer is fine, I would emphasize that each waterfall should be as short in duration as the team can manage. Each phase should result in something tangible.

Keeping to a strict time box will keep everyone on the team (professors, students) moving. It easy for a project where not all of the team report to or have responsibility to the PM to devolve into continual 'herding cats'. Short time boxes keeps these people from putting off their responsibilities for too long and gives the project many opportunities to change / correct direction.

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