The Eight Principals Of Project Management

A principle is a rule to be followed or the foundation upon which something is built. Project management principles are the rules which govern all projects regardless of size or industry and lay the foundation for project management success. Overall, the project management principles answer five fundamental questions:

  • What do we want to achieve?
  • Why are we doing this?
  • How will we know we are successful?
  • Who will help us succeed?
  • How will things get done?

Principle 1: Overarching Vision, Goals, and Objectives

All projects start with the vision of a specific outcome. The outcome will usually be one where a particular need is met, or an issue is resolved. The vision, goals, and objectives help to define success from the onset. The vision helps to articulate “what” the project seeks to achieve and “why” you want to achieve it.

The “what” and “why” serve as a beacon that guides the project and helps with the evaluation of project success. It is possible to continuously evaluate whether the reasons for the project are still valid. Otherwise, it makes little sense to proceed with a pointless endeavor.

Principle 2: Well-Defined Structure

Every project operates under the triple constraint of time, scope and cost. A project also needs a team to support execution. A well-defined structure helps define the roles and responsibilities of everyone involved in the project.

This way, it is clear from the onset who is financing the project (the sponsor), who is overseeing the project (the project manager), who is offering expertise (the project team) and who benefits from the project (the client). A well-defined structure addresses the “who” aspect of the project.

Principle 3: Strategic Alignment

Before a project commences, it is vital to understand how it aligns with your vision. For example, we will introduce a new product or service to solve a specific problem for our customers (i.e. meet market demand). Strategic alignment justifies the project and supports the possibility of a return on the investment (ROI).

ROI can be financial or value-based and depends on the vision and goals of the project. For example, a new product or service will usually have a Principals Of Project Management, whereas a project to install a borehole to provide clean water for a village would have a value-based ROI.

Strategic alignment also looks within the project. All projects have stakeholders whose interests must be catered for throughout the project. Through continuous communication, it is possible to identify the needs and priorities of the stakeholders, address any concerns they might have and gain their support to deliver the project successfully.

Principle 4: Rules of Engagement

A project document often called the project charter, is signed at the start of a project. The project charter formalizes the project and authorizes a project manager to access the funds set aside for the project. The charter also outlines the project’s vision, goals, and objectives.

Further, it will describe the project structure and define success by using milestones. This document provides a background of the project, high-level cost estimates, and the overall project plan. The project manager can refer to the project charter for clarification at any point during the project.

Principle 5: Plan, Execute and Control

Every project involves a rigorous planning process. A project plan lays out the way forward from start to finish. It divides the project into stages, identifies the resources required at every stage, prepares for uncertainties and develops measures to guard against potential risks. The plan covers the “how” aspect of a project.

The execution phase is the action phase, where all the plans are set in motion. Every part of the execution phase is well orchestrated to bring the project closer to completion and successful delivery.

Success is measured by tracking project milestones against the project schedule. During this stage, communication plays a focal role in guiding the project. Where interdependencies exist between different teams, consistent communication is the glue that keeps things together.

The control phase of a project involves taking corrective or preventative action. Corrective action can include an inspection to identify and fix defects. Preventative action is adopting a standard measure of quality and ensuring each project element meets the desired standard.

Principle 6: Managing Risks

A Risk is an uncertain event whose occurrence could impact on a project and its objectives. Risks exist in every project and can be positive or negative. Positive risks present opportunities, while negative risks are threats to a project.

For example, new legislation can offer a positive or negative risk. As a positive risk, the new law may cause an increased demand for your product or service and thereby create an opportunity. Alternatively, the new law can be a negative risk or a threat if it requires you to make changes to your existing process and will cost time and money to implement.

Since risks are an inherent part of projects and continue to emerge throughout the life of the project, it is essential to plan and manage the risk with appropriate responses.

The risk response towards a negative risk include:

  • Avoidance of the risk by changing the project approach
  • Acceptance of the risk as necessary
  • Transferring the risk to a 3rd party such as an insurer
  • Mitigating the risk to reduce its impact on your project

The risk response towards a positive risk include:

  • Exploiting the risk
  • Sharing the risk with another interested party
  • Enhancing the risk for maximum benefit
  • Rejecting the risk

Principle 7: Change Management

Projects operate in a VUCA environment. VUCA represents volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. A VUCA environment results in changing priorities and needs. Change management offers a systematic way to prepare and navigate a complex environment.

One way to manage change in a project is by maintaining flexibility with the project plan and making a course correction as soon as possible. Another way to manage change is to make provision for it in the risk management plan. Based on experience, changes can be anticipated, and appropriate responses planned and implemented when a need arises.

Principle 8: Measurement and Accountability

When discussing any project, the saying “what gets measured gets done” is accurate. At the start of the project, the measures for success are defined for the project and the project team. The degree to which the project and the project team meets the criteria defines the level of success of the project. It is critical to creating checkpoints in the form of milestones throughout the project to measure success continually. Some likely measures of success include:

  • Customer satisfaction with the final product or service
  • Meeting a key objective as defined in the project charter
  • Delivering the project on schedule and within the agreed budget

Reflection is part of the measurement process. It helps to explain the progress of the project and to document what is working well and what can be improved. When done consistently throughout the project, reflection can salvage a dying project.

A project manager is accountable for an entire project. The success of a project lies in its ability to manage conflicting priorities and apply limited resources in the best possible way. The project team is also accountable to deliver on their roles and responsibilities as described to them at the start of the project.

In conclusion, the project management principles apply to all projects regardless of the model or methodology of delivery.

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