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Project Management Principles

Eric McConnell
July 1, 2010

In the literature on project management fundamentals, there is a wealth of information describing project management principles in all possible areas of application. For example, some PM books when describing PM principles refer to basic questions like “What was achieved within the project?”, “How it was achieved?” and “How successful were the results considered?” Other books on project management describe project principles by referring to the idea that a project can be successfully delivered in case proper techniques and tools have been chosen; thus no focus on project results is taken but initial project management methodology is considered the foundation.

People involved in managing projects have to decide which books to read and which project management fundamentals to consider in order to understand what the key project management principles are. Here we tried to give you a generally agreed combination of project management principles that provide a foundation for a universal reference to a suit of generally acceptable PM practices.

Below is probably one of the best selections of key principles of project management. We tried to depict the key project management principles covering all the details of generally acceptable PM practices listed in PMBOK in order to let you make certain assumptions about the environment of your project and teamwork. But before giving you the list of principles and their descriptions, let’s review common assumptions that can be applicable to your project environment:

  • Every person involved in a project understands that he/she should work towards the same or similar project goals
  • That person agrees on who the customer is
  • He/she has got appropriate levels of PM skills or/and experience
  • He/she strives at achieving project completion and success

Being guided by these assumptions, we can try to state the key project management principles and make their descriptions, as follows below:

  1. The Principle of Project Success

This key project management principle (PM principle) tells that the basic for adequate project management decision-making and post-project evaluation is to develop a combination of project success measures or criteria.

Referring to project management fundamentals, project success is a multi-dimensional magnitude to be clearly defined and described at the very beginning of the project in terms of basic criteria that are used to consider whether the project has reached success or failed upon completion. For example, the following criteria may be applied:

  • Key project objectives are met
  • Expected project results and desired project deliverables are produced on time and within budget
  • The customer is fully satisfied with the delivered product

Project success is inevitably linked to opportunity and risk. When developing your own success measures for your project, you must note that your project (just like any other project) is a risky undertaking so that its success significantly depends on how well risk mitigation efforts are applied. At the same time, your project gives you new opportunities that may cause more additional benefits so that success may be multiplied in case project opportunity treatment efforts are applied.

Both risks and opportunities should be shared among stakeholders, those people who are interested or concerned in your project. Also note that your project success criteria should be developed considering dynamics of your project and its progress which change with time.

  1. The Principle of Mutual Commitment

This key project management principle assumes that in any project there are two parties including Resource Provider and Project Delivering Team. These parties take the mutual commitment to initiate and deliver the project. Resource Provider (usually it is the project owner, or the project sponsor) is responsible for providing necessary resources (like money, products, services, technology, etc.) while Project Delivering Team is committed to utilizing these resources and own skills and competencies to deliver the project.

Following this key project management principle, Resource Provider should understand that giving resources to Project Delivering Team does not mean that that team will deliver the project anyway. The point is that any project has some risk of failure and Resource Provider needs to share potential risks to protect resources. The principle of project management establishes an equitable commitment between the parties, so these parties are equally committed to managing shared risks and implementing risk mitigation strategies, driving the challenge mutually. Such a commitment should exist for every phase of the project if the project remains feasible.

  1. The Principle of Project Strategy

It says that any project is to be delivered under a strategy that involves coherent steps, from planning to implementation. If following this key project management principle, you must consider your project a set of sequential and progressive strategic phases that establish the project life cycle.

Although the essence of management consists in “planning” an event and then “implementing” it, many projects are starred not from “starting point” but from “end point”. It sounds like a paradox; however, people often do not understand what to start from and begin to plan their undertakings from the end by considering expected results but not setting initial goals.

The Principle of Project Strategy assumes that from the moment you decided to launch a project you must start working on developing a project strategy that essentially includes the planning phase, the check point phase and the finish phase which all together cause the duration of your project’s life cycle. In the literature on project management basics, such phases are usually called Initiation Phase, Planning Phase, Execution Phase, Control and Monitoring Phase, and Closure Phase.

  1. The Management Principle

This key project management principle supplements the statements of The Project Strategy Principle and it says that policies and guidance should be in place so that the proper implementation and control of the project commitment are achieved.

Referring to project management fundamentals, while The Project Strategy Principle establishes what will be done and when, The Management Principle defines how it will be done and by whom. Then your project needs to have a management person or a management group which controls the implementation of project phases by comparing baseline with actual achievements, making project course adjustment and measuring progress. That group also takes commitment of developing policies and procedures that include clear statement of project roles and responsibilities, identification of authority delegation rules, processes for maintaining quality, time, and cost, etc., as well as mitigating risks, managing changes and scheduling activities.

  1. The Principle of Cultural Environment

It says that senior management of a project should establish and maintain an informed and supportive cultural environment to ensure that Project Delivery Team is able to perform the project to the limits of its own capacity.

According to this key principle of project management, in each kind of project, Project Delivery Team produces results efficiently in case the cultural environment is provided from the very beginning of the project and maintained throughout the project completion. Such a cultural environment involves both internal and external project relations and values:

  • Internally: the team leader or group manager uses a management style that completely collocates with the type of project and the phase in the project life cycle.
  • Externally: the senior management of a project is supportive allowing the project environment to be free of obstacles (like communication and culture) so project participants can freely communicate with each other and exchange information.

Unfortunately in real practice, this key project management principle is often not supported and many organizations cannot remove obstacles in the way of better project progress.