Principles of project management

Concerns of Project Managers


John A. Bing, PMP Orange County PMI Chapter

“In matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of taste, swim with the current.”

Thomas Jefferson

Something very important is missing in the PMBOK. This basic document of our profession contains definitions, function charts, matrix charts, glossaries, bibliographies, and a reference to our Code of Ethics, but basic rules or principles for successful projects are not even mentioned.

Granted, project management is used in so many diverse circumstances that extracting principles that apply to all is not simple. However, I think it can be done and should be done.

Here are my recommendations of principles, or basic rules, of project management:

Principles of Successful Projects

  • 1. There must be a project as defined in the PMBOK, and not just a task or an ongoing activity.

The logic of this should be self-evident. PM is a tool for effective and efficient management of projects. It is not necessarily a useful or an appropriate system for ongoing factory production or for making a phone call.

  • 2. There must be a single leader (project manager), one who is experienced and willing to take the responsibility for the work.

Probably the first empirical principle that evolved in the development of PM: if you want to get a job done you must assign it to one person and hold that person accountable for the results. The experience required of the PM is both in the business or technology of the project and in the management of projects.

  • 3. There must be an informed and supportive management that delegates appropriate authority to the project manager.

This principle is directly related to No. 2 above, which sets the PM as the person responsible for the project. If a person is given the responsibiliy and accountability for something, that person must also be given the authority to carry out the assignment. Informed and knowledgeable executives understand the value of assigning the responsibility for getting results to a single person.

  • 4. There must be a dedicated team of qualified people to do the work of the project.

By dedicated we mean that team members be specifically identified with the project from the standpoint of personal responsibility. This is opposed to the work being assigned to a larger group of unnamed people, It is an informed management that knows the value of personal involvement. That team members should be qualified is self-evident, although a project is not precluded from being the training ground for new employees. In these cases, the newcomers must learn under the guidance of qualified supervisors.

  • 5. The project goal must be clearly defined along with the priorities of the “shareholders.”

If you don't know where you are going, how will you ever know if you have arrived? Project management is a goal-oriented management system and the first order of business is to define the goal, the purpose of the project, in the most straightforward and unequivocal way. Once this goal is set, the stakeholders should indicate the relative importance they hold for the three basic objectives of all projects: for example, to have a short schedule, to have low cost, or to have the highest quality. Because these three objectives are in inherent conflict, initial goals are usually compromises to obtain a practical or optimum overall objective. However, the project manager needs to know the priorities as a guide for future decisions and tradeoffs. Thus, if time is most important, and the schedule is slipping, it maybe necessary to spend extra money to hold to this goal.

  • 6. There must be an integrated plan that outlines the action required in order to reach the goal.

Once the project goal is defined, the project manager must establish the plan of action required to reach the goal. The travel analogy is that we may know what city we are going to, but we need a map to show us how to get there. But any old map won't do, it must be a map, or plan, that takes into account all the factors that affect the trip and all the people who are involved. All of the factors must be considered and conflicts must be resolved or the original plan is bound to fail when the inevitable problems surface.

  • 7. There must be a schedule establishing the time goals of the project.

A basic part of the integrated plan is a schedule of all the activities reflecting how long each activity will take and the interrelationship they have with one another. For example, the foundation must be poured before the equipment can be set. There are many types of schedules and the type chosen by the project manager should be the one most appropriate for the conditions of the project.

  • 8. There must be a budget of costs and/or resources required for the project.

In order to control the cost of a project there must be an estimate of the total project cost as well as a cost breakdown for each activity. These costs may be in dollars, in labor, in materials, or in equipment, all of which can be translated into costs. As the project progresses, the project manager can assess actual costs versus the estimated costs so that deviations can be acted upon quickly.

The sequence of this list is not meant to indicate the relative merits of the individual principles. However, they do fall into the normal sequence of activities in the concept and planning phases of projects and thus can be viewed as building blocks, one on another. in establishing the foundation for successful projects; failure of one can jeopardize all that follow.

This list of “principles” was developed over a period of years from critical reviews and audits of dozens of projects. In the writer's opinion, this is the same process that brought about project management in the first place; learning from experience what works and what does not. With the exception of wars and acts of God, virtually all project failures— meaning projects that do not attain their goals—were traced to non-adherence to one or more of these principles.

Editor's Note: Are these principles appropriate from your experience? Are there others? Please send your comments to PMI Communications Office (see address on page 4). ❏

PMNETwork • February 1994



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