Project Management Guide
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What Are the Principles of Project Management?

The principles of project management are the fundamental rules that should be followed for the successful management of projects. The Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK) does not currently contain an official list of principles for successful projects. However, PMI’s annual pulse survey highlights the principles that successful project managers and companies are following. Here are the nine principles of project management:

  • Formal project management structure
  • Invested and engaged project sponsor
  • Clear and objective goals and outcomes
  • Documented roles and responsibilities
  • Strong change management
  • Risk management
  • Mature value delivery capabilities
  • Performance management baseline
  • Communication plan

Let’s take a look at each one of these in a bit more detail.

1. Formal structure

Projects need to have a formalized structure, including processes, procedures, and tools. If you’ve ever tried to complete a project without a formalized structure (“off the books”), you know how hard it can be to control it and provide the attention it deserves. A project should have a project charter, project plan, and a designated project team to successfully prioritize and manage the project. 

2. Project sponsor

An effective project sponsor is critical to the success of a project. Sponsors champion your project and act as a spokesperson to other executives. Having an engaged sponsor makes it easier to communicate progress, escalate issues to overcome roadblocks, and guide stakeholders through decision-making processes.

3. Goals and outcomes

Without precise requirements and approval criteria, it will be difficult to measure a project’s success. You may think that your final product does everything requested, only to have the customer or user complain that you left out a critical component. The most common factor behind failed projects is a lack of clear goals. Project requirements and approval criteria should be determined and documented at the beginning of the project. These must be reviewed and approved by all key stakeholders, including the sponsor and customer.

4. Roles and responsibilities

Two forms should be used to document and define the roles and responsibilities of everyone involved with a project. For project team members, RACI or RASCI is used to determine duties and expectations. RASCI stands for: 

  • R: Responsible 
  • A: Accountable 
  • S: Sign-off authority (not always used) 
  • C: Consulted 
  • I: Involved

In a RACI chart, team members are listed along the top, with tasks along the sides. Each member is assigned a letter (R, A, C, and I) according to their role for each job. A stakeholder register documents stakeholders outside the primary team, as well as important information such as the following:

  • Communication preferences (type and frequency)
  • Contact information
  • Level of influence on the project
  • Engagement level with the project
  • Their role within the company
  • Other relevant details or notes
5. Management of project changes

A project needs a well-defined scope to ensure the outcome meets customer expectations. Without strong change management, a project could suffer from scope creep and gradually grow beyond the initial project guidelines. To give an example, team members or stakeholders may want to add additional features to a product. However, if you don’t carefully control changes, you could end up with a great product that costs twice what you expected and is delivered six months late.

6. Risk management

Since we cannot execute projects in a bubble, they all face some risks. Risk can affect your resources, technology, or processes. It’s important to manage risk to minimize or eliminate its impact on your projects. This involves identifying, evaluating, and monitoring risks and deciding upon action plans to implement if they occur.  

7. Value delivery capabilities

Your value delivery capabilities are the project tools, processes, and procedures that help you deliver value to your customers. This can include your project systems, like your scheduling software. It may also include your processes, such as using an Agile project methodology. If you have established and tested approaches for delivering successful projects, you'll be better equipped than if you’re starting from scratch. The more mature your processes and procedures are, the more likely your project will be a success. 

8. Performance management baseline

Projects typically have three basic components: cost, schedule, and scope. Each of these components should have a baseline or plan against which performance can be measured. When these baselines are integrated, it’s called a performance management baseline — then, if you have a change in any one of these components, its impact will be reflected in the others.

Say you have a scope change. With your performance management baseline, you can see how this will impact your project schedule and cost, allowing you to better monitor the overall effect of changes on a project. A performance management baseline improves decision-making, as you can view the whole picture and identify all impacts of potential decisions.

9. Communication

If you’ve worked in project management for a while, you may have heard the saying that project management is 90% communication. A project’s success requires communication of project activities, risks, issues, and status, both within the project team and with other stakeholders. Communication is essential for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Keeping stakeholders engaged
  • Coordinating tasks and schedules
  • Decision-making and problem-solving
  • Identifying and resolving conflicts 
  • Escalating risks and issues

Further Reading