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Not a day goes by without a new whitepaper, book, or conference article published heralding a new delivery approach that is absolutely the only possible way that all projects should be delivered from hereon. How fortunate then that experienced project managers and PMO professionals don’t follow fads. Instead, they follow project management principles. Underpinning the project activities such as project planning, creating a  Gantt chart, and developing a communication plan, there are uncompromising truths that can help project managers recognize what is right and help steer projects on the right path.

What are Project Management Principles?

Principles are usually defined as self-evident truths or underlying fundamental laws. Unlike frameworks, fads, and even values, principles have longevity. Organizations and individuals who hold to a set of principles use them as a compass. They check them whenever they doubt when they need to evaluate a particular decision, situation, or scenario and use them to assess the right path to follow. They also refer to them when defining smart goals, project scope, and when they define milestones.

Which Principles should I be following? 

Groucho Marx is commonly attributed with the quote “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well I have others”. There are many sources of Project Management principles. In this article we consider principles from PMI, Prince2, the Agile Manifesto and Kanban. Then we look wider than the world of  delivery, and consider principles for learning and PMO principles. Finally, we consider what is perhaps the most important source of all: your personal principles.

The Principles of Successful Projects

In 1994, John A Bing from the Orange County PMI Chapter proposed eight Principles of Successful Projects. His list was developed over several years, and Bing asserted that virtually all project failures he observed could be traced to non-adherence to one or more of his principles. Bing’s Project Management Principles are as follows:

  1. There must be a project as defined in the PMBOK, and not just a task or an ongoing activity.
  2. There must be a single leader (project manager), one who is experienced and willing to take responsibility for the work.
  3. There must be an informed and supportive management that delegates appropriate authority to the project manager.
  4. There must be a dedicated team of qualified people to do the work of the project.
  5. The project goal must be clearly defined along with the priorities of the “shareholders.”
  6. There must be an integrated plan that outlines the action required in order to reach the goal.
  7. There must be a schedule establishing the time goals of the project.
  8. There must be a budget of costs and/or resources required for the project.

This list of basic principles is likely to resonate with some Project Managers. It certainly algins to what is taught to students attending project management training, such as that undertaken for the PMP certification. But this does feel like more of a list of responsibilities of the project manager rather than a guiding set of principles.

These are certainly not the only sets of principles that project managers should consider. Bing is not the only person to have attempted to articulate a set of project management principles. In his paper on Theory-W software project management, Barry Boehm argued that software projects should be bound by a fundamental principle, “Make everyone a winner.” Project management can often be considered a complex field littered with complex and even contradictory techniques, processes, and frameworks. It is easy to see how having such a high-level principle for a software project manager to strive towards could have a positive outcome on project delivery.

PMIs Standard for Project Mangement contains 12 principles, and it is those we turn to next.

PMO Standard for Project Management Principles

PMIs publication The Standard for Project Management was published jointly with A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide ) Seventh Edition in 2021. The Standard was published by PMI as an attempt to provide a basis for understanding project mangement and how it enables outcomes. It consists of a description of project management as a system for value delivery, and then describes 12 project management principles. The twelve PMI Project Management Principles are closely aligned with four Values in their 2008 Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct

  • Responsibility, 
  • Respect,
  • Fairness, and
  • Honesty.

The 12 principles are:

  1. Be a Diligent, respectful, and caring steward
  2. Create a collaborative project team environment
  3. Effectively engage with stakeholders
  4. Focus on value
  5. Recognize, evaluate, and respond to system interactions
  6. Demonstrate leadership behaviours
  7. Tailor based on context
  8. Build quality into processes and deliverables
  9. Navigate complexity
  10. Optimize risk responsies
  11. Embrace adaptability and resiliency
  12. Enable change to achieve the envisioned future state

Let’s look at those twelve in a little more detail:

Stewardship in Project Management

Being a successful project manager is like being a responsible steward. You must manage valuable resources with care and attention to achieve desired outcomes. This includes financial assets and human resources like team members’ time and skills.

The Importance of Stewardship

Stewardship is crucial in project management. It involves demonstrating integrity, trustworthiness, and compliance both within and external to the organization. By managing all project resources responsibly, you can foster mutual trust between the organization and its stakeholders, leading to better cooperation and ultimately more successful projects.

Internal and External Responsibilities

As a project manager, you must balance responsibilities towards internal stakeholders (like employees) while fulfilling obligations towards external ones (such as clients or investors). This balance can be achieved by maintaining open lines of communication, setting clear expectations, and ensuring accountability at all levels. Check out this article for more information on balancing internal and external responsibilities.

Remember, being a diligent steward involves managing all project resources with respect and attention. Making the most of all project assets, while maintaining a sense of responsibility and regard for them, is essential to delivering successful projects and earning stakeholder confidence.

Building a Collaborative Team Environment

A successful project is the result of a highly collaborative team environment. It enhances productivity, fosters creativity, and sparks innovation.

The Importance of Teamwork in Projects

Teamwork in project management is crucial. A cohesive team can efficiently tackle challenges, share responsibilities, and work towards common goals.

Strategies to Foster Collaboration

  • Clear Communication Channels: Avoid misunderstandings by creating clear communication channels.
  • Promote an Open Culture: Encourage team members to share ideas, voice concerns, and contribute towards problem-solving.
  • Incorporate Team-Building Activities: Regular team building activities can help build trust among members and improve overall teamwork.

Fostering a collaborative environment takes effort, but it’s worth it for the benefits it brings – improved performance, better decision-making processes, increased motivation levels, among others. Remember that every member has unique skills; leveraging these effectively will lead your project down the path of success.

Engaging Effectively with Stakeholders

Effective stakeholder engagement is key to project success. Creating an atmosphere of dialogue and transparency is essential for successful stakeholder engagement.

Understanding Your Stakeholders

Identify and understand your stakeholders, from team members to regulatory bodies. A stakeholder analysis can help you understand their interests, expectations, and potential influence on the project.

Techniques for Engaging Stakeholders

  • Clear Communication Plan: Outline when and how you’ll communicate with each stakeholder group throughout the project lifecycle.
  • Promote Transparency: Be honest about challenges and successes. This builds trust between you and your stakeholders.
  • Solicit Feedback: Regularly ask for input from stakeholders using tools like surveys or meetings to ensure they feel heard and valued in the process.

Invite participation from stakeholders to ensure their needs and opinions are considered, forming a reciprocal relationship for achieving project objectives. Listen to their needs and concerns, and work together towards project success.

Focusing on Value

Projects should be about creating value, not just completing tasks. Each action should contribute to the overall value proposition of the project.

Defining Value in Projects

Value can be seen differently depending on the situation. In projects, it could mean delivering high-quality outputs, achieving strategic objectives, or generating positive ROI. Define what value means for your project and ensure all stakeholders understand.

Ways to Ensure Focus on Value Creation

  • Set Clear Goals: Goals should align with the organization’s strategy and provide direction for all project activities.
  • Prioritize Tasks: Not all tasks are equal. Prioritize them based on potential impact to maintain focus on those that generate the most value.
  • Maintain Stakeholder Engagement: Regular communication with stakeholders helps keep everyone focused and ensures alignment between expectations and deliverables.

Remember: “Value over volume.”

Mastering Project Management with Systems Thinking

Systems thinking is the secret sauce to managing complex projects like a boss. By taking a holistic approach, project managers can anticipate challenges and devise strategies that address multiple issues simultaneously.

What is systems thinking, you ask?

It’s like seeing the forest instead of just the trees. Systems thinking involves understanding how different parts of a project interact with each other and affect overall outcomes. Check out this article for more info.

How does systems thinking impact project management?

  • Big picture perspective: It helps identify interdependencies between different tasks or phases of the project.
  • Solution-oriented: With an understanding of how things are interconnected, it becomes easier to find solutions that address multiple issues simultaneously.
  • Risk management: Recognizing system interactions early on can help mitigate risks before they escalate into bigger problems.

So, if you want to navigate complexity like a pro and ensure efficient execution of tasks, incorporate systems thinking into your project management strategy.

Demonstrating Leadership Behaviours

Good leaders = successful projects. It’s that simple. Effective project leaders are communicative, responsive, and proactive. They have a clear vision for the project and inspire team members to share in that vision. Plus, they’re empathetic, honest, and tough – qualities that build trust within the team.

Characteristics Of Good Leadership In Projects

According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), great leaders are visionaries who can communicate their ideas clearly. They’re also responsive, proactive, and inspiring. Plus, they’re empathetic, honest, and tough – qualities that build trust within the team.

Impact Of Leadership On Project Success

PMI found that projects led by strong leaders had a 75% chance of meeting their original goals compared to those with weak leadership. Leaders who can manage change, resolve conflicts, and motivate their teams are more likely to deliver successful projects on time and within budget.

Strive to be an outstanding leader; the effort is worth it. Keep striving for greatness as you progress through your project management career.

Tailoring Your Approach for Project Success

By recognizing the individual nature of each project, it is necessary to modify strategies and equipment in accordance with the situation. This means understanding the nuances of the environment you’re operating in and adapting your methodologies and tools accordingly.

The Importance of Tailoring Approaches

A tailored approach that considers all aspects, including culture, technology, stakeholders, and resources, is crucial for achieving optimal results. A strategy that applies to all situations is rarely successful since success in one situation may not be repeated in another.

The Benefits of Context-Based Tailoring

  • Better alignment: Tailoring your approach based on context helps you better align your strategies with business objectives and stakeholder expectations.
  • Faster decision-making: Understanding the context helps you anticipate potential issues earlier, leading to quicker decisions and actions.
  • Greater efficiency: Customized processes often lead to more efficient use of resources as they are designed keeping specific needs in mind.

A tailored approach enables project managers to navigate complexities effectively while delivering value consistently.

Building Quality Into Processes and Deliverables

Quality isn’t just an objective, but rather a perpetual cycle. Building quality into each process and deliverable from the beginning is crucial for successful outcomes.

The Importance of Built-In Quality

Built-in quality ensures consistency, reduces rework, and enhances customer satisfaction. It’s about meeting and exceeding stakeholder expectations at every stage of the project lifecycle.

Steps to Ensure Built-In Quality

  1. Determine Quality Standards: Identify relevant industry standards and stakeholder requirements to define what ‘quality’ means in your project context.
  2. Incorporate Continuous Improvement: Implement a culture of continuous improvement, encouraging team members to constantly seek ways to enhance processes and outputs.
  3. Maintain Regular Checks: Regularly review processes against defined criteria, making adjustments as necessary to ensure ongoing alignment with quality objectives.

These steps can help you integrate high-quality practices throughout your projects, leading to better results and increased trust among stakeholders in your ability to deliver excellence consistently.

Managing complexity in projects can be a real headache. Navigating even the most intricate tasks can be achieved by utilizing the proper techniques and tools. Let’s explore some ways to navigate these complexities smoothly.

Understanding Project Complexity

The first step in managing project complexity is understanding what it entails. Project complexity refers to the intricacies involved in coordinating various elements of a project – from stakeholder expectations and team dynamics to technical requirements and market conditions. Check out this guide on navigating project complexity for more insights.

Tools And Techniques To Manage Complexity

  • Risk Management: Identify potential risks early on and develop proactive response plans.
  • Systems Thinking: Understand how different parts of your project interact with each other as well as with external factors.
  • Frequent Communication: Regular updates keep everyone informed about progress, challenges, and changes, reducing misunderstandings or misinterpretations that could add unnecessary complications.

Incorporating these strategies into your management practices will significantly improve your ability to handle complex projects effectively.

Optimize Risk Responses

In the unpredictable world of project management, risks are inevitable. However, proactive risk optimization can help prepare for potential pitfalls ahead of time and minimize their negative impact later on.

Spot Risks Early

Identifying risks early on is key to optimizing risk responses. Know your project’s scope, objectives, and external factors that could affect its success.

Plan Ahead

Develop proactive risk response plans that detail how each risk will be managed or mitigated, who is responsible, and what resources are needed. Planning is important, but implementation is crucial.

Achieving successful results requires an effective risk management approach to counteract potential issues that may arise.

Be Agile: Embrace Adaptability and Resilience

Project management is like a rollercoaster ride, full of ups and downs. To succeed, teams need to be agile, adaptable, and resilient. These traits help them navigate through the twists and turns of any project.

Why Adaptability and Resilience Matter

Adaptability means being able to adjust to changing circumstances quickly. Adaptability and resilience are essential for teams to remain productive in the face of adversity. Together, they help teams stay on track and deliver results, even when things don’t go as planned.

Cultivating These Traits in Your Team

To foster adaptability and resilience, set a clear vision and maintain open communication channels. Encourage problem-solving and reward innovative solutions. Here are some other strategies to consider:

  • Encourage collaboration and teamwork
  • Provide opportunities for learning and growth
  • Emphasize the importance of self-care and work-life balance

By cultivating these traits, you can help your team tackle any challenge that comes their way.

Make Change Happen to Reach Your Goals

Enabling change is crucial to achieving your project’s envisioned future state. It’s not just about managing transitions, but creating a culture that embraces and encourages change.

The Importance of Facilitating Change

Facilitating change within an organization can make or break a project. Effective change management can lead to higher success rates in projects, according to PMI.

Steps to Achieving Your Goals

  • Visualize: Clearly define your desired future state.
  • Plan: Develop a detailed plan outlining the steps needed to transition from the current state to the envisioned one.
  • Mobilize: Engage stakeholders at all levels to ensure everyone understands their role in achieving the vision.
  • Sustain: Continually monitor progress and adjust plans as necessary, always keeping the focus on the end goal.

Fostering adaptability requires strong leadership and commitment throughout the organization. By employing the proper methodology, you can ensure that your project objectives are met successfully.

PMI are not the only ones to have attempted to codify a set of project management principles. Next up we look at the principles defined in the Prince2 project methodology.

PRINCE2 principles

PRINCE2 logo

Certifications training provider Axelos defines seven core principles in its PRINCE2 project management methodology. They are set out as follows:

  1. Continued Business Justification – A project must make good business sense.
  2. Learn from Experience – project teams should take learning from previous projects into account.
  3. Define Roles and Responsibilities – everyone on the project should understand their role, what others are doing, and who the decision-makers are.
  4. Manage by Stages – break the project down into manageable stages.
  5. Manage by Exception – Inform the project board only if there is – or there might be – a problem.
  6. Focus on Products – requirements determine the work activity, not vice-versa.
  7. Tailor to the Environment – Scale and tailor the method to succeed.

These key project principles are heavily aligned to the methodology itself and do not necessarily hold true for all projects. Terminology such as ‘manage by stages’ makes sense to those who have a PRINCE2 project management certificate but may not mean much to project managers who have studied different life cycles. Like Bing’s principles though, it is easy to see how following these principles would reduce the risk of projects failure.

Agile Project Management Principles

Project Managers working with teams who adhere to agile approaches and frameworks will undoubtedly be familiar with the Agile Manifesto. Most will recite the values that include valuing individuals and interactions over processes and tools, working software over comprehensive documentation, customer collaboration over contract negotiation, and responding to change over following a plan. But behind those four values are twelve principles:

  1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
  3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
  4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  10. Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.
  11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

These principles are focused more on product development teams – little of the agile manifesto is focused on project management principles and practices. But there is much of value here for PMs, as the principles can be used to test decisions ranging from talent management, the setting of goals and objectives, the management of project risk, and even organizational alignment.

Other sets of delivery principles

Depending on the delivery frameworks being used, there are other sets of principles that may give the project manager cause to reflect.

The Kanban Method provides four foundational principles:

  1. Start from where you are now.
  2. Agree to pursue evolutionary change.
  3. Initially, respect current processes, roles, responsibilities, and job titles.
  4. Encourage acts of leadership at every level in your organization – from individual contributor to senior management.

Those using scaled agile may find the 10 SAFe principles relevant. Outside of the world of business, there are self-help and well-being guides filled with principles that focus on helping you live your best life.

Principles in the PMO

PMO Principles

Principles are not just for delivery, which is why Eileen Roden from PMO Learning worked with AIPMOs Dr. Robert Joslin and Dr. Ralf Muller to develop seven PMO Principles. They draw heavily on Contingency Theory and promote the understanding that no one size fits all when it comes to PMOs. Each PMO is contingent on the environment it operates in, and regardless of the services that the PMO offers, it should hold true to underpinning truths – PMO Principles. You can review the seven PMO principles here:

Principles of Learning

We explored the principle of project management and other management principles and practices. But let’s turn our attention now to a different set of principles – the principles of learning. Learning is something that happens throughout people’s lives and throughout their careers. It can start with a basic introduction to project management and key management concepts, but project management skills are learned and honed over time. Learning is a self-active process – meaning it is something we do rather than something that is done to us. Principles of learning govern it. Arguably these are as important as those directly attributable to project management principles and practices because learning is an essential part of project management. The principles of learning are:

  1. Readiness – individuals learn best when they are physically, mentally, and emotionally willing to learn.
  2. Exercise – things that are most often repeated are the ones that are best remembered.
  3. Effect – a pleasant or satisfying feeling strengthens learning.
  4. Primacy – the thing taught first creates a strong impression and is often difficult to change. This is why it is often important to get the basics of project management understood before moving on to advanced topics.
  5. Recency – the things most recently taught are the things best remembered.
  6. Intensity – the more intense the material taught, the more likely it is to be retained.
  7. Freedom – things freely learned are best learned – we learn better when we chose to learn rather than when we are being forced to.

Your Principles

Everyone has principles. They evolve from the moment we are born and are shaped by culture, environment, and social structures. These principles affect how we manage projects and deliver change. We check ourselves against them regularly. Every time we ask ourselves whether we are doing the ‘right thing’, we are actually taking a moment to check against our internal compass. Perhaps it makes sense that the Project Management Institute focuses more on knowledge than principles. Every project manager will already have their own unique set of principles, codified and hard-wired within them. Those principles will affect how they shape project activities, define roles and responsibilities, detail a Gantt chart, and respond to project risk. Does this mean the lists of principles above are redundant?

Aristotle - painted by Francesco Paolo Hayez
Aristotle | Francesco Paolo Hayez

Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, wrote that we are all born with the potential to become ‘ethically virtuous’ and ‘practically wise.’ He believed this was a two-stage process: acquiring the proper habits during childhood, then going on to acquire practical wisdom. He noted that ethical virtue could only be fully developed when combined with practical wisdom. The same can be said of what we refer to as basic principles. Our hard-wired ethics and habits need to be combined with practical wisdom if we are to grow and improve. Project delivery managers can and should reflect on the collective principles that have been derived and shared above and treat them as practical wisdom to be learned. Through experience and the application of principles to different project scenarios, they will become better managers and better people. Wisdom combined with ethics are what truly define us, and ultimately, the principles we hold the dearest are the ones we hold deep within ourselves.

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