15 Project Management Principles You Should Know

15 Project Management Principles

Principles may be defined as core fundamental concepts. Principles of project management are the basic rules that should be followed to manage projects successfully. 

Project managers have to follow the principles of project management, irrespective of the sector they work in, their style of working, and the peculiarities of a particular project. Though some finer points differ, basic project management principles remain the same. A project may face many challenges, and the only way to solve them and complete the project successfully is to familiarise yourself with project management principles and techniques. 

Before we proceed to learn about the different project management principles, let us go through some elementary prerequisites for the successful completion of a project.

  • People involved in the project should understand that all should work towards the same project-related goals. 
  • Project team members should possess appropriate project management skills and experience. 
  • All team members should work to achieve project deliverables. 

In a project environment, all project management principles and techniques should be deployed to achieve the project goals and objectives, no matter what the constraints are. Project management principles help a project manager determine the timelines, the scope of the project, and the budget. 

Now, let us discuss some project management principles and techniques in detail. 

1. Focus on Products 

Project managers will no doubt have to concentrate on the key product or outcome of a project. However, this can be done only with a clear project plan, budget, and schedule.

During the implementation of a project, there may be additional requests from stakeholders, but project management principles demand that a project manager keeps an eye on the impact it will have on the project schedule/budget. 

More often than not, clarity on the project emerges from the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) — a holistic view of the plan which shows all the tasks and sub-tasks a project encompasses. It helps to identify the work and processes involved to execute the project. It may be used by the team to develop the project schedule, resource requirements, and costs.

Putting the WBS in place may be considered a valuable tool used in skillful project delivery. It provides all the necessary mechanisms to maintain the scope of the project without losing sight of the final result. The concept of work breakdown structure can be used where the project deliverables are less tangible as well.

Project Management Principles

2. Vision and Mission

Any project should have a clear vision and mission. A vision is a broad encompassing idea for the future and is imbued with some spirit of achievement; it gives team members a reason to contribute while unifying and inspiring them.
A vision statement is the written form of the vision of a project. It outlines what the project is setting out to achieve and spells out criteria.
On the other hand, a mission statement says what the fundamental purpose of the organization is. Focused on the present, it defines the customer and the critical processes and sets the level of performance for each team member.
It is a project management principle to have both a vision and a mission, as one does not work without the other.

3. Business Objectives and Goals

Projects will only succeed if they have clear goals and objectives. Setting project goals and objectives is an essential project management principle as they help you identify a destination and layout a road-map to get there. Having poorly defined goals and objectives will lead to missed milestones and dissatisfied clients. Clearly defined goals and objectives will drive positive results.

Many use the terms goals and objectives as synonyms. To ensure the successful completion of a project, it is important to differentiate the two. Goals define broader aspirations while objectives are the specific steps needed to reach the goals. It is important to ensure that both goals and objectives are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.

4. Standards of Engagement

Another important project management principle is to establish clear standards of engagement. This means putting in place the rules to be followed during the project implementation. For instance, who are the members of the project team? How often will meetings be held? Who will take notes and distribute minutes of the meeting?

Project managers should refrain from planning things alone as it leads to disengagement. It is true the project manager has to oversee the planning, but all team members should be involved, and the approach should be collaborative.

5. Budgeting

Project management principles and techniques dictate that a project should always stay within the budget. Every project must have a specific budget allocation. To utilize the budget judiciously, project managers should keep continuous track of the project expenditure.

The budget of a project covers supplies, materials, and equipment, operating costs and team members. The reason why the project budget plan is detailed is it provides a clear understanding of what is to be accomplished by the project. When a project leader submits a complete budget document to the management, it helps them decide whether the project is worth investing in.

Planning the budget does not happen overnight. It calls for a close look at project requirements and coordination with vendors, management, and service providers. The larger the project, the more time you need for budget planning as more resources are involved and the risks are higher.

6. Scheduling and Estimation

A challenging aspect of project planning is to come up with realistic estimations that support business objectives and satisfy client expectations. Delivering those results within the agreed schedule, quality, and cost constraint is most challenging.

Project scheduling and cost estimation are thus important project management principles that need to be followed. The project schedule tells you how long it will take project managers to complete the project and includes an estimate of costs and detailing of resources.

The project management schedule also emphasizes the completion of activities within the budget. Planning and scheduling to budget estimates help to sharpen focus on deliverables and helps team members to execute their work. At times, there may be a need to change the schedule due to a shift in priorities.

Project Cost Estimation Process Flowchart
Project Cost Estimation Process Flowchart

7. Elucidating Roles and Responsibilities

Individuals working on a project should have well-defined roles and responsibilities. Besides, they should know who they must report to and the responsibilities they hold. Stakeholders in a project should know what they are supposed to do –the roles of a project manager, a project team member, project supervisor, and a project sponsor are very different and unless demarcated, there will be chaos within the organization. All those associated with a project should react pro-actively in a critical situation rather than wait for the other to respond.

At an organization level, roles and responsibilities can be divided into four categories:

  1. Program Management level
  2. Project Board level
  3. Project Manager level
  4. Team level

It is essential to identify stakeholders, clients, and their interests at the initial stage. The project board should draft the roles and responsibilities to make sure there are no overlaps. At times, individuals may take on more than one role and at times a particular part may be dropped.

8. Business Justification

Every project should prove itself worthy of investment. There is a need to understand the benefits offered by a specific project as against the risks it entails. Simply put, there is a need to make a business case or to justify why the project is being undertaken.

The estimated cost of development and implementation is weighed against the business benefits likely to accrue. Though this exercise is undertaken under labels like project charter, project brief or project plan, it is not just the project costs, but the changes it will bring to the business that is considered.

If a holistic treatment is not given, there may be a misallocation of resources and missed timelines.

9. Organizational Alignment

The success and sustainability of the process brought in by a project will have a direct impact on individuals involved in the project. Organizational alignment can be accomplished through regular communication during meetings via e-learning, email, and training.

Most strategic goals and results include an overall view of the organization. Organizational alignment is very much essential as the company can identify the interdependencies that exist.

Recognizing work done at the individual and at the group level impacts other groups or individuals, and this is the key to achieving organizational alignment.

10. Learning From Experience

In the current technology-driven world, organizations move to implement project management practices to increase efficiency and productivity at the workplace. But there is one thing they consistently forget, i.e. learning from previous mistakes.

Projects are distinctively risky, but taking a consistent approach to learning from previous mistakes will help to reduce risks. This learning methodology can be assimilated into the project management methodology. This is an important project management principle that applies to the entire team. The team must be capable of analyzing what went wrong while working on previous projects and learn to use the lessons picked up, in any new or upcoming project.

11. Project Sponsor 

Project sponsors and managers work hand-in-hand. Though a project sponsor is just one level above a manager, project managers do not get an opportunity to choose the sponsor they would like to work with. Project sponsors are on the scene even before managers are assigned to the project. Project sponsors do not get involved in the day to day operations, but handle the business end by providing resources and promoting the project.

If the sponsor of a project does not understand the roles and responsibilities he is expected to fulfill, the project manager must ensure he does.

Employing an active project sponsor will help to overcome many hitches in a project –loss of crucial resources, escalation of issues, and guidance to stakeholders to make appropriate decisions.

Project Sponsor Manager

12. Manage by Exception

Being a project manager is a tough task; you will have to divide your attention among various things. You will have to juggle many responsibilities. To get the things done in a systematic way and keep employees motivated, an excellent ploy to employ is to manage by exception.  
Managing by exception means to focus on those things that seem to deviate from the normal. Instead of following every aspect of a project in minute detail, a skilled project manager will look for deviations in financial and operations areas of business.

13. Manage by Stages

The entire project should be broken down into different stages so that it becomes easy for the project manager to take critical decisions on how to proceed. The main goal should be to complete one phase after the other in smooth succession.

Projects which have long gestation periods and lengthy stages may not see the involvement of senior management at every step; however projects with short stages may see management wield more control over the project.  Significant projects are broken down into smaller phases to ensure success.

Such projects also have a detailed stage-level plan and a high-level project plan.

14. Customizable to Suit the Project Environment

Devising project management framework or methodologies implies having a thorough understanding of project requirements. It is a fundamental project management principle that project managers should follow a method that suits the project environment they operate in and the quantum of work involved.

 15. Measurement and Accountability

Last but not least is the question, how is success determined in project completion? Preparing a simple project scorecard is visually appealing to keep everyone updated and engaged; it also helps to hold teams, leaders, and employees accountable for refinement, implementation, and sustainability of the project.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, the project management principles and techniques discussed above can be universally applied irrespective of language, culture, and geographic location. These project management principles are in existence for years. Follow them, and you will have higher chances of succeeding in the project management field.

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Arvind Rongala, an engineer by education, has deep experience of serving the IT-BPO industry for more than 8 years. With his keen interest in the learning and development sector, Arvind spearheaded the launch of Invensis Learning as the training and certification arm of Invensis Technologies. As the Director of Invensis Learning, and with offices in the US, India, and Australia, he ensured the company became a trusted training partner for many Fortune 1000 clients and gain global recognition in a short span of time. { YourStory.com has featured a story about Arvind about his achievements over the years. } With his expertise in Project Management, IT Service Management, Quality Management, and IT Security Governance, he has been a guest author for various popular digital publications such as Business Insider, Business today, Project Times, Customer Think, Tech Sling, and Businessworld.