7 Important Project Management Principles

projection -initial preparatory stage in construction new building

No matter how short a time you have been involved in management, or whether you have held management positions for decades, your role can be systematically described as ‘managing a series of projects from inception to completion’.

Whether you are spending 95% of your time in people leadership (e.g. in HR), or in a purely technical role where your time is spent measuring and calibrating, it all boils down to how you work on and create time for those projects.

By seeing all your roles distributed as ‘projects’, it assists you in developing systems and processes that can be adapted and flexed to achieve the goals you are aiming for.

Here are seven principles that will help you become smarter and more cohesive in your management of tasks or your leading of people, listed them here with my thoughts on each one:

Principle 1: Begin with the end in mind

‘Without a vision, people perish’, so scripture has it, and it can still be seen today that without some purpose and direction, people will have difficulty in achieving anything other than the bare bones of productivity. In fact, they may well become so disengaged at work that they can’t see the reasons why they are even getting out of bed in the morning.

We do that by beginning with the end goal in mind and then reverse-engineering from there.

Each project, whether it’s the reason why the company actually exists, or what we are going to do in the next hour, should be driven by some sort of end goal that allows people to buy into it and be inspired by it. Without that inspiration, people will soon see what they do as just a job and not bring their passion or creativity to work with them.

Principle 2: Long, medium and short-term goals.

When we know the end results we are aiming for, a project has to have ambitious and stretching long, medium and short objectives. We used to say goals need to be achievable (remember SMART?). But in the 2020s, goals need to stretch us beyond what we have achieved before. Without having ambitious goals, we tend to get lazy and goals get easier to achieve.

This creates ‘homeostasis’, a condition where we maintain a state of internal balance and physical wellbeing, but does not lend itself to growth and development. Having goals that cause us to leave our comfort zone, even briefly, helps us maintain our drive and our purpose in our role.

Principle 3: Journeys to Improvement.

This principle involves getting our people and ourselves to accept levels of performance that will be acceptable and analysing how we can get improvements to become the normal way of behaving.

How people interact with each other and how they assist their colleagues in making things work can be improved in ways that produce results in every project you work on. By allowing our teams to set higher standards of performance, the engagement between past results and future investments in time and energy can be developed easier and with better cohesion.

Principle 4: Flexible and agile planning and preparation.

No matter how well we try to build momentum with our roles and the projects we manage, there will always be some kind of obstacles or interventions from outside that may be beyond our control, like adjustments in timings or reduction in resources.

Being able to deal with these challenges and execute the project effectively will determine its overall success. Work out what could go wrong up-front and see if you can initiate some alterations or introduce some flexibility and adaptiveness in the processes, so you can deal with whatever may come your way.

Principle 5: Link to overall business goals

As the project progresses, you start to achieve your short-term goals and people start committing to achieving further objectives. But they have to be in alignment with overall business goals, whether strategic or operational.

In other words, the projects you work on have to parallel with and support overall business objectives. If they are separated in some way, you lose cohesion and connectivity, and allowing for projects to go off course.

Link your projects with overall business goals first, so that you and others can see the impact everything you do has on overall results.

Principle 6: Maintain momentum and track success

This last principle I feel should surround all the others, as it helps build momentum and keeps track of how successful your projects are.

Measuring success means that people are more willing to contribute ideas, particularly if those results are transparent and controlled be people who have the power to influence and control the direction of the projects they are working on and with.

By sharing the results regularly, people can adopt more responsibility and a sense of accountability as time progresses. It allows you to concentrate on what is most important and spend time creating opportunities for you to advance in areas that only you can control.

Principle 7: Ensure buy-in from all participants

You’ll no doubt have managed projects in the past that haven’t produced the results you anticipated. And no doubt many of them involved other people not achieving their goals or playing their role to the best of their abilities.

Much of this could be attributed to lack of buy-in to the overall project for whatever reason they have held on to. For your projects to achieve the objectives you had set up for them, you need to gain commitment from all stakeholders and all participants.

You do this by:

  • Setting the vision that everyone agrees will take the project forward
  • Allocating the responsibilities to people to ensure full participation
  • Setting up measurements that are transparent enough for people to understand the small and big wins
  • Handling the inevitable challenges that hinder progress
  • Confirming the end results and the benefits the project has achieved for the department or company

This will enable your project to run smoother and receive the attention and focus it deserves from people who will consequently drive it forward.

These seven principles, when applied with the mindset of project management in all aspects, can help you achieve your goals through others, and allow you to develop workable processes whenever you have new concepts and processes to develop. Try them next time and monitor if they help you achieve greater flexibility in all you do as a manager.

Benchmark your current abilities by taking our Project Management Skills Assessment. You’ll receive a free personalised report on your strengths and areas for development.

Thanks again


Sean McPheat

Managing Director

MTD Training   

LeaderDNA button

Updated on: 20 January, 2020

Related Articles

Arrow down

Search For More arrow