Project Management Principles to Know

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Without a plan, your project fails 99.99% of the time.

So what you need is an effective strategy, one that includes the purpose, goals, budget, and timeline of your project.

Then you can monitor its execution, deal with unexpected emergencies, and do whatever you can to ensure the project progresses as planned.

This looks intimidating at first. But you can ensure your project’s success by understanding and applying project management principles.

You’re about to discover how.

So get excited and dig in your heels, so we don’t knock you off your feet from how hard these powerful project principles hit you.

Why Project Management Principles Are So Important

Whether you’re a certified project manager or an amateur running your first project, understanding the basic project management principles is a must. Especially if you want things to run smoothly.

Project management principles are guiding rules that give you an idea of how to manage your project from concept to successful completion.

They inform you about the crucial things you need for your project’s success. 

However, these principles aren’t the framework of your project—that’s the project management process. Instead, they are an outline to help you see the bigger picture.

Think about it: Won’t you need a defined project scope of work to understand what needs to be accomplished?

Project management principles tell you how to define that scope and once you determine the ‘what’ and ‘why,’ knowing the ‘how’ (process) will become much easier.

The Project Management Institute (PMI) breaks down the whole process into five broad categories:

  • Initiating – This is the process of outlining your project and getting the official approval to begin.
  • Planning – This is the process of developing the project management plan, specially catered to meet project goals and objectives.
  • Executing – This is the process of completing all the tasks defined in the project management plan.
  • Monitoring and Controlling – This is the process of reviewing and tracking the overall progress of predetermined tasks, along with accounting for unplanned changes and handling obstacles.
  • Closing – This is the process of completing the project work and receiving the final approval from stakeholders.

Think of the above as a high-level review of the fundamental principles of project management and methodologies.

Without these principles, it feels like being given step-by-step instructions and resources without knowing what the end product should look like.

And when you don’t understand what you’re building, you’re more likely to mess up and cause the whole thing to come crashing down.

How to Improve With Project Management Principles Today

As a project manager, you’re on the hook to make sure the right things get done. But making this happen on a daily basis can be difficult.

Project managers may have contrasting opinions and work styles, but they are all united when it comes to project management principles. It’s likely for the finer points to differ, but the basics remain the same.

Below, we’ll discuss the five universal project management principles, along with how you can implement them to make every project more successful.

Project Management Principles to Follow: At a Glance

  • Principle 1 – Create clear and concise project goals
  • Principle 2 – Manage all risks carefully
  • Principle 3 – Create a performance baseline or KPIs
  • Principle 4 – Establish and maintain transparent and healthy communication
  • Principle 5 – Clearly define team responsibilities

Project Management Principle #1: Ask and Answer the Big Questions 

You should have questions—lots of them—at the beginning of every project. Whether it’s conceptualizing updated software, rolling out new content for a client, or in the project’s overall budget, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask (and answer) important questions that will help you understand the project scope and mission better. You can use the following questions as a starting point:

  • Is launching the project worth it?
  • Can this project help your company? If yes, how will your company benefit?
  • What are the key problems the project aims to solve?
  • Who are the stakeholders?
  • What is the overall budget of the project?
  • Is the project timeline realistic?
  • Do I have all the necessary resources (employees, time, budget, tools, etc.) to complete the project?

As a project manager, your main job is to sell your idea, and if you aren’t sure about the value it adds, it’s unlikely for your company to be on board.

Case in point: Only 2.5% of the companies complete 100% of their projects every year.

One of the contributing reasons for this low percentage is the lack of understanding of the project’s value, vision, timeline, and objectives. Once you figure out the answers to essential questions, you’ll be better prepared to handle your project to keep it on track.

Project Management Principle #2: Chalk Out Your Project Goals and Objectives

Asking the critical questions helps you initiate the project, but you still have to sketch out your project scope and goals to transition from the initial phase to the planning phase. The more well-defined your scope and goals, the smoother the transition.

According to Suzanne Madsen, a subject matter expert on project management, “[It’s essential to] have a thorough requirements gathering phase where the team and the client draw up process flows and ensure that the requirements make sense and represent the clients’ real needs. Creating demos, mock-ups, proof of concepts, prototypes, and pilots are great ways of mitigating the risk of too many changes.”

Start by giving a project a clear vision, assess its value and the problems it’s solving. Here are a few questions to help you sketch out your project scope and goals:

  • What is the main goal of the project?
  • What deliverables would you require to reach the above goal?
  • Which individual do you think can own each deliverable?
  • What are the risks associated with the project? How do you plan on handling them?
  • What is the overall scope of your project?

Top Tip: Try to make the project as visual as possible. 

Adding visual aids can be a huge asset.  It’ll keep everyone on the same page about the different project aspects and help you set realistic expectations. You can use PERT charts and work breakdown structures to determine the overall scope and deliverables efficiently.

A PERT chart or program evaluation review diagram allows you to visualize all task interdependencies before initiating the project. This, in turn, helps you identify the minimum time required to execute a project.

On the other hand, a work breakdown structure helps segment large projects into smaller, more manageable pieces. As such, you can clearly determine deliverables for your project.

The good news is you’ll be more agile in your project because of these diagrams. Risk management and preparing for future roadblocks will be easier as well.

You can easily manage risks, goals, and deliverables, which, in turn, will keep your project on track.

Project Management Principle #3: Make All Communications Transparent and Clear

The team is a crucial part of any project’s success, and yours is no exception. But to ensure everyone stays on the same page, you need to practice clear and effective communication.

Every team member should have a clear idea about the job, expectations, progress, and changes to the project (if any), along with the project objectives. You must also make every member feel valued and heard to boost their morale.

That said, your communication responsibilities also extend to the project stakeholders.

Whether it’s the client, the company’s board, or other external players, your stakeholders should have all relevant information about the project. You must also clear out any doubts on their end. 

Clearing your stakeholders’ doubts isn’t easy, but you’ll be slightly less overwhelmed if you follow the below points.

  • Tell them the goals and benefits of the project.
  • Inform them about any roadblocks and successes.
  • Communicate progress throughout the project timeline.

Doing this will keep the stakeholders in the loop about project developments and changes. 

Again, visuals that can come to your rescue, so you don’t find yourself panicking in the middle of the night simply because you forgot to inform the designer about the recent change requested by the stakeholder. You can also use Gantt charts, Kanban boards, and flowcharts to manage communications effectively between different groups of people. 

Project Management Principle #4: Regularly Monitor Project Progress and Identify Roadblocks

This principle comes into effect throughout the project management process. 

You and your team members may have other projects going on, which is why you should timely monitor overall progress and handle crises effectively. You must also be prepared to tackle unanticipated problems and last-minute demands from clients and executives. Not only will this affect your project’s progress, but it may also threaten your budget.

Think about the following questions to know whether your project is on track:

  • Are your team members each aware of their roles and expectations?
  • Did you find any current or potential roadblocks? If yes, what possible solutions can you implement now to remove them?
  • Is the project on time? What milestones are behind schedule?
  • Is your team communicating properly with each other, and are all your tasks organized?
  • Will you have to redirect the project from its original score?

Use visual assets as the project progresses to increase transparency. If you decide to implement changes in the project scope or budget, make sure everyone is aware of it.

You can use project management tools like Asana and to update your project management plan to reflect the proposed and accepted changes. Some of the software can also analyze your project progress, making it easier for you to control projects from initiation to close.

It’s normal for stakeholders to propose last-minute changes. But this may not be as much of an issue if you asked them in detail about their expectations at the beginning.

See how interconnected every principle is?

Project Management Principle #5: Keep an Eye Out for the Deliverables

It’s the project manager’s responsibility to finalize a project. This can be a tricky task, especially if you’re dealing with a recurring or longer project which may not officially “end“ at once. To prevent your team from scattering, schedule a day to go over the project and discuss the following:

  • Have all project deliverables been met?
  • Were all deliverables carried out to the company standard quality?
  • In which aspects did your team do well?
  • Were there any problems during the course of the project?
  • How can you improve the functioning of similar projects in the future?

As you may have realized, team participation is incredibly important. 

Having a project finalizing meeting at the end of every project will let you check the quality of deliverables and identify improvement areas that can help your company down the line. You can also keep a templated record of the entire project for future reference.

4 Best Practices for Applying Project Management Principles

Now that we’ve discussed the different project management principles and their implementation, here’s a list of a few actionable pointers to help you apply the principles better.

Define the Project Scope, Objectives, and Deliverables

Imagine this: Your boss asks you to organize a blood donation drive. 

You have to first figure out how to get as many donors as possible or raise the local company profile. If the objective is something else, you’ll have to plan the project accordingly.

This is also where the project scope comes into the picture.

The scope defines the boundary of a project. Continuing with the previous example, you need to know whether the blood donors will go to the blood bank on their own or whether the company will arrange for a bus to take them there or even provide a mobile blood donation truck.

This is why defining the project objectives and scope is so crucial. It’ll all be a mess otherwise!

Project members should know who the stakeholders are and what their expectations are. Once you define the scope and objectives, make sure the stakeholders review and agree to them.

After the project planning and objectives come the deliverables. 

You must know what tangible things have to be delivered and document them in enough detail so that somebody else can produce them correctly and effectively. Again, the stakeholders should review the definition of deliverables and then agree on whether they accurately reflect what was intended before the beginning of the project.

Create a Risk Response Team

Many things can go wrong once you undertake a project—a stakeholder may pull out funds, an expensive machine might break, a piece of the project doesn’t work, or a key team member may fall sick. Assuming otherwise is just wishful thinking.

Ideally, your project risk management plan should account for all these issues, but another way to mitigate unexpected risks is to have a risk response team.

This team should be able to come up with solutions in case of emergencies. It should be composed of experienced members who have the necessary training to save projects when mishaps occur.

The idea here is to think of worst-case scenarios and then develop contingency plans. For instance, if a key resource drops out, the risk response team should be able to find backup resources without causing delays.

Define and Evaluate Quality Standards Periodically

“Quality on projects requires the identification of standards and criteria to be set in each phase of the project life cycle.“ – James N. Salapatas.

The quality of deliverables must be appropriately defined. Otherwise, you may find yourself at the receiving end of disappointed looks at the last stage, which could‘ve been avoided from the start. 

Define a deliverable’s “quality“ throughout the project lifecycle. Talk to every stakeholder, team members, and other important parties to learn about their expectations. Here are a few tips to help you do this:

  • Get the stakeholders to sign off on deliverables at every stage of the project.
  • Design and develop objective criteria for quality measurement. For example, you can compare results against industry benchmarks or the past projects of the clients.
  • Create a baseline for quality that has been agreed to by every stakeholder.
  • Regularly share project progress with stakeholders on both sides.

Make it clear to the team members and stakeholders that as long as the deliverables meet the predefined standards, they’ll be considered “successful“ on your end. Not only will this save you lots of time, but it also helps establish cordial relationships with the clients.

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