9 Key Project Management Principles Every PM (Project Manager) Should Follow

While the term project management is pretty much self-explanatory and sounds relatively simple, the task is anything but so. Scratch the surface, and you will witness a flurry of high-octane activities requiring the project manager to don multiple hats throughout the project development journey.

As such, they should be familiar with a few core project management principles to help them navigate and stay at the helm of all affairs. While these principles of project management are no magic formula that guarantees success, they sure can tip the scales in your favor.

On that note, let’s look at some fundamental project management principles that every project manager should follow.

1. Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

While project initiation, ideation, conception, and planning mark the commencement of a project, it all begins with having a clear project goal in mind. After all, it is the goal that determines whether or not your project will attain success.

Given this importance, the project manager should ensure that every stakeholder – from the client to the team members – should be involved in the goal-determination process to mutually set the baseline expectations against which one has to deliver.

An ideal project goal should follow the SMART principles of project management. That is, the goal should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. Setting a goal along these parameters will eliminate any ambiguity related to the project and ensure that everyone is on the same page.

Smart goal management

2. Define Deliverables Before Delivering

Once you have identified the project goals, you can map them against deliverables. According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), a deliverable is “any unique and verifiable product, result, or capability to perform a service that is produced to complete a process, phase, or project.” In simpler words, it is a quantifiable good or service or tangible action within the scope of a project.

Project deliverables can be classified into two main groups – internal and external. Internal deliverables constitute the work undertaken within the organization, quite often a smaller standalone portion of the project that is interrelated with another deliverable. On the other hand, external deliverables are work done for a client or a customer with the purpose of generating revenue.

3. Go By the Book, that is, the PMBOK Guide

The Guide to Project Management Body of Knowledge, or PMBOK® Guide, is a flagship publication of the PMI that standardizes project management principles across departments, organizations, and industries. By distilling all the principles of project management into a codified form, it acts as every project manager’s friend and guides in handling day-to-day project management activities.

Of course, nobody is expecting you to memorize the PMBOK Guide. However, you can always fall back on it as a reference while handling unprecedented situations – or simply refresh the concepts of project management whenever you feel rusty.

4. There Can Only Be One (Project Manager)

Remember the saying, “too many cooks spoil the broth”? That applies to project management as well.

Having too many players and actors with none in the managerial position can cause teams to lose focus of the goal and impact project success. After all, handling the tasks at hand, managing communications, and supervising other team members can be a tough job.

As such, having a singular team leader – in this case, a project manager – is one of the key agile project management principles. It instills a greater sense of accountability with a single individual being tasked with such a critical responsibility. Plus, such a dedicated job role ensures that they have no other distractions and can unequivocally commit to handling the project and its requirements.

At the same time, the external stakeholders and internal team members will only have one point of contact to decide all project-related specifics and gain timely updates.

5. Communicate Clearly, Effectively, and Deliberately

Communication Plan Example

Communication forms the foundation of a project’s success. As such, the next project management principles focus on preparing a robust communication plan. The ideal communication plan must strike a balance between synchronous and asynchronous communication. The former deals with real-time interactions, such as instant messaging, while the latter relates to communicating even when one party is not available or online, such as through email.

At the same time, such a communication system must also extend to internal and external communications. Internal communications would bring the teams to speed, while external communication is used to update and apprise stakeholders. You can also leverage communication strategies to improve communication and collaboration in your remote or on-site teams.

Project managers need to identify the right communication channels and technologies so that there are no barriers to free communication. A clear, effective, and deliberate communication plan involves everyone so everyone meets their objectives.

6. Define Team Roles and Responsibilities

Simply having a larger project goal cannot ensure its success unless it has been broken down at a team level and communicated to everyone accordingly. It is one of the most crucial project management principles since it translates organizational goals into smaller, achievable, and more actionable objectives and assigns them to team members.

Having a clear and well-defined stretch goal aligns the team’s efforts with what is expected of them and concentrates their collective efforts for amplified results. At the same time, it fosters a sense of accountability with every team taking responsibility for their assigned tasks and contributing accordingly.

Even on a larger scale, it ensures that disconnected teams can function collaboratively like a well-oiled machine to ensure the project’s success. Such borderless functioning of an organization is only possible when teams are well aware of what is expected of them.

7. Strategize Initiation and Execution

Initiation and execution are two critical junctures of project management. As such, they need to be strategized for an effortless kickoff.

The first makes an appearance during the planning stage – even before any project-related activities take place. Project initiation entails preliminary work that can be categorized as below:

  • Developing a business case for the project
  • Preparing feasibility reports for the project
  • Starting a dialogue with the project stakeholders
  • Drafting a Project Initiation Document (PID)

Project execution is the penultimate stage of project lifecycle management. As the name indicates, it revolves around the implementation of the project after you have done all the hard work of project research.

While it may seem that project initiation would put you in a comfortable spot to facilitate seamless project execution, it still requires sufficient planning to make the takeoff seamless.

8. Track, Monitor, and Recalibrate

How to use Nifty for Project Management

All the principles of agile project management that we’ve discussed so far involve setting up a project baseline. So, next in the principles of project management, we have the responsibility of tracking project development against this baseline and ensuring that the trajectories are as close to each other as possible.

To perform such a task, you will first have to define qualitative and quantitative key performance indicators (KPIs) for your project. Typically, project managers define KPIs related to the project’s budget, timelines, and quality of deliverables.

Further, you will have to define various checkpoints through the project development lifecycle to measure and compare the KPIs. Such proactive monitoring ensures that you can carry out timely intervention before the diversion becomes insurmountable. At the same time, simply tracking and monitoring the project is not enough.

Project managers should also have a change or risk management strategy in place to ensure that none of the outliers jeopardize the project.

9. Ensure Perfection to the T

Once you have carried the project to its success, the final project management principles relate to matching the client’s expectations. Whether you are scrambling for time or have just enough spare to schedule a celebration, carve out some time for a debriefing session with your team. It could be in the form of a formal meeting where you can deliberate on the questions like

  • Does the project meet the agreed-upon specifications?
  • Have you met all the deliverables?
  • What are the areas where your team has overperformed/underperformed?
  • What are the key learning moments from this project?

Note down such findings for future reference – irrespective of the project, customer, industry, etc. Such experiential knowledge could also be the foundation for principles of project management that you will devise and adopt in the future.

Ready to Become a Better Project Manager?

With this, we end the fundamental project management principles that will help you become a better project manager. Follow these, and you will find it easier to navigate the dynamic world of project management. You will even discover some personal project management tools that make it easier to actualize project management principles throughout your career.

Once you have nailed these basics, you can confidently depart on a journey of self-discovery that leads you to become a better project manager!