The Seven Principles of Project Management


Accomplished project managers will always display the skillset that allows them to adapt to the stresses and strains of managing large projects, such as leadership, communication and organisation. But each and every one of them will have fallen back on a tried and tested project management methodology to get the job done. Here are the seven principles of project management:

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Project management methodologies come in different shapes and sizes and bring structure and process to a project. Many seasoned PMs will be trained in more than one methodology and will often do a bit of mixing and matching, depending on the nature of the project.

The most widely practiced and accepted methodology around the world today, is the PRINCE2 methodology, which is also one of the few that also has a universally recognised certification programme.

In this article, I’m going to explore PRINCE2’s seven established principles of project management. Whilst there are many other project management methodologies out there, the principles that underpin PRINCE2 are so universal that they can be applied to practically any project, whatever its nature or scope. In this sense they are the best entrance point for non project managers to get an understanding of the fundamentals of project management.

1. Continuing business justification

It’s important that any project continues to have relevance and that the benefits identified at the outset remain justified, achievable and referenced throughout the life of the project.

Scope creep and vagueness as to the project’s key deliverables are indicators that the business justification has not been clearly understood from the outset. If not addressed, these can lead to the misallocation of resources, waning buy-in from stakeholders and missed timelines. A steering committee needs to ensure that the project constantly refers to the brief and that this has not been overtaken by events.

2. Learnings from prior projects

To determine whether there are valuable lessons that could be applied to the current project, PMs should seek guidance and precedents from prior projects. This will save time during the planning phase and prevent mistakes later down the line. All projects should have ‘Lessons Learned’ logs that will illuminate issues and problems and which can be consulted later.

Recommended reading: Is Scrum Right for Your Small Business?

3. Clear roles and responsibilities

Responsibilities and governance within a project can be divided into four levels:

  1. Corporate or programme management level
  2. Project Board level
  3. Project Manager level
  4. Team level

It is important at an early stage to identify stakeholders and their interest in the project and define where everyone sits in this hierarchy. The Project Board should review the draft roles and responsibilities to ensure that there are no gaps or overlaps. It may be that an individual takes on more than one role or that some roles are dropped because the project does not require them.

4. Use stages to make the project manageable

The use of stages makes planning the project less complex. It can also help to introduce checkpoints at which the project team, board and sponsor can assess whether the project is still aligned with its business justification and likely to proceed successfully to delivery.

In addition, stages can help in breaking the project work down further and in concentrating on detailed work package specification and planning for the next stage. This helps in focusing effort where it is needed, rather than doing detailed planning of later stages which may need to be changed as the project progresses.

5. Manage by exception

Regular meetings are unnecessary if they can be replaced by work packages from the PM to their team. These packages should include details of all deliverables with time and quality tolerances. In other words, management intervention should only be needed if there is deviation from the plan. If project tolerances are exceeded then exception reporting may be needed.

Of course, not all reporting should be by exception. Highlight reports are an essential and regular summary of the status of the project for example. Exception reports are for a senior management audience and are intended to provide alerts, for example to a potential overspend, a significant change to the specification or deliverables or a severe delay.

6. Product specification is key

Projects should be product-driven. In practice, this is no different from a traditional work breakdown structure but it’s important to acknowledge that the project plan is not formulated as a series of tasks. All work packages should be defined by the end products they produce (whether that’s something tangible like a report or an efficiency saving to a pre-existing process or business function) and should have tolerances around time, cost, quality and scope.

7. Tailor to your specific environment

Following criticism that it was unwieldy, the more recent PRINCE2 manual has emphasised scalability and flexibility. These principles should not be followed in a dogmatic or bureaucratic fashion but should be adjusted and tailored to your specific business, industry sector, project size or the individual requirements and goals of the project.

Adjustments at the planning stage might include the replacement of certain reports on deliverables by more informal email or verbal updates and the assignment of multiple roles to individuals for much smaller projects.

Over to you now. Are you using these principles of project management in your business? Tell us in the comments below.



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