10 Principles of Good Project Management

Best Practice | By Jason Freih | Read time minutes

A project management workflow diagram written on yellow sticky notes

Having managed IT projects for over ten years, I have relied on the PMBOK as a guide for many of my projects. But experience has taught me to go beyond the manual. Here are ten principles of project management that are crucial to achieving your goals.

1. There Are No Technical Projects, There Are Business Projects With Technical Components

Any initiative to develop a new technical product is based on an external business need. As project managers we must understand the big picture. What is the goal of the business and how can technical expertise add value to that goal.

2. Get Involved Early

Get involved early in project inception. Even if the question of needing resources hasn't been decided, I try to participate in the initial meetings to get a better perspective of the business need. Plus, I can usually add value by pointing out ways certain tasks can be accomplished with greater efficiency, or the resources we have available and the best way to use them. Yes it makes more work for me, but allows me to have a clear vision of the business goal, which I can communicate to the team, leading to better results.

3. One Hour of Planning Today Will Save You Two Hours of Work Tomorrow

While I agree that too much planning can be a negative aspect, too often I have seen the "Let's just do it attitude", this always leads to unclear goals and projects that run into problems in all key areas.

4. If It's Not Written Down It Didn't Happen

While I encourage open communication among all the staff members, in the end anything that could have an impact on the project, any item that is considered a formal decision must be written down and put in the appropriate place. If you don't have a formal process for documenting meetings, at least circulate an email to all participants with key points from the meeting.

5. Don't Kill the Messenger

When people know they can approach you without reprisal, they will bring up any issues as soon as they are spotted, thus avoiding costly problems later. They will also feel free to come to you with new ideas that could lead to unexpected benefits to your project.

6. Address All Issues, Do It Quickly and Don't Stop Until a Resolution Has Been Found

There are many issues and problems that will arise on a project, budget, scope, time, quality and especially human resources. I have seen too many people on a project (even PM's) while acknowledging an issue, still ignoring it because of its complexity or lack of time. Even if you cannot resolve the issue immediately it's important to document it and discuss it with your team. Don't let it get forgotten otherwise it will come up again and you will be caught unprepared.

7. Don't Be Afraid to Replace Bad People

I don't say this lightly, but I have seen managers too often ignore problem employees because of fear of confrontation, or lack of understanding of the technical aspects of the employee's job. I would always confront and hope to change the attitude of a problem employee. If there are problems at home perhaps they need more time to deal with their personal issues, or perhaps they have been asked to perform a task beyond their abilities and need more training. But if after everything you have tried an employee is still under-performing or causing problems in the workplace, then I have no problem in replacing him or her. Not only because the organisation is not getting their money's-worth, but more devastating is the impact on the morale of the other employees.

8. Lead by Example

Hard work and honesty cannot be faked, if you try to inspire others to achieve certain goals, make sure that you willing to work with them and show the same attitude. If you are not ready to do so, the people around you will quickly lose respect for you and managing them will become a much tougher job. Make sure you set realistic goals for you and your staff.

9. Don't Compartmentalise Your Staff

To many times I have come across where groups of different disciplines, business analysts, developers and the QA-test teams are kept in silos with minimum cross communication. It's far more beneficial if you get the entire team to take part in the full project life cycle. If you are dealing with large teams make sure that at least the lead people of each group are involved from planning to deployment. As an example, I always make sure I have at least one QA-test representative involved from the start, their input is often valuable and will result in better duration and effort estimates.

10. Don't Lose Your Focus

Make sure the project sponsors think carefully about the products, or deliverables required, before the project begins. Make sure you can develop a clear vision that can be shared with the entire team. Your scope should be well-defined and any changes introduced during the project should be documented and evaluated. If a change is introduced the impact should be communicated to the entire team including the project sponsors.

Jason Freih has been managing IT projects for over 12 years with many large financial institutions and government organisations. Working mainly in Toronto, Canada, as well as consulting overseas, he has evolved a management style from different practices - PMBOK, CMM, ITIL, PRINCE2, RUP and Agile.

Recommended read: The Six Principles of Project Management, by Theo Gilbert-Jamison.


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