Project management is a concept that has been around as long as humans have been working together, but didn’t really blossom until the early 20th century. It came about when employers realised that they needed a different approach to successful collaboration that wasn’t asking labourers to work harder and for longer, and so the idea of managing a project to ensure efficiency and success emerged.
Successful project management is based on a series of different principles that ensure you and your team are prepared before a project begins, have a clear way of working and know exactly what your individual and overall goals and objectives are. This guide covers the purpose and application of project management principles to explain what key concepts should be considered when taking charge of a project.
Project management is the practice of applying knowledge, skills and techniques to a project to ensure that it is completed to the necessary requirements without wasting time or resources.
Applying project management principles often means that a team follows an existing process with their work or uses techniques and models known to improve productivity and minimise problems. This gives a lot more structure to a task or series of tasks and helps outline progress, provide measures of success and outline the next steps.
A project manager can either be an individual who is a trained specialist in the field of project management, or the chosen individual who is in charge of leading a team and overseeing a project. They are responsible for delegating tasks, meeting deadlines, managing other members of the team, answering questions, coordinating with more senior members of a company or team and assessing and reporting on progress.
Project managers are also usually responsible for risk assessing a project before it begins and ensures that any potential issues are prepared for. They will need to have a good understanding of the aims of the project and requirements of whatever they are working towards and must take responsibility for ensuring the project meets these aims.
There are no official agreed-upon principles of project management, only a variety of different concepts and ideas that are considered important. Below are seven of the most important basic principles of project management and how you can apply them to your next project.
At the start of any project, you need to outline what your business objectives are. This goes further than just deciding what you need to have created or completed at the end of the project; it’s deciding what larger achievements you are aiming for and which business goals this project is going to help you reach as well.
It could be as simple as completing a project to ensure that a new client signs up to work with your agency or company, or that delivering the project will increase your monthly revenue. Or you could be using a project as an opportunity to increase employee productivity, skills and experience.
Knowing what the wider business objectives connected with a project are will help to keep the focus on wider growth and success as well as the progress of specific tasks, and can help to guide decisions that are made throughout the process so that they align with key business goals.
Once you have an idea of wider business aims, one of the most important principles of project management is knowing your project goals and outcomes.
At the start of any project, you need to define what it is that you’re going to do and what you need to have completed by the end of a project, whether that’s a physical product, a concept or a body of work with a specific purpose. You cannot get into the finer details of project management without this.
Within this principle, you also need to define the requirements or features of whatever the project is focusing on, if this is applicable. For example, what are customers or the client expecting? What do they need to be able to do or understand, and how are you going to ensure that this happens?
Planning what you actually need to deliver at the end of a project is essential to managing and completing it, which is why this is arguably the most important project management principle.
If you’re a project manager, one of the most important parts of your role is risk assessment. This is a principle that is key to the successful management of a project, as it ensures you are prepared for all eventualities and can save a lot of time if something does go wrong.
A project risk assessment should be completed before a project begins so that mistakes are avoided and no problems happen before a plan has been put in place for how to deal with them. In most cases, this kind of risk assessment won’t involve any actual health and safety concerns, but in some industries, there may be physical risks involved with some stages of a project that will need to be accounted for.
Many people use the acronym RAID to complete risk assessments in project management. RAID stands for risks, assumptions, issues, and dependencies and offers a guideline of where potential risks may occur and gives you scope to plan how each risk will be handled and prevented.
The most obvious way that you will identify potential risks is by thinking about what might go wrong externally that could affect the progress of your project. This could be holdups, team changes, manufacturing issues or contextual factors that could prove problematic.
With these obvious risks, identify what could go wrong, what the outcome of something going wrong would be, and then how you are going to take all the necessary steps to ensure that those risks do not occur.
Assumptions are the factors you assume are in place that will contribute to your project happening successfully. This could include assuming that your team all know what they are doing, that you have all the equipment and information you need, and that you have the resources to get everything done.
To manage this risk, highlight each of these assumptions and find a way to ensure that they are correct and will not become a problem later on.
Issues are similar to risks, but narrow down the definition into things that may go wrong internally with the product, system or task that you are working on. This could include technical issues, the project not meeting its specifications or failing to perform its intended function.
Again, you’ll need to outline each of these potential issues, highlight what they could lead to and then decide on the steps you will take to remove or reduce the likelihood of them happening.
Dependencies are the events, systems or tasks that are dependent on your project getting completed, or which your project will depend on in order to be finished. They can be situations or they can be people.
Before a project can start, you need to identify what its dependencies are and put a plan in place for what you will do if one of these aspects disappears or is removed.
Once you have identified all your goals and the potential areas that a project may go wrong, the next key principle of project management is having a timeline. This could be a time-based plan that outlines deadlines or it could just be the linear progression of the project from its beginning to its completion.
Having a timeline gives you a roadmap for everything that needs to be completed in a project and helps to get an idea of the timescale and final deadlines. This helps to make more specific plans about what needs to be done and can help with allocating tasks.
A timeline also gives you an idea of milestones for a project, which can help you to measure progress, productivity and success. If you can break down a project into smaller components then you can set deadlines for each of these, decide on measurables for each stage and celebrate successes to keep a team motivated.
Project strategy is a principle that refers to the models, methods, or techniques you will use as part of a project. This could be the time management system you follow, the development model you use or the techniques your team implements to get things done.
Having a project strategy that relies on existing models or systems is an excellent way to improve efficiency and productivity within your team. It also can help to make many decisions for you in terms of what comes next and how to get things done, which will save time and streamline your overall process.
Project management is all about efficiency, which is why allocating clear roles and responsibilities is an important principle of success. As a project manager, it is your responsibility to ensure that everything gets done and so you need to allocate tasks to your team and ensure that everyone understands what is expected of them.
A team works better when every member knows exactly what they need to do, as this means they can focus on their own tasks and aren’t getting held up waiting for advice or guidance. Breaking a project down into individual tasks also often means that it gets done faster, as you are using all your resources equally and not having to wait around for certain people to complete their work before you can move on.
Agile project management is a project management theory that stems from the concept of agile working. It’s a way of leading and managing a project in a way that is ‘agile’, which essentially means working in the most efficient way possible to get a job done.
The key difference between agile project management and classic project management is that a large amount of the decision making power belongs to the team as a whole, instead of the person who is in charge. As an agile project manager you will still be responsible for seeing a project through and providing a touchpoint for team members, but don’t have the same final authority when it comes to decisions.
Waterfall project management is another project management theory that operates on the concept of every stage of a project being mapped out into sequential steps that flow from one to the other. It’s a linear way of working where all team members are working towards the same end goal and is one of the most common approaches to project management that is used today.
RAID is an acronym that is used in project management to assess potential risks before a project begins. It stands for risks, assumptions, issues, and dependencies; all different things that could cause a problem if they were not prepared for.
The purpose of RAID in project management is to provide a framework from which you can identify potential risks or issues before they occur and prepare a document that lists each of these and the solutions to them.
Successful knowledge of project management principles and practices is highly sought after in almost every industry, and understanding what you need to include in your project management plan will really help you to lead a team and ensure success. Whilst a good project manager needs to be able to focus on the specific and solve problems during a project, they should also always keep guiding principles in mind to ensure that wider business goals are being met and that productivity is prioritised.
If you’d like to find out more about successfully managing a team and spearheading a project, we offer ‘An Introduction to Project Management’ as an online course as part of our leadership and development resources, providing even more information and advice on effective project management.