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12 vital project management principles

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Successful project management is a critical activity at every company. Every major business activity is made up of one or more projects.

To deliver maximum business value and user satisfaction, project management requires much more than a spreadsheet, a RACI chart, or occasional meetings. All phases of every project must be supported by a clear, consistent, and transparent decision-making process and effective, efficient collaboration across multiple roles and teams. 

The best project management efforts are built upon a core set of governing principles. This guide describes 12 critical principles of project management that provide a structured yet flexible framework and foundation for collaboration. These principles promote effective planning and execution of projects and ensure consistent project management success. 

What are the 12 essential principles of project management?

A successful project management plan provides all the information needed to carry out a project from inception through completion and evaluation.

Regardless of your methodology, your approach must successfully address project requirements, stakeholder expectations, and business needs and goals. Adhering to the following 12 essential project management concepts can help assure your project’s success.

Establish the project structure

A project is larger in scope than a typical task or activity. Structure your project in a manageable, understandable way that is easy for the project management team and stakeholders to evaluate.

Define project goals and objectives

Defining the goals and objectives of your project is essential to establishing its structure and gaining support from project management team members and stakeholders. Articulate the goals and specific objectives of the project clearly, and ensure these align with the company's overall objectives.

Identify a project sponsor

Sponsor support is crucial to the success of a project. A project sponsor can provide enthusiastic assistance and helpful guidance for the project. Sponsors also can garner additional support and resources from multiple stakeholders and teams as necessary.

Form roles and responsibilities

Roles and responsibilities will vary depending on business requirements, stakeholder expectations, available people and resources, and other factors. Define these roles clearly to ensure effective collaboration and avoid duplication of efforts and unaddressed project needs.

Ensure team accountability

Foster a culture of accountability within your team. Implement ways to track and measure individual and collective responsibility.

Manage project scope and changes

Adaptability is key throughout a project’s life cycle. Goals, needs, expectations, available people, and resources are subject to change at any time throughout a project’s life cycle. Every project management plan must include a robust strategy and clearly defined processes for managing project scope and dealing with changes.

Create a risk management plan

Risks can quickly threaten the project, if not the business itself. Project management plans must include comprehensive steps for identifying, assessing, and mitigating project risks. Regularly review and update the risk management plan as the project progresses.

Monitor progress

The project management team should monitor progress at every stage of every project. Establish key performance indicators (KPIs) to help measure progress toward established goals. Your project management plan must also include a system for regularly tracking, assessing, and reporting project progress.

Focus on effective value delivery

The goal of every project is to deliver value to stakeholders and to the business as a whole. Give the highest priority to tasks that contribute to the project's success. Include methods and tools that enable your team to continuously assess and adjust priorities based on stakeholder needs and project objectives.

Establish a performance management baseline

Effective performance management is key to project management success. Establish a performance management baseline to evaluate and track team and project performance. Use performance metrics to identify areas for improvement and recognize achievements.

Finalize the project

To close out your project successfully, complete all the necessary tasks defined in your project plan. Ensure that all deliverables meet quality standards. Obtain necessary stakeholder and management approvals.

Examine successes

Reflect on the project’s successes, and highlight the key factors that contribute to positive outcomes. It’s equally important to document lessons learned to inform future projects and sustain continuous improvement.

Turn project management principles into project success with Confluence

Effective collaboration is essential for unified adherence to project management principles. Collaboration, communication, and documentation are critical elements of every project management effort, from ideation to execution and assessment.

Confluence brings everyone together in a connected workspace to move projects forward. Teams can create, edit, share, and collaborate on project plans seamlessly, keeping everyone on the same page. Confluence can improve project management team performance and lead to more efficient project execution. It can also deliver greater value to team members, stakeholders, and the business.

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Project management principles: Frequently asked questions

What is Agile project management?

The Agile project management methodology combines the sprints of Scrum with the continuous information sharing and feedback of Kanban. It focuses project management teams on continuous improvement and delivering value to stakeholders. It's flexibility and cross-functional team support make Agile highly effective for managing projects subject to change.

What are common challenges in project management?

All project management efforts face similar challenges, such as:

  • Scope creep. As a project proceeds, needs, requirements, stakeholder desires, and external influences can also change. These changes can cause deviations from the original plan. They can also lead to budget overruns, delays, and disappointed stakeholders. A detailed plan with a well-defined project timeline and regular communication with stakeholders can help minimize or eliminate scope creep. 
  • Unrealistic deadlines. Overly ambitious deadlines can lead to missed milestones. Project managers must balance what stakeholders want and what is achievable with the available resources. 
  • Insufficient resources. Every project must deal with limited availability of money, time, and talent. Realistic, conservative budgets and accurate cost estimates can help, but teams should expect to face resource constraints beyond their plans and forecasts.
  • Poor communication. Ineffective communication can lead to misunderstandings, unclear and unmet expectations, additional work, and missed deadlines. Consistent communication can help you avoid scope creep and manage stakeholder expectations.
  • Change and risk management. Project management plans must include well-documented risk identification and mitigation processes and adaptation to sudden changes. This can help minimize project disruptions and delays.
  • Monitoring, evaluating, and documenting progress. Consistent monitoring and evaluation can keep projects on track and identify challenges before they become problems. Documentation of monitoring efforts and evaluations can help keep team members and stakeholders informed and engaged.

What are the different project management methodologies?

Here are some of the methodologies most widely used for project management.

  • Kanban: Kanban focuses on the visualization of tasks and progress. It relies on a shared physical or digital whiteboard typically divided into columns, each labeled with a stage of the workflow —To Do, In Progress, and Completed, for example. Kanban’s visual approach means everyone can see and follow the work as a project progresses. This keeps everyone informed and aligned with each other and the project objectives. Kanban can also help teams be more adaptable and flexible in the face of changing needs or priorities.
  • Waterfall: Waterfall project management is more linear and sequential than other methods. Waterfall projects typically have well-defined requirements for planning, design, development, testing, and deployment. Waterfall projects demand strict adherence to plans and close alignment with declared requirements and objectives.
  • Scrum: The Scrum methodology includes a highly structured framework. It defines specific team member roles and the length of each work cycle or sprint. Teams hold daily meetings to review progress and map upcoming sprints. This methodology is well-suited for complex projects and active stakeholder involvement.
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