12 Principles for effective project management

Table of Contents

When starting a new project, the first question may be: “What do I need to do?” Because project management is about more than just creating a plan and following the steps. There are many principles in project management you need to follow. In the last article, we discussed Project management definition and had an overview look at the 12 principles to be an effective project manager. These principles will help you get your project off to a great start, set up a solid foundation, and they’ll allow you to overcome obstacles that may come up along the way. In this article, we will continue to analyze the characteristics of these principles.

1. Be a diligent, respectful, and caring steward

Stewardship is the responsible management of resources. It is about using what we have been given wisely and for the benefit of others.

Stewardship is about more than just managing resources. It is also about developing a sense of responsibility and accountability. When we are stewards, we are not just taking care of things for ourselves. We are also taking care of things for others.

Stewards act responsibly to carry out activities with integrity, care, and trustworthiness while maintaining compliance with internal and external guidelines.

Stewardship reflects understanding and acceptance of trust as well as actions and decisions that engender and sustain that trust. Stewardship requires leadership with transparency and trustworthiness. The Project manager needs to be the model for the standards that he/she is trying to set in the project.

Stewardship is a lifelong journey. We are all stewards, whether we realize it or not. The more we learn about stewardship, the better stewards we can be.

2. Create a collaborative project team environment

Project teams are made up of individuals who wield diverse skills, knowledge, and experience. Project teams that work collaboratively can accomplish a shared objective more effectively and efficiently than individuals working on their own.

Project teams are influenced by the culture of the organizations involved in the project, the nature or the project, and the environment in which they operate. Within these influences, project teams establish their own team cultures. Project teams can tailor their structure to best accomplish the project objective.

Another aspect of a collaborative project team environment is the incorporation of practice standards, ethical codes, and other guidelines that are part of the professional work within the project team and the organization. Project teams consider how these guides can support their efforts to avoid possible conflict among the disciplines and the established guidelines they use.

Creating a collaborative project team environment involves multiple contributing factors, such as team agreements, organizational structures, and processes. These factors support a culture that enables individuals to work together and provide synergistic effects from interactions.

A collaborative project team environment fosters the free exchange of information and individual knowledge. This, in turn, increases shared learning and individual development while delivering outcomes. A collaborative project team environment enables everyone to contribute their best efforts to deliver the desired outcomes for an organization. The organization, in turn, will benefit from deliverables and outcomes that respect and enhances its fundamental values, principles, and culture.

3. Effectively engage with stakeholders

Stakeholders can be individuals, groups, or organizations that may affect, be affected by, or perceive themselves to be affected by a decision, activity, or outcome of a portfolio, program, or project. Stakeholders also directly or indirectly influence a project, its performance, or outcome in either a positive or negative way.

Stakeholders can affect many aspects of a project, and may come and go throughout the life cycle of the project. Additionally, the degree of a stakeholder’s interest, influence, or impact may change over time. Identifying, analyzing, and proactively engaging with stakeholders from the start to the end of the project helps to enable success.

Communication is a key part of engagement. Effective engagement and communication include determining how, when, how often, and under what circumstances stakeholders want to be – and should be – engaged. It encourages collaboration through interactive meetings, face-to-face meetings, informal dialogue, and knowledge-sharing activities.

Engagement helps project teams detect, collect, and evaluate information, data, and opinions. This creates shared understanding and alignment, which enables project outcomes. Additionally, these activities help the project team to tailor the project to identify, adjust, and respond to changing circumstances. Finally, engaging other stakeholders helps the project team to find solutions that may be more acceptable to a broader range of stakeholders.

4. Focus on value

Value is the ultimate success indicator and driver of projects. It focuses on the outcome of the deliverables, and can be realized throughout the project, at the end of the project, or after the project is complete.

Value, and the benefits that contribute to value, can be defined in quantitative and/or qualitative terms.

To support value realization from projects, project teams need to shift focus from deliverables to the intended outcomes. Doing so allows project teams to deliver on the vision or purpose of the project, rather than simply creating a specific deliverable.

Project teams need to continually evaluate and adjust project alignment to business objectives and intended benefits and value.

5. Recognize, evaluate, and respond to system interactions

A project is a system of interdependent and interacting domains of activity. A system is a set of interacting and interdependent components that function as a unified whole. Taking a holistic view, a project is a multifaceted entity that exists in dynamic circumstances, exhibiting the characteristics of a system. Project teams should acknowledge this holistic view of a project, seeing the project as a system with its own working parts and need to know the way how project parts interact with each other and with external systems.

As projects unfold, internal and external conditions are continuously changing. A single change can create several impacts. While it is possible to predict some of the changes in advance, many of the changes that can impact the project during its life cycle emerge in real-time. With systems thinking, including constant attention to internal and external conditions, the project team can navigate a wide spectrum of changes and impacts to keep the project in agreement with the relevant stakeholders.

Project teams should recognize, evaluate, and respond to the dynamic circumstances within and surrounding the project in a holistic way to positively affect project performance.

6. Demonstrate leadership behaviors

Effective leadership promotes project success and contributes to positive project outcomes. Leadership is not only for project managers but is for all people on the project team. Any project team member can demonstrate leadership behaviors.

Effective leaders adapt their style to the situation. Whatever the situation, leadership behaviors need to be based on honesty, integrity, and ethical conduct.

A project environment that prioritizes vision, creativity, motivation, enthusiasm, encouragement, and empathy can support better outcomes. These traits are often associated with leadership.

Leadership comprises the attitude, talent, character, and behaviors to influence individuals within and outside the project team toward the desired outcomes. Leadership should not be confused with authority, which is the position of control given to individuals within an organization to foster overall effective and efficient function.

Effective leadership draws from or combines elements of various styles of leadership. Documented leadership styles range from autocratic, democratic, laissez-faire, directive, participative, assertive, supportive, and autocratic to consensus. Of all these, no single leadership style has proven to be the universally best or recommended approach. Instead, effective leadership is shown when it best fits a specific situation.

7. Tailor based on context

Tailoring is the deliberate adaptation of approach, governance, and processes to make them more suitable for the given environment and the work at hand. Tailoring aims to maximize value, manage constraints, and improve performance by using “just enough” processes, methods, templates, and artifacts to achieve the desired outcome from the project.

Each project is unique, so project success is based on adapting to the unique context of the project to determine the most appropriate methods of producing the desired outcomes.

Tailoring is affected by many factors, including the business environment, team size, degree of uncertainty, and complexity of the project.

Tailoring an approach is iterative, and therefore is a constant process itself during the project life cycle.

8. Build quality into processes and deliverables

Quality focuses on meeting acceptance criteria for deliverables. Project quality entails satisfying stakeholders’ expectations, fulfilling project and product requirements, and ensuring project processes are appropriate and as effective as possible.

Quality may have several different dimensions, including:

  • Performance: Does the deliverable function as the project team and other stakeholders intended?
  • Conformity: Is the deliverable fit for use, and does it meet the specification?
  • Reliability: Do the deliverables produce consistent metrics each time it is performed or produced?
  • Resilience: Is the deliverable able to cope with unforeseen failures and quickly recover?
  • Satisfaction: Does the deliverable elicit positive feedback from end users? Does this include usability and user experience?
  • Uniformity: Does the deliverable show parity with other deliverables produced in the same manner?
  • Efficiency: Does the deliverable produce the greatest output with the least amount of inputs and effort?
  • Sustainability: Does the deliverable produce a positive impact on economic, social, and environmental parameters?

Project teams measure quality using metrics and acceptance criteria based on requirements.

Quality is also relevant to the project approaches and activities used to produce the project’s deliverables. While project teams evaluate the quality of deliverables through inspection and testing, project activities and processes are assessed through reviews and audits. In both instances, quality activities may focus on the detection and prevention of errors and defects.

Close attention to quality in project processes and deliverables creates positive outcomes.

9. Navigate complexity

Complexity is the result of human behavior, system interactions, uncertainty, and ambiguity, technological innovation. Complexity can be introduced by events or conditions that affect value, scope, communications, stakeholders, risk, and technological innovations. Complexity may emerge and impact the project in any area and at any point in the project life cycle.

Project teams often cannot foresee complexity emerging because it is the result of many interactions such as risks, dependencies, events, or relationships. Alternatively, a few causes may converge to produce a single complex effect, which makes isolating a specific cause of complexity difficult.

Though complexity cannot be controlled, project teams can modify their activities to address impacts that occur as a result of complexity. Project teams can identify elements of complexity throughout the project by continually looking at the project component as well as the project as a whole for signs of complexity. Knowledge of systems thinking, complex, adaptive systems, experience from past project work, experimentation, and continuous learning related to system interaction leads to the project team’s increased ability to navigate complexity when it emerges. Being vigilant for indications of complexity allows project teams to adapt their approaches and plans to navigate potential disruption to effective project delivery.

10. Optimize risk responses

A risk is an uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, can be positive (opportunities) or negative (threats). Threats may result in issues such as delay, cost overrun, technical failure, performance shortfall, or loss of reputation. Opportunities can lead to benefits such as reduced time and cost, improved performance, increased market share, or enhanced reputation. Project teams seek to maximize positive risks (opportunities) and decrease exposure to negative risks (threats).

An organization’s risk attitude, appetite, and threshold influence how risk is addressed. Risk appetite describe the degree of uncertainty an organization or individual is willing to accept in anticipation of a reward. Risk threshold is the measure of acceptable variation around an objective that reflects the risk appetite of the organization and stakeholders. The risk threshold reflects risk appetite.

Project team members need to engage with relevant stakeholders to understand their risk appetite and risk thresholds. Risks should be monitored and addressed continually throughout the project. Effective and appropriate risk responses can reduce individual and overall project threats and increase individual and overall opportunities.

11. Embrace adaptability and resiliency

Adaptability is the ability to respond to changing conditions. Resiliency is the ability to absorb impacts and recover quickly from a setback or failure.

A project rarely performs exactly as initially planned. Projects are influenced by internal and external factors – new requirements, issues, and stakeholder influences, among other factors – which exist in a system of interactions. Some elements within a project may fail or fall short of expectations, requiring the project team to regroup, rethink, and replan.

A focus on outcomes rather than outputs facilitates adaptability. The view that projects should hold firm to plans and commitments made during the early stages, even after new or unforeseen factors emerge, is not beneficial to stakeholders, including customers and end users, as this limits the potential for generating value. However, adapting should be done with a holistic view, such as a proper change control process, to avoid problems such as scope creep. In a project environment, capabilities that support adaptability and resilience include:

  • Short feedback loops to adapt quickly.
  • Continuous learning and improvement.
  • Project teams with broad skill sets, coupled with individuals having extensive knowledge in each required skill area.
  • Regular inspection and adaptation of project work to identify improvement opportunities.
  • Diverse project teams to capture a broad range of experiences.
  • Open and transparent planning that engages internal and external stakeholders.
  • Small-scale prototypes and experiments to test ideas and try new approaches.
  • Ability to leverage new ways of thinking and working.
  • Process design that balances velocity of work and stability of requirements.
  • Open organizational conversations.
  • Diverse project teams with broad skill sets, cultures, and experience, coupled with subject matter experts in each required skill area.
  • Understanding from past learning of the same or similar endeavors.
  • Ability and willingness to anticipate multiple potential scenarios and prepare for multiple eventualities.
  • Deferring decision-making to the last responsible moment.
  • Management support.
  • Open-ended design that balances speed and stability.

Building adaptability and resiliency in a project keeps project teams focused on the desired outcome when internal and external factors change, and it helps them recover from setbacks. These characteristics also help project teams learn and improve so that they can quickly recover from failures or setbacks and continue making progress toward delivering value.

12. Enable change to achieve the envisioned future state

Change can originate from internal influences or external sources. Change management, or enablement, is a comprehensive, cyclic, and structured approach for transitioning individuals, groups, and organizations from a current state to a future state in which they realize desired benefits. It is different from project change control, which is a process whereby modifications to documents, deliverables, or baselines associated with the project are identified and documented, and then approved or rejected.

Enabling change in an organization can be challenging. Some people may seem inherently resistant to change or risk averse, and environments may display a conservative culture, among other reasons. Project team members and project managers can work with relevant stakeholders to address resistance, fatigue, and change absorption to increase the probability that change will be adopted or assimilated successfully by customers or recipients of project deliverables.

It is also important to adapt the speed of change to the change appetite, cost, and ability of the stakeholders and the environment to assimilate change. Attempting to create too many changes in too short a time can lead to resistance because of change saturation. Even when stakeholders unanimously agree that change will produce more value or enhance outcomes, they often still have difficulty working through the actions that will deliver enhanced benefits.

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Ho Nhat Thanh

Founder of JustPassion website. Having more than 8 years of experiences in Software development and project management. A book-lover, a blogger and a learning enthusiast.

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