Project management methodologies: 7 key principles

Project management is at times a difficult and demanding industry. Each project is subject to numerous internal and external uncertainties that can jeopardize project development. To avoid disaster, project management professionals rely on several ‘best-practice’ management principles to help minimize the risk of failure.    

The seven ‘best-practice’ project management principles detailed below are based on popular PRINCE2 Principles but can (and should) be incorporated into any project management methodology.

Business Justification
Every project should be made with the intent of achieving either short-term or long-term business goals. Before you commit time and resources to a project, it’s vitally important to understand what benefits it will bring and by what criteria the success of the project will be measured by.  

A project should always be a means to an end, rather than an end in and of itself. With this in mind, you should re-evaluate the progress of a project at multiple points throughout its’ development life cycle. If at any time it become clear that a return on investments is no longer feasible (due to changing market conditions, unforeseen circumstances or other), it will always be in your best interest to scrap the project. Recoup some losses, analyze what went wrong and apply these lessons learned to the next project.

Clearly define roles and responsibilities
The success of projects often hinge on how well development teams can communicate. Clearly defining roles and responsibilities before the project begins helps create clear lines of communication, establishes who the decision-makers are and promotes individual accountability.

This is all the more important in agile environments where inter-departmental cooperation is vital to success.

When all involved know what their roles are and, importantly, what the limits of their roles are, project development will proceed much more smoothly.

Manage by exception                                              
Micro-management almost never benefits project development.  Project managers should, at all times, try limit the amount of influence stakeholder have over project development. This not only helps stakeholders focus more on their important duties, but always development teams to focus on the task at hand and speeds development.

Following on from the previous note, if at any time things don’t go accordingly, it should be left to project development teams to approach decision-makers for guidance. Project managers should set clear boundaries within all involved must work.

Manage by stages
It’s always a smart idea to break up large tasks into more manageable ‘bite-sized’ chunks. By working in short iterations, project managers can maintain an adequate level of project governance without constantly interrupting project development.

Managing by stages also allows for greater control over project risk factors and ensures the overall quality of a project so long as project managers and developers take the time between successful iterations to review quality guidelines and seek consumer feedback.  

Focus on the product
Product owners and stakeholder must think carefully about product and deliverables before development starts. This helps better define project requirements, success criteria and project scope.  

This has the added benefit of aiding project managers in assessing potential risks and opportunities.

Learn from experience
A large part of good project management practice involves reflecting on the progress of project development, learning what improvements can be made to aid development and, most importantly, learning from mistakes to prevent the same errors from derailing future projects.

PRINCE2 project management focuses heavily on the gradual improvement of project development methods and individual capacity to learn and improve.

Tailor methods to suit contexts
Regardless of which project management methodology you employ in your industry, it’s rare that a framework can be implemented ‘whole-sale’ without some adjustments made to account for the unique challenges each project faces.

Its inadvisable to blindly follow a project management methodology without first adapting it to meet the demands of the work at hand.

Taking time to tailor your methods can help reduce redundancy, improve profitability and ease of development, therefore a large part of any planning phase should be dedicated to analyze which features of management can be done away with whilst still allowing for adequate levels of governance.

Del Rosario

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