The Ultimate Manual to Project Management Principles

The best project management software tools can certainly can simplify the process of tracking projects. However, they can’t do it alone.

People following project management principles and best practices can work in tandem with the software to yield the best results.

What Are Project Management Principles Anyway?

Project management principles are rules and guidelines that teams should follow for managing a project. These principles provide a framework for setting up, managing, and completing a project.

By having these rules in mind when designing the project, teams are better able to stay on track.

Project management software will help track a project’s progress. But when the project’s setup has poor execution, the software’s ability to deliver a well-monitored project becomes compromised.

Think of it like the tried-and-true computer science concept of GIGO: Garbage in, garbage out. With a poor setup and framework from which to operate, even the most agile project management software platforms will struggle to deliver the results the team is seeking.

Ultimately, teams need to spend time selecting the right management principles for a particular project.

How Project Management Principles Work

Those building out the framework of a project can use these principles to help the project start on the right foot. Think of selecting the right project management principles as preliminary or background work for the project.

Putting these principles into practice can help set the stage for things like:

  • Setting goals for the project
  • Determining parameters for measuring progress
  • Setting up expectations for communications
  • Determining realistic deadlines
  • Creating a project budget
  • Creating a list of milestones to show the project is on track
  • Providing a means of adjusting the project on the fly if the parameters or goals change
  • Prioritizing the most important steps and tasks for the project

The project administrator can determine which project management principles to use for each particular new project. Or the administrator can put together a team or committee to provide input on the best principles to use.

Project Management Principles

No official list of all project management principles exists. Several different principles are available to use with different projects. So selecting the best principles for the needs of a team will depend on the scope of a particular project.

Some of the agreed-upon principles of project management by experts in the field include setting very clear objectives, defining the deliverables, collaboration, transparent roles and accountability, controlling the scope of a project, identifying priorities and milestones, efficient resource management, measuring progress, and adaptability.

Here are some examples of the principles of project management and how teams can put them into practice.

Example 1: Setting Clear Goals for Success

Perhaps the most critical project management principle to follow is creating a set of goals for the project. Those participating in the project need to have a clear end goal in mind while performing their tasks. Goals set the tone for the overall project.

Without an end goal in place, team members may lose focus on what they’re trying to accomplish with each task. This can lead to the project taking twists and turns that end up causing delays and wasting money.

For those who want the goal-setting process to involve collaboration, project management software has an ideal structure to collect comments and ideas. Invite those with a vested interest in the project’s success to comment on the project management software board. Developing and fleshing out ideas for the project’s goals go smoothly in this format.

Having all the ideas and comments on the project management software board is far easier than working through a long email chain.

The goal-setting process should happen first or very early on in the project. The team may determine that the project isn’t truly necessary after trying to come up with goals. More often, though, setting goals helps the team achieve a genuine focus on what it wants to accomplish.

Example 2: Creating a Commitment for Success in the Project

As a project administrator, a fundamental principle is a commitment to success. If the project manager does not have total belief in the scope and goal of the project, they will not be fully committed. This could lead to the failure of the project.

Team members may question their workload and tasks when a project manager clearly shows a lack of commitment to the project.

The project manager can show belief in the project in several ways, including:

  • Developing a project plan, either alone or with a team
  • Finding stakeholders to back the project
  • Ensuring the project has the budget and resources it needs for success
  • Selecting team members for the project who share the belief in the end goal
  • Taking time to learn any skills or techniques required to understand the project fully
  • Communicating the project’s parameters and goals with the entire team with transparency

Using project management software can simplify the process of making sure everyone is on the same page about the project. When team members fully understand the project, they will have a more significant commitment to seeing the project succeed.

Example 3: Setting Parameters for Transparency and Communication

One project management principle that some teams ignore during the planning phase is ensuring transparency in measuring progress. Without a clear set of rules and guidelines for sharing information about the project, some team members may feel like they’re out of the loop.

Setting parameters for transparency ahead of time gives participants a clear set of guidelines for sharing information. No one feels they don’t have the exact information they need to complete a task when all team members are transparent.

One of the greatest strengths of project management software is the ability of team members to communicate efficiently. All of the messages and information can occur inside the software. Team members can quickly refer to past conversations, making it easy to find information and maintain transparency.

Many project management software packages can closely integrate with communications software packages like Slack as well. This is ideal for teams that already use Slack.

Discussing the project via email can lead to an unclear picture for team members and missed information in long email chains. Part of the transparency principle involves forcing team members to only use the software for communications about the project.

Additionally, stakeholders may want to check in on the project’s progress occasionally. They may not be members of the day-to-day team involved in the project’s tasks. However, they still should be able to access the project management software board to see what’s happening. Guaranteeing transparency on the board allows stakeholders to gain a realistic picture of the project at any time.

Example 4: Managing Each Team Member’s Role

The project administrator must set up clearly defined roles to give team members the greatest chance at success.

When administrators don’t follow this project management principle, team members can experience frustration. They may not understand why they have specific tasks on their plate or struggle to see how they fit into the team. They may believe they’re wasting their skills on unfamiliar tasks.

However, when a project administrator takes the time to give each team member a role and explain that role, it’s easier for everyone to understand how they fit into the overall project and how their work impacts its success.

Setting roles also involves creating a hierarchy for the project. Team members should know to whom they report. They should also know which team members are available to help them with their tasks if deadlines pile up.

In addition, by creating specific roles, the project manager uses another main principle: accountability. Being transparent about each person’s tasks and responsibilities sets everyone up to be held accountable for their specific parts of the project. Accountability is another

Maintaining Focus on the Project’s Scope

For extremely complex projects, it may be necessary to give a few team members the role of keeping the project on task.

With big projects involving dozens of team members, it’s easy for tasks to expand unnecessarily. A team member may go beyond a specific task, believing they are helping by doing a little extra work. Instead, this may lead to a situation called scope creep, where tasks expand too much, moving the project off target.

Setting up specific roles and ensuring that team members stick to those roles can help a project avoid creeping.

Finally, the project manager needs to clarify that they have the ultimate say on the project. Without a clear leader at the top of the project, all of the roles underneath the project manager may become muddied and unclear, leading to problems with creep.

Example 5: Setting a Budget and Timeline for the Project

Any successful project needs to have a clear timeline and budget in place. This is an essential principle for project management, as it keeps the project relevant. If the team reaches the final goal but spends double the planned budget to get there, the project is unsuccessful.

Project budget and timeline go hand in hand. Projects that take too long and miss deadlines are far more likely to go over budget. Project management software like Airtable has budget tracking features built into it, including tracking billable hours.

As part of this principle, it’s vital for the project administrator to set realistic deadlines and an accurate budget. Take stock of other projects and deadlines the team is facing.

Understanding the relationship between tasks in the project is important when setting deadlines, too. Some tasks may depend on the completion of others before they can start. These relationships will significantly affect deadlines.

Some types of project management software, such as Wrike, can show these relationships through Gantt charts. Having a visual representation of the relationships between tasks can make it easier for the project administrator to set realistic deadlines.

Example 6: Creating a Project Plan

Our final principle example involves setting up the framework for the project.

The project administrator should take all of the information gathered as part of the other project management principles. They then can set up the overall plan.

Project management software dramatically simplifies this process. Through the project software, administrators can do the following:

  • Create a Description: As part of the setup process, administrators can create a description in the software that clearly explains the project’s scope. Team members can refer to this description regularly to ensure they’re staying on track.
  • Add Tasks: With project management software, administrators can create tasks that are part of the project. These are items that team members can focus on, rather than worrying about the entire project at once. When all of the tasks wrap up, the entire project will reach completion, too.
  • Set Deadlines: As part of creating tasks, administrators can add a deadline. Any task deadlines should consider the overall project completion deadline and any dependency on the completion of other tasks. This gives the team members a clear understanding of which tasks to prioritize.
  • Assign Tasks: Based on the roles of each team member, administrators can ensure that each task goes to the most qualified person. Team members don’t end up with randomly assigned project tasks outside their scope of expertise, leading to frustration.
    Provide Permissions: Team members and stakeholders need to have access to the board.

Before finalizing the project plan, the project administrator may want to gather feedback on the framework from other team members and stakeholders. When more people have a say in the framework, they will feel more committed to and engaged in the project’s overall success.

How to Get Started With Project Management Principles

Deploying project management principles into a team’s project management software can make the overall project run smoother. Using the software to reflect the decisions made in the planning process should keep the project on track. We’ll discuss some of the ways to put these principles into practice using Asana project management software as an example.

Step 1: Defining the Project Scope

Use the project management principles to define the scope of the project. This can include setting the objectives for the project, determining the resources available, and selecting the primary stakeholders.

Team members then can use Asana to create a project board that lays out some of these items. If the team needs feedback on the objectives, creating an Asana task card to request ideas for objectives is a good starting point.

Step 2: Creating a Plan Framework

Within Asana, the project administrator can create the framework for the project using management principles. Project management software like Asana can provide significant help with the framework configuration.

The software offers templates that have a basic framework in place already, saving time. Different templates will focus on a particular type of project or plan, making it easier to have success in a short amount of time.

Teams can create a series of columns on the Asana Kanban board to show the different steps required to measure progress on the project. Move individual cards left to right along the columns to show the status of each task.

Step 3: Determining Milestones and Deadlines

When a team has spent time considering its project management principles, it should have a firm idea of how long the project will take. The principles also can help the team determine what types of milestones will be useful in measuring progress. Think of milestones as a way to show the completion of a major step on the project.

Deadlines can be part of each task card and can be part of the milestone columns within Asana. For some projects, though, milestones provide more of a snapshot in time of where the project stands. Adding deadlines to milestone markers is less important in this instance. When the team takes care of the tasks and hits deadlines, the milestones don’t really need deadlines.

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Bryan Wise
Bryan Wise,
Former VP of IT at GitLab

Incredible companies use Nira