First published as an editorial in the Project Management World Today E-zine of the PMForum web site. Published here November 1999.


Musings Index

Lacking in Principles?

Project management has been around for centuries. Associations around the world that espouse and promote project management have been around for decades. So-called "modern" project management has been around for years. They all have one thing in common - a lack of principles. To be more precise, we mean a set of basic project management principles providing a universal reference baseline for generally acceptable "practices".

A set that would be the benchmark for judging the actual performance on projects with a view to improving future proficiency. "But there is no shortage of recommended principles and practices in the market place, just read the literature" we hear the cry! True, there is available an abundance of good advice variously described as principles, practices, or just plain rules. One Hundred Rules for NASA Project Managers, though written with tongue-in-cheek, has a wealth of common sense and is a good example. (

The problem is that there is a distinct fuzziness when it comes to distinguishing between principles, practices and rules.

What is needed is a set of "First Principles", perhaps seven or so - a number that the mind can readily grasp. Each of these first principles would express a basic concept or idea, be essential to the successful conduct of a project and its deliverables, provide the basis for supporting practices, and can be validated and justified as to value through research analysis and testing. Collectively, this set of principles would provide a solid foundation for the building of a broad-based project management professional discipline worldwide.

Recently there has been some focus in this direction. The Project Management Institute has launched an initiative to discuss this topic. In July 1999, the PMForum published a paper titled "Fundamental Principles" by Wideman. But the amount of interest shown in this highly philosophical but essential topic has been under whelming.

It seems that most people prefer to tout their own particular brand of project management quite regardless - academe included. Is it any wonder that there is so much miscommunication, disagreement, disarray and lack of progress in the real world of project management?

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