The original version of this paper was first presented in Project Management World Today in the March 2000 issue.
It was subsequently updated and reproduced on this web site in November 2000.
This is Revision 17, March 2009.

Republished here October 2022.

Introduction | Meaning of Project Management | Definitions
Project Management Success | Criteria for Establishing a First Principle | PART 2


We are well aware of the many and varying nuances arising from different definition wordings, but it is the intent, rather than the detail, that we are concerned with here. For more on this topic, please refer to the Introduction to the Wideman Comparative Glossary of Common Project Management Terms.[9]

First Principles

In general usage, there appears to be some ambiguity when it comes to the use of the words "principles and practices". Moreover, in the marketplace generally, the term "principle" appears to be used indiscriminately to mean either.

Webster defines a "Principle" as "a general truth, a law on which others are founded or from which others are derived; provides a guide to conduct or procedure ..."[10]

Cleland and Kerzner go further in defining "Principle" as follows:[11]

  1. A fundamental rule or law of action based upon desirable ends or objectives. A principle is more basic than a policy or a procedure and generally governs both.
  2. A fundamental truth, or what is believed to be truth at a given time, explaining relationships between two or more sets of variables, usually an independent variable and a dependent variable; may be descriptive, explaining what will happen, or prescriptive (or normative), indicating what a person should do. In the latter case, principles reflect some scale of values, such as efficiency, and therefore imply value judgments.

Webster defines "Practice", on the other hand, as "customary use, method or art of doing anything ...". Cleland and Kerzner do not include a definition for this term.

Thus, "Practice" is a way of doing things and "Principles" and "Practices" may be distinguished by the difference between "What" and "How". In Cleland and Kerzner's second definition there appears to be some overlap perhaps reflecting the confusion evident in the marketplace.

At first glance it would appear that the use of the qualifier "First" with "Principle" is redundant. However, in scientific circles, the idea of First Principles is a common concept describing root or axiomatic ideas that provide the absolutely essential foundations for further thought and analysis. Since we are interested here in the very origin of project management, we use the term First Principle advisedly.


There are many and varying definitions of the term project. For our purposes: "A project is a novel undertaking to create a new product or service the delivery of which signals completion. Projects are typically constrained by limited resources."[12] Also for our purposes, such a project is viewed from the perspective of the owner or sponsor of the project. It begins when the sponsor dedicates resources to the project's specific objectives, commencing with activities such as Idea Development; Concept Exploration; Proposal Writing; Inception or Conception, etc.

Project Life Span

Typically, but in our view incorrectly referred to as project life cycle, a well-managed project[13] is essentially a project management process that progresses in an orderly fashion through its individual and logical life span. This project life span starts with a concept that is justified by a Business Case. This Business Case is an essential documentation that establishes the justification for the project in the first place and drives the process through the subsequent phases to the finished product. A typical, generic life span is illustrated in Figure 4.

Figure 4: Typical generic high-level project life span
Figure 4: Typical generic high-level project life span

Product Scope

Product Scope, typically but loosely just referred to as scope, is used in the narrower sense of "The definition that describes the project's product deliverables".[14] This is not the same as the Scope of Work that describes "The work involved in the design, fabrication and assembly of the components of a project's deliverable into a working product".[15] The term product includes the delivery of a service.

Quality Grade

We use the term Quality Grade to distinguish it from the term Quality which is typically taken to mean "The totality of features and characteristics of a product or service that bear on its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs".[16] Quality Grade on the other hand is "A particular attribute of an item, product or service, which meets all minimum project requirements but which may be delivered according to a class ranging from "utility" (purely functional) to "world class" (equal to the best of the best)".[17] As such, Quality Grade is a separate variable. It is also the most enduring in terms of product success.

Project Stakeholders and Constituents

Project stakeholders are sometimes segregated into stakeholders and constituents. The former are those that are the direct recipients of the product of the project while the latter are those that are indirectly affected by the results of deploying the product. However, rather than project stakeholders and constituents, we would much prefer the use of the more focused terms customer and community. The resulting product's customer is its immediate recipient, the person who will use the product and is therefore in the best position to evaluate its acceptability after a suitable period of learning. The customer may be more than one person. Community, on the other hand, includes anyone who is impacted by project activities or its product, either directly or indirectly and for better or worse.

Meaning of Project Management  Meaning of Project Management

9. See
10. The New Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language
11. Cleland, David, & H. Kerzner, A Project Management Dictionary of Terms, Van Nostrand, New York, 1985, p187.
12. See the definition in the Wideman Comparative Glossary of Project Management Terms: project
13. See the definition in the Wideman Comparative Glossary of Project Management Terms: well managed project
14. Centre for Research in the Management of Projects (CRMP), University of Manchester, UK, 1999.
15. Turner, R. Interpreted from the Gower Handbook of Project Management, 3rd. Edn, Ch 1.
16. ISO 8402, International Organization for Standardization, Geneva 20, Switzerland.
17. Project Management Guidelines (Private BC Corporation), 1995.
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