First Principles Generally
Issue #1: Do we really need 'First Principles of Project Management'?
Most people seem to have managed very well without them, that is, until the
trouble starts. Most projects take place in a corporate environment but the
approach to corporate management and to project management are very different.
Marie Scotto has provided a compelling list of differences.
Perhaps the most significant is that "The business community believes in
understaffing which it can prove is generally good business most of the time."
In contrast, projects are especially risky by their nature and need a margin
of surplus if for no other reason than to take care of contingencies. For a
project to be under-resourced is a recipe for failure. Consequently, a set of
credible 'fundamentals' is sorely needed for making an adequate case to corporate
management for providing the required support.
Issue #2: What should be included as a First Principle and what excluded?
The key criterion is thought to be whether or not the principle is universally
fundamental to project success as defined. For example, without some form of
commitment there can be no project and hence no possibility of success. On the
other hand, there are many major tools and techniques the application of which
might be considered as essential to success.
For example, a formal work breakdown structure, schedule network, earned value
analysis, change control process and so on. However, projects in many application
areas are run successfully without applying these tools. So, while they may
be considered good practice, they are not necessarily essential. Each such tool
undoubtedly relies on its own set of principles which may be considered as secondary
to the First Principles.
Issue #3: It has been suggested that there should be a 'Business Principle'
which states that the project must be in alignment with the sponsoring organization's
goals. This is a valid comment, but on balance this should be corporate management's
responsibility to determine that before embarking on the project. Nevertheless,
a prudent project manager will satisfy him/herself that the project is indeed
so aligned, and justified.
Issue #4: Similar to Issue #3, it has been suggested that there should be
a separate 'Technical Principle' which states that the project leader and
team members must be knowledgeable in the technology of the product. This is
certainly true, but is deemed to be covered by the Commitment Principle in that
an 'Equitable Commitment' is not possible without an understanding of the risks
involved including those associated with the technology.
Issue #5: It must be recognized that every project 'evolves' through its
life cycle and the commitment and tradeoffs will similarly evolve. On most
projects the players will also change, as it moves through its life cycle, simply
to meet the changing level of effort and skills required in each phase. Nevertheless,
an 'equitable commitment' can and should exist for every phase of the project
if the project is to remain viable.
Once again, in the real world, many projects are not set up this way. Resources
are short changed or reprioritized and unattainable deadlines are
set, often for the reasons described by Marie Scotto (see Issue
#1 above.) Thus, the absence of this and the following principle
simply means that the probability of success is greatly diminished if not impossible.
Issue #6: It has been suggested that the issue of success is so obvious
as to be unworthy of a first principle. However, 'success' for a project
and how it will be measured after completion does need to be defined at the
beginning of the project. The most important reason is to provide an on-going
basis for management decision making during the course of the project. Contrary
to conventional wisdom, there have been many projects that have been "On
time and within budget" but the product has not been successful, and similarly
many that have not been "On time and within budget" yet by other measures
the product has been very successful. Motorola's Iridium is a good example of
the former while the movie 'Titanic' is a good example of the latter.
We believe that project success is much more than just "Doing what you
set out to do". It is also about whether what you are doing is in fact
the right thing to do. We believe that the ultimate goal of a project, and therefore
its measure of 'success', should be satisfaction with the product on the part
of the customer. As noted earlier, the assumption is that the 'customer' is
However obvious and sensible the setting of project success criteria at the
beginning of a project may seem, regretfully, it is not currently a common practice.
Without defining these success criteria, how can agreement be reached on a particular
project's priorities, trade-offs, the significance of changes, and the overall
effectiveness and efficiency of project management post-project? For this reason,
a lot of conclusions drawn from experiential material could also be very questionable.
As Gerald Neal points out, the reality of life on many projects is that everyone
on or associated with it does not have the same aspirations and goals. As a
result "the project gets pulled in many different directions ... [by] ...
status, pride, power, greed... " In most cases, this may be a little exaggerated,
but even at the most elementary level, the project owner will be interested
in benefiting from the product while the workers on the project will be interested
in benefiting from the process. This makes the definition of a project's success
even more important - to provide a reference baseline for the correction of
Tetrad Trade-off Principle:
Issue #7: Although the term 'Tetrad Trade-off' has been in the literature
for some years, objection has been
raised because the term is unfamiliar. Perhaps this is the very value of
the term to emphasize that there are four separate but interactive variables
(scope, quality, time and cost) rather than just three as in the old view of
'Triple Constraint' (time, cost and performance.) Thus, quality, the most enduring
variable of the four when it comes to project success, is given new prominence.
It should be stressed here again that quality means 'Quality Grade', i.e. the
measure of level or class (utility to world-class) as distinct from 'Quality
Conformance', i.e. "conformance to specified requirements".
Cultural Environment Principle
Issue #8: Once again, the reality is that many managements place obstacles
in the way of project progress, perhaps unwittingly because of management's
functional heritage. Yet another reason for a solid set of Project Management
I am indebted to the many people who have contributed to this discussion. In
particular I should like to thank Bill Duncan, Project Management Partners,
Chris Quaife, Symmetric Resources, and Eric Jenett, FPMI, for their extensive,
very valuable and insightful comments.
FICE, FEIC, FCSCE, FPMI
© October 20, 2000
16. Scotto, Marie, Project Resource
Planning, in Project Management Handbook, Jossey-Bass, 1998, Chapter 13.
17. A Framework for Project and Program Management,
Editor R. Max Wideman, Project Management Institute, PA, 1991, pV-4.