First Principles of Project Management
Introduction | Definitions | Criteria | Principles | Discussion

First Principles of Project Management

Based on the foregoing criteria, the following 'First principles' are proposed. These principles build extensively on the work of John Bing.[12] All the principles presume certain assumptions about the cultural ambience in which the project takes place. An ambience that encourages and sustains teamwork and honesty (See The Cultural Environment Principle below) and demonstrates that:[13]

  1. Everyone is working towards the same or similar project goals, whatever those might be
  2. Everyone is clear and agrees on who the customer is
  3. Appropriate levels of skill or experience are available as needed, and
  4. Everyone wants the project to succeed.

1. The Commitment Principle

An equitable commitment between the provider of resources and the project delivery team must exist before a viable project exists.

The provider of resources (money, and/or goods and services, and general direction) is typically called the project's 'owner' or 'sponsor'. The project delivery team is responsible for developing appropriate strategies, plans and controls for applying the necessary skills and work to convert those resources into the required deliverables or product. An 'equitable commitment' means that both parties are sufficiently knowledgeable of the undertaking, the processes involved and their associated risks, and both willingly undertake the challenge.

The owner of the project must understand that even with appropriate management controls in place, there must be a sharing of the risks involved. The attributes of both parties should encompass relevant skills, including those of the technology involved, experience, dedication, commitment, tenacity and authority to ensure the project's success. (See also Discussion: Commitment Principle.)

2. The Success Principle

The measures of project success, in terms of both process and product, must be defined at the beginning of the project as a basis for project management decision making and post-project evaluation.

It is axiomatic that the goal of project management is to be successful, otherwise the incurring of this management overhead is a valueless exercise. First and foremost, project success needs to be defined in terms of the acceptability of the project's deliverables, e.g. scope, quality, relevance to client needs, effectiveness, etc.; and secondly in terms of its internal processes, e.g. time, cost, efficiency, etc. The timing of the measurement of success itself may also need specifying. Without agreement on the project's success criteria, it will not be possible to measure its ultimate success.

It goes without saying that these measures of project success should be verified and reinforced throughout the project life cycle. As a corollary, if the success measures are no longer in alignment at any point, it should be perfectly acceptable to abort the project or at least halt it pending re-evaluation. (See also Discussion: Success Principle.)

3. The Tetrad Trade-off Principle

The core variables of the project management process, namely: product scope, quality grade, time-to-produce and total cost-at-completion must all be mutually consistent and attainable.

This principle is an extension of both the Commitment Principle and the Success Principle. The core variables of product scope, quality grade, time-to-produce and total cost-at-completion collectively, often loosely referred to as scope, quality, time and cost, respectively, are measures of internal project management efficiency. If these variables prove not to be mutually consistent and attainable, the commitment is neither equitable nor are key success criteria likely to be met. The interrelationship of these four separate variables are somewhat similar to a four-sided frame with flexible joints. One side can be secured and another moved, but only by affecting the remaining two.

4. The Strategy Principle

A strategy encompassing first planning then doing, in a focused set of sequential and progressive phases, must be in place.

The genesis of the project life cycle process, in its most basic form, is to be found in the very term "project management" itself. A project has, by definition, a start and a finish. The essence of management is to 'plan' before 'doing'. Hence the most fundamental project life cycle process consists of four sequential periods of 'Start', 'Plan', 'Do' and 'Finish'. Of course these four periods can be expanded into separate phases each with their own interim deliverables and Executive Control Points (or Emergency Exit Ramps.) These can be designed to suit the control requirements of every type of project in every area of project management application. Indeed, this sequence is, in effect, equally applicable at every level and branch of the project organization. It is also just as relevant where a 'fast-track' strategy or an iterative approach is adopted.

The importance of this life cycle process and its influence on the management of the project cannot be over emphasized. This relatively short-term life-to-death environment, and the consequences that flow, is probably the only thing that uniquely distinguishes projects from non-projects.[14]

5. The Management Principle

Policies and procedures that are effective and efficient must be in place for the conduct and control of the project commitment.

This principle is an extension of the strategy principle. The Strategy Principle determines what is going to be done and when. The Management Principle establishes how it is going to be done and by whom. The attributes of this management control encompass the project's assumptions, its justification and a reference baseline in each of the core variables as a basis for progress measurement, comparison and course adjustment. The attributes of good policies and procedures encompass clear roles and responsibilities, delegation of authority, and processes for maintaining quality, time and cost, etc. as well as managing changes in the product scope and/or scope of work.

6. The Single-Point Responsibility Principle

A single channel of communication must exist between the project sponsor and the project team leader for all decisions affecting the product scope.

This principle is an extension of the management principle and is necessary for effective and efficient administration of the project commitment. For example, the owner of the eventual product, if represented by more than one person, must nevertheless speak with one voice through a primary representative with access to the sponsor's resources. Similarly, the project's delivery team must always have a primary representative. However, this only applies to the decisions affecting the product scope and hence the project's overall cost and schedule. In all other respects, free and transparent communication is indispensable for the coordination of a complex set of project activities. Therefore, this principle must not in any way inhibit the proper exchange of information through the network of project communication channels that is required to integrate all aspects of the project.

7. The Cultural Environment Principle

Management must provide an informed and supportive cultural environment to ensure that the project delivery team are able to work to the limits of their capacity.

The ability of a project delivery team to produce results both effectively and efficiently is highly dependent upon the cultural environment. This 'cultural environment'[15] encompasses both internal and external project relations and values. Internally, the management style of the team leader must be suited to the type of project and its phase in the project life cycle. Externally, the management of the organization in which the project takes place must be supportive and the environment free of obstacles.


12.  Bing, John, A. Principles of Project Management, PMNETwork, Project Management Institute, January 1994, p40
13.  Contributed by Gerald Neal by Email dated 9/23/99.
14.  Section 60 Life Cycle Design and Management, CRMP Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, Centre for Research in the Management of Projects, University of Manchester, 1999.
15.  For definitions of 'culture' and 'environment' in the project context, refer to the Wideman Comparative Glossary of Common Project Management Terms.

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