What are project management principles?
These days, projects need to quickly adapt to “survive” and succeed in ever-changing environments.
There is a dire need to abandon the so-called “over-the-fence” management where you can simply “throw the ball” in someone else’s yard and shift responsibility to whoever catches the ball.
Therefore, certain principles should be followed within all project teams that wish to maintain project coherence, as well as facilitate the journey towards a common goal.
In this guide, we’ll examine the fundamental principles all project managers (PMs) should adhere to, so as to achieve project success.
So, let’s dive in!
Table of Contents
What are project management principles?
Project management principles are general guidelines that a project team should follow to ensure effective project management.
Following these principles helps build a strong foundation for:
- Decision-making, and
As explained in the PMBOK® Guide, Seventh edition — principles can often reflect morals, and morals are further related to the code of ethics.
According to the PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct, PMBOK®’s 12 principles of project management are aligned with the 4 values identified as the most important to the project management community:
- Fairness, and
However, the way you will apply these principles largely depends on factors such as:
- The context of the organization,
- The type of the project,
- Project deliverables,
- Project team, or
Now, let’s take a closer look at the 12 basic project management principles.
12 Project management principles
PMBOK®’s latest, seventh edition by Project Management Institute (PMI), lists the following 12 principles as the most important:
- Be a diligent, respectful, and caring steward.
- Create a collaborative project team environment.
- Effectively engage with stakeholders.
- Focus on value.
- Recognize, evaluate, and respond to system interactions.
- Demonstrate leadership behaviors.
- Tailor based on context.
- Build quality into processes and deliverables.
- Navigate complexity.
- Optimize risk responses.
- Embrace adaptability and resiliency.
- Enable change to achieve the envisioned future state.
Keep reading, as we’re going to further examine each of these principles.
Principle #1: Be a diligent, respectful, and caring steward
When planning a project, project teams and their leaders should manage responsibly — both within and outside of the organization.
Stewardship within an organization implies that:
- All management is in line with the organization’s internal objectives, mission, and vision,
- Project resources are diligently allocated, and
- Project team members are respected, including their compensation, access to opportunity, and fair treatment.
On the other side, certain external factors that shouldn’t be neglected are:
- Social factors,
- Technical factors, and
- Sustainable environmental factors.
So, if the project goal is, for example, building a new residential complex to provide better housing options, you should also consider possible negative results — reduced green space or the pressure on traffic congestion.
You should approach both internal and external project factors strategically to ensure that all decisions are made responsibly.
All in all, stewardship is all about reaching your project objectives while acting with:
- Trustworthiness, and
Principle #2: Create a collaborative project team environment
Creating a culture where everyone contributes to the ultimate goal is one of the key traits of successful project teams.
Teamwork helps teams reach objectives easier and with more quality, as each individual contributes their share to the diversity of:
- Knowledge, and
An expert we reached out to, Randi Mays, a PMP-certified project development manager at Oii.ai, underlines the importance of understanding diverse personalities in the workplace:
“Find the unique strengths of individuals to build a successful team. PMs need to recognize that people who make up the team won’t have the same personality. Some work best when left alone, others need proper guidance. Some learn on the fly, others read the manual. It varies, but if PMs can identify the strength, then they can better assign suitable tasks to keep a project moving”.
What is a collaborative team environment?
According to the PMBOK® Guide (Seventh edition), a collaborative team environment includes:
- Team agreements — working norms that a project team establishes at the beginning of a project.
- Organizational structures — structures that are based on roles, functions, or authority.
- Processes — different approaches to task completion established by a project team, e.g. a work breakdown structure (WBS), a backlog, etc.
“Establish a protocol of accountability and responsibility while ensuring proper training systems for team members and management of virtual teams.”
Kathryn Boudreau also suggests that a way to increase team collaboration is through proper conflict management:
“Manage conflicts and engage appropriate conflict resolution protocols to ensure team productivity.”
All in all, fostering a work culture where individuals share and develop their diverse skills and use them to somehow contribute, raises the chances of reaching the desired project outcomes.
💡 Plaky Pro Tip:
To find out the difference between operations and project management, take a look at this blog post:
Principle #3: Effectively engage with stakeholders
Being one of the pillars of any project, stakeholders have a significant influence on the project outcome.
This high stakeholder influence is a result of their potential impact on different project areas, such as:
- Scope/Requirements — stakeholders can add, change, or remove project requirements, this way changing the project scope.
- Project budget — by adding or removing requirements, they can reduce or increase project costs.
- Schedule — by being involved in the project decisions, they can indirectly affect delivery dates.
- Project team — they can restrict or enable access to people with the needed skills for the project.
- Plans — they provide necessary information that can influence project planning.
- Risk — they can participate in risk management activities.
Considering stakeholders can influence so many project areas throughout the project life cycle, it’s clear why project success hinges on constant stakeholder engagement.
Effectively engaging with stakeholders helps avoid their potential negative, as well as increase positive impacts on the project, which can both be achieved by determining how, when, how often, and under what circumstances stakeholders should be engaged in the project.
Principle #4: Focus on value
How do you know if you can consider your project successful?
Customers or end users will describe the final deliverable as valuable.
As PMBOK® Guide (Seventh edition) defines it, value is:
- Importance, or
To increase project value, project teams should work towards fulfilling a certain business need and clarify why they will undertake the project in the first place.
According to the latest project management statistics, a top-three driver of project success among global respondents — and a key driver in most individual regions — is an organizational culture centered on delivering customer value (80% in the so-called “gymnastic” enterprises, versus 65% in traditional enterprises).
Principle #5: Recognize, evaluate, and respond to system interactions
PMBOK® Guide (Seventh edition) explains that a project can be seen as a system that:
- Functions within a larger system (e.g. projects may be part of a program which, in turn, may also be part of a portfolio).
- Has its own subsystems (e.g. when different project teams develop separate components of a deliverable).
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To find out the differences between project, program, and portfolio management, check out these blog posts:
Internal and external conditions are continually changing, especially in agile. So, project teams should respond to these changes accordingly.
With the ability to recognize what consequences certain changes can have in the future, it is more likely that the project team will respond appropriately in the present time and ultimately achieve positive outcomes.
Here are some possible outcomes of recognizing, evaluating, and responding to system interactions:
- Identifying risks early and seeking alternatives,
- Ability to adapt the plan during the project life cycle,
- Better communication with stakeholders,
- Ability to adapt to end users’ needs,
- Identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, and
- Ability to make decisions that benefit the organization as a whole.
Principle #6: Demonstrate leadership behaviors
Project managers who demonstrate effective leadership skills are more likely to create a work atmosphere full of:
- Encouragement, and
Working in such a positive environment, team members will increase their performance and be more likely to produce the desired outcomes, such as a successful product launch.
What are some good leadership skills?
Here are some examples of effective leadership skills:
- Focusing a project team around common goals,
- Finding resources and support for the project,
- Resolving conflicts within the project team and between the project team and stakeholders,
- Demonstrating effective communication skills,
- Appreciating and rewarding positive practices,
- Providing opportunities for personal growth and development,
- Practicing active listening skills,
- Empowering project team members by giving them the freedom to choose tasks,
- Being emphatic leaders,
- Being flexible and open to changes, and
- Being a role model for the desired behaviors.
Good leaders will preach what they teach and in this way motivate others with their own actions.
The expert we’ve reached out to, Randi Mays, explains that a good leader should always be there for their team members:
“Throughout the project, make yourself available, and ensure that your team members know they can reach out for any questions or support. Never play a blame game. Highlight achievements and milestones, and if there are specific areas that need improvement, speak individually to those who are responsible for those tasks.”
With joined forces, the project team and its leaders will work towards a shared vision and a common goal until they reach success.
Moreover, as stated in the 2021 Pulse of the Profession — empathetic leadership helps prevent increased levels of anxiety, depression, and burnout.
And, though leading a project team represents just one among many project management challenges, it’s important to note that effective leadership is a skill that you can learn and develop over time.
Principle #7: Tailor based on context
Your project management style and how you will approach the project development process should be tailored to fit each project specifically.
The PMBOK® Guide explains that tailoring implies actions “of selecting and mixing specific elements to suit the unique characteristics of the project and the project environment”.
In other words, the context of the project can affect each project differently, so the approach should suit the project depending on its:
- Organizational culture, etc.
According to the PMI’s 2021 Pulse of the Profession, it’s the tailoring of their approaches that led “gymnastic” enterprises to achieve desired outcomes.
What’s more, successful enterprises encourage their teams to apply different project approaches — Agile, Waterfall, or hybrid — depending on the project type.
Our source, Kathryn Boudreau, explains the importance of tailoring:
“This project management concept allows tailoring the project needs to the particular client and project, not to all projects within an organization. The suitable methodology will depend on the size of the project, the type of project, and the organization’s existing processes and policies. It improves efficiency levels by decreasing time and effort in correcting errors.”
An example of tailoring based on context in practice
Kathryn shared an example of how exactly tailoring helped achieve better results in her company:
“One of the key challenges before CallerSmart adopted AI and Machine Learning protocols for its Call blocking and authentication software was the difficulty in providing customization solutions and integration services for our corporate clients. There were also manual data analysis challenges.
By tailoring based on context, we could use automation and shift to cloud computing, to improve business processes, keep our ever-increasing database of blocked/spam numbers segmented and improve client customization by 15%. Utilization rates rose by 5%, and admin time decreased by 20%, leading to better forecasting and resource management.”
Principle #8: Build quality into processes and deliverables
A quality deliverable satisfies:
- Stakeholder needs, and
- Customer needs.
When it comes to determining the quality of a deliverable, you should consider several other criteria, such as:
- Performance — whether the deliverable functions as intended.
- Conformity — whether the deliverable meets the necessary specifications.
- Reliability — whether the deliverable is reliable for use.
- Resilience — whether the deliverable is resilient.
- Satisfaction — whether the deliverable satisfies end users’ needs.
- Uniformity — whether the deliverable is similar to other deliverables produced in the same way.
- Efficiency — whether the deliverable produces the best possible results with the least amount of effort.
- Sustainability — whether the deliverable follows economic, social, and environmental guidelines.
All in all, quality assurance activities minimize the chances of project failure while increasing the probability of project success.
Principle #9: Navigate complexity
A project can often become a big challenge due to the complexity caused by events affecting:
- Project value,
- Project scope,
- Communication within the team and with stakeholders,
- Risks, and
However, learning how to adapt and willingness to experiment throughout the project can help navigate complexity when it occurs.
Randi Mays, explains the importance of choosing the right software for your team:
“PMs should also know which tools their teams will need to be successful, and implement them right away. Without the right software or platforms, communication is delayed and a backlog builds. Ask your team which tools they’ve worked with in the past that would be suitable for the current project. Asking for input helps engage team members.”
According to PMI’s 2021 Pulse of the Profession, with the sudden shift to remote working as a result of COVID-19, “gymnastic” companies managed to pass the test and adapt to the new ways of working with 73% making changes in digital transformation (versus 62% for traditional enterprises).
We may conclude that one of the ways to make complex projects easier is to use proper virtual project management tools — especially in the digital era that we live in at the moment.
A project management tool such as Plaky allows you to easily manage an unlimited number of projects for free.
Principle #10: Optimize risk responses
Any uncertainty can result in a positive or negative project outcome, which is why a project team needs to identify all the potential internal and external project risks.
For example, risks can affect:
- Project schedule,
- Costs, or
- Technical performance.
To optimize risk response and monitor a project effectively, a project team should consider whether the risk response is:
- Appropriate and timely to the significance of the risk,
- Realistic within the project context,
- Agreed to by relevant stakeholders, and
- Owned by a responsible person.
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Principle #11: Embrace adaptability and resiliency
According to the PMBOK® Guide (Seventh Edition), project managers wishing to enhance their project should focus on the following abilities:
- The ability to respond to changing conditions,
- The ability to respond to anything that impacts the project, and
- The ability to recover quickly from setbacks or failures.
Randi Mays, highlights the importance of adaptability in project management stating:
“Be flexible. The project you designed at the beginning will very likely change. In managing any project, PMs should build in room for variability, and realize that the project may require additional time to complete, depending on these variables. Constantly analyze the process as you move along the project to determine what milestones you’ve hit, and what’s taking longer than anticipated.”
Randi adds that the recent conditions caused by the pandemic have further reinforced the need for adaptability:
“We had to learn different techniques to actively engage our stakeholders and team members to ensure we were meeting deadlines and at the same time adapting to working remotely. It was important for us to be leaders in this situation and navigate new situations…and embrace adaptability.”
It’s safe to say that being open to reviews and diverse approaches during the entire project life cycle is one of the determining factors in successful project management.
Principle #12: Enable change to achieve the envisioned future state
As stated in the PMI guide, Managing Change in Organizations: A Practice Guide:
“The business environment is changing, and the rate of change is accelerating.”
With this in mind, it’s understandable why enabling change is one of the principles that all project managers should adhere to — integrating change into the project work is more likely to result in a successful outcome.
However, according to the PMBOK® Guide (Seventh edition), there’s a difference between change management and change control:
- Change management is a structured approach for transitioning individuals, groups, and organizations from a current state to a future desired state.
- Conversely, change control protocol is a process of project modifications being approved or rejected.
Though many people, including stakeholders or customers, tend to be resistant to change — project teams should try to address resistance by:
- Communicating the vision and goals connected to change from the very beginning of the project so as to ensure its later acceptance.
- Communicating the benefits of change to all levels of the organization throughout the project.
- Adapting the speed of change to avoid people becoming overwhelmed with too many changes within too short timeframes.
PMI’s 2021 Pulse of the Profession states that one of the things that separates “gymnastic” enterprises from traditional ones is that they not only embrace change, but go even further to “empower their people to make change happen”.
They do so by enabling their employees to master various skills and become professionals who understand both the micro and macro environment, which ultimately leads to better project performance.
An expert we reached out to, Kathryn Boudreau, also highlights the importance of mentorship programs in companies:
“Implement mentorship programs to help team members improve their professional performance and bypass their individual barriers or limits to achieve their personal best.”
Conclusion: Following basic project management principles leads to project success
To conclude, adherence to fundamental project management principles directly or indirectly leads to positive project outcomes, as each principle somehow contributes to the improvement of a project as a whole.
With that in mind, among other things, all skilled project managers should try to have certain principles in their minds throughout the entire project management process.
The 12 principles listed in the PMBOK®’s Guide (Seventh edition) can serve as an excellent base for all PMs.
However, following certain principles of your own, based on the project experience that you possess, will increase your chances of success even more.
📖 Adhering to project management principles helps project managers steer their project and team management in the right direction. In this, they are quite similar to the Agile project management principles and values, but the 2 shouldn’t be confused. If you want to find out the difference or learn about similar project management topics, visit out Project Management Glossary of Terms.
- PMI. (2021). Pulse of the Profession 2021: Beyond Agility: Flex to the Future. Available at: https://www.pmi.org/learning/thought-leadership/pulse/pulse-of-the-profession-2021
- PMI. (2006). Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. Available at: https://www.pmi.org/-/media/pmi/documents/public/pdf/ethics/pmi-code-of-ethics.pdf?v=6af21906-e593-4b63-8cee-abeb4137f41d&la=en
- PMI. (2013). Managing change in organizations: A practice guide
- PMI. (2021). A guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) and the standard for Project Management.