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Fundamental Principles of Project Management

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First Principles of Project Management – Part 2
By R. Max Wideman
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.
First Principles of Project Management
Based on the criteria described in Part 1 of this paper, the following First Principles of Project
Management have been articulated. These principles build extensively on the work of John Bing.
the principles presume certain assumptions about the cultural ambience in which the project takes place,
which leads to our first principle.
1. The Cultural Environment Principle
Management must provide an informed and supportive cultural environment that is suited to project-
type work 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
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 span. Externally, the management of the
organization in which the project takes place must be supportive, the project sufficiently resourced, and
the environment must be free of obstacles.
The resulting ambience is one that encourages and sustains teamwork and honesty and demonstrates
1. Everyone is clear on the project's ultimate goals and is working towards those same 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 be a success.
2. The Project System Principle
A well-managed project is a complex system in which the management process proceeds through an
orderly timeframe that relies heavily on doing the right thing in the right way and at the right time.
A well-managed project is one that is optimized for effectiveness in its planning phases but emphasizes
efficiency in its implementation phases. Implementation includes the transfer of the product to the care,
custody and control of the customer.
In reality, the complex system referred to consists of an intricate
collection of interacting balancing and non-balancing mental feedback processes, each with their own
cause, effect and side effect patterns. This complicated, often random, arrangement is enough to defeat
many minds. In other words, "an inability to see the forest for the trees" is a problem for many
individuals. But for the project manager, "an ability to see the forest as well as the trees" is an
imperative for running a successful project.
Thus, project management is dominated by high levels of decision-making activities that absorb a
considerable amount of effort since decisions on one part of the system can have significant
repercussions on other parts of the system. This is why establishing and maintaining a robust and up-to-
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date Business Case is an essential prerequisite for "doing the right thing in the right way and at the right
time". We introduced the idea of a Business Case earlier in Part 1 of this paper under the heading
Project Life Span.
3. 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 span, 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 with some activity in the middle.
The essence of management is to "plan before doing". Hence the most fundamental project life span
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 Gates) that can also be viewed as Emergency Exit Ramps. These can be designed to suit the
control requirements of every type of project in every area of project management application and are
particularly important from the perspective of project portfolio management. Indeed, this sequence is, in
effect, equally applicable at every level and branch of the project structure as suggested by Figure 2 in
Part 1 of this paper. It is also just as relevant where a fast-track strategy or an iterative approach is
The importance of this life span 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.
4. 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 deliver a successful product, otherwise the
incurring of this management overhead is a valueless exercise. First and foremost, the project's
proponents must define project success in terms of the acceptability of the project's deliverables, e.g.
scope, quality, relevance to client needs, effectiveness, profitability, general benefits to the organization
and so on.
Secondly, success should be defined in terms of the project's internal processes, e.g. time, cost,
execution efficiency, etc. The timing of the measurement of success itself may also need specifying.
Moreover, the proponents must be in general agreement on the definition of these success criteria, for
without agreement, it will not be possible to evaluate the success of the project overall.
It goes without saying that these measures of project success should be verified and reinforced
throughout the project life span. As a corollary, if the success measures are no longer in alignment with
the organization's business goals 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, below.)
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5. 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
tactics, 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, i.e. the overall objectives, the technology, the processes involved and
their associated risks, and that both parties willingly undertake the challenge.
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.
The owner of the project must understand that even with appropriate management controls in place,
there must be a sharing of the risks involved. (See also Discussion: Commitment Principle below.)
6. The Management Principle
Policies and procedures that are effective and efficient must be in place for the proper 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.
7. The Single-Point Responsibility Principle
A single channel of communication must exist between the project sponsor and the project manager (or
otherwise the team leader) for all decisions affecting the product scope, quality, delivery date or total
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 quality and hence the
project's overall cost and delivery. 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.
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8. 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 Indicators likely to be met. The interrelationships
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 not without affecting the remaining two.
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. Indeed, the reality is that many managements place obstacles in the way
of project progress, perhaps unwittingly because of management's functional heritage.
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 First Principles is not only needed to provide a robust underpinning for
project management learning, but also for making a convincing case to corporate management for
providing the necessary support.
Issue #2: Management of the Project versus the Technology
Can we really separate project management from technology management? This is an issue for most
people who suggest that it cannot be done, even though they may agree that there are differences. The
reason is that in practice, decisions made in the technology management domain and decisions made in
the business domain shape decisions made in the project management domain due to contextual
dependencies. Similarly, project management decisions also shape decisions in the other two domains.
But consider the analogy of the human body. The human body cannot function without, say, the brain or
the heart. Conversely, the brain or heart have no use without the rest of the body that they serve. All
bodily components must be fully integrated for a properly functional unit. Nevertheless, that does not
stop us from studying the brain and heart organs in great detail as distinct functions and, in particular,
comparing them across a variety of types of people!
Issue #3: What should be included as a First Principle and what excluded?
The key criterion is taken 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
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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 might be included. 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 that may be
considered as secondary to the First Principles.
Success Principle:
Issue #4: It has been suggested that the issue of success is so obvious as to be unworthy of a first
However obvious and sensible the setting of project success criteria at the beginning of a project may
seem, regretfully, it is not always 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 the project's management? For this reason, a lot of conclusions
drawn from surveys and similar experiential material could be very questionable.
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 the extent to which the product produces the intended
benefits and hence the satisfaction with the product on the part of the customer. As noted earlier, the
assumption is that the customer is clearly identified.
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 divergent progress.
So, 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 even though the understanding of that success may
mature during its course. Hence the need to continue ensuring alignment with the project's Business
Case, and the project's Business Case with corporate objectives.
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Commitment Principle:
Issue #5: It has been suggested that there should be a "Business Principle"
That is, a principle that states that the project must be in alignment with the sponsoring organization's
goals. This is a valid comment, but this connection is in fact embedded in the Project System Principle
requiring that a robust and up-to-date Business Case is established and maintained to drive appropriate
decision making throughout the project life span. It is corporate management's responsibility to
determine the relevance and soundness of the Business Case before giving project approval to proceed
to the next phase.
Issue #6: Similar to Issue #5, it has been suggested that there should be a separate "Technical
The issue here is that the project leader and team members must be knowledgeable in the technology of
the product. This is certainly true, but this is covered by the Commitment Principle in that an Equitable
Commitment is not possible without a sufficient understanding of the project, its technology, and
especially the major risks involved.
Issue #7: It must be recognized that every project "evolves" through its life span and the commitment
and tradeoffs will similarly evolve.
On most projects the players will also change, as it moves through its life span, simply to meet the
changing level of effort and different 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 consistent definitions of success and commitments simply means
that the probability of success is greatly diminished – if not impossible.
Tetrad Trade-off Principle:
Issue #8: Although the term "Tetrad Trade-off" has been in the literature for some years,
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 and obsolete 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".
Interestingly, the "dimensions of the Tetrad" are affected by the skills and experience, i.e. the expertise
and hence efficiency, of the team doing the work. The more "expertise" the team has, the higher their
situational awareness and the faster their "learn-rate". In addition they can typically perform tasks faster
because of their prior learning. These capabilities allow teams of experts to achieve more with less. This
ability expands what can be achieved and hence affects the size and shape of the Tetrad. This point is
often lost on managers who see resources as fully interchangeable and homogeneous.
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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; Eric Jenett,
FPMI; and Robert Goatham, Calleam Consulting; for their extensive, very valuable and insightful
R. Max Wideman
Bing, John, A. Principles of Project Management, PMNETwork, PMI, January 1994, p40
For definitions of ‘culture’ and ‘environment’ in the project context, refer to the Wideman Comparative Glossary
of Common Project Management Terms:
Contributed by Gerald Neal by Email dated 9/23/99.
See the definition in the Wideman Comparative Glossary of Project Management Terms:
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.
Scotto, Marie, Project Resource Planning, in Project Management Handbook, Jossey-Bass, 1998, Chapter 13.
Contributed by Gerald Neal by Email dated 9/23/99.
See A Framework for Project and Program Management, Editor R. Max Wideman, Project Management
Institute, PA, 1991, pV-4.
... This led to one of the main challenges of the partnership, which was timeliness of project completion. A recommendation for resolving this challenge would be assigning a project manager to the partnership, which is a well established project management method (Wideman, 1999). 3. Partnerships are difficult and a project manager is needed. ...
... This individual would also be responsible for communicating any changes to the project plan to all partnership participants. This recommendation aligns with widely used project management principles (Wideman, 1999). These two types of organization complete work at a different pace. ...
Industry - higher education partnerships: A case study analysis of learning together
The purpose was to explore who really was in charge of managing school projects in the South African context. Participants were 65 in all comprising 13 principals, 13 teachers and 39 parents who were school governing body members. There were 31 women and 34 men whose ages ranged between 21 years and 55 years (M = 35.4; SD = 9.6). Participants indicated their views about school projects on a Likert type scale. Validity and reliability of scores from the scale are reported. Results indicated that three subscales emerged, where participants saw the school principal as a project organiser; a project leader; and a project time manager. Further, in spite of the powers given by governmental authority, governing body members felt that principals should be project leaders within schools. It is recommended that further studies should be conducted to determine the efficacy of the questionnaire used here in other contexts and samples.
Full-text available
Project management is considered as an important element of certain domains including Information Technology (IT) and its main importance of the infrastructure of concern domain. Improvement in success of the project mainly depends on the proper management. Vague system understanding and improper documentation are the basic reasons for failure of any project which ultimately yields almost negligible productivity. Project management processes and techniques are used to coordinate resources to achieve predictable results. All projects need some level of project management. Meeting organizational objectives through project management also entails knowing which project to accept and the one to turn down. This is where many organizations miss the track, as Prioritizing and selecting project can a daunting task, (Rosacker, 2008). However, in spite of the odds, organizations also expect projects to be completed faster, cheaper, and with higher quality. The only way that these objectives can be met is through the use of effective project management processes and techniques. Consider the size, complexity, and other characteristics of your project, and build the right project management processes to effectively manage and control the project
Project Resource Planning
  • Marie Scotto
Scotto, Marie, Project Resource Planning, in Project Management Handbook, Jossey-Bass, 1998, Chapter 13.
p40 2 For definitions of 'culture' and 'environment' in the project context, refer to the Wideman Comparative Glossary of Common Project Management Terms
  • John Bing
Bing, John, A. Principles of Project Management, PMNETwork, PMI, January 1994, p40 2 For definitions of 'culture' and 'environment' in the project context, refer to the Wideman Comparative Glossary of Common Project Management Terms: