Project management can be daunting, even for the most experienced project managers.
No two projects are alike, and successful project managers must learn how to find the approach that’s best for each particular project.
While there’s no single formula for success, there are principles that project managers can use to ensure they’re on the right track. These principles serve as a system to guide you toward success, regardless of the specific challenges of any given project.
In this article, we outline eight project management principles that will help any project run more successfully.
What are Project Management Principles?
Here are eight project management principles that will help any project run more successfully:
1. Define goals and objectives for the project
Projects should begin with a clear goal so everyone understands what you are trying to accomplish. Goals offer a north star — they help orient your team around the work.
Research makes it clear that goals are one of the most effective ways to improve productivity. Specially, goals achieve three things:
- Activate effort in your team
- Direct that effort into relevant activities
- Foster persistence in the face of obstacles
Without a clear objective, teams can get lost, waste time, and burn resources. On the other hand, a project manager who has a clear goal in mind is more easily able to overcome challenges they encounter throughout the entire project lifecycle.
2. Ensure alignment
It’s critical that project goals are aligned with company goals and direction.
Why? To be successful, projects need to be supported by senior business leaders and executives. Lack of executive support is one of the main reasons that projects fail, and projects that are clearly tied to company strategy are much more likely to receive the necessary support from the top.
To be successful, a project also must fulfill a business need. Even if a project is completed on budget, on time and on spec, it isn’t really “successful” if it isn’t bolstering the work of the company.
3. Identify the project team
In addition to a leader, most projects need a team.
Choosing a team can be difficult. It’s not necessarily about choosing the people with the most knowledge and experience — although those things can certainly help. It’s also a question of choosing a group that works well together.
Look for members who are excellent communicators and listeners. And if they are also organized and reliable and have good interpersonal skills, all the better!
4. Define the team roles and responsibilities
Once you have your people, it’s time to divvy up the tasks and get to work.
One way to do this is for project leaders to assign tasks and roles based on team members’ strengths. Another option is to allow the group to decide who is responsible for what, allowing input from everyone.
Here at Basecamp, we believe in empowering the project team to set and delegate their own tasks. Once projects and desired outcomes are shaped, our project team members are responsible for deciding how to carve out their own roles within the project. We believe this creates an environment of ownership within each project, which leads to more successful outcomes.
Whichever way you do it, providing clear guidance on what tasks each team member will accomplish helps create clarity, improve morale, and foster productivity.
5. Develop norms for working together
You have your team and each member knows their role. How will you work together? How often will you meet? How will you make decisions? What will you use to communicate? Spell out the specifics for your work together right from the beginning.
Maybe you’ll use the Agile method, working in sprints, with a 15-minute standup meeting every day. Or maybe you’ll split into committees and meet every two weeks to share progress.
You might produce written reports on your work. Or you can post progress on your group’s real-time chat in Basecamp.
There are countless options. Just be explicit with your team about the processes you’ll use.
6. Create a project roadmap
You’ve got your goal, your team, and your process for working. Now it’s time to create your strategy.
Many project managers find it helpful to create a project roadmap. A project roadmap is a shared plan for getting to your goal. It outlines the vision, priorities, and steps you need to take to get there. It often also includes the progress you’ve made.
Roadmaps help your team understand where you’re going and how you’ll get there. It lets them know what’s coming up and motivates them to continue making progress.
In your roadmap, include relevant deliverables, who is responsible for them, and their timelines. We find it helpful to track these on a Hill Chart, but there many options — focus on finding the one that works for you.
7. Identify metrics for success
At this point, consider identifying the metrics you’ll use to evaluate the success of your project. These are often called key performance indicators (KPIs).
Metrics will vary depending on what you’re trying to accomplish. KPIs for project management may measure whether your project is on time (timeliness), within the expected costs (budget), up to a certain standard (quality), or if you’re spending your time and money well (effectiveness).
Examples of common KPIs include:
- Time spent on a project or task
- Planned hours compared to time spent
- Customer satisfaction with a product
- Customer feedback or complaints
- Average cost per hour
- Return on investment (ROI)
Once you identify the indicators you’ll use to measure success, make sure you create methods to track those metrics and collect the relevant data.
8. Communicate effectively
Communication makes up the majority of a project manager’s actual work. It’s critical to check in with the team to identify roadblocks and overcome them.
It also includes identifying key stakeholders and keeping them involved in the group’s work. Business leaders may want regular updates on the status of a project. They may even be required to make decisions or approve resources.
For best results, ensure you have a communication plan shortly after beginning a project and that it includes all relevant parties.
Project principles set you up for success
There’s no one way to manage a project effectively. Good project management often involves changing and adapting your style as you go.
These project management principles will help provide a foundation for your team. Consider them flexible guidelines that you can adapt to your situation. Depending on your project, some may be more important than others. But considering each one as you set up your project can help you avoid pitfalls down the road.
Looking for more project management resources? Check out the Basecamp Guide to Project Management. And if you’re looking for a tool that can organize all your projects and people in one place, be sure to give Basecamp a try: