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Six Principles of Good Project Management

By Dr. Gerald Mulenburg, PMP:

A principle is the “basic way in which something works.” All major disciplines are based on principles. Think of just about any field of work and there are a set of principles involved: law; medicine; nursing; engineering; all of the trades such as carpentry, plumbing, electrical, etc. And so there are principles for project management that apply to any project. The six principles outlined here are essential to accomplish a project in the most effective and efficient way.

1: You need to know where you’re going.

As so eloquently stated by Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” To successfully accomplish a project, you need to where you’re going; be clear about what it is you need to accomplish. Far too often it’s, “Lets just start and we’ll figure out the details later,” a certain prescription for trouble in the form of delays, restarts, and overruns.

2: You need to know why you’re going there.

If you’re not sure why you’re doing a project, it’s difficult to know whether you’re making the correct decisions. Knowing where your end point is and why it’s important are essential.

3: You need to decide how you’re going to get there.

Knowing where you need to go and why, it’s now up to you to determine how you will get there. This will be your plan or roadmap to achieve the project’s goal.

4: You need to do the things needed to get there. 

With your plan in hand, it’s time to implement it toward accomplishing everything you need to do. But a plan is just a plan.

5: You need to know how to change along the way.

The territory you’ve identified to be crossed in your plan is not the reality. You need to identify and implement the inevitable changes necessary to the project along the way.

6: You need to know when you’re done.

Implementing your plan and making necessary changes takes you to where you need to be, and you need to know when you’re done. This you determine at the beginning of the project so it’s clear when you arrive there.

Following these six principles in your project management practice provides the greatest chance of project success. But just because the principles are simple to describe, it doesn’t mean they’re easy to do. There are a lot of forces that affect what is happening during a project, and many of these forces may be out of your control. Since you can’t control them, you must manage your way through or around them. This is a challenge facing project managers for all but the simplest of projects.

Do first things first, and second things not at all.
—Peter Drucker

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