7 Basic Principles Of Effective Project Management
By Hauke Borow
Projects change the world we all live in. All great changes and achievements of our modern society were not thinkable without the definition of projects.
Just have a look at all the beautiful and fascinating buildings, bridges and churches you can visit when you travel into foreign countries. Modern architecture gives us many wonderful and impressive examples for very complex projects.
But you don’t have to go so far away. Even in your private household you can find lots of examples for origin projects: Building a new terrace in your garden, creating a new website or blog, planning a removal or a marriage … These are all examples for projects.
I really don’t know how many project managers in the past centuries were using professional project management tools consciously to master their projects.
But I assume that most of them were using them at least subconsciously.
It’s very interesting to observe how many people are using various project management tools and methods without being aware of it. In my opinion this illustrates very well how intuitive and obvious the application of these tools and methods really is.
In this article I want to tell you something about the basic principles of effective project management. I call them basic principles because all of them are essential for the success of any project. I am not going to tell you something about how to apply these principles. I am going to tell you which principles you should apply at least in order to manage your projects effectively.
Effectiveness is not a question of the “hows”. First of all it is a question of the ”whats”.
So let’s have a look at the 7 basic principles of effective project management:
- Project structure
- Definition phase
- Clear goals
- Transparency about project status
- Risk recognition
- Managing project disturbances
- Responsibility of the project manager
1. Project Structure
Successful project managers always think in 3 dimensions:
Each question or problem that comes up within your project is due to a question or problem of quality, resources or time. Per definition these dimensions are exactly the typical restrictions of projects. So while making your decisions keep on asking yourself what they will mean for the quality, resources or timeline of your project.
But there are more ways to give your project a structure.
They can be deduced from the question you want to be answered:
What has to be done?
This question leads to the project structure plan. This plan consists of work packages which represent enclosed work units that can be assigned to a personal resource (that means a person like you and me). Now the structure is given by these work packages and their special relations and inter-dependencies to each other.
When should something be done and in which order?
A flow chart is a powerful tool to visualize the starting point, the endpoint and the order of work packages in just one chart.
What is the status of the project?
You need a milestone plan to answer this question. Milestones define certain phases of your project and the corresponding costs and results. Milestones represent decisive steps during the project. They are set after a certain number of work packages that belong together in some kind. This series of work packages leads to the achievement of a sub-goal.
As project manager you must ask all of these questions and you should answer them as accurate as possible. Details must become the air you breathe. Details are crucial. The more details you can rely on the more assurance you will obtain during the planning process.
This increases the quality of your planning tremendously. You don’t have to be a visionary. But you can boost the quality of your predictions enormously by gathering as many details as you can. Try to tap every source you can.
And always keep in mind: a bad plan is better than no plan. Somebody who has no plan cannot adjust something. And somebody who doesn’t adjust anything cannot improve.
2. Definition Phase
The costs for modifications depend on the actual status of the project. At the beginning of your project you’ve probably just created a few drawings or calculations. Modifications would mean that one of your folks must do this work again. That’s annoying but it doesn’t really cost money at this point of time.
80% to 90% of the whole project costs are defined in the development phase. But this is exactly the same phase of the project where nearly no costs have been generated.
So you should be very accurate during this phase because it defines nearly all of the costs of your project. On the other hand it doesn’t cost you anything to adjust something in this phase.
Many project managers tend to start the execution of their working packages too early. This is a big mistake because researchers revealed a connection between the definition phase of a project and the success. The longer the definition phase of a project lasts the shorter is its processing time.
Even the quality of the project performance increases dramatically when project managers emphasize the definition phase.
3. Clear Goals
The project manager is responsible for the achievement of a commitment about the goals of the project between management and project team. These goals should always be defined SMART (specific, measurable, ambitious, realistic, time-bounden).
I don’t think that these terms need any further explanations.
It is daily grind for a project manager to be confronted with nebulous goals that means in most cases the goal is not clear at the beginning of the project.
So clarify your goals at first.
Even if the management of your organization wants you to start quickly and tries to play the situation down: don’t give an inch! At the end of your project nobody will ask you why your project has failed. You will be responsible project manager …
A good way to communicate your goals is a kick-off meeting with your folks in form of a workshop. This is a good opportunity to discuss your different plans and to break them down into more detailed work packages and appointments. Your team has the opportunity to partake in the project planning and you benefit from the expertise of your team.
While discussing the goals of your project you should think about what should be different after having finished the project. Which are the indicators that signalize that you have succeeded?
4. Transparency About The Project Status
Flow chart, structure plan and your milestone plan are useful tools to help you staying online. As project manager you must be able to present a short report about the status of the project to your principal at each point of time during the project. In such meetings you should be able to give a short overview about the costs, the timeline, and the achieved milestones.
5. Risk Recognition
Each project is confronted with a lot of risks. This is normal. Always keep in mind that your project is a unique endeavor with strict goals concerning costs, appointments and performance. The earlier you identify those risks the better you can avoid negative project developments. It’s the duty of the project manager to evaluate risks regularly.
6. Managing Project Disturbances
It is not very likely that you have enough personal capacity to identify each single risk that may occur. It would be sufficient if you could at least identify the big risks and develop specific strategies to avoid them. On the other hand you’re no visionary. But this is not necessary as long as you rely on your keen antennas in order to react instantly when something goes wrong. It’s essential to consider this and to expect and accept the problems that definitely will occur. Problems are the daily grind of a project manager. Accept this and be prepared.
7. Responsibility Of The Project Manager
In most cases the manager of a project doesn’t have any managerial authority. On the one hand this means a big challenge to the social competence of project managers and it helps them a lot to develop even more social competence. On the other hand it is simply counterproductive because the success of a project strongly depends on the degree of managerial authority.
Giving managerial authority to a project manager means assigning the full responsibility for the success of a project to one person. Personified responsibility helps a project manager to identify with the project. It also motivates a lot because it represents the trust a management has into a certain person.
Hauke Borow is an industrial engineer who supports the management of a German industrial company. Throughout his management career, he has been the leader of several business projects that improved the performance of the company dramatically by increasing earnings and winnings. Hauke currently manages a strategic department that is responsible for the process management, project management, controlling and facility management of a medium-sized enterprise in the machine building sector.