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The Basic Principles of Project Management
By William R. Duncan


Project management principles are the foundation on which the profession of project management is built. Conformance to these principles is a prerequisite for successful project management.


  • Principle. A basic truth, law, or assumption; a rule or standard, especially of good behavior; a basic or essential quality or element determining intrinsic nature or characteristic behavior. American Heritage Dictionary
  • Project. A unique, temporary endeavor undertaken to create a product or service.

  • Project management. The application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities in order to meet or exceed stakeholder needs and expectations from a project. (PMBoK Guide, first edition)

  • Stakeholders. Individuals or organizations who may help or harm the project.

Project Management Principles

  • There must be a project. Project management is best applied to the management of a project, and all projects should be managed with project management. The usefulness of some project management tools and techniques outside the project context does not mean that project management is a substitute for general management. Likewise, the fact that project management borrows heavily from general management does not mean that general management skills and knowledge will be adequate for successful management of a project.
  • Projects must be properly authorized. Each project should be formally authorized by a level of management commensurate with the resource needs of the project: the greater the needs, the higher the organizational level which should authorize the project. Unauthorized projects are likely to be unsuccessful no matter how well-managed.

  • The project sponsor(s) must provide adequate resources. Resources include tangibles such as financing, people, and material as well as intangibles such as time and support. The need for the sponsor to provide adequate resources does not absolve the project management team of the responsibility (a) to communicate the impact of receiving inadequate resources or (b) to identify alternative courses of action that may be possible with fewer resources.

  • There must be an integrated project plan. The plan must be documented and distributed to appropriate stakeholders and must include:

    • Scope, schedule, cost, and responsibilities defined at an appropriate level of detail for the size, complexity, and phase of the project.
    • A defined process for dealing with uncertainty in scope and work definition.
    • Success criteria defining how the project will be judged and measured.
    • A defined process for dealing with changes to the plan.
  • There must be periodic assessments of performance against the plan. Periodic assessments are necessary to ensure that the project will achieve its purpose. Projects which no longer support the purpose for which they were undertaken should be cancelled or significantly redirected.

Originally published at

William R. Duncan is the principal of Project Management Partners of Lexington, MA USA. He currently chairs the Board of PMCert, the certification body of the American Society for Advancement of Project Management (asapm). He was the primary author of the original (1996) version of A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge and was one of the founding members of the Global Alliance for Project Performance Standards (GAPPS) which has recently published a framework for performance-based competency standards for project managers.

© 2009 William R. Duncan –

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