14 August, 2023

Project Management Principles: Ultimate Guide to the Top 5 FAQs

When PMI articulated 12 Project Management Principles in the 2021 Standard for Project Management within the PMBOK Guide 7th Edition, this was a new idea for PMI. But the idea itself was not a new one. We can find other lists of Project Management Principles. 

In this article, we’ll consider the:

Project Management Principles: Ultimate Guide to the Top 5 FAQs

The Five Questions about Project Management Principles

In this article, we’ll answer what I expect to be your top 5 questions about Project Management Principles – plus a bonus question:

  1. What Do We Mean by Project Management Principles?
  2. Why are Project Management Principles Valuable?
  3. Who has Created Sets of Project Management Principles?
  4. What are the Common Themes of Different sets of Project Management Principles?
  5. Which Project Management Principles Make Your Top 12? I’ll tell you mine!
  6. Bonus Question: What other Articulations of Project Management Principles are there?

What Do We Mean by Project Management Principles?

Project Management Principles are ideas and injunctions that, if we follow them in our projects, will help to maximize our success. They are a framework for good practice that draws from a vast bank of project experience.

Principles are independent of any project or program context, domain, scale, methodology, approach, or even culture.

Good principles do not add unnecessary complexity or administration.

PMBOK 7 Definition

The introductory paragraph to the PMI’s 2021 Standard for Project Management in PMBOK 7 suggests that principles

‘serve as foundational guidelines for strategy, decision making, and problem solving.’

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, 7th Edition
Project Management Institute, 2021

It goes on to say that its principles of project management are ‘not prescriptive’, but are

‘intended to guide the behavior of people involved in projects’. 

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, 7th Edition
Project Management Institute, 2021

PMI goes on to link its 12 Project Management Principles to the PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. They align with the four values that it is based on:

  • Responsibility
  • Respect
  • Fairness
  • Honesty

PRINCE2 Definition

Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2 (2017 edition) suggests they are:

‘self-validating in that they have been proven in practice over many years’.

Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2
Axelos, 2017

This is akin to arguing that they are axiomatic – that they are self-evident and are not susceptible to challenge. I prefer to say that they are supported by a wealth of experience, but that we should keep them under constant review. Indeed, that would be Project Management Principle I would want to add to all those here.

Why are Project Management Principles Valuable?

My feeling is that statements of principles like these can serve a number of purposes, each with a value to us as practitioners.

Valuable Guidance

They distill years of experience into simple guidance that can improve our performance in delivering projects and, in particular, realizing the befits and value of those projects. Principles are one way to articulate good practice guidelines.

Useful Reminders

Richard Bach said that teaching is just reminding us of what we already know. Few readers of this article will read any of the principles listed here and think: ‘Wow! I never knew that.’ But some may think

‘Yes, that’s true. And I haven’t been giving it enough attention lately.’

Stimulating Insight

If you won’t think ‘Wow! I never knew that.’ you may think that some of the principles offer a new perspective on something you already knew. Perhaps a different way of thinking about an idea, or maybe it leads to a realization that you’d not had before. For me, these are the best!

Who has Created Sets of Project Management Principles?

I want to introduce you to 10 sets of Project Management Principles in this article, from:

  1. Project Management Institute (PMI)
    12 Principles, articulated in their 2021 Standard for Project Management
  2. Axelos
    7 Principles, articulated as part of their PRINCE2 methodology
  3. Association for Project Management (APM)
    12 inferred principles, from the sections of its Body of Knowledge, 7th Edition
  4. 17 Agile Practitioners
    12 Principles of Agile Software that support the Agile Manifesto
  5. Dean Leffingwell, Creator of SAFe®, and other SAFe contributors
    The 10 underlying Lean-Agile principles of Scaled Agile Framework®
  6. The Creators of the Disciplined Agile® Toolkit
    The 8 Principles of the Disciplined Agile® (DA™) Mindset
  7. Nader Rad
    6 Nearly Univeral Project Principles (NUPP)
  8. Hélio Costa and 11 other authors to the Hybrid Manifesto
    12 Hybrid Management Principles
  9. Glen Alleman
    5 Immutable Principles of Project Management
  10. Mike Clayton
    12 (semi-serious) Project Management Rules

12 Project Management Principles from PMBOK 7

I don’t need to detail here the revolutionary changes that the 7th edition of the PMBOK Guide brought us in 2021. If you want to know more, we have a full article and an interview with one of the 12 principal authors, Nader Rad.

But one of those changes was the introduction of 12 Project Management Principles into The Standard for Project Management.

These Principles are:

  1. Be a diligent, respectful, and caring steward 
    This is about social, environmental, and financial responsibility, and your integrity and ethics.
  2. Create a collaborative project team environment
    This is about harnessing the diversity of your team for effective and efficient working.
  3. Effectively engage with stakeholders
    This is about positive engagement with your stakeholders, to deliver outcomes they will value.
  4. Focus on value
    This is about meeting business objectives and delivering benefits that exceed the costs of delivering your project.
  5. Recognize, evaluate, and respond to system interactions
    This is about systems thinking, and seeing the interdependence of components, to integrate your approach.
  6. Demonstrate leadership behaviors
    This is about Project Leadership and adapting to the needs of different groups of followers in your team and among stakeholders.
  7. Tailor based on context
    This is about adapting our approach to the environment, scale, complexity, team capability, risk level, priority, and other factors.
  8. Build quality into processes and deliverables
    This is about knowing the needs of your stakeholders and creating procedures to ensure you met them.
  9. Navigate complexity
    The system interactions in Principle 5 create complexity – as does hiuman behavior and the uncertainty and changeability of the situations in which we operate.
  10. Optimize risk responses
    This means understanding the levels and types of risks and working to both mitigate negative impacts and optimize opportunities.
  11. Embrace adaptability and resiliency
    This is about recognizing the need and developing the ability of respond positively to change in general and setbacks in particular.
  12. Enable change to achieve the envisioned future state
    This principle creates the link from Project Management to Change Management. DO take a look at our video, Why You Need Change Management in Your Project Manager’s Toolset.

This is a Strong Set of Principles

In my assessment, these are a rich selection of principles that demonstrate the breadth and depth of consultation the authors carried out. And the PMBOK Guide itself provides valuable commentary on each of them.

7 Principles of PRINCE2

PRINCE2’s seven principles are designed to support the underlying philosophies of the methodology. It is designed for largely predictive project management environments and places particular emphasis on good governance. The 7 principles are stated in few words. So the text below each is my interpretation:

  1. Continued Business Justification
    Projects must make good business sense. They must address business priorities and offer sufficient value, or return on investment, against the time and resources they use. And that justification must remain under constant review.
  2. Learn from Experience
    Your project processes need to get better as you go, by acting on lessons learned throughout your project.
  3. Defined Roles and Responsibilities
    Everyone needs to know what they and their colleagues are doing. This especially includes clarity on who the decision-makers are.
  4. Manage by Stages
    This allows you to break large tasks into manageable chunks.
  5. Manage by Exception
    When projects are running well, senior decision-makers do not need to be involved. But everyone should be clear on the limits of delegated authority.
  6. Focus on Products
    Product requirements and their quality standards will determine the work to be done, and its sequencing.
  7. Tailor to Suit the Project
    We should tailor our implementation of PRINCE2 (and project management more generally) to the environment, scale, complexity, team capability, risk level, priority, and other factors.

12 Sections of the APMBoK

The APM does not define a set of Project Management Principles. However, its Body of Knowledge (7th Edition) has 4 chapters with 3 sections in each. These sections are, to me, suggestive of the priorities (and therefore principles) the authors have identified. However, they are probably best viewed as collations of Knowledge Areas.

The APMBoK Section Titles

  1. Implementing Strategy
    A focus on the imperative to link a project’s organizational strategy and the need to deliver
  2. Life Cycle Options and Choices benefits
    Tailoring the lifecycle you select to the needs of the project
  3. Establishing Governance and Oversight
    The imperative for good governance, sponsorship, and business justification for your project
  4. Shaping the Early Life Cycle
    Having selected a life cycle model at #2, this is about project, program, portfolio, operations, and procurement.
  5. Assurance, Learning and Maturity
    This section is about the need to keep improving and subjecting the project to appropriate scrutiny.
  6. Transition into Use
    Like Principle #12 in the PMBOK Guide, this recognizes the need for project deliverables to move into operational use. The focus here is more on adoption and benefits realization.
  7. Engaging Stakeholders
    APM expects Project Managers to be skilled in engaging with stakeholders across disciplines like influence, facilitation, and conflict resolution.
  8. Leading Teams
    Equally, we need to be able to lead diverse teams in a wide range of situations.
  9. Working Professionally
    As well as ethics and standards, this section has a focus on personal professional effectiveness.
  10. Defining Outputs
    This is where APM talks about scoping, quality, and benefits planning.
  11. Integrated Planning
    Integrated planning includes everything from scheduling, costing, and estimation, to resources, risks, and contracting.
  12. Controlling Deployment
    This covers the delivery activities of managing progress, reporting, risk, contracts, issues, configuration, change, and quality.

12 Principles of Agile Software

We have done a whole article on the 12 Principles of Agile Software that accompanies the Agile Manifesto. So, all I shall do here is list the 12 principles as they appear on the Agile Manifesto website.

  1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
  3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference for the shorter timescale.
  4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  10. Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.
  11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

The 10 Underlying Lean-Agile Principles of Scaled Agile Framework®

We have an introductory video that answers the question, ‘What is the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)?’. This briefly sets out the 10 principles from SAFe 5. The Scaled Agile Framework team has recently introduced SAFe 6. The principles are unchanged (as you should expect) although the wording of number 6 has been significantly simplified. The SAFe 5 version did stand out as both the longest, and most practically worded. The new version is both shorter and more obviously a principle than a set of practices. So, here are the 10 principles from SAFe 6:

  1. Take an economic view 
  2. Apply systems thinking 
  3. Assume variability; preserve options 
  4. Build incrementally with fast, integrated learning cycles 
  5. Base milestones on objective evaluation of working systems 
  6. Make value flow without interruptions
  7. Apply cadence, synchronize with cross-domain planning 
  8. Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers 
  9. Decentralize decision making 
  10. Organize around value

The 8 Principles of the Disciplined Agile® (DA™) Mindset

Disciplined Agile has 8 Principles that provide a philosophical foundation for business agility. These are based on concepts of lean thinking and flow. These principles are:

  1. Delight customers
    Go beyond satisfying your customers’ needs and meeting their expectations. Strive to delight them. Internal & external customers.
  2. Be awesome
    Strive to be the best you can and always get better.
  3. Context counts
    Every project, requirement, team member, team, and organization is unique. And situations evolve through time. So, you must choose a way of working (WoW) that reflects the context, and then evolve your WoW as the situation evolves.
  4. Be pragmatic
    Your aim is to be as effective as possible, and to improve from there. To me, pragmatism means that all project management is hybrid project management.
  5. Choice is good
    To find the best WoW, you need the widest range of techniques and tools. Having choices, and knowing the trade-offs associated with those choices, is critical.
  6. Optimize flow
    Optimize flow across the value stream and, better, across your organization.
  7. Organize around products/services 
    To delight your customers, organize around producing the products and services they need. These are your value streams that produce value for external and internal customers.
  8. Enterprise awareness
    Look beyond the needs of your team to the long-term needs of your organization. This means you need Business Acumen to leverage, and sometimes enhance, existing organizational assets. 

6 Nearly Univeral Project Principles

Nader Rad is an inspiring Project Manager and Project Management educator. I have interviewed him twice:

  1. About his role in creating PMBOK 7:
    PMBOK 7: 7th Edition of the PMI’s Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge – with Nader Rad
  2. About the P3.express lightweight Project Management Methodology he developed with Frank Turley:
    P3.express – The Perfect Lightweight Project Management Methodology? With Nader Rad

Nader’s set of six Nearly Universal Project Principles (NUPP) has its own website, where you can find a commentary on each principle. These are, to my eye, the most fundamental of our 8 sets of Project Management Principles. Again, the interpretations are mine:

  1. Prefer results and the truth to affiliations
    That is, don’t let loyalty to an idea overwhelm your ability to make a rational assessment.
  2. Preserve and optimize energy and resources
    That is, be frugal, simplify where possible, and use resources with care.
  3. Always be proactive
    That is, get ahead of events, to gain control of them.
  4. Remember that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link
    That is, everything is interconnected.
  5. Don’t do anything without a clear purpose
    That is, always ask what the benefit is.
  6. Use repeatable elements
    That is, reuse processes that work, and work in cycles to hone outcomes.

12 Hybrid Management Principles

Hélio Costa is leading the way with a truly hybrid Project Management methodology that is more than just an overlap of predictive and agile PM. We’ve covered his FLEKS methodology in both an article and an interview.

To support this, he took the lead in crafting a Hybrid Manifesto that is supported by 12 Hybrid Management Principles:

  1. Consider the timing, skills, perspectives, and feelings of individuals.
  2. Create a secure environment to allow transparency and freedom in communication.
  3. Define indicators that reflect the team’s performance and the agreed results.
  4. Determine a management structure, team, and leadership style appropriate to the context.
  5. Balance expectations and engage key stakeholders.
  6. Choose the best combination of approaches to achieve the results.
  7. Establish a continuous flow of value delivery.
  8. Be prepared to quickly manage learning, changes, and risks, considering a systemic view.
  9. Manage iteratively to facilitate learning and allow adaptations.
  10. Maintain an integrated view of the environment, business, practices and people.
  11. Plan, document, and adapt as needed.
  12. Simplify and cultivate continuous process improvement.

5 Immutable Principles of Project Management

Glen Alleman is one of the most rigorous thinkers in the world of Project Management. His book, Performance-Based Project Management applies that rigor to the basics. It includes his:

  • Five Immutable Principles of Project Management
  • The Five Practices that support them
  • Ten Drivers of the Principles that enable the Practices

Alleman states his five immutable principles as questions:

  1. What Does Done Look Like?
  2. How Do We Get to Done as needed?
  3. Do We Have Enough Time, Resources, And Money To Get to Done as needed?
  4. What Impediments Will We Encounter Along The Way to Done?
  5. How Do We Know We Are Making Progress toward Done as needed?

The Five Practices support them by enabling us to create reliable answers to the questions:

  1. Identify needed capabilities
  2. Define requirements baseline
  3. Develop a performance measurement baseline
  4. Execute the performance measurement baseline
  5. Apply continuous risk management

12 Project Management Rules

Last, I am including the set of 12 Project Management Rules that are the subject of a video and an article (with downloadable PDF posters). While some are stated to stimulate a wry style, these really are principles. I have used them in my teaching, coaching, and training for many years.

  1. Save your arguments about what a Project is for the coffee shop.
  2. The one thing a Project Manager craves, above all else, is Control.
  3. Scoping is the most difficult part of Project Management.
  4. You can’t please all of your Stakeholders all of the time.
  5. Projects would be easy, if it weren’t for the people.
  6. Stakeholders will determine the success, or not, of your Project.
  7. Milestones are your best friends.
  8. Shift Happens! Things change.
  9. Fizzing bombs will explode if you don’t deal with them.
  10. An absentee Project Manager is a contradiction in terms.
  11. If it isn’t right, it isn’t finished.
  12. Details can often make the difference between project success or failure.

For a load of additional rules of the same type, from a range of sources including other prominent Project Managers and you, my community, take a look at the YouTube Livestream I recorded in November 2021.

A Word about Scrum

The Scrum methodology – described in the Scrum Guide – does not have a set of principles. It does, however, have two bases:

  • Lean Thinking – focusing on what is essential and eliminating waste
  • Empiricism – favoring what we learn by observation over theory

In the section that follows, I have added these into my counts.

What are the Common Themes of Different sets of Project Management Principles?

It is astonishing to me how many different ideas these 86 rules capture. There is, of course, plenty of overlap. But there are more than 20 different themes. Of them, Tailoring is the most common, featuring in eight of the Project management Principles I have listed above.

Here is my assessment of the themes and the frequencies with which they occur. Some will assess some principles into a different theme, so please do take this as nothing more than an indicative listing:

  • Tailoring 8
  • Progress 7
  • Adaptation / Continuous Improvement 6
  • Stakeholders 5
  • Complexity 4
  • Business integration 4
  • Leadership 3
  • Learning 3
  • Team 4
  • Requirements 4
  • Value 4
  • Risk 3
  • Governance 3
  • Quality 3
  • Control 3
  • Business justification 3
  • Professionalism 3
  • Iteration 3
  • Sustainability 2
  • Communication 2
  • Performance 2
  • Change Management 2
  • Empiricism 2
  • Simplicity 1
  • Systems Thinking 1
  • Decision-making 1
  • Lean thinking 1

Which Project Management Principles Make Your Top 12? I’ll tell you mine!

Which of these particularly resonates with you? I have been through them and sifted them into my own top 12. In doing so, I decided to limit myself to just one from my own list of 12 rules! Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. Prefer results and the truth to affiliations
  2. Be a diligent, respectful, and caring steward 
  3. Continued Business Justification (with Focus on value)
  4. What Does Done Look Like? (And the four other immutable principles. They match my approach well)
  5. Tailor based on context (=Tailor to Suit the Project)
  6. Always be proactive
  7. Embrace adaptability and resiliency
  8. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  9. Create a secure environment to allow transparency and freedom in communication.
  10. Maintain an integrated view of the environment, business, practices and people.
  11. Fizzing bombs will explode if you don’t deal with them.
  12. Learn from Experience

What other Articulations of Project Management Principles are there?

There is a whole load of websites that offer sets of Project Management Principles. Some are just a way of articulating the fundamentals of the Project Management process. But others are thought-provoking and insightful. I have curated the list into two parts based on the purely subjective assessment of:

  1. Articles that made me think
  2. Lists that are pretty predictable

Articles that made me think about Project Management Principles

Pretty Predictable Lists of Project Management Steps

Please Share any other Project Management Principles

Maybe you know of a list of Project Management Principles that we have not covered here. Or, perhaps, you have your own principles you work to and advocate to others. I’ll be delighted to see them in the comments and may even add them to the main text!

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Mike Clayton

About the Author...

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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