The 7 Fundamentals of Great Project Management

What makes a great project manager?

This is an area that’s been well covered by just about every project management blog out there. But the fact it is still frequent topic proves how interested we all are in improving our game. In an industry that is driven by results, continually assessing, reviewing and improving upon your own practice is vital.

Project management is a profession predicated on system and structure. For a project to be successful, a project manager needs to be in control of every aspect; from the initial planning, to mitigating project scope, to ensuring the project is completed on deadline and under budget.

As projects grow they evolve into living entities, and outside circumstances can force projects to develop in new, and unforeseen, directions. The ability to adapt and implement a new plan whilst mitigating scope creep and keeping the project path as close to the original specifications as possible is a key feature of strong and profitable project management. But is it really at the core of what makes a great PM?

Arguably, there’s no singular answer but a set of essential hard and soft skills. Some are obvious, such as expertise in communication and time management, and can be perfected in any job role. But to gain insight into the specific building blocks necessary for a strong career in project management, you need to look slightly closer to one of the most vital aspects of the project management industry - the methodologies.

We’ve talked about project management methodologies before, including a guide on how to choose the right methodology to suit your project requirements, but their importance in both the macro and micro aspects of the project management industry cannot be overstated.

Outside of providing guidance on the most effective ways to run a multitude of different project types, project management methodologies offer valuable insight into the skills necessary to be an outstanding PM. Although each methodology is suited to a specific type of project, Agile for instance is better suited to smaller, adaptive projects than Waterfall, there are a few methodologies that give an excellent general profile that will work across the entire spectrum of project management.

Primary among them, is PRINCE2. PRINCE2, paradoxically, manages to be one of the least focused, but most precise project management methodologies. It’s focus on a structured approach directed by several self established principles, themes and processes, rather than on the parametres of a specific project type mean that it has a diverse range of applications. Due to that, alongside its status as the de facto industry standard, we can use the requirements of PRINCE2 to draw up a set of actionable strategies to diversify and improve upon our everyday practice.


What We Can Learn From PRINCE2

While each of the seven aspects of PRINCE2’s respective principles, themes and processes work symbiotically, and much can be learned from each of the three tiers, we’re going to focus exclusively on the 7 principles.

We’re going to break down what each of the 7 principles mean and how they can inform your daily operations.


The 7 Fundamentals of Great Project Management


1.Continued Business Justification

PRINCE2, like most project management methodologies, is result driven. A core aspect of PRINCE2 is to ensure a project makes and maintains an appropriate level of business and financial sense, and that all use of time and resources are justified in accordance with that goal.

Creeping project scope and a consistently realigning project timeline are issues that persistently crop up across the project management industry. Mismanagement of time and resources is a key factor in project failure and unfortunately, when looking at the rate of project failure across the board, far too common.

These issues largely occur when project objectives are unclear from the outset, and as such, both the project and project team is confused as to what the overarching goal and end point of the project is.This can lead your team to work towards different priorities, making conflicting decisions and ultimately, setting the completion of your project back.

One way to mitigate this is, as the first principle of PRINCE2 suggests, to continually assess the direction of the project from the outset to it’s completion, ensuring that all of your team, stakeholders and the client are unified in their expectations of the project. Moreover, it emphasises the importance of creating a clearly defined project plan and creating the vital groundwork before you even begin building your project. Planning, although mundane, is the key for successful project management.


2.Learn from Prior Experience

It is part of the PRINCE2 practice to keep a log of lessons you have learned from previous projects for future reference. Although this may seem somewhat like writing lines as punishment in school, this log acts as a valuable reference point to learn from, and refrain from making, past mistakes. Or, if you do, it offers a valuable foundation to construct up a reactive strategy to mitigate damage.

Obviously, it is standard project management procedure to risk assess a project before, and throughout, its run, but PRINCE2 takes that practice a step further. By continuing risk assessment and reduction strategies past the endpoint of projects, PRINCE2 encourages you to operate on a level of consistent analysis, spotting emerging patterns and acting preemptively to reduce risk.


3. Clearly Define Roles and Responsibilities

PRINCE2 advocates implementing a strong universal structure throughout your project team, from scope change request procedure to ensuring everyone knows who the shot callers are. Not only that, but defining roles and responsibilities early on within the project plan, promotes a more efficient utilisation of project resources.

Constructing a clear definition early on in the project stages reduces the risk of members of your project team missing out on vital tasks, or prioritising the wrong issues. Similarly, having a clear hierarchical path and report procedures means that information is always getting to the right people, through measurable channels.


4. Manage in Stages

Like most methodologies, PRINCE2 advocates breaking your project down into separate stages for respective team members or project teams. By splitting up your project into manageable chunks, it allows you to more accurately plot the potential duration, priority and requirements of each task and use that information to better inform the allocation of your resources.

Focusing on the micro as well as the macro aspects of your project greatly reduces the risk of general mismanagement.


5. Manage by Exception

In each project, there is hierarchy of management, including from the project manager to the project board and the client themselves. The PRINCE2 principle of manage by exception simply means that if a project is running well, it shouldn’t need a lot of intervention from higher management, such as the board or stakeholders.

However, this principle fits equally well within your general project management practice. If you’ve done your job right, correctly unified your team under your project objective and created a comprehensive and workable project plan, your team shouldn’t need much interference from you, leaving you to focus your energy on leading, rather than managing.


6. Focus on the Products

Ultimately PRINCE2 is a product focused methodology. The PRINCE2 manual states the following: “A PRINCE2 project focuses on the definition and delivery of products, in particular, their quality requirements.” By focusing on the requirements of the product and business value of the project, and translating these into the expected outcome, you can work backwards from there to determine the work activity.

When a product is not correctly described, it can cause many unnecessary meetings, time delays, unnecessary new requirements, misunderstanding of the quality required, additional costs and even an end product that is of no use to anybody.

Essentially, PRINCE2 is advocating to proactively manage of expectations. As soon as possible within the project, the product, or more applicably, a detailed project plan should be created and articulated to stakeholders and all involved within the project.

Equally as a good Product Description provides clarity, defines the product’s purpose, composition, derivation, format, quality criteria and quality method - your project plan should define procedures, processes, objectives and ultimately, direct and shape the project. Making it easier to determine resource requirements, dependencies, and activities.


7. Tailor to Your Environment

Unlike some methodologies that endorse a pretty static application to each project, PRINCE2 is malleable to each project’s requirements, and is in fact more successful when liberally tailored to suit a certain project shape.

This is worth applying to every project you manage. Just because a certain methodology or process has worked previously, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will be successful this time too. Each project is unique and, as such, so should your project plan and strategies.

As one of the most highly and widely regarded project management methodologies across the industry, even when you are not directly applying PRINCE2 to your project, there is still much you can learn to incorporate to better your own practice and performance. Even if you have little knowledge of traditional project management structures, or if you are currently working within the industry and would like to learn more, the PRINCE2 Foundation and PRINCE2 Practitioner courses offer a far more in depth dissection of how PRINCE2 can benefit your working practice.



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