Project management

Basic principles of project management


While every project is unique in its own way, certain management principles apply to most projects. These are:

  • project objectives
  • project constraints
  • project life cycle

These basic principles will give your project management process a solid foundation. They will help you to efficiently use tools and resources and increase the chances of successful project completion.

Project management objectives and goals

The main point of any project is to achieve specified business goals and objectives. You should establish from the start what you want your project to accomplish. For example, if the project aims to increase sales and profit, boost staff productivity, improve product or service quality, or something else.

To be effective, your objectives should be as specific as possible. Something as vague as 'improving customer relations' is unlikely to be measurable. A better objective would be, for example, 'to reduce customer complaints by 50%'.

You may express your objectives as:

  • outputs - eg a new building
  • outcomes - eg staff relocating to a new building
  • benefits - eg reduced travel or simplified facilities management
  • strategic objectives - eg increasing the organisation's share price

Once the project fulfils its objectives, it ends. In most cases, after project completion, the work moves into normal operations. It is therefore vital to any project that its goals and objectives are clearly defined, measurable and achievable.

Without this, your project may lack focus, you may not be able to measure your results accurately, and the project may fail to meet your business goals. See how to set business performance targets.

Project management constraints

A constraint is any restricting factor that can impact or limit the delivery of your project.

The three most significant project management constraints are:

  • costs - how much money is available to achieve an outcome
  • scope - what exactly is the expected outcome
  • schedule - the timescales for delivering the output

Schedule, cost and scope are sometimes known as the triple constraint, or the project management triangle. Impact on either one of them may affect the quality of your project or even delivery.

Other common constraints include:

  • quality - does the outcome match your project expectations
  • resources - who will carry out the work, with what materials/resources
  • risks - potential pitfalls and how to mitigate against them

Projects that do not work within their constraints tend to incur a significant cost and often fail. If you need to change elements of your project, you may need to manage this carefully.

Even if all the constraints are balanced, issues can occur. You can apply some common change management principles to your project to minimise risks and potential for failure.

Project life cycle

Projects have a definite start and finish point within which you should fulfil their objectives. This is known as the project life cycle. While this is usually defined by a start and finish date, the life cycle of a project can also be defined by a finite resource available to the project, such as money or a fixed amount of staff time.

Any successful project will deliver its goals and objectives within the constraints and the life cycle of the project. Read also about the five stages of project management.