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Knowledge Base » Business » What are the Principles of Project Management?

What are the Principles of Project Management?

Last updated on 20th December 2023

Increasingly, work is being organised around projects. Teams are being brought together based on the skills, knowledge and experience needed for specific tasks, for example to:

  • Produce a new product or service.
  • Create and implement change.
  • Quickly resolve problems.
  • Make improvements.
  • Organise an event.

One of the main reasons that organisations use project management to bring about specific, time dependent goals, is that it enables them to bring together and focus people and resources on achieving the specified result without them experiencing the distractions of day-to-day tasks when working on the project, as it usually takes priority.

Project management in the UK

Management Consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) found that project management in the UK generates around £156.5 billion of annual Gross Value Added (GVA) and that an estimated 2.13 million full-time equivalent workers (FTEs) are employed in the UK project management profession. This means that around 7.9 per cent of UK employment (FTEs) delivers almost 9 per cent (8.9%) of the total UK GVA.

For their report PwC interviewed over 400 organisations; 40 per cent predicted a growth in the number of projects, and 34 per cent were expecting project budgets to grow over the next three years.

The key project types being undertaken by these organisations were identified as:

  • Fixed capital projects – For example new buildings, transport links such as roads and rail.
  • IT and digital transformations – Recent examples could be businesses converting to “online” and even the design and implementation of the NHS COVID app.
  • New product developments – A great example is the development of the COVID vaccine.
  • Change – Such as organisational restructure, compliance with new laws and regulations.

However, having access to enough people with the right project management skills and capabilities in the UK is a concern for 39 per cent of those interviewed by PwC. Their priorities include developing and acquiring the required numbers of professionals with the right skills sets to support the capability for delivering projects, both large and small, in the years ahead.

Project Management

What is project management?

Perhaps the best place to start describing project management is by defining what a project is. A project is a temporary undertaking with a clear beginning and end that exists to produce a defined outcome. The key is the term “temporary”, in contrast to ongoing day-to-day business operations, which are usually semi-permanent (rather than permanent, because there are always changes in business operations).

Projects can vary in size; however, each project will have agreed and unique objectives as well as its own project plan, budget, timescale, deliverables and tasks. Projects may also involve people from different teams within an organisation and/or external people with specific skills, knowledge and/or expertise, who are brought together to accomplish a specific goal.

Project management is a set of processes used to organise, coordinate and implement projects. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing a project. Different types of industries, clients, teams, key performance indicators (KPIs), goals, budgets and workflows require different approaches or methodologies, for example:

  • PRINCE2 – Favoured by the public sector.
  • Agile – Favoured by IT projects.
  • Scrum – Favoured for continuous improvement projects usually completed in short cycles known as “sprints”.
  • Lean – Often favoured by manufacturing.
  • Six Sigma – Focuses on improving the quality of a project’s output.

There are also many other methodologies to choose from.

Whilst the approach or methodology of a project may vary according to the type of project, the principles of project management are the fundamental rules that should be followed for the successful management of projects.

What are the key principles of a project?

Business objectives

A business objective is a high-level goal that an organisation sets out to accomplish.

Some common business objectives include:

  • Increasing revenue.
  • Reducing costs.
  • Improving productivity and/or efficiency.
  • Building the brand.
  • Increasing return on investment.

By completing successful projects on time, on scope and on budget, project managers are able to help their organisations achieve specific business objectives. This is why senior management and project managers need to work together to make sure that business objectives are clear and that projects are aimed towards achieving them.

Project goals and outcomes

A project has its own unique goal and objectives. To outline the project goal and objectives a useful tool to use is SMART, to ensure there are clear metrics and criteria to accurately measure project success.

SMART stands for:

  • Specific – The wording should leave no doubt about what is required.
  • Measurable – The goal or objective should be readily measurable, and the results should be available quickly and regularly.
  • Agreed – The goal or objective should be negotiated with all parties involved to reach a consensus.
  • Realistic – If the goal or objective offers poor chances of success in terms of, for example, scope, time frames, resources, budget, then it will rapidly turn into a de-motivating force and the project will fail.
  • Timed – How much, how soon? A goal or an objective without a time constraint is little more than a wish list.

Project requirements and approval criteria should be established and documented at the start of the project. This is known as the project scope; the things the project is appointed to deliver. This must be reviewed and approved by all key stakeholders, including the sponsor and client.

Without precise requirements and approval criteria, it will be difficult to measure a project’s success. You may think that your final product does everything requested, only to find that the client or user complains that you have left out a critical component. A lack of clear goals is the most common factor behind failed projects.

Formal structure

Projects need to have a formalised structure, including processes, procedures and tools. A project should have a project charter (a statement of the project scope), project plan and a designated project team to successfully prioritise and manage the project.

Although there are different project management methodologies and approaches, most projects follow this structure, also known as the project life cycle:

  • Initiating the project – The project manager defines what the project will achieve, working with the project sponsor and stakeholders to agree deliverables, and prepares the business case for the project. They ensure that project stakeholders are properly identified along with their role(s) and interest level(s).
  • Planning – The project manager creates an overall project timeline as well as the timing of specific activities, milestones and deliverables. They cost out the project, in terms of people, finance and other resources to be utilised as a part of project activities. They then define quality standards expected, that is, the quality of project information, team performance, decisions and project outputs and outcomes. They also arrange the procurement of the resources and assets required to complete the project. The project manager records all the tasks and assigns deadlines for each, as well as stating the relationships and dependencies between each activity. Often project managers will use Gantt charts to create interactive timelines, show tasks and activities, and update milestones, conveying this information visually to the team and stakeholders.
  • Execution – The project manager builds the project team and also collects and allocates the resources and budget available to specific tasks. The project execution phase is often the longest and most complex stage in the project life cycle. Project execution typically involves three primary components: following processes, managing people and distributing information.
  • Monitoring – The project manager oversees the progress of project work and updates the project plans to reflect actual performance. Making sure the project team are following the project plan is essential; however, if circumstances change, project managers will need to re-evaluate and adjust the plan accordingly. It is also important to continually motivate, encourage and support the project team, especially when working on overly long or complex projects.
  • Closing – The project manager ensures that the outputs delivered by the project are accepted by the business and/or client and closes down the project team. They also record lessons learned from project successes and/or failures. They should also capture and manage all knowledge gained from the project, as this represents a significant asset for most businesses.
Showing Someone Applying The Principles Of Project Management

Roles and responsibilities

The “Client” – is the main initiator of a project. They may be an internal “customer” within the organisation or an external client. They:

  • Set a budget for the project and pay for the deliverables.
  • Describe the requirement and the aim of the project to the project manager.
  • Give the project manager a clear project assignment.
  • Liaise when required with the project manager.
  • Formally accept the project completion.
  • Release the project manager from their tasks and duties.

The Project Sponsor – is the driver and champion of the project. They are often members of senior management with a stake in the project’s outcome. The project sponsor’s role is to:

  • Make key business decisions for the project.
  • Approve the project budget and take budgetary decisions.
  • Ensure availability of resources.
  • Carry ultimate accountability for the project.
  • Approve all changes to the project scope.
  • Provide additional funds for scope changes.
  • Approve project deliverables.

The Project Manager – a project is headed by a project manager who “owns” the project plan and who monitors and controls all aspects of the project to achieve the project objectives safely and within the agreed timescales, budget and criteria. Typically, project managers will be appointed at the beginning of a project and will:

  • Assist the “client” in developing the project brief.
  • Decide the methodology to be used on the project – this will depend upon, for example, the project scope, timeline, risk capacity, budget.
  • Select, appoint, coordinate, performance manage and, if required, train the project team.
  • Make sure that the project is given sufficient resources.
  • Carry out risk assessments and stakeholder analysis.
  • Manage relationships with contributors and stakeholders.
  • Establish a project schedule and determine each phase.
  • Assign tasks to project team members .
  • Provide regular updates to management, stakeholders, sponsors, clients.
  • Have responsibility for the project’s successful completion.

Project Team Members – are the people who actively work on one or more phases of the project. They may be internal employees or an external resource working on the project on a full-time, part-time or ad-hoc basis. Team member roles vary according to the specific project, but their roles will include:

  • Contributing to overall project objectives.
  • Completing individual deliverables and KPIs.
  • Providing expertise.
  • Working with others to establish and meet project needs.
  • Documenting the process.

Stakeholders – are people, groups or organisations who have something to gain or lose from a project’s outcome. Stakeholders can have varied interests and the list of stakeholders can change throughout the project’s life cycle.

Internal stakeholders could be, for example:

  • Team members.
  • Managers.
  • Senior management.
  • Board.

External stakeholders could be, for example

  • Customers.
  • End users.
  • Suppliers.
  • Contractors.
  • General public.
  • Investors etc.

These relationships may be complex and involve communicating with people with varying degrees of engagement, influence and interest.

To help define the roles, responsibilities and accountabilities of everyone involved with a project, the acronym RACI or RASCI is often used in documentation. It is used to determine duties and expectations and stands for:

These relationships may be complex and involve communicating with people with varying degrees of engagement, influence and interest.

To help define the roles, responsibilities and accountabilities of everyone involved with a project, the acronym RACI or RASCI is often used in documentation. It is used to determine duties and expectations and stands for:

  • R: Responsible.
  • A: Accountable.
  • S: Sign-off authority (not always used).
  • C: Consulted.
  • I: Involved.
Showing A Wedding Planner Project Managing

Managing change 

A project needs a well-defined scope to ensure the outcome meets customer expectations. Without strong change management, a project could suffer from something known as “scope creep”; the project gradually grows beyond the initial project guidelines.

For example, as a project progresses team members or stakeholders may want to add additional features to a product or service. However, if any changes are not carefully controlled and managed, the impact could be creating a far more expensive product or service than was initially budgeted for, and/or risk the project overrunning its deadline.

It is important to have a change request process in place to alter any aspect of a given project. Adjusting the scope or deliverables of a project without a proper change request process can cause confusion and misalignment of the project team and project stakeholders.

A change request process ensures that all those involved with the project understand what the change is, why it’s happening, what it will mean for them specifically, and how it will impact the project overall.

Change management is also important because project management can be fast-paced, and things can change quickly, for example a supplier may go out of business, project team members may not be available, laws and regulations may change.

This means project managers need to be able to adapt accordingly, and this is another reason why it is vital to have a structured change management process in place so that team members know how to react to any change and remain on track to achieve their project goals.

Risk management

All projects face some risks. Risk can affect project resources (people, materials, equipment, financial), technology, or processes so it is important to manage risk to minimise or eliminate its impact on the project. This involves identifying, evaluating and monitoring risks and deciding upon action plans to implement if they occur. Every project needs to undertake a risk analysis and have an adaptable risk management plan in place.


A project’s success requires the effective communication of the project’s activities, risks, issues and status, both within the project team and with other stakeholders.

Effective communication is essential for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Keeping stakeholders engaged and informed.
  • Allocating and coordinating tasks and schedules.
  • Managing change.
  • Decision-making and problem-solving.
  • Identifying and resolving conflicts.
  • Managing and escalating risks and issues.

Who uses project management?

A fundamental knowledge of project management can be very useful to people for an extensive range of activities, as project management skills are used in a variety of roles including, but not limited to:

  • Human Resource Managers.
  • Curriculum Managers.
  • IT Managers.
  • Building Contractors.
  • Event Managers and Organisers.
  • Fundraising Managers.
  • Marketing and Advertising Campaign Managers.
  • Product and Programme Development Managers.

The principles and components of project management are also extremely useful to use in your personal life too, for example when planning:

  • A wedding.
  • Home improvements.
  • Moving home.
  • Setting up a small business.

In fact, any event that has a clear beginning and end, and definite outcome. The key skills that you will need to become an effective project manager are:

  • Communication skills.
  • Organisational skills.
  • Leadership skills.
  • Delegation skills.
  • Problem-solving skills.
  • Ability to work under pressure.
  • Influencing and negotiating skills.
  • Attention to detail.
  • Adaptability.

Some reasons for project failure

According to the Business Matters magazine, 31 per cent of British projects fail.

The main reasons cited were:

  • Significant changes to the project brief/scope.
  • Unrealistic time frames.
  • An incomplete understanding of the risks.
  • Projects not resourced with the right people.
  • Lack of a clearly defined business justification or link with business objectives.
  • Overrun budgets.

This is why it is so important to follow the key principles of project management to ensure a project’s success.

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About the author

Megan Huziej

Megan Huziej

Megan has worked with CPD Online College since August 2020, she is in charge of content production, as well as planning, managing and delegating tasks. Megan works closely with our writers, voice artists, companies and individuals to create the most appropriate and relevant content as well as also using and managing SEO. She gained her Business Administration Level 3 qualification over the duration of being at CPD Online College as well. Outside of work Megan loves to venture to different places and eateries as well as spending quality time with friends and family.

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