11 Project Management Principles for Successful Projects

Updated Aug 3, 2022.

The dream of every project manager is to manage successful projects.

Every project manager wants to successfully handle projects from start to finish.

But this is not always the case.

A significant number of projects are unsuccessful or abandoned.

So, if you are tired of managing unsuccessful projects, then this article is for you. 

In this article, I will take you through the globally accepted eleven principles used by top project managers all over the world.

You would learn the what, why, and how to apply these principles to manage successful projects.

Here are the eleven principles of project management:

  • Clear project goals and objectives
  • Project deliverables that deliver value
  • Aligned team roles and responsibilities
  • Careful budgeting
  • Priority management and milestones setting
  • Transparent project timeline
  • Accountability and responsibility
  • Effective communication plan
  • Streamlined project execution
  • Balanced risk assessment
  • Monitor project progress

Ready? Let's move on.

1. Well-Defined Project Goals, Scope, and Objectives

The first principle you need to follow if you want to manage successful projects is setting project goals, scope, and objectives.

As a matter of fact, setting your project goals is only a first step towards implementing this principle; you also need to define your project goals precisely.

Here is an image example of project goals.

Thriving projects have their roots in well-defined project goals, scope and objectives.

As the project manager, you should define the project goals in such a clear way that every member of the team can easily understand.

How to set good project goals

You can use the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed) method of goal setting.

For a start, your project goals must be specific, well-defined, and based on the expected project outcomes.

Do not set ambiguous goals as this may lead to confusion and dwindle productivity.

Then, comes the next target which includes setting measurable project goals. 

In other words, you should be able to track the level of the progress of your goals. 

They should be measurable. 

Next is achievable. Ensure you set project goals that you can achieve and not some impossible goals. 

Your project goals should be attainable.

Realism is the next target. 

Your project goals should be realistic enough and relevant to the requirements and specifications of clients and stakeholders.

You also need to set timely goals. 

This means that you should have a defined timeline for your project goals which include a start date and a target date.

Do not set project goals that are not smart, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely.

What is project scope and how to define your project scope?

Closely associated with well-defined project goals is a clearly-defined project scope.

The project scope is an important aspect of the project planning in which you specify the overall extent of the project.

In other words, the project scope includes the breadth and length of the project.

Below are the steps involved in project scope management.

Project scope management process
Source: Kissflow

Here are some of the questions you need to answer when defining your project scope.

“What is the focal point of the project?”

“What are the major areas the project would cover?” 

Well-defined project objectives also set you on track to achieve the purpose of the projects.

Key Takeaways

  • The first principle of successful project management is having well-defined project goals, scope, and objectives 
  • Consider keeping your project goals in accordance with the SMART goals
  • Ensure you clearly define your project objectives as well 
  • Ensure all the members of  your team are conversant with the project goals and objectives 
  • Always make sure to remind your team of the project goals even during the course of project execution

2. Define Project Deliverables

What are project deliverables? 

Project deliverables are the tangible and intangible outputs which are produced and submitted due to the scope of the project.

Here are some common forms a project deliverable can take.

Some popular examples of project deliverables are strategic and progress reports, design documents, technical interpretation and design review. 

Project deliverables are not the final outputs or the final products of the project because they can also be any tangible or intangible outputs produced during the course of the project.

Tangible project deliverables include project products or outputs such as a constructed building, new equipment, and different types of reports. 

Let's say you want to train your team members on the use of a particular software such as work management software.

Such a training program can be rightly referred to as an intangible project deliverable. 

Also, project deliverables can be classified into internal and external, big and small

Categories of project deliverables
Source: Teamwork

Internal deliverables are part of the project steps and they are otherwise known as project deliverables. 

They are different from external deliverables in that they are not parts of the final product and they are also not accessible to the clients. 

External deliverables, on the other hand, are the final project products which are provided to the clients or the end-users. 

Deliverables can take on any size as there are no mandated size requirements for project deliverables

It all depends on the needs of the clients.

How to define project deliverables

Project deliverables are the one of most important drivers of project success and they should be clearly defined. 

Now, don't mix up project deliverables with the project objectives. 

Even though they might be related to one another in a way; they are different. 

There are certain factors that you need to consider if you want to define valid project deliverables. 

And it starts from specificity. 

Your project deliverables should be definite and specific. 

Also, they should help you to achieve your project objectives, and at the same time, agree with the client's needs.

Key Takeaways

  • Project deliverables can be goods or services produced within the scope of the project 
  • There are internal and external deliverables, tangible and intangible deliverables, big and small project deliverables 
  • Ensure your project deliverables are clear and well-defined 
  • Project deliverables should not be confused with project objectives 
  • Ensure your project deliverables meet the client's right requirements

3. Clear Team Roles and Responsibilities

What is the difference between roles and responsibilities?

Roles can be the positions of each member of the team in relation to the team's goals and objectives.

Responsibilities, on the other hand, refers to the duties expected to be carried out by someone with a particular role in the team. 

For example, the responsibilities of the team leader include leading and motivating the team, managing the team, members and its performance.

Here is an image showing the summaries of roles and responsibilities.

Why is having clear team roles and responsibilities important?

Another project management principle which can help you manage successful projects is having clear team roles and responsibilities.

Team formation is an important step in handling and completing projects successfully.

Depending on the volume and complexity of the projects involved, the team could be large or small. 

And the team is a combination of individuals who are knowledgeable about the project and have the necessary skills to carry it to successful completion. 

This is one of the reasons why you, as the project manager, need to ensure the team members have well-defined roles and responsibilities.

How to ensure clear team roles and responsibilities 

As the project manager, you need to ensure every team member is conversant with his/her role on the team and the corresponding responsibilities that accompany such roles. 

You can plan and organize an orientation process which will enable team members to know and understand their specific roles and responsibilities.

Key Takeaways

  • Forming a team is important for successful project completion and the team should comprise individuals who are knowledgeable about the project and are equally capable. 
  • Roles are specific positions of the team members on the team while responsibilities are tasks and duties expected of team members 
  • The team should have well-defined roles and responsibilities 
  • Every member of the team should be conversant with the team roles and responsibilities 
  • Organizing an orientation process can help team members to be familiar with the roles and responsibilities of the team

4. Careful Budgeting

Budgeting is an important activity carried out by valid establishments, including small businesses, large and governmental organizations. 

But you know what, budgeting is even more important for a project management team. 

Benefits of budgeting to a project management team 

One of the reasons is because you don't have all the resources in the world for your project execution, i.e, there is a limited amount of available resources.

Another benefit of budgeting is that it helps you to save extra and petty costs that might arise during the course of the project. 

Without budgeting, it's easy to fall into the spending spree, thereby leading to accumulations of unnecessary costs. 

Do you want to effectively take care of contingencies and emergencies when they arise? 

Then, welcome budgeting

Budgeting is a valid way of tackling all the contingencies that might arise during the course of a project.

Also, budgeting helps to keep your team focused on achieving the team's goals and objectives. 

Budgeting involves figuring out your long-term project goals and therefore enables you to devise ways of fulfilling the project goals on a close-to-perfect level. 

With budgeting, you can also keep track of your progress. 

The benefits of budgeting for project management are many. 

How to create an active project budget plan

A project budget is the overall estimated costs that are necessary for the successful completion of the project over a specific and well-defined period.

Check out this project budget template.

It involves laying out all these costs and estimating them for each phase of the project.

However, the keyword in this project management principle is “Careful“.

You have got to be intentional with your project budget.

The first step you need to take if you want to create a working project budget is to take note of other similar projects and the expenses they incurred. 

You can then make use of past data to deliver a budget that works for your project. 

Also, don't hesitate to consult with experts who have detailed knowledge of the project costs

Ensure the figures are accurate and make the necessary changes to your project as you execute the project. 

Key Takeaways

  • Budgeting is important for any establishment 
  • Budgeting helps you to save unnecessary project costs 
  • You can keep your team members focused and smartly organized by creating and using project budgets
  • Consider past similar projects, consult with experts, and make the necessary research if you want to create good project budgets 
  • Always follow your project budgets to the letter and only make changes when it's extremely needed.

5. Identify Priorities and Milestones

What are priorities and milestones in project management?

Priorities are things regarded as more important and valuable than others. 

In project management, priorities are mostly defined and evaluated in terms of tasks.

For example, some project tasks are more important and given more consideration than others. 

We can therefore classify these types of tasks as priorities. 

Milestone, on the other hand, refers to a significant or remarkable stage reached during the course of development of a particular entity.

They are the intermediate stages that stand between the beginning and the end of the overall process of development. 

Project milestones are specific points and tools that indicate the level of progress made along the project timeline.

Here is a project milestone template so you can know how a project milestone would look like.

Project Milestone Template
Source: Techno-PM

Examples of project milestones are design approval, project approval, and requirements review.

Why do you need to set project priorities?

You need to set project priorities because it is impossible to work on all tasks and activities at the same time

And the only way by which you can allocate the limited resources effectively is by setting up priorities

Moreso, you have to lay out projects that are of high value and which therefore require the best and foremost inputs.

Below are the steps that project prioritization should follow.

Project Prioritization Process
Source: Pinterest

By setting up priorities, you can also build a balanced project portfolio, generate better return on investment (ROI), and complete quality projects.

How do you identify and set your project priorities?

There are different determinants which you can use to set your project priorities and one of such determinants is financial analysis

Financial analysis, especially comes into play when the specific objective of the project is to reduce cost and increase revenue.

In this case, you would need to consider your financial objectives and therefore set up your project priorities accordingly. 

Some of the financial objectives you can consider are withheld revenues, potential revenues, and incremental revenues. 

Another way you can identify your project priorities is to consider value as against risk

What is the value of your project tasks and what are the risks of the likely trade-offs? 

You need to consider the cost risk, the planning risk, and the functionality risk. 

Then, compare with the value that you would derive by setting some specific tasks or activities as milestones.

Identifying project milestones is also easy once you can carefully consider your project goals, and divide your project into tasks and subtasks. 

You can invest in a task management software to organize and arrange your tasks, and to easily map out milestones. 

Key Takeaways 

  • Project priorities are mostly defined in terms of project tasks
  • Project milestones help you to know the level of progress that you achieve during the course of project execution 
  • Setting project priorities is one of the ways of ensuring quality project management 
  • Financial analysis and considering value vs risk are two ways you can easily identify project priorities 
  • Consider breaking down your protect tasks into subtasks as milestones

6. Create a Timeline

What is a project timeline?

A timeline is a schedule of events and procedures for a given function. 

It is a graphical representation of a chronological sequence of events.

Below is a project timeline template.

Project Timeline Chart
Source: Vertex42

To better understand what a timeline is all about, think of a timetable. 

A timeline is basically like a timetable only that a timetable is more specific about the time of occurrence while a timeline just gives a graphical representation of a sequence of events. 

If you want to manage successful projects, then another project management principle you need to follow is creating a project timeline

Benefits of a project timeline

A project timeline is especially important for complex projects which requires multiple steps as it helps to maintain a clear outline of the project phases. 

With a project outline, you can easily visualize the various phases and steps of a complex project. 

Another importance of a project timeline is that it keeps every member of the team working towards the same project goals. 

When there is a project timeline, team members can easily understand the tasks at hand and the roles they need to play in ensuring that there's successful task execution. 

A project timeline can help to keep your team members focused on the big picture. 

This way, they can easily contribute their best efforts and ensure the projects are successfully completed. 

That's not all: a project timeline can also keep your members updated and help you to keep track of events and activities as they occur.

How do you create a project timeline that works?

The first thing you need to do to create a project timeline is to create a project brief which will allow interested individuals to get a quick understanding of the project scope

Ensure the project brief includes the project description, project goals and objectives, and milestones

After you might have created the project brief, then you need to organize the project scope. 

At this stage, you would need to break down the large tasks into smaller ones for easy assignment and handling

Also, you can estimate the time necessary for the successful completion of each task. 

You also need to define the task dependencies and establish the milestones.

Here is what the task dependencies look like. 

Task dependencies in project management
Source: Prince2

After taking all these steps, then you can safely build the project timeline.

Key Takeaways

  • A timeline is a graphical representation of a sequence of events in the order which they occur 
  • Having a project timeline can keep your team members focused and well-collaborated 
  • You can easily track changes and keep everyone updated with a project timeline 
  • The first step in creating a project timeline is creating the project brief
  • Task dependencies and milestones are necessary for creating quality project timelines

7. Establish Accountability and Responsibility

What is the difference between accountability and responsibility?

Accountability and responsibility are two values which are highly overemphasized in every workplace. 

However, most individuals, including project managers, roughly confuse accountability with responsibility and vice versa. 

Let's, therefore, consider the meaning of accountability and responsibility and the distinction between them. 

Accountability can be simply defined as the ability to be answerable for a task, an activity, or decision

It means being responsible for the outcome of a completed work. 

Responsibility, on its own terms, refers to the ability to complete a particular work, task or activity.

In other words, when someone is said to take responsibility, that means the person is one with the ability to carry out the specified action.

One major difference between the two is that accountability is personal while responsibility can be shared.

Check out some of the differences between responsibility and accountability in the image below.

Difference between accountability and responsibility
Source: Quora

Accountability is the individual answerable to the task whole responsibility is the person who does the task.

For example, you can only assign one accountable person to a particular action while many people can assume responsibility for specific roles. 

Benefits of establishing accountability and responsibility

An important reason why you need to establish accountability and responsibility is that it helps you to keep your team members inspired and conscious about the success of the projects. 

When there is accountability and responsibility in a team, members can easily work from their strengths and abilities, and acquire new knowledge and skills to make the project a success.

How do you establish and promote accountability and responsibility?

Well, It all starts from you. 

As the project manager, the onus is on you to ensure there's free space for accountability and responsibility.

Consider building a sense of trust and motivation in the team so as to allow team members to be accountable for their actions

You can also track task delegation and create a platform where team members can easily visualize their contributions to the success of the team.

Key Takeaways

  • Accountability involves the ability to be answerable to a particular activity while responsibility is the ability to complete a given activity 
  • Accountability and responsibility are two important values that should be encouraged in a project management team
  • A sense of accountability and responsibility can help to keep team members inspired and motivated to give their bests to the success of the project 
  • Promoting accountability and responsibility starts from you as the team leader 
  • Consider building a sense of trust and motivation in the team to establish accountability and responsibility.

8. Create a Communication Plan

Why should you create a communication plan?

Adequate communication is a necessity for any project management team. 

And apart from internal communication between team members, there should also be constant communication with the key stakeholders and project supervisors.

One of the major ways you can maintain adequate communication is by creating a communication plan

With a good communication plan, you can easily reduce conflicts and confusion from interacting with project success. 

A good communication plan can also help to keep team members aligned, united and well-collaborated.

The next thing you need to do is to come up with a communication plan while considering a set of factors.

Here is what your project communication plan should look like.

Project Communication Plan
Source: Bitrix24

What are the steps to creating an effective communication plan?

  1. The first thing you need to do is to set clear and well-defined project expectations. You also need to keep your team members conversant with these project expectations. 
  2. Also, consider establishing a listening culture in the team. The listening culture stands as a communication skill which can help to build strong relationships amidst the members of the team and also inspire creativity from team members. Thus, promoting the listening culture is highly important if you want to ensure constant communication between the necessary parties as far as project management is concerned. 
    As the project manager, you should be attentive to the team without excluding any team members. Doing so would also encourage your team members to listen to one another. Promoting the listening culture also requires you to create a free atmosphere where team members can freely ask questions that bother their minds and get immediate answers to them.
  3. You need to identify your stakeholders and their expectations, and also map out the communication necessary to keep those expectations satisfied.
  4. You can also document important items such as documents and templates, needed for project communication. 
  5. Also, it's important you identify the communications methods you want to use together with the frequency of communication messages and the time zones of each team member. There are two major types of communication that you can consider and they are synchronous and asynchronous communications. For synchronous communication, all the parties involved in the communication are present at the same time and it mainly involves scheduling. 
    Examples are video and audio conferences, conference calls, live meeting, texting, and instant messaging. Asynchronous communication is when the parties involved are not present at the same time and it does not involve scheduling. They include fax and email. 
  6. Consider investing in best team communication tools like video conferencing software, and online collaboration tools to ensure seamless internal and external communication. 

Key Takeaways

  • The importance of constant communication for any project management team cannot be over emphasized
  • Maintaining a listening culture is vital to good communication 
  • You can maintain constant communication by creating a good communication plan 
  • A good communication plan can reduce internal conflicts among team members 
  • Don't hesitate to invest in the best communication tools

9. Streamline Project Execution with Project Management Tools

Let's assume that you have carried out all the afore-mentioned project management principles. 

You have clearly defined your project scope and objectives, and you have set your project goals and done some fine budgeting. 

In fact, you have created a timeline, a communication plan, and established accountability and responsibility. 

Then, what next? Well, the next thing is to get down to project execution

What is the project execution stage?

Project execution stage is where all your project plans come into play and where projects begin to become realized and accomplished

In short, this stage is the most critical and the longest stage of the project life cycle. 

Therefore, it's a stage that you need to undertake with due diligence and utmost importance.

Below is an illustration of the steps that the project execution stage should follow.

Project execution stage
Source: Kissflow

As the project manager, you need to manage people, communication, and processes at this stage. 

You also need to ensure that team members work towards creating deliverables which are in accordance with the project plan. 

Your responsibility, as the project manager, might involve more tracking and supervision of the team's progress.

Benefits of investing in project management tools

However, no matter the steps you take or the rules you follow, handling project execution without using the right project management tools can be daunting and tasking. 

So, you need to invest in the right tools for project execution whether it's web-based project management software, simple project management software, or even free project management software

Top project management tools

Here are the top three project management software used by popular and established businesses. 

You can choose any one that you want among them and start using it immediately.

  • Monday.com: Monday.com is a top project management software which you can plan and manage your projects from start to finish. Additionally, you can manage your project planning, customer projects, issue log, and strategic planning.
  • ClickUp: Another top project management software, ClickUp allows you to manage your entire projects in one place, organize projects, collaborate with your teams, and track progress and goals.
  • Teamwork: Whether you want to manage projects, clients, and your team in one place, or you want to track every billable minute, Teamwork provides you with the right tools to use. 

When you use any of these project management tools and you take the right steps, you would make your project execution phase a lot easier, convenient, and successful. 

Key Takeaways 

  • Before you begin project execution, ensure that you have implemented the other project management principles 
  • The project execution stage is the most longest stage of the project life cycle 
  • Your major responsibilities at the project execution stage involves tracking the team's progress and supervising the team' members 
  • You need to invest in project management tools to ensure a seamless project execution phase
  • Top project management tools that you can choose from are Monday.com, ClickUp, and Teamwork.

10. Perform a Risk Assessment

Why do you need a project risk assessment?

Project risks are an inevitable part of project management

This is because no matter how meticulous or strategic your project plans, things can still go south. 

Hazards can still occur and the only way you can ensure the project is completed according to plan and budget is to minimize the occurrence of negative events.

And this is where risk assessment and management come into play.

A well-implemented risk assessment plan can help to ensure clear decision making on important project issues.

Risk assessment, on its own, includes the qualitative and quantitative determination and analysis of risks that can affect the success of the project. 

Popular project risks are performance risk, cost risk, communication risk, technology risk, operational risk, and health and safety risk. 

How do you perform a project risk assessment?

The first step you need to take is to identify potential risks and you need to do this starting from the project planning phase. 

You should examine all the likely possibilities of the projects, including both positive and negative possibilities. 

Consider past successful projects, study their best and worst case scenarios, and learn from them to identify potential risks that want to hinder your project success. 

You can also involve the clients in the planning process so they can be well-aware of the possible project risks. 

However, risk identification does not only stop at the planning process as it is not a one-time thing. 

You have to be on the lookout for possible risks associated with the project management stages. 

Another important step you need to take under risk assessment is determining the probability of risk occurrence.

“What are the odds that potential risks would finally manifest?” 

“Do the discovered risks have a high or low probability of occurrence?” 

These are some of the questions that you need to answer here. 

Afterwards, then, you need to determine the impact of the risks if they eventually occur. 

For example, you should consider how the risk occurrence would affect your project delivery date, budget, and even project goals and objectives. 

You can classify the risk according to the level of impact such as high impact, medium impact, and low impact. 

The next step is treating and modifying the risk to a tolerable level.

In other words, you need to do what's called risk response planning. 

You can set up mitigation strategies and preventive plans to treat the project risks if they eventually occur.

Key Takeaways

  • No matter the amount of planning you do, project risks are an inevitable part of project execution stage
  • Project risk assessment is an important stage of project planning
  • Risk assessment involves the determination and analytics of project risks 
  • Risk identification and management is a continuous process throughout the project life cycle 
  • Set up mitigation and preventive plans to ensure the risk treatment when they eventually occur

11. Monitor and Measure Progress

Why you need to monitor and monitor your project progress

Remember the project planning phase. 

Remember the goals and objectives that you set for the project. 

Remember the milestones, project timeline, and quality expectations. 

Now, how do you know that you are on track to fulfilling your project goals and objectives? 

What would let you know that all your project plans are coming to fulfillment? 

You can know by implementing this principle and this is where it comes into play. 

Project progress measurement is a way by which you determine, evaluate, and monitor the progress of the projects, including related tasks and activities. 

It involves placing the realities and progress of the projects side by side with the predefined project goals and targets to see if the project is actively moving towards expectations or merely underperforming.

Here is a project management overall progress dashboard.

Project management overall progress dashboard
Source: Slideteam

In other words, progress measurement is a way by which you know whether your project plans and benchmarks are being realized or not.

When to measure your project progress

However, note that you can only measure your project progress after you might have reached the project execution stage. 

This is when work on the projects is in full swing and every team member contributes their best efforts. 

As the project manager, you have got to proactively manage the projects and make adjustments to the projects if necessary.

Five major processes in progress measurement 

  1. Performance measurement planning
  2. Progress measurement planning 
  3. Progress and performance execution 
  4. Monitoring and control 
  5. Measurement closure

Methods of measuring your project progress

  1. The foremost method is through the units completed. Under this method, all you have to do is to track repeated tasks and easily measure every iteration. One edge you have with this method is that most repeated tasks involve similar investment of time, efforts, and resources. Therefore, it's much easier to track the units completed. 
  2. Another way by which you can use to measure project progress is the start/finish method. This method is straightforward and it is mainly suitable for tasks which have short durations. Also, you need this method when there is unavailability of tasks work estimations or you can collect the percent complete progress data. All you need to do under this method is to note the starting and finishing points of tasks, and then get a progress percentage which reads accordingly. Popular rules that are used under this method are 0/100 rule, 50/50 rule, and the 20/80 rule.
  3. Another method you can use is the cost ratio and it is best suited for tasks with long durations over the project life cycle. Cost ratio is mostly used for overhead costs and it usually involves two measurement determinants. Those are the budgeted allocation of dollars and the labor hours of production as you have to measure based on these two. 
  4. Experience/opinion is another subjective method that you can use to measure project progress and it's mainly subjective. It involves taking the opinions and experiences of the project manager into account and then using them to evaluate the progress of the projects. You should only implement this method as a last resort to avoid clashes in opinions, ideas, and experiences. 

Key Takeaways

  • Project progress are mainly measured in terms of tasks, performance and activities 
  • Monitor and measure your project progress only when you have reached the project execution stage
  • Measuring your project progress allows you to know and possibly, improve your project success rate
  • Units completed, start/finish, and cost ratio are objective methods of measuring your project progress 
  • Using experience and opinion is not a reliable method of measuring project progress

Anastasia Belyh

Editor at FounderJar

Anastasia has been a professional blogger and researcher since 2014. She loves to perform in-depth software reviews to help software buyers make informed decisions when choosing project management software, CRM tools, website builders, and everything around growing a startup business.

Anastasia worked in management consulting and tech startups, so she has lots of experience in helping professionals choosing the right business software.