Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Project Management Principles vs Practices

Project Management Principles vs Practices
After reading “Principles” by Ray Dalio for the second time this year I was thinking about what principles do I have in the area of project management? And how are these principles different from practices?

 We are always looking for simple ways to apply good principles (patterns of advice) with meaningful practices (specific actions). This is the crux of delivering consulting advice in most situations. So what is exactly the difference between principles and practices? Here is one example.

 The Boy scout motto – “Be prepared” – is a timeless principle.

 “Buy a plunger before you need a plunger” is a practice that applies this principle in a memorable way.

Principles are good ideas or good values stated in a context-independent manner. Practices are applications of these principles stated in a context-dependent way.

Project Management Principles

When you look at project management I firmly believe in the five principles of project success as defined by Glen B. Alleman in his excellent book “Performance-Based Project Management".

These principles are best stated in the form of questions. When we have the answers to these questions, we will have insight into the activities required for the project to succeed in ways not found using the traditional process group’s checklist, knowledge areas, or canned project templates.

1) What does “done” look like?

We need to know where we are going by defining “done” at some point in the future. This may be far in the future—months or years—or closer—days or weeks from now.

2) How can we get to “done” on time and on budget and achieve acceptable outcomes?

We need a plan to get to where we are going, to reach done. This plan can be simple or complex. The fidelity of the plan depends on our tolerance for risk. The complexity of the plan has to match the complexity of the project.

3) Do we have enough of the right resources to successfully complete the project?

We have to understand what resources are needed to execute the plan. We need to know how much time and money are required to reach the destination. This can be fixed or it can be variable. If money is limited, the project may be possible if more time is available and vice versa. What technologies are needed? What information must be discovered that we don’t know now?

4) What impediments will we encounter along the way and what work is needed to remove them?

We need a means of removing, avoiding, handling or ignoring these impediments. Most important, we need to ask and answer the question, “How long are we willing to wait before we find out we are late?”

5) How can we measure our progress to plan?

We need to measure planned progress, not just progress. Progress to plan is best measured in units of physical percent complete, which provides tangible evidence, not just opinion. This evidence must be in “usable” outcomes that the buyer recognizes as the things they requested from the project.

It does not matter what practices you use to manage and deliver your project. It also does not matter what kind of a project it is. As long as it is a project, the five principles of project success are valid.

Project Management Practices

Most often there is a principle, a truth, a reason, behind the practice you use. Are you aware of the principles behind the practices you have in your project?

- Why do you create a project plan and schedule?
- Why do you do risk management?
- Why do you create a stakeholder map?
- Why do you create RAID lists?
- Why do you use OKRs to define project success?

We must know why we do something otherwise we are just copying someone else.

If you just do something because someone, or some company, you admire is doing it you are following the practice. This will create a sense of legalism in your project team – just following a good idea, or even worse, making good ideas the rules, something you and all your team must do. When we do this we have no inner conviction to help us over the hurdles, when things get hard we’ll give up.

Instead of mindlessly copying we need to consider the principles, the truths we want to build our project on, and then carefully think through the best practices for our team to learn and grow in that truth.
Posted on Wednesday, December 19, 2018 by Henrico Dolfing

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