The 12 Principles of Project Management
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PMBOK 7 is the short name given to The Standard for Project Management and A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge – (
The Standard for Project Management includes:
- An introduction
- The value delivery system
- The 12 project management principles
And the principles are what we are talking about today.
What is a principle?
So, what is a principle?
A principle is a norm, rule, value or fundamental truth which serves as a guide for behavior or action.
Principles are not prescriptive. They don’t tell you how to do something. They are not policies or goals. They simply underpin the things that you should be doing. Think of principles as inalienable truths to live by – or in our case, to work by.
The thing with principles is that they are designed to inform your actions. They don’t prescribe your actions.
In other words, they shape how you think about project management and give you guard rails for behavior while letting you lead the project any way you see fit within those parameters.
The Standard for Project Management sets out 12 principles that anyone leading projects should be able to live by. They are not specific to methodologies and will work regardless of what delivery approach you choose to use.
So, what are they? Let’s dive in.
The 12 Principles of Project Management
Below are the 12 principle statements that summarize the project management principles, along with my description of what these could look like for you.
Be a diligent, respectful and caring steward
In other words, follow the Code of Ethics and be a good human.
Use your professional judgement to do good in the world and treat your colleagues and customers like you would want to be treated.
It’s odd that this needs to be called out at all, but sadly I think that it does. I hear from dozens of project managers every week, and many of them are talking about toxic work environments where their work and contribution are not respected, and sometimes, even appreciated.
We can lead by example by acting as a diligent steward for our projects, but I think other managers in the organization need to live by this principle as well.
Create a collaborative project team environment
Collaboration is literally the thing that gets projects done in the 21st Century. We are using more and more tech tools to get work done. And the tools are getting better and better at helping – if we know how to use them.
I wrote a book all about this: Collaboration Tools for Project Managers (published by PMI), which talks about how to choose, set up and use the right tools for your workplace.
Effectively engage with stakeholders
Oh look, another subject I wrote a book on!
Collaboration only works if you have people to collaborate with, so engaging stakeholders in a mature and respectful way is so important for project success.
We are all busier than ever these days, and so it helps to have a bank of techniques for engaging others that fit their working style and what kind of outcome you are looking for.
For more on this, check out Engaging Stakeholders on Projects: How to Harness People Power (published by APM).
Focus on value
I wish this one was higher up the list. If projects don’t deliver value, what’s the point of them?
However, we have to determine what ‘value’ means, and it’s going to look different for every project. You might measure it differently too. And it can change throughout a project, especially if you are using techniques like progressive elaboration or iterations to work out what you are doing as you go.
The biggest impact you can make with your project management career is this one: focus on value. Challenge where you don’t see it, and look to get more of it with everything you do.
5. Systems thinking
Recognize, evaluate, and respond to system interactions
Systems thinking, design thinking, seeing the business as a holistic enterprise where all the parts hang together: this principle is really about breaking down silos of all kinds and using your role as a project manager to be the glue that holds everything together.
I talk a lot about ‘being the glue’ as a project manager when I’m mentoring people as it’s a big part of the PM role and often difficult to explain.
In our jobs as project managers, we have to look at how the whole organization works and make sure every part is operating as optimally as possible.
Note: This principle also sounds to me like it overlaps with the work of a business analyst, so is that a sign that PMI feels the role of a PM is expanding? I would argue that these are principles for projects, not necessarily a single person in the PM role, so this principle is a great argument for getting a good BA on the team.
Demonstrate leadership behaviors
I think this one is pretty obvious. As project managers we lead the team and we lead the project through to a successful completion. If you don’t step up and act as a leader then you’re at risk of being seen as an administrator.
Tailor based on context
This one is so important! And it underlines the fundamentals of principles too, in that they guide what steps you take instead of prescribing how to do it.
Whether you are
Treat each project like an individual mission and do it to the best of your ability even if that means deviating from what the textbooks tell you… because now, finally, they are telling you that tailoring is expected. So do it.
Build quality into processes and deliverables
As a PM, you might not have much influence over processes led by the PMO, but you can certainly input and offer feedback to try to shape how work gets done.
You have a lot of influence over how deliverables are delivered in a quality way, so use that influence appropriately to make sure you find the balance between gold plating and getting a decent result.
A project quality plan could be one of the project management artifacts you create during the project.
I love how this is so brief. What does it mean to “navigate” something that is complex? First, we have to acknowledge it and then establish how we can work within it and around it.
This principle speaks again to tailoring: you need to use strategies, techniques and approaches that fit the level of complexity you find yourself in. And that starts by accepting that it’s there.
Optimize risk responses
This is another good one: it underpins the rethinking that risk management has gone through since I started learning how to manage a project.
In the first PM course I did, we didn’t talk about positive risk at all. Risks were bad, and needed mitigating and managing away (or accepting, which we did surprisingly often).
Today, there is a far more widespread understanding that “risk = negative” is wrong, thanks to the profile-raising work of people like David Hillson, Harry Hall and others who talk extensively about project risk in a far more nuanced way than the trainers on that course I took.
Project managers shouldn’t be heroes. This image of the PM who swoops in to rescue a failing project should be something from the past. A better approach is making sure that we don’t need rescuing because we’re doing proper risk management, governance and leadership.
11. Adaptability and resilience
Embrace adaptability and resilience
How do you embrace resilience? This principle is worded in a way that doesn’t personally resonate with me, but I get the general idea. We need to be adaptable and resilient, and to support our projects and teams in becoming the same.
How do you do that? Start with creating a culture where work/life balance is more than just something people talk about, and go from there.
Enable change to achieve the envisioned future state
This is another principle which overlaps with another ‘traditional’ organization role: that of Change Manager. You may have Change Managers in your business who work alongside you on a project. You may not. You may be one.
Again, I don’t think PMI is advocating in the Standard that project managers need to always take the role of change manager, but I think there is instead, finally, an acceptance that the role needs to involve more than completing the delivery and moving on.
I’ve talked about this for years – literally years – because if you don’t get your deliverables to land properly, with people accepting the change and using what you’ve delivered, then what was the point? You can do a great project and still deliver something that adds no value if no one ends up using it. What a waste of time that would be.
So I agree that
Your next steps
Those are the 12 principles of project management. How do you measure up? here are some action steps.
- Have a think about how you perform against each of those principles.
- Next, consider how the principles overlap with your actual project management practice and the tools you use.
- Read about the performance domains for managing projects.