14 Key Principles for PM Success

This web-published article by Michael Greer is an excerpt from “Chapter 6: Planning and Managing Human Performance Technology Projects,” Handbook of Human Performance Technology, San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, 1999

  1. Project managers must focus on three dimensions of project success. Simply put, project success means completing all project deliverables on time, within budget, and to a level of quality that is acceptable to sponsors and stakeholders. The project manager must keep the team’s attention focused on achieving these broad goals.
  2. Planning is everything — and ongoing. On one thing all PM texts and authorities agree: The single most important activity that project managers engage in is planning — detailed, systematic, team-involved plans are the only foundation for project success. And when real-world events conspire to change the plan, project managers must make a new one to reflect the changes. So planning and replanning must be a way of life for project managers.
  3. Project managers must feel, and transmit to their team members, a sense of urgency. Because projects are finite endeavors with limited time, money, and other resources available, they must be kept moving toward completion. Since most team members have lots of other priorities, it’s up to the project manager to keep their attention on project deliverables and deadlines. Regular status checks, meetings, and reminders are essential.
  4. Successful projects use a time-tested, proven project life cycle. We know what works. Models such as the standard ISD model and others described in this text can help ensure that professional standards and best practices are built into our project plans. Not only do these models typically support quality, they help to minimize rework. So when time or budget pressures seem to encourage taking short cuts, it’s up to the project manager to identify and defend the best project life cycle for the job.
  5. All project deliverables and all project activities must be visualized and communicated in vivid detail. In short, the project manager and project team must early on create a tangible picture of the finished deliverables in the minds of everyone involved so that all effort is focused in the same direction. Avoid vague descriptions at all costs; spell it out, picture it, prototype it, and make sure everyone agrees to it.
  6. Deliverables must evolve gradually, in successive approximations. It simply costs too much and risks too much time spent in rework to jump in with both feet and begin building all project deliverables. Build a little at a time, obtain incremental reviews and approvals, and maintain a controlled evolution.
  7. Projects require clear approvals and sign-off by sponsors. Clear approval points, accompanied by formal sign-off by sponsors, SMEs, and other key stakeholders, should be demarcation points in the evolution of project deliverables. It’s this simple: anyone who has the power to reject or to demand revision of deliverables after they are complete must be required to examine and approve them as they are being built.
  8. Project success is correlated with thorough analyses of the need for project deliverables. Our research has shown that when a project results in deliverables that are designed to meet a thoroughly documented need, then there is a greater likelihood of project success. So managers should insist that there is a documented business need for the project before they agree to consume organizational resources in completing it.
  9. Project managers must fight for time to do things right. In our work with project managers we often hear this complaint: “We always seem to have time to do the project over; I just wish we had taken the time to do it right in the first place!” Projects must have available enough time to “do it right the first time.” And project managers must fight for this time by demonstrating to sponsors and top managers why it’s necessary and how time spent will result in quality deliverables.
  10. Project manager responsibility must be matched by equivalent authority. It’s not enough to be held responsible for project outcomes; project managers must ask for and obtain enough authority to execute their responsibilities. Specifically, managers must have the authority to acquire and coordinate resources, request and receive SME cooperation, and make appropriate, binding decisions which have an impact on the success of the project.
  11. Project sponsors and stakeholders must be active participants, not passive customers. Most project sponsors and stakeholders rightfully demand the authority to approve project deliverables, either wholly or in part. Along with this authority comes the responsibility to be an active participant in the early stages of the project (helping to define deliverables), to complete reviews of interim deliverables in a timely fashion (keeping the project moving), and to help expedite the project manager’s access to SMEs, members of the target audience, and essential documentation.
  12. Projects typically must be sold, and resold. There are times when the project manager must function as salesperson to maintain the commitment of stakeholders and sponsors. With project plans in hand, project managers may need to periodically remind people about the business need that is being met and that their contributions are essential to help meet this need.
  13. Project managers should acquire the best people they can and then do whatever it takes to keep the garbage out of their way. By acquiring the best people — the most skilled, the most experienced, the best qualified — the project manager can often compensate for too little time or money or other project constraints. Project managers should serve as an advocate for these valuable team members, helping to protect them from outside interruptions and helping them acquire the tools and working conditions necessary to apply their talents.
  14. Top management must actively set priorities. In today’s leaner, self-managing organizations, it is not uncommon for project team members to be expected to play active roles on many project teams at the same time. Ultimately, there comes a time when resources are stretched to their limits and there are simply too many projects to be completed successfully. In response, some organizations have established a Project Office comprised of top managers from all departments to act as a clearinghouse for projects and project requests. The Project Office reviews the organization’s overall mission and strategies, establishes criteria for project selection and funding, monitors resource workloads, and determines which projects are of high enough priority to be approved. In this way top management provides the leadership necessary to prevent multi-project log jams. (For related information, see my online article What’s Project Portfolio Management (PPM) and Why Should Project Managers Care About It?)


Do you like this article? The  latest edition of The Project Manager’s Partner: A Step-by-Step Guide to Project Management contains 57 tools, checklists, and guidelines to help project managers. For more information, click on the link above or phone HRD Press at (800) 822-2801.

Would you like a custom-tailored, on-site PM workshop for your organization?  Click here to check out the possibilities or send an e-mail to greers_pm@yahoo.com.


(C) Copyright 2014 from Michael Greer’s Project Management Resources web site.  The URL is http://michaelgreer.biz. For more information, send e-mail to pm.minimalist@gmail[dot]com. — Feel free to copy and distribute for informational (not-for-profit) purposes.

Posted: September 20th, 2009 under Project Management.

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Comment from Raymond Posch
October 17, 2009 at 8:04 pm

Michael, I don’t know if you received my email several weeks back, but I’m starting a new PM newsletter (see my site), and I would like to have you contribute articles if you are interested. I am using your 14 Principles article in issue 2. I would love to have you on my list of PM Experts.

Ray Posch, PMP

Comment from Michael Greer
October 18, 2009 at 2:27 pm

Hi Ray
I did get your email and I replied, I thought!? And I’m glad you liked my 14 Principles… article enough to republish it. In any case, I’d be happy to have you use any articles you see on this website, so long as you don’t change them in any way, provide a link back to this website, and you provide proper attribution to me as author. And as for your invitation to be on your list as a PM Expert, I’m happy to accept. Please email me with details.
Best wishes and good luck with your newsletter!
Mike G.

Comment from Hussam Agha
March 15, 2010 at 12:48 pm

Success through best practices involves more than the attention often made to ’on-time and on-budget’ concern. Meeting value expectations as intended by business & project vision & objectives is important and often in direct conflict with the other success metrics such as timely and within-budget principle. Reviewing these objectives and prioritizing expectations is strategic and foundational success driver which can actually reveal areas where things can go wrong before commencing designs.

Comment from Michael Greer
March 16, 2010 at 2:15 am

Thank you for your comment! You’ve raised some valuable points here. I would agree that it’s HIGHLY important to make these adjustments and create a shared vision, up front, as a team, before the project ever begins. This way the unique definition of value (as envisioned by the entire team) will be built in to the project specifications from the start. And that means that subsequent measures of success will of necessity include these values as part of the measurement criteria. – MG

Comment from Kaz
March 25, 2010 at 4:35 am

All very sound tips. Points 9 and 11 made me smile – what are such sound theoretical principles can often be so difficult in practice. Great article. Thank you, Michael.

Comment from Nnamdi
April 27, 2010 at 2:54 am

..it’s amazing to discover how much ground one can cover simply by paying close attention to points 3 and 13.
Good piece.

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November 19, 2010 at 8:10 am

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Comment from File Craft
December 6, 2010 at 4:13 am

I attended an interesting PM seminar a few weeks back that touched on some of these topics and suggested a few others. The most interesting takeaway for me was this: measure one level ABOVE where you expect change is required. For example, if you think one of your store managers is weak (e.g. low sales), group him with the other four stores in the area and reward all four manager based on their COMBINED sales. This simplifies the measurement, creates camaraderie rather than competition, and fosters trust. What do you think about it?

Comment from Chinmay
December 6, 2010 at 5:27 am

I find it useful practically.
Thanks !

Comment from Michael Greer
December 7, 2010 at 10:47 am

Thanks for you comment. However, I would be concerned that the store manager with weak sales would still need to identify and work on his/her weaknesses. Possibly thorugh the help of his/her colleagues who manage the other stores? Also I’m not sure how this ties in to project management. But it’s an interesting exercise.

Comment from Michael Greer
February 6, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Each of the articles below discusses PM skill to one extent or another. I hope these clarify my view of what PM skills are essential.
* Summary of (20) Key Project Manager Actions and Results — http://michaelgreer.biz/?p=118
* 10 Steps to Project Success (from The Project Management Minimalist) (free 1-page PDF download) — http://michaelgreer.biz/10steps.pdf
* Beyond PM Certification: Achieving PM Performance Improvement — http://michaelgreer.biz/?p=580
* Do-It-Yourself PM Certification: How to Document Your Skills & Get the Credibility You’ve Earned without Jumping Through Someone Else’s Hoops — http://michaelgreer.biz/?p=1450
* The Accidental Project Manager — http://michaelgreer.biz/?p=131

Comment from che boping
March 17, 2011 at 1:56 am

It is useful practically.
Thanks !

Comment from Michael Greer
March 17, 2011 at 1:59 am

Glad you found it valuable! Thanks for visiting.

Comment from mohamed
May 9, 2011 at 3:02 am

i am student and iam first year of project manager in diploma at universty AMOUD universty so i nee some one help me becoase i don’t any softwere of prjectmanager was old prgram purchased plz and plz help me and i need softweres if get me ….

Comment from Michael Greer
May 9, 2011 at 10:33 am

Not sure what you are asking for… ? Could you please be more specific? Thanks.

Comment from Mark
September 27, 2011 at 9:29 am

Hey, your blog is always great to read, much well-written information and knowledge. Keep up the good work!
Mark from Best DJ Software.

Comment from Bac Hoang
September 30, 2011 at 10:36 pm

It’s very valuable principles, specially the #3 “transmit to their team members, a sense of urgency”
Nice written!!!

Comment from Michael Greer
October 1, 2011 at 9:51 am

Thanks! Appreciate the feedback.

Comment from Blackua
October 5, 2011 at 4:14 am

Thank You for this tip. It’s many benefits to me.

Comment from Jacky Wang
October 27, 2011 at 11:38 pm

It’s great! Thanks.

Comment from Michael Greer
October 31, 2011 at 6:56 pm

You’re welcome! Glad you liked it.

Comment from WILSON N. O. LUBANGAH
February 22, 2012 at 10:10 pm

Would like to train in project management

Comment from Michael Greer
February 29, 2012 at 1:37 pm

Hi Wilson –
Looking for PM Training? Check out these pages at this website:
* How to Teach Yourself About Project Management… in under 3 hours (and for less than $10)!! — http://michaelgreer.biz/?p=1000
* About Michael Greer’s Customized, On Site PM Workshops (“First do no harm!”) — http://michaelgreer.biz/?page_id=55
* (All Articles) PM Training & Career Development — http://michaelgreer.biz/?page_id=1596
Good luck! And please let me know if you need clarification or want to schedule a workshop for your organization.
— Mike G.

Comment from Santosh Kumar
April 3, 2012 at 1:15 am

Very useful articles for who are going to enter in the role of PM in a short span

Comment from Mich P
April 14, 2012 at 4:00 pm

Handbook of Human – I couldn’t find it on ebay nor amazon. Do you know where can I buy it :)? Thanks

Comment from Michael Greer
April 14, 2012 at 11:54 pm

Hi there! I just now found the book on Amazon… Here’s the URL:
Good luck! (And thanks for visiting this website!)
– Mike

Comment from Jane39
April 27, 2012 at 5:51 am

Really nice points you have pointed out here..Are you planning to write another article about this topic. I mean “how to be successful?”, because this was pretty interesting :]

Comment from Michael Greer
April 29, 2012 at 4:13 pm

Thanks, Jane, for visiting and sharing your comments! While I don’t have any more specific articles planned on this topic, I have several articles related to PM Training & Career Development. Here’s the page with the whole collection: http://michaelgreer.biz/?page_id=1596

One tool in particular (on which an earlier book, The Project Manager’s Partner, was based) is what resulted when I tried to distill PMBOK into its most important practices: “Summary of Key Project Manager Actions & Results” ( http://michaelgreer.biz/?p=118 ). What makes this tool particularly valuable is that was created by using several review/revision cycles during which I received and synthesized input from successful working PM leaders in many different businesses. (Microsoft, Apria Healthcare, AT&T, Xerox, etc. had representatives on the team.)

The bottom line here is that all the tools and recommendations presented in the articles and books I’ve written over the years are, in broad terms, geared toward one goal: To help project managers become more successful.

Thanks again for your comment!

Comment from Chris V.
May 22, 2012 at 8:17 pm

Hi there, Mike! This is such a good read. Just printed it posted it on my desk to remind me everyday.

Regards from Manila,

Comment from Michael Greer
May 29, 2012 at 11:15 am

Thanks, Chris. Glad you liked it!

Comment from Mick
June 28, 2012 at 6:12 am

nice reading, will probably share it on facebook if that’s OK 😛

Comment from Michael Greer
June 28, 2012 at 6:44 am

Thanks, Mick! Glad you liked it. By all means share with it with anyone.

Comment from Mike Goldfarb
August 16, 2012 at 12:56 pm

great reading! write more articles it’s interesting 🙂

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