Project management is a composite activity with multiple dimensions. Depending
on the type and class of project this management activity can be very complex,
not least because the typical project environment echoes the 'fractal' form
of the common garden snail's shell. That is to say, the same approach can be
applied at every level of the management hierarchy and only the size and branch
of the activity changes. For example: on a very large project, it may well be
subdivided into 'sub-projects' each of which is managed as a project in its
Strictly speaking, such a "large project" should be referred to as a program,
but the analogy is not limited to large projects. The pieces of any sized project
that are parceled out to otherwise independent operators can be considered,
from their point of view, as a project which they own and manage. Similarly,
the principles of project management can be applied to any level or branch of
a project that falls under a different area of responsibility in the overall
project organization. Under these circumstances, it is not too difficult to
see that the problem of different agendas can arise and the overall goals of
the project can become obscured as a result.
We should also be clear on what we mean by project management, not in terms
of the traditional definitions but in terms of the scope of this management
activity. For purposes of this paper, we see a distinction between technical
management and project management. Technical management is the business of managing
the technology of the project whereas project management is the business of
managing the entire endeavor through its project life cycle process. While we
draw this distinction, in the real world the two must be fully integrated.
In the literature, there is a wealth of information describing projects in
all areas of project management application, what was achieved, how it was achieved
and how successful were the results. Similarly, there is a wealth of literature
providing advice on how to do project management -- and presumably do it better.
Based on this experiential material, various attempts have been made to assemble
'bodies of knowledge' and thereby articulate the role and content of project
Such documents have been used in several countries for the development of individual
certification and competence testing, and/or by enterprises for establishing
corporate standards of practice.
In contrast, there appears to be very little content establishing basic 'principles'
and theories to support them. This absence suggests that the building of a project
management discipline is presently based only on experiential records and opinion
and not on any reasonably logical or theoretical foundation. Ideally, what is
needed is a generally agreed and testable set of elemental 'principles' of project
management which provide a universal reference basis for a set of generally
To emphasize that we wish to focus on the founding principles of project
management, we will use the term 'First Principles'.
It may be asked "Do we really need a set of 'First Principles of Project
Management'"? The problem is that within a corporate environment, understaffing
is generally considered good business practice. However, projects require contingency
allowances to accommodate the inevitable uncertainty involved so that the practice
of under-resourcing is a recipe for failure. Hence the need to promulgate a
set of generally agreed fundamentals.
So what should be included as a 'First Principle'? The key appears to be whether
or not the principle is universally fundamental to project success. (See additional
comments under Discussion: First Principles Generally.)
However, the meaning of project success, like a number of other key terms, is
debatable. So, in order to lay a foundation for this discussion, we commence
with definitions for the leading terminology we use in this paper.
1. A Guide to the Project Management
Body of Knowledge, Project Management Institute, USA, 1996.
2. IPMA Competence Baseline, International Project
Management Association, Germany, 1998.
3. CRMP Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge,
Centre for Research in the Management of Projects, University of Manchester,