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10 Golden Rules of Project Management

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Kerdon is a freelance writer who has worked in both the corporate training industry and the academic medical training industry.

Follow these rules to make any project work to its full capacity.

Follow these rules to make any project work to its full capacity.

The Golden Rules of Project Management

I have been involved in managing projects and portfolios of projects for over 30 years, and there are a few golden rules I picked up along the way that can apply to any project. If you apply them to what you're working on, you will, in all likelihood, have a successful and stress-free project on your hands!

10 Project Management Rules

  1. Understand the scope
  2. Understand the goals of the stakeholders
  3. Plan
  4. Contingency
  5. Communicate with the team
  6. Test early/prototype
  7. Monitor
  8. Report to the client and manage expectations
  9. Deliver
  10. Hold a wrap up/lessons learned meeting

1. Understand the scope

This might seem like I'm stating the obvious, but it is vital that you know what the project is about. What are you trying to build or achieve? Is there a written specification for the project that you must adhere to? What are the business goals that are driving the project?

Communication Is Key

Talk to the people involved in the decision to move forward with the project. This might be a salesperson in your organization (if you are doing the project as a vendor for another company) or a senior management person in your organization if it is an internal project.

Find out what your client's expectations are (whether an internal client or an external client). Have they done anything similar before, and how do they feel that project went—what was good and what could have been done better?

Make sure that you understand any technical requirements for the project—if required, talk with a technical person on your team or your IT manager/dept.

2. Understand the goals of the stakeholders

Before you start a project, try to find out who all the stakeholders are. For example, if you are doing a project for an external client, you could have the following stakeholders:

  • The Business Sponsor—This is the person who is putting their hand into their pocket and spending the money with you or your organization. They are going to want an on-time quality delivery without additional charges to those agreed.
  • The Client Project Manager—This is the person in your client organization that you will liaise with most during the project. They will want a stress and hassle-free project. They will want to look good in the eyes of their boss, and you may find that their remuneration or bonus will be tied to the success of the project.
  • The Client Expert—You will perhaps have to engage with a client expert at some point in the project. They will want to have a say in the design and will want to feel their expertise is heard and heeded. They will also generally be short of time (given that they are an expert in their field)
  • Other vendors—Sometimes, you will find that either you will be depending on input from another vendor of your client, or they will be waiting for input from you. You will have to work (generally through your client's Project Manager) with this vendor and keep them happy.
  • Your own boss—Your boss will want reports on how your project is going (to ensure that you are keeping this client happy and making a profit for your organization).

Be sure to understand from each of the project sponsors what will make this a successful project from their point of view.

3. Plan

Now I can't emphasize this enough—plan, plan, plan. List the tasks involved in the project and the resources (people and things) required. Look at the interdependencies of tasks—what can't start before something else starts or completes, etc.

Use tools like MS Project or even a simple Excel spreadsheet to assist your planning. Organize the people and things you will need ahead of time and plan to do some early prototyping and Q&A to iron out early issues.

4. Contingency

No matter how good your plan is, things won't go as expected. Life will intervene. Make sure to add some contingency to your plan. This might be extra resources or extra time in your schedule, but this will make the difference between a calm delivery and a frantic 2 am late night to get it to final for delivery.

If your project is for an external client, encourage them at the start to build some contingency into the budget (perhaps 10%). This will allow them some room to move within the scope and will mean that it will be easier to get the project to completion without having to go back through Procurement for every little change.

5. Communicate With the Team

Chances are you will not be completing this project alone. Don't forget that your team can't read minds, and you will need to communicate with them to get them on board, solicit ideas, brainstorm, and let them know what the deadlines are. Be honest and listen to their thoughts on how to get things done faster or better.

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If your project spans multiple weeks or months (or even years), set up a regular meeting time with the team. If your team is globally dispersed, you can hold this meeting at a convenient time for all via a conference call or session such as a Zoom or Webex session.

Make sure that each member of the team understands the bigger picture and that they all understand the effect them doing a good (or bad) job will have on the other members of the team. Write up a project brief to help new members to get on board quickly and get up to speed.

Healthy and regular communication with your team will set your project up for success.

Healthy and regular communication with your team will set your project up for success.

6. Test Early/Prototype

No matter what you are building, don't get too far into production without testing how you are doing. If possible, build an early prototype and get that out to the decision-makers for their input. The earlier you get this input, the less re-working you will need to do later.

The early testing or prototypes should try to test all aspects of the product. Get IT, end users, stakeholders, and others involved in this early testing.

7. Monitor

Once you have gotten sign-off on the early prototype and testing, you can move into full-scale development. Here is where the bulk of the effort will be spent.

It is vital to monitor your project throughout this stage. Set interim goals and deadlines, and don't miss these—treat each as a client deadline.

Keep checking back in with the team and the client/stakeholders to ensure that the expectations are still the same and that you are on target to meet these.

8. Report to the Client and Manage Expectations

Clients like to know what is going on. They don't like to be left in the dark without reports as to how things are going. And they don't like surprises.

Be sure to report regularly to your client and let them know how things are going with their project—it is their money, after all!

If they are not holding up their side of the deal (providing feedback, providing anything!), be sure to let them know and to let them know how their delay will affect the timeline or budget.

9. Deliver

D-day has arrived. Tell the client before delivery when to expect the delivery—should they expect it first thing in the morning their time, last thing that night, noon, etc? A client can get angsty if they thought the delivery would be with them first thing that morning, and you actually meant to deliver it sometime before midnight!

When you have delivered, be sure to tell the client that the delivery has been made and to let them know what the next steps are. Are they to sign off, provide feedback, inform other reviewers, etc.?

If your delivery is software and you are delivering it electronically, be sure to test that what you uploaded (e.g., to an FTP site) can, in fact, be successfully downloaded, unzipped, and run. Be wary of the technical team member who assumes that just because they uploaded it, it must be fully there and intact!

10. Hold a Wrap-Up or Lessons Learned Meeting

Once everything has been signed off and the project is closed, you should plan to hold a review meeting. This meeting will give you the opportunity to solicit good feedback (presuming you have done a good job!), note where improvements can be made in future projects, and give your client feedback on the part they played.

Hold an internal meeting with your team before any post-project review meeting with your client.

Be honest but diplomatic. Give praise where praise is due, and give constructive feedback where you feel it will improve the process the next time. Document the findings.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2009 Kerdon


Lauren from UK on July 26, 2013:

I 100% agree with this. Great article.

One thing that is too often missed on projects is the lessons learnt but this is so important for a project manager to do. Improvements to put in place for the next project really do have a huge benefit.

loidaestillore from Philippines on August 17, 2011:

Hi! Thanks for sharing your knowledge in project management. I will definitely make use of your 10 golden rules in my next project which will start in in about two weeks from now.

ross on February 01, 2011:



Project management is really a tough thing to do...You need to tool to menage it I use moonlite

with this one my PM are easiest



Project Management Software on June 03, 2010:

Project management is necessary part of any process currently , with out a planned a process it is not possible to get success.

Best process is to plan and get success

projmanagerplan on April 02, 2010:

Informative and very-detailed...Project management is tough...just put your heart and soul to the project and it will lead you to success...

projectmngmt from USA on March 29, 2010:

Nice hub here...very detailed and informative...Project management is really tough...

Kerdon (author) from Ireland on March 29, 2010:

Thanks leona25. Project Management is definitely quite a juggling act and can lead to stress if not handled well.

leona25 on March 28, 2010:

Project management is really a tough thing to do...You need to study every aspect of it. Giving tips like this really helps a lot. I have a hub also that talks about handling team stress, this is just quite related to yours...Nice one here. :)

Kerdon (author) from Ireland on March 13, 2010:

Thank you for your kind comment project-success.

project-success on March 13, 2010:

Another nice hub i think! You have a great outlined of it. I have learned such information about it..Still looking for more of you hubs.

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