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Human Resource Development


The Seven Principles of Project Management

R Max Wideman is one of the world's pre-eminent experts on project management. He is the
author of the Wideman Comparative Glossary of Project Management Terms, considered to
be the definitive project management glossary 1. In recent times, noticing the lack of a
theoretical base in project management, he has attempted to describe the first principles of
project management. We outline his conclusions below, with additional comments from the
author himself, which he made in an interview with Good Practice in 2010. The full transcript
of the interview is available for download in Supplementary Resources.

The seven principles

In the introduction to his paper, First Principles of Project Management, Wideman makes
the following important point 2:
There appears to be very little material available when it comes to identifying basic
principles (of project management) and the theories that might support them. This
absence means that the building of the project management profession or
discipline is presently based only on project experiences and opinion and not on
any reasonable theoretical foundation.'
In an attempt to fill this gap, Wideman defines seven first principles of project management
(a first principle being an axiomatic idea that provides necessary foundation for the further
development of thought and practice).
Firstly, Wideman sets out five assumptions to his subsequent argument:

Everyone is working towards the same goals.

Everyone is honest.
There is a requisite level of skill and experience.
Everyone wants the project to be a success.
Everyone knows who the customer is.

With this in mind, Widemans seven first principles of project management are as follows:
1. The commitment principle
A fair and mutual commitment must exist between the sponsor and the project team
before the project can succeed 3.
Wideman states that both the project sponsor and the project team need to commit
equally to understanding what they are taking on, the process that will be involved
and the risks that they will face during the project.


Wideman Comparative Glossary of Project Management Terms at www.maxwideman.com/pmglossary/ (28 May 2010).
R Max Wideman, 'First Principles of Project Management,' at www.maxwideman.com (28 May 2010).

The project sponsor is the individual (usually a senior manager) who authorises a project, and acts as its champion within the

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For the project team, this means ensuring appropriate strategies and controls are in
place to ensure that project resources translate into project outcomes.
For the project sponsor, a fair and mutual commitment means a willingness to accept
and share the risk, no matter what management controls are in place.
Ultimately, however, Wideman states:
the commitment has to be between the sponsor and the project manager,
otherwise the project manager is not in the drivers seat, but only a bystanding
observer or reporter 4.
2. The success principle
The measure for project success must be confirmed and agreed upon before the
project can start, and before activities can be assigned.
It is important that everyone involved in a project understands what the definition of
success is for that project in terms of key deliverables, e.g. scope, quality, relevance,
and also in terms of what Wideman terms 'internal processes', such as time, cost and
Wideman suggests having agreed and documented terms of success from the outset
he calls these terms Key Success Indicators (KSIs). Having these indicators in
place will greatly increase the chances of the project meeting all stakeholder
requirements. Wideman recommends that KSIs are reinforced during the project
3. The tetrad trade-off principle
The tetrad trade-off principle states that project scope, quality, time and cost must all
be attainable and must exist in equilibrium.
This principle is an extension of both the Commitment Principle and the Success
Principle. In any project, the key variable factors of scope, quality, cost and time are
interlinked, as shown below.

GoodPractice interview with R Max Wideman (3 February 2010).

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R. Max Wideman http://www.maxwideman.com 2010. Reproduced with

permission. This material is offered to individual readers who may use it freely in
connection with their project work. It may not be used by commercial or noncommercial organisations without permission.
If these variables prove not to be mutually consistent and attainable, the commitment
is neither equitable nor are Key Success Indicators likely to be met, says Wideman. 5
Should, for example, a short timescale greatly increase costs, then it may not be
possible to achieve the projects original aims. It is vital, therefore, that the project
manager regularly reviews all aspects of the project to ensure that all four factors
continue to work alongside each other, and do not become mutually exclusive.
4. The strategy principle
A strategy which includes planning and implementation and a definite series of
sequential activities must be in place before the project can begin.
In essence, this principle deals with what is going to be done and when. The project
strategy must be detailed and have a set process in place for the completion of the
work before the project begins. The project manager must have a detailed plan of all
the required components, when they must be completed by and how they relate to
each other.
The most fundamental project lifecycle process consists of four sequential periods of
Start, Plan, Do and Finish the importance of this lifecycle process and its
influence on the management of the project cannot be over-emphasised. 6


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In Widemans own career, he worked with many organisations where leaders had a
strong interest in project management, but lacked a real understanding of the
processes involved. He found that devising a full strategy often led to the creation of
policy documents, which dictated exactly how the project would achieve the desired
outcomes. This meant that there was an agreed and detailed plan in place which all
key stakeholders could refer to at any given point in the project lifecycle.
For Wideman, a side benefit comes in the creation of these documents. The
discussions that they involve acted as a great learning experience for the managers
and the leaders concerned. They become aware of what the project can deliver, how
it will do so and any possible issues which may arise during the project lifecycle.
5. The control (or management) principle
Policies and procedures must be devised to control behaviours and ensure
This principle acts to protect the original agreed aims of the project and to prevent
new expectations or aims being added during the project lifecycle (often referred to
as scope creep). During the project the project manager is required to oversee three
key areas, managing the project, the technology and the project workers. In order to
give themselves the best chances of success, Wideman suggests four important
areas to be aware of: 7
1. The project manager should understand the expectations of their principal
stakeholders in terms of the benefits the project can bring. For instance,
should a deadline be changed, which means the project is expected to finish
earlier, then it is unlikely the project can deliver the originally desired
outcomes, as the aims may become impossible within the new timescale.
2. The project manager must know (or learn) enough about the core technology
of the project to understand the issues that the technical experts may be
advising on.
3. They should also be comfortable with their project management expertise,
i.e. be sufficiently au fait with project management tools and techniques to be
able to select both a stated and agreed project lifespan suited to the scale of
the project, and a practical technology methodology appropriate to the task
at hand.
4. The project manager should be aware of the types of people that will be
engaged in the work of the project, so that they can adopt the best ways of
handling them. For example, knowledge workers often react more positively
when allowed to bring their own ways of working to the project, while
employees in more practical disciplines often respond better to more specific
6. The single-point responsibility principle
One person needs to be in charge. This individual will be the point of contact
between the sponsor and the team.


R Max Wideman, 'First Principles of Project Management,' at www.maxwideman.com (28 May 2010).
GoodPractice interview with R Max Wideman (3 February 2010).

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This principle is extremely important in ensuring effective and efficient administration

of the project. A project manager can act as the bridge between the stakeholders and
the project team, enabling information to flow between the two.
Wideman cautions, however, It does not mean, as some project managers insist,
that all communication should be funneled through them regardless. Under those
conditions, especially on a complex project, the project manager becomes an
information bottleneck and does more harm than good. 8
By delegating some responsibility to others in the team, then the project manager will
help to create an environment where information can flow freely amongst those
involved in the project. However, Wideman states that specific limits must be
imposed on decision-making that affects the scope, quality, time or cost of the
project. The project manager should also ensure that, where changes are made to
the project, those who may be affected are kept in the loop.
7. The cultural environment principle
There must be a supportive culture and environment in order for the project to
succeed. Management should work to foster this.
It is important to provide the project team with a supportive environment to work in.
For the project sponsor, this can mean selecting a project manager with a
management style suited to the type and even particular phase of a project.
From the project managers perspective, this means:

Ensuring team members have a sound knowledge of what they are

supposed to be doing and why
Making sure they have all the necessary resources they need
Being available to them for guidance and support

Widemans 'First Principles of Project Management' offers a sound framework which
organisations, project sponsors and project managers can use to devise and implement
effective projects, small or large. The principles help ensure that projects have strong terms
of reference, are thoroughly scoped and planned, and help ensure that appropriate levels of
commitment and support are given to all those involved.


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