The Most Important Rule in Project Management

Be ready and willing to break any and all project management rules where needed. This is it, the most important project management rule. Here is the proof:

If you check with the star project managers in any organization, how many of them apply all the project management processes? None. Why? because they know that:

Their project success depends on using a few of the project management processes

Not all of them. For example, on typical construction projects, your main focus should be cost related processes, especially in a competitive market.
The key is to tightly control the budget. So, in certain cases, you might delay the work a whole month, if you can find a supplier who can save you a mere 1% of the project cost. Even if he delays you one month. Why? because your key success factor in the project is cost, not time.
This is not always the case, but a good project manager will recognize that and pay more attention to good cost management than to schedule management. On the other hand, a project manager who plays by the book might be putting all his focus on rushing suppliers to get the work done on time.

The project processes are supposed to serve you, not you serve them

When you get stuck on following the rules, you end up applying the rules just to follow the right process. This is terribly wrong and very dangerous for the project.
For example, how many project managers do you know who focus on filling forms, rather than focusing on the quality of what is written in project management forms? Case in Point, check the project charter for a project, the schedule, the quality plan, the communication plan, the risk register, etc. All these project documents end up being filled half-heartedly. They are useless and meaningless, in many cases, and are not worth the time and effort put in writing them or reading them. Why? because project managers are becoming servants to the process of project management, rather than the process serving them.

The project manager knows that good outcomes come from good communication

Communication with stakeholders rather than from rushing the project. So, good project managers are not willing to rush key stakeholders past a planning review, or through a scope definition session, just to get it over with. Instead, they ensure understanding, agreement, commitment, and clarity. For example, if my main goal when talking to the customer is to get him or her to sign a document, then the signature will be meaningless. At the end of the project, the signature will not make the client happy. To the contrary, the client might feel they were tricked into signing. Instead, ensure understanding and agreement.

The project manager values communication among stakeholders

And he has the conviction that good communication and building trust is the key to successful projects. For example, when we sit with the team members in a progress review meeting, if we focus on the procedure and go around the table asking for input, this becomes a boring meeting that adds no value. Good project managers ask provocative questions and check the mood in the room, so to stir things up and identify any risks and issues team members have. How many meetings have you attended where the formal procedure was wasting time, and people leave the meeting feeling they did not add nor receive any value from the meeting? unfortunately, this always happens.

Project Management is about substance, not about empty superficial rules. Rules are important, but only as they are applied in ways that support the project success, and the stakeholders in their effort to build that success.

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