Nearly Universal Principles of Projects

Preserve and optimize energy and resources

Resources are limited. Resources available to the project are limited, as is the mental energy you have to make good decisions. You should preserve and optimize this resource for yourself and for the project, and help other team members do the same.

Example: The 80/20 rule

A large portion of the possible benefits of project management can be gained by expending a small portion of the effort. In most cases, targeting 100% of the possible benefits is very expensive and unjustifiable. You need to consider this rule in everything you do and encourage others to do the same.

Example: Decision fatigue

We use a single source of mental energy for making all types of decisions, and also to express willpower. If you use up a lot of this source on making unnecessary or unimportant decisions, you’ll have less energy for the important decisions, which may lead to poor results. This is one of the reasons you should avoid micro-management (the “manage by exception” principle of PRINCE2®).

Conflicts that are about ideas can be helpful, but those that are about people are usually harmful to the project, and one of the consequences is that it drains the mental energy of the team members. If you notice such a conflict, you should do your best to find the root cause and solve it.

Example: Take care of yourself!

The decisions you make and the willpower that you express use up your source of mental energy. On the other hand, this source is filled with energy when you sleep and eat properly. So, you should take good care of yourself: make sure you have enough sleep and rest, and eat well. If you have harmful habits or problems with sleep, you don’t have to deal with it alone; there are many specialists who can help you fix such problems. Physical activity may also help with this source of energy, although studies are not yet conclusive on this matter.

Try to encourage the team members to do the same as you do. First, make sure they work at a sustainable pace and without too much overtime. Then, if you have the choice, try to offer energetic, healthy food, snacks, and drinks during work time.

Example: Work-life balance

Many of us love what we do, but that’s still not everything we need to have in life. In the same way that you optimize your work, you should be planning and implementing ideas in your personal life, in ways that make it a joyful, happy one. When you’re happier, you can be more successful at work too. If you can, try to encourage your team members to do the same.

Example: Motivation

Motivation is a complex concept. There are some interesting and useful resources on the topic, as well as many more unscientific ones. Nevertheless, you should learn about it and use it continuously, as it increases the mental energy of the team and the possibility of achieving better results for the project.

Motivation can be as simple as letting people know that you’ve recognized their good work by a kind smile or a simple “thank you”. However, you need to be careful, because many of the common forms of motivation, such as small monetary rewards, have a negative effect.

Example: Collaboration and teamwork

People who are collaborating may sometimes have the power to create better results, but more importantly, humans are social and enjoy being part of a group. If you can remove the negative aspects of teamwork and create a pleasant environment, there will be happier team members in the project.

You should be careful, though, because people are different, and some need more relaxed, focused, and solitary time than others do; it’s usually a balancing act.

Example: One-team culture

There’s a tendency for different stakeholders to create or consider subgroups and cause tension with other groups; for example, people who are focused on the business aspects of the project vs. people who are building the product. This tension consumes a lot of energy from both sides, which is one of the reasons we should try to build a one-team culture, where everyone works together towards the same goal.

Example: The wisdom of crowds

When a large number of people with diversity get together and work in a facilitated environment, there’s the potential to get very good results, ideas, and solutions, that may be even better than those coming from single experts.

If you have that option, you can use it regularly to ask team members to help you solve difficult problems in the project. Beside the possibility of getting good results, it also allows team members to know that their opinions are appreciated and that they play an important role in the project, which in turn increases their level of energy. Activity #26 of is an example of using the wisdom of crowds in projects.

Example: Chief project facilitator

If you are a project manager, most of the things you do have a facilitation nature (or at least, should have). On the other hand, you may see that the team members have had bad experiences with project managers in the past, and that these experiences are impacting on their relationship with you: a portion of their energy is spent on analyzing your behavior for potential threats instead of trusting you. In that case, you can change your title from project manager into Chief Project Facilitator. After all, that’s what you really do in the project.

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discussion icon Written by: Nader K. Rad

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