Five things every project needs

A few favorite tools beyond the stuffy PMBOK approach to project management

by Joseph Phillips - In order to manage a project, regardless of its scope, project managers need five key elements to move from a fuzzy idea to a physical, completed project. I'm talking about real-world management stuff that will help you keep your sanity, reach the project completion, and make you look like a project management superstar.

1. Projects need ground rules. Have you ever been in a project where it was constant, change, demands, complaints, and general craziness? That's no fun and it's not a very realistic way to reach the project objectives. If you want to control your project team, manage the project stakeholders, and keep project changes from choking your execution you need project ground rules. Ground rules define who's in charge of the project, project processes, and expectations of each stakeholder in the project. Once you've established the rules you have to actually enforce them to be effective. You won't be very popular at first, but your goal is project control, not to be the prom queen.

2. Projects need workers. Your job is to manage the project, not the work the project team completes. As a project consultant it drives me nuts when I see a project manager hovering over project work. Get out of the way and let the project team work. If the team fails at the work, then you can address it. Coffee-breath and constant questions won't help your team complete their work.

3. Projects need leaders. Leadership is the big buzzword right now, but what does it mean to lead? Leading means to align, motivate, and inspire people. Leaders in the project don't have to be the project manager, but someone needs to take charge and lead the project to its completion. The best way to lead, as a project manager, is to create alliances, synergy, and involvement with the project team. Get rid of the "us-against-them" mentality and challenge your team to get their assignments done on time, with quality, and with pride.

4. Projects need organization. There are few things worse in a project than a sloppy project manager. Organize your electronic and paper files and put things where they belong. When stakeholders need information you should know where the information is located and how to quickly get to it. They’re called files and folders for a reason. Create a logical project folder and organize emails, documents, and other information in both physical and electronic form. Neatness equates to time, professionalism, and project control.

5. Projects need fun. Did this one surprise you? It shouldn't. If you want your project team to love working on the project make the work fun by creating contests, encouraging teamwork, inventing some social aspects to the project. When people are friends rather than just colleagues the sense of commitment to one another increases. Team development is about fostering relationships in a project team so the team members can rely on one another. Go ahead, smile, your team might like it.

I'm sure there are some other great approaches project managers can use in their projects; these are just a few of my favorite tools beyond the stuffy PMBOK approach to project management. What's in your project management toolbox? Share your tips and advice.


Joseph Phillips a project management writer, consultant, and realist. He has written eight books on project management including the PMP Study Guide, IT Project Management: On Track From Start to Finish, and a book on achieving personal goals, The Lifelong Project. You can read more about project management at and his approach to goal achievement through

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