How to Use the Project Action Principles

by | May 2, 2016 | Project Action Principles | 0 comments

You’ve probably read the keystone article about the 5 Project Action Principles, and one or more of the pillar articles that describes each principle in more detail.

If not then see the references at the end of this page.

I’m assuming you are at this page because you are keen to understand how they work; to understand how you use them to improve your project management effectiveness.  This article describes in more practical terms how these all work together and how you can make them work for you.

This is not a typical “How To” guide

The 5 Project Action Principles are not intended to replace one set of process-oriented methodology definitions with another.

That would be crazy.

For me, these Action Principles have no guaranteed outcomes in terms of specific execution steps.  The principles frame an approach that puts you in the right place to see, hear and understand the project.  And, once understanding clearly what is happening, to know what drivers to follow, what tools to select, and how to facilitate the outcomes that the project demands.

There are no guaranteed steps. There is no silver bullet.  There is no point pretending that this or that technique will give you the right outcome every time.

So I don’t intend to prescribe specific steps, actions or toolsets to use.  The specific actions will come from you, as a competent project manager with a few years of experience, deciding what works in your specific project environment.

I’ll outline the research, evidence and anecdotal support for the Action Principles and the related elements.  I’ll share with you some strategies, models and toolsets that either work for me or which I find interesting and which implement the Action Principle mantra.

But I’m not going to be writing a step-by-step  “how to” for the 5 Project Action Principles.

How to Use

How you go about using the 5 Project Action Principles depends to a large degree on your level of experience.

Very experienced PM’s are likely to “grok” the 5 Action Principles very quickly.  If you get them quickly and they resonate, then you are on the right approach: go for it: let it rock!  You’ll be able to couple these Project Action Principles with your deep understanding of your chosen methodologies to re-orchestrate your approach and practise of effective project management.

The other material, the strategies, models and techniques, may be of use or not.  They are there as a sourcebook, and if you have others that are suitable, please let me know.

For PM’s with less experience or methodological expertise will likely need more guidance, so you might want to browse more deliberately through the other elements.

At some point, you’ll get to an “aha” moment where it will make sense, and you can go forward.

If you get to the techniques section, and you begin analysing them in detail, or comparing them with your current tools and imagining using them in your project, or wondering why they aren’t complete “step –by-step” how to’s, then we aren’t probably on the same page.

I’d recommend that you pick one methodology that works best for you and become a supreme expert in this methodology.

Understand the Structure

The 5 Project Action Principles don’t assume any particular structure of thinking or activity.

But on this website we organise our content around a 3 level structure that separates principles from strategies and strategies from actions or tools or processes.

This structure is outlined in the article “Structure of the Project Management Principles”

I think i should do something about that title, as it’s not the principles that have or need the structure: its the people using them that may need a structure.

In fact, having outlined a 3 level framework, we deemphasise one of these layers, straight off the bat.

Don’t Overthink

And although much that we outline about the 5 Project Action Principles is detailed, you don’t want to overthink.  Project Action Principle #1 encourages early action followed by impact assessment: what happened as the result of the action and what do we need to do next.

There is a lot of overthinking done in Project Management today: overthinking on process and how to “do stuff”; overthinking on strategy; and overthinking on people.  Overthinking to select the ‘silver bullet’ process that will solve your problems.

The reality is that we don’t need to think so much about this: we all know the smoothness and clarity that goes with knowing that something works, and the tension and grinding frustration that goes with the knowledge that something isn’t working.

Hasten Slowly

Speed is of primary importance in the process of managing a project to successful completion.  Time is the biggest influence on your project and the source of the most problems.

So you need to move fast, but not so fast as to make stupid mistakes.

You position the project for speed by just the right amount of careful thought and analysis, but not too much.  A bias for action means that you are more likely to do something than not, so keep that drive for motion healthy, but not un-managed.

You can speed up your progress as much by eliminating waste and pointless action as you can by trying to work harder and faster.

You can get more done by getting alignment in teams and goals than in working nights and weekends.

So “Hasten Slowly”.

Think holistically

Holistic thinking, or systems thinking, is really the only way to approach a project in an environment of chaos.

This is where most approaches fail: in order to make our problems tractable to the tools and processes of traditional project management, we had to break down the whole project to its component parts, often several layers of decomposition before we feel we have satisfactory knowledge of it and can apply our tools to the components.

If you don’t understand the impacts of specific actions on your project system, then you cannot take action with the speed and power necessary to build success.  If you are just “throwing spaghetti at a wall” to see what sticks.  But this lack of knowledge doesn’t mean further descent into “analysis paralysis”, it might simply require judicious experimentation with an holistic eye open to seeing and understanding the results.  It may mean a different way of looking at the project.

Chaos doesn’t respond to decomposition; Assessment and understanding of chaos responds to “gestalt” understanding of it as a whole, and to a response that is holistic.

So you need to prime your analytical brain to look holistically at your project rather than

They say “the devil is in the details” but this is wrong, or at least misunderstood.  The “devil” is not just in the details parsed and categorised and filed in their infinite separation.  the devil is in watching how these details interact and work together to produce behaviours and outcomes.  Whilst the student of human life and behaviour may have looked for detail in the carved up cadavers of the laboratory, this detail was not the end-game.  The details so uncovered were used in relation to real life bodies, that they may understand and treat to dynamic vitality of a living body, not a dead one.

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Each week Adam writes about interesting and varied topics for Project Managers everywhere and curates useful articles, books and papers from other sources.