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Project Management Guidelines

Start With The End In Mind!

What is the first, and most important, of any project management guidelines? Always start with the end in mind. How do you do that? Ask the right questions to ensure the project is properly defined. Before you start work!

The project may be something you’ve been given to manage, with little say in its definition. Or it may be something you’ve generated yourself. Either way, spend time identifying expected outcomes before you do anything else. This is the key to successful project management, and to being a happy project manager.

Defining The Project: Aims, Objectives And Outcomes

There is a truism which should be reflected in any project management guidelines – that there is a tendency to action before the desired outcomes are clearly and explicitly stated. This is the road to failure.

Project Management Guidelines

The UK’s Industrial Society suggests that one of the main reasons for project failure is inadequate detailed definition of the project.

This detail must include a statement of the project’s:

  1. Aims – broad scope of the project
  2. Objectives – specific elements to be addressed
  3. Outcomes – what will happen if successful

Below are definitions of aims, objectives and outcomes with critical questions relating to each. Seek answers to all of these before starting work, if you want to get your project off to a flying start.

Aims – the overall goals of the project. They are statements of desired intent. The broad scope of what you aspire to achieve.

  • Has the sponsor/client articulated their desires?
  • To what level of detail?
  • How appropriate are the aims?
  • To what extend are they realistic given the organisations situation?

Objectives – the details of how the “wish” will be made reality. Objectives are a call to action and to initiate a plan. They normally start as “The objectives of this project are…”

  • Are the objectives consistent with the agreed aim?
  • Are they defined so that they are clear and non ambiguous?
  • Desirability – do we really want to do this?
  • Feasibility – are we able to “in principle”, is this realistic given the environment?
  • Achievability – can we do this in practice. Have we the resources?
  • Quantified – if possible, what are the costs, the benefits, and the time commitments?

Outcomes – express what will be made possible if the objectives are achieved. They are the differences the intervention will make. They normal start as “As a result of this project the organisation will be able to…”

  • Are the outcomes consistent with the agreed aim(s)?
  • Are the outcomes attractive?
  • Will the sponsor/client recognise the value created by the outcomes?

(The definitions above have been adapted from “Management Consulting” by Philip Wickham. There is a very good section in this book on developing project management skills).

Good Grief Charlie Brown…..

Charlie Brown, of Peanuts fame, was shooting arrows into the wall of a garage. After each shot, he took a marker pen and carefully drew a circle around the arrow so that the arrow was exactly in the centre.

Lucy watched with interest. Finally she interrupted, “that’s not the way it’s done. You’re supposed to draw the circle first and then see if you can shoot the arrow into the centre.” Charlie immediately responded, “No thanks. In my system I never miss!”

A failed project can be either a waste of precious resources, a threat to an organisation’s image, or both. Of course we could expend even more time and effort justifying what went wrong. Or we could make up objectives to fit outcomes, then pretend that’s what was intended all along!

Too many projects are managed by Charlie Browns, firing first then drawing the target around the arrow. It is far better to do the drawing, a clear target and proper plans, before the project rather than after.


Project Management GuidelinesThe UK Department for Education’s website has some very useful project management guidelines. Follow this link to their great online resource.

One of our affiliate partners also has some excellent project management resources. Project Management Templates has packaged 180 downloadable, “tried and tested templates and guides”.

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