The question

This is a question I hear often:

What is the most important thing in project management?

You can find many different answers in various books, articles or forums.  Often, I find that the answers are mostly aligned with the specialization of the author.  The person who sells communication expertise will talk about the communication.  Another person who sells leadership program will talk about team management.  Someone else may focus on stakeholder engagement.  The planner will simplify everything as a planning issue.

It is the famous sentence:

If you have a hammer everything will look like a nail.


In the end, they are all talking about processes and tools.  A project does not fundamentally exist to give life to processes and tools.  Let’s go back to the basic.

What are the keys to be a successful project manager?

The 3 keys in project management


To be successful as a project manager, you have to focus on the following 3 keys.   Everything else is to optimize the management of the project.  Optimization is important.  You do want to be an efficient project manager.  However, without the following three keys, it is impossible to have a successful project.


You have to clearly identify the intended results of the project and frame it in your mind.  It has to remain at the center of everything.  All the project management methodology, tools and processes that you will use only exists to help you successfully achieve the intended results.  Of course, it is good to optimize your processes.  Of course, having a strong knowledge of the various tools and techniques gives you a full toolbox available to execute the tasks to complete the projects.

However, it is fundamental to keep your focus on the intended results.  Otherwise, the project management methodology can start to have a life of its own.  It can start to exist for its own benefits, or just for academic purpose.

This is one of the frequent cause of troubled or failed projects.  The project team lost sight of the intended results.  To rescue such project, an essential first step is to realign everybody on the objective of the project.


No project can be successful without strong and timely decisions.  From the very beginning of the project, numerous decisions must be made to achieve the objective of the project.  Otherwise, the objective of the project will just stay a dream or a wish.

A project manager must be good at making decision.  A  project manager must also be good at obtaining decisions from others when required.  This is fundamental, otherwise the lack of decision will kill any chance of success for the project.

Again, this is a frequent cause of troubled or failed projects: lack of good and timely decisions.  In the planning phase, decisions must be made on the proposed project plan and required resource to achieve the objective.  Most of the time, this is well understood.  However, decisions are required throughout the whole life of the project.  Unless a project is very simple and very predictable, it is impossible to design a plan and execute the project without the need of monitoring and decisions.  Reality of life is far more complex than that.

A project can easily fail if it is led by a project manager who cannot make decisions.

A project manager is more than a Task Master.  A project manager must have leadership skills and ability to make good and timely decisions.


Finally, you need actions.  The project manager must be action-oriented.  Otherwise, the project become a simple theoretical exercise.  It may comply with all the standards.  This is great in the academic world.  In the real world, the project manager must focus on actions.

No action, no results.  It is that simple.

The cycle of management

Throughout the life of the project, a good project manager should be strategic.  The project manager should:

  • be the leader who keeps the team focus on the objective
  • make decisions
  • ensure actions are taken
  • monitor the projects
  • make timely decisions to achieve the objective

If a project manager focus on the intended results, make decision and take actions constantly during the project, he will have far better chance to succeed.

3 key questions for project manager

These are 3 keys in project management.  Ask yourself:

  • As project manager, do I keep my eyes on the results?
  • As project manager, do I comfortably make hard decisions?
  • As project manager, do I ensure that the project team is action-oriented?