The 4 Pillars of Great Project Management
The 4 Pillars of Great Project Management

The 4 Pillars of Great Project Management

01/04/2023 by Jason M. Atwood (he/him)
Whether you are dealing with projects at work or projects in life, these are the four pillars of great project management taken from more than two decades of experience.

One of the things we learn in Getting Things Done (David Allen's GTD) is that almost everything is a project. Everything from your mom’s upcoming birthday to filing your taxes. Projects include your yearly physical to raising children. All projects. If you follow that thought for a bit, you quickly realize that we are all project managers, as our lives are filled with a series of projects. David Allen is often quoted as saying “There are no problems, only projects.”

So whether you are running traditional projects at work or dealing with life projects, here are what I consider the four pillars of great project management taken from over two and a half decades of experience. And because everyone loves a good acronym, let’s all use this to build our own — DACT. 


One of the principles of GTD is that it is very tool agnostic and I believe that flows over well to project management. It doesn’t matter where you document, as long as it is consistent and you document all the things. Personal or work, capture and document meeting notes, attendees, follow-ups, and next actions. Document issues raised and agreements that were made verbally. Document the who, what, where, when, and how. Document what you did and what you are going to do. At Arkus we take documentation very seriously, in-so-much as we even train people on how to do it during their onboarding. Crazy right?


In the thousands of projects I have been involved in at Arkus, the biggest failures have come in the next three items. Accountability in project management is about making sure that everyone involved can be held accountable for their piece of work on the project. Teams of two or two hundred thrive when there is very clear ownership of work, follow-ups, action items, next actions, or take-aways. All these things should be assigned to individuals as opposed to groups so there is ultimate clarity on the “who.” Once you have established the who, make sure it is tied to a “when” because without that, you will lose momentum. At Arkus, even though we maintain small project teams, we make sure to identify who are the people to go to if things need to be escalated. 


Nothing will kill a project faster than silence. Keeping open and clear communication is a must for a healthy project. Keep a consistent cadence of communication so there is no misunderstanding. This can take the form of check-in meetings, status reports, quick emails, or shared Trello boards, but communicating around the happenings of the project is a must. A trick we use at Arkus is tied to “belt and suspenders” which is that we don’t just communicate something once, in one channel, we do it multiple times in multiple channels. The bigger the item to communicate the more it should be emphasized and spread out. For example, a tiny little requirement change can go between two people on the project, documented once, while a massive change in direction or scope should be talked about, documented, and distributed so all can see. 


That brings us right into the last and most important part of great project management, which is transparency. Transparency should cover everything done on a project as well as the DAC above. Be overly transparent about what is being done and documented. Be overly transparent about who is accountable for what and when. Be overly transparent around how you are going to communicate and what that will look like. Use transparency as the key to everything that is done in the project and you will raise your success rate. A best practice we implement here at Arkus is to set the stage for every new engagement by walking through the scaffolding of the project. We go over roles and responsibilities, communication standards, timelines, and milestones with the lean project team. If someone new comes into the team, we don’t just assume they are up to speed, we make sure to review everything with them, in the most transparent way possible. Having it all documented also doesn't hurt. 

What pillars are you using for your project management? Connect with me on Trailhead, LinkedIn or Twitter @JasonMAtwood