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Guiding principles in project management: Saint-Exupery

Focusing on the essentials to handle projects optimally

Guiding principles in project management: Saint-Exupery

Perfection is a goal often strived for in project management, but what exactly is perfection and how do you really achieve it? Many people act true to the motto “more is always better”. However, Saint-Exupery’s quote “Perfection is not achieved when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away” explains that this is not necessarily true.

Where does the quote come from?

The quote “Perfection is not achieved when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away” comes from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, a French writer best known for his famous children’s book “The Little Prince”. This quote is from one of his works called “Terre des hommes” (Engl. “Earth of the People”). There is no exact record of Saint-Exupery in which context it originated, but it is an important quote that is often used in connection with topics such as perfection and optimisation.

How does the quote help in project management?

The larger a company is, the greater its complexity. This can lead to structures, processes, projects, products and services becoming unnecessarily expensive and complex. Often this is due to the fact that people try to achieve perfection and thus no longer concentrate on the essentials, but keep adding more and more structures, processes or product functions. Many people therefore act according to the motto “more is better.” Saint-Exupéry’s quote therefore reminds us to focus on the essentials.
Thus, in project management, Saint-Exupéry’s quote can help to focus on simplicity and efficiency. It makes it clear that perfection is not about adding as many features or details as possible, but about keeping the most important elements and leaving out the unimportant ones to save time, resources and money. This requires clear consideration and prioritisation of aspects of a project. A project manager must therefore decide which features and details are actually important and which are not, in order to reduce the project to the essentials and increase the chances of success.
It is also important to note that this approach should be maintained not only during the planning and development phases of the project, but also during implementation and follow-up to ensure that the project stays on track and that it is carried out in the most efficient way.
Some ways to implement this insight in project management are, for example, the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) or Lean Project Management.

What is a MVP?

A Minimum Viable Product (MVP) enables a simple version of a product to be developed and tested before further functions and details are added. The Minimum Viable Product contains only the most important functions that are needed to successfully bring a product to market. This keeps the focus of a project on the most important aspects. Other advantages of the MVP are:

  • A product can be brought to market faster, as it is not necessarily necessary to develop all functions and details from the beginning, but you can focus on the most important aspects.
  • Feedback can be gathered quickly from potential customers, which means that development can be better adapted to customer needs.
  • A MVP reduces risk by quickly identifying whether the product will be successful in the market before too much time and resources are invested in its development.
  • It allows the development of the product to be broken down into smaller steps, which can make it easier to plan and implement a project.

To use the MVP method, you first need to have a clear understanding of what features and details of your product are critical to its success. Then you can start developing a simple version of the product that includes these important features and deliver it to a group of early adopters. The subsequent feedback from the early adopters can be used to adapt and further develop the product. It is important to continuously incorporate user feedback to ensure that the product is constantly improved and meets the needs and expectations of the market.

What is Lean Project Management?

Lean Project Management is an approach that focuses on optimising processes and eliminating waste to improve the efficiency and quality of projects. The approach is based on the principles of Lean Management, which were originally developed in the automotive industry and focus on creating value for the customer by reducing waste.
In project management, this means focusing on the most important aspects of the project and cutting out everything unnecessary to save time, resources and money. It is about streamlining processes and ensuring the quality of the project by quickly gathering feedback from clients and team members so that adjustments can be made when necessary. Lean Project Management can be applied in a variety of industries and sectors and is particularly useful when it comes to delivering projects quickly and efficiently as well as minimising risk.
Some of the key principles of Lean Project Management and ways to implement them are:

  • Focus on creating value for clients: This means focusing on the needs and expectations of the customers and ensuring that the project meets them. Even before starting the project, it is important to understand the customer needs, because only then can the project be aligned with them and ensure that these wishes are fulfilled. During the implementation of the project, for example, agile methods with short, iterative cycles and quick feedback help to maintain the focus on customer needs and to implement improvements quickly.
  • Focus on the processes: Lean management is about improving and optimising the project’s processes. This is done by analysing processes and identifying inefficient ones.
  • Reduction of waste: It is important to avoid waste in all phases of a project. This can be achieved, for example, by optimising processes, focusing on a few central product functions or using agile methods. In this way, project work becomes more efficient.
  • Continuous improvement: To remain successful in the long term, one should always focus on improving the processes and their quality during the project. This can be done, for example, through regular feedback loops or lessons learned.
  • Teamwork: Teamwork plays an important role in Lean Management. Through the cooperation of all participants, problems can be solved faster as well as more effectively and project results can be improved.
  • Communication: Open and transparent communication is crucial for the success of a project. Through regular but efficient meetings and the use of digital tools, you can improve communication and solve problems faster.
  • Rapid feedback: This means using short, iterative cycles to gather feedback from customers and team members early on and so that you can make adjustments. Agile methods such as Scrum are well suited to this approach.
  • Using visual tools and methods: Clear visualisations are good for optimising processes and tracking the progress of a project. These can be Kanban boards or Lean flow diagrams, for example.

What are the benefits of Lean Project Management?

The application of Lean Project Management can lead to a number of benefits, including:

  • Improved process efficiency: by focusing on creating value for the customer and eliminating waste, processes are optimised, which can lead to greater efficiency and productivity.
  • Reduced costs: By optimising processes and eliminating waste, resources are saved, which can lead to lower costs.
  • Improved quality: Focusing on creating value for the client and getting feedback quickly ensures that the project meets the client’s needs and expectations.
  • Faster time to market: By using short, iterative cycles and gathering feedback quickly, projects are brought to market faster.
  • Improved collaboration and communication: By using visual tools and methods as well as continuously soliciting feedback, team collaboration and communication is improved.
  • Increased customer satisfaction: By creating value for customers and meeting their needs and expectations, customer satisfaction is increased.
  • Continuous improvement: Lean Project Management focuses on continuous improvement of the processes and quality of the project, which can help projects and the company to remain successful in the long term.

What are the challenges of Lean Project Management?

As with any approach, there are some challenges to Lean Project Management that should be considered before deciding whether it is suitable for a particular project. These include:

  • The need for a clear understanding of Lean principles: To successfully apply Lean Project Management, you need to have a clear understanding of Lean principles and how to apply them to project management.
  • The need for a strong management commitment: For a successful implementation, a great commitment and support from the management level is important.
  • The need for a high degree of flexibility and adaptability: Lean Project Management is an iterative approach that requires quick adjustments and changes. This can be challenging for some teams.
  • The need to keep the focus on the customer: The clear focus is on creating value for customers. This can sometimes mean that other aspects of the project are neglected if they do not directly serve customer value.
  • The need for specialised software and tools: Lean project management often relies on specialised software and tools to streamline processes, track and visualise the progress of the project. These tools can be costly and require extensive training.


The quote “Perfection is not achieved when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away” helps project management to realise that one should focus on the essential things. With this realisation, project management can become leaner by applying methods such as MVP or Lean Project Management. This way, projects can be completed faster, more cost-efficiently and with higher quality.
Project management software such as myPARM can help you focus on the essential tasks and learn from completed projects. In addition, the software helps to optimise processes, improve them continuously and not lose sight of customer needs. Since myPARM can also visualise data and has an integrated Kanban board, you don’t need any other software to implement the methods of lean project management.

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