Retaining good project management principles in the forefront of your memory

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There are many good project management books. However, as a practising project manager, how often do you have a chance to refer to books before acting? In general, you are likely to be time poor due to the pressures of the project and will attend meetings where you need to think on your feet. Therefore I believe it is important to retain key project management principles in your head. In this post, I describe the approaches I adopt to achieve this and illustrate with some examples.

Headline approaches

Let us start with the 3 headline approaches and without wanting to bore you with too much science, provide some rationale to them:

1. Proverbs provide “hooks” which aid memory retention - Benjamin Galan1 defines a proverb as “a short, memorable saying that communicates an observation of the world or experience that helps one live better”

2A picture paints a thousand words – an illustration of a Proverb! There is a large amount of research indicating that visual cues help retrieve and remember information. This makes sense when you consider that that our brain is mainly an image processor (much of our sensory cortex is devoted to vision), not a word processor.

3. Humour also aids memory - Schmidt and Williams2 carried out experiments in 2001 looking at the effect of humour on memory using various cartoons and one of the main conclusions was that the cartoon humour led to enhanced recall of cartoon gist without retention for detailed wording.

Let me illustrate with three examples

The importance of risk management should be clear to all project managers although I have observed several project managers that seem to play lip service to the concept. But I always have a proverb and a humorous image in my mind to prompt me to action – attack the risks before the risks attack you!

When I am looking to define a project I recall an image and part of a Kipling poem - I keep six honest serving-men (They taught me all I knew), Their names are what and why and when and how and where and who.

When I am in a discussion with difficult stakeholders my resolve is stiffened by recall of a proverb and image – If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything

I literally have tens of such proverbs floating around in my head and people who have worked with me know I’m prone to quote them regularly!!


As a project manager you need good mental recall of key project management principles. Proverbs, humour and images can help you retain prompts in the forefront of your memory. If you want to see lots more examples, please visit my blog with the appropriately humorous name of Be a Better Sheepdog.


1. “Proverbs” by Benjamin Galan 2010
2. “Memory for humorous cartoons” by Schmidt and Williams - Memory & Cognition 2001



Posted by David Willcox on 22nd Dec 2015

About the Author
I'm a practising Project Management consultant who is keen to share some of my views on how to improve project success from 30 years of running IT projects both formally and informally. Having practised as a Project Manager for IT consultancy Xansa working in Financial Services, Utilities and Government, I became an independent consultant in 2006. I have had a good track record of Project delivery to Time, Cost and Quality but I a firm believer that there is more to projects than simply the delivery and that the Project Manager has a professional duty to always consider the benefits that the delivery should enable. I have a written a Blog on Improving Project Success called Be a Better Sheepdog which hopefully gives some useful insight for new and old Project Managers combined with a bit of humour along the way. Find it at

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