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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



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  1. David Willcox
    David Willcox 03 February 2016, 08:13 AM

    I'm  glad you appreciate the philosophy behind the Blog. As well as being good memory joggers, Project Management can be hard at times so it is good to smile occasionally

  2. Anil Rana
    Anil Rana 25 December 2015, 01:24 PM

    Brilliant ! 

  3. Merv Wyeth
    Merv Wyeth 24 December 2015, 08:46 AM

    Hi David,At risk of being constructively controversial I would like to nominate you and your blog for an award.There are far too many text-only articles that scream out for even a modicum of imagery [and humour]. Give me some images, embed some video or audio and blend in the occasional link. Whatever you do, please please draw me in rather than drive me away!Someone, and I don't remember who, [and I couldn't find out by 'Googling'] said of presentations "If your audience could only remember one thing, and they probably won't, what would that be?"So, in summary I:#1 nominate you and your blog for an award.#2 resolve [because it's that time of the year] to follow the principles you outline in my own professional life, and make 'project management' more memorable.Merv