The four circle solution for building project success


Practically everything we do that is worth doing well, has the following 4 elements and they are fundamental to success. When you are looking to undertake any large project, especially if it is something you have not done before using this method for your planning can be very powerful.

The four circles of project management

It does not matter if you are building the channel tunnel, fixing a tap, installing a new bathroom, programming a computer, going on holiday or whatever, get these things wrong and you will dramatically increase your chances of failure. The Centre/Bull/Core is the most important and may explain why, when it is not understood, quality is not always what it is supposed to be.



The most important of the 4 - Every job, task, project you undertake has principles associated with it. These are things that you would do EVERY TIME. There are principles for building a wall, planning a project, having a good holiday, installing a shower. If you do not know these, then it is impossible to use techniques, and tools effectively. For example, let's say your job is to 'Plan the work to build an extension'. Every time you plan something there are things that must always be done. e.g.

  • Have a clear picture of the end result

  • Break the work down into smaller chunks (tasks, sub tasks, activities etc.)

  • Produce 'good' estimates of the size/duration of the tasks etc.

  • And a whole bunch more.....

That is just the planning.... don't forget that there are principles too for 'building an extension', things you must be done every time, irrespective of the extension..... and principles for one part of the build - like ensuring the roof can be supported properly, things that must be done every time to ensure the roof is supported correctly.

This should be clearly demonstrated to you in the quote you receive for any work, but having this knowledge yourself to help make sure your project runs smoothly is also very useful.



These are things that support the principles – if you take the planning example above, one principle was....'Produce 'good' estimates of the size/duration of the tasks etc.'. There are many techniques that can be used to do this....some are better than others and, as a customer, you will want to see that your tradesperson knows how to do it appropriately....for example...

  • Has he broken it down into smaller chunks as smaller chunks are easier to estimate....

  • Has he done this before (or something very similar) and has accurate data on what it took before... the more often he has done it and recorded the time, the more likely his estimates will be right

  • Delphi technique.... get estimates from others, remove the highest and lowest and average out the rest

  • Ball Park. To explain this one, look at where the expression came from. Before American ball parks had turnstiles, the only way to get an idea of how many people were at a game, without actually counting them all, was to colour (or should that be color) code sections of 1000 seats. Then they looked at each section and estimated how full (%age) they were.

  • Finger in the air, pure guess

  • Others.....


So for each of the principles you identify, pick the most appropriate technique for getting the right/best answer. If you are installing a shower, a principle may be that you will ALWAYS ensure that the room is ventilated.... techniques could include installing a window, skylight or extractor...or other.... and again the customer will want to be aware this is a decision they need to make based on your recommendations.



Just like making a cake, once you know your ingredients, there are lists, instructions, rules, on how to proceed. Do this, then this, then this.... a check-list which is not sacrosanct and can always be tuned for circumstances but tuned for the right reasons, not just because it is easier. I love the saying.... 'There is never enough time to do a job properly but always enough time to put it right once it has gone wrong!'.



These are the things you use to implement the techniques, that support the principles. For example if a principle of making a Victoria sponge is always combine the ingredients at the same time and the technique is to 'beat all the cake ingredients together until you have a smooth, soft batter then there are several different tools that can help you, from your hands, through to a spoon, whisk, beater or mixer etc. But if you do not know the principle of doing/combining it at the same time it does not matter if you have the right tool. Americans are a little blunt here but they frequently say 'A fool with a tool is still a fool'. Our aim is to help as many people as we can and help them better understand the principles and appropriate techniques, before they follow a recipe or buy a mixer. If you do not know the principles and techniques, all the methods and tools will do will be to organise and automate crap.   By using all four elements you greatly increase the likelihood that your project will turn out as you expected, on time and within budget. Correct planning and preparation really does help make sure you get what you set out for. These are skills which should be used by all good builders, especially on larger projects.