Project Management Learning
There are two sides to the DBM model, the people side and the project side. We introduce the model by starting with a cursory overview of the people side in order to establish the necessary context for the ensuing project discussions.
Under the DBM, the project management learning curve has the following four levels, as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1: A Four Level Project Management Learning Curve
Level 1: Management by Rules (MBR):
This behavior is the first level of learning. MBR constitutes indoctrination into the official operations of an organization. Employees are encouraged to develop a strong sense of affiliation with the institutional framework that defines the organization rules, regulations, policies, procedures, directives, laws, acts, etc. At this level of learning, an employee is taught how to apply existing rules to conduct business, and, on occasion, to interpret rules in some new way for the purpose of addressing project issues not readily covered in the existing framework.
Level 2: Management by Methods (MBM):
This behavior is the next level of learning in which those proficient in MBR build on their knowledge base with customized project management processes and procedures. At this level, practitioners get acquainted with, and become proficient in the use of, standard project management tools, frameworks, and templates.
The work breakdown structure (WBS), the responsibility assignment matrix, scheduling techniques, cost/schedule performance control, and monitoring and configuration management are the hallmarks of Level 2 learning. At this level, an employee has the capacity to use the tools to analyze project performance data and to make recommendations for corrective actions accordingly.
Level 3: Management by Objectives (MBO):
This is the next level of learning. MBO is all about establishing and maintaining the project objectives as the reference point, and managing and manipulating the methods at Level 2 and the rules at Level 1 as appropriate to that horizon. The graduated learning process is important in this regard these manipulations require a strong grounding in the methods and the rules, knowledge of the tools and their limitations, knowing which rules to break, and the implications of doing so. At this level, an employee is expected to make the decisions and tradeoffs that will help the project meet its objectives.
Level 4: Management by Values (MBV):
This is the next level of learning. At this level, an employee has the capacity to manipulate and evolve the objective throughout the project life cycle as appropriate to the overarching corporate values. MBV practitioners are expected to revisit and adjust project objectives with their attention focused on the corporate values horizon. In turn, this requires the capacity to manipulate the tools and the rules with the knowledge and experience to understand the implications, as per Level 3.
The learning circles at each phase in the graduated sequence are inclusive. That is, proficiency in any one level requires a thorough grounding in the knowledge of the lower levels. Graduation from one level to another generally comes from trial and error application of each behavior phase within successively more complex project types. Simply put, when a behavior level does not apply, we seek the bigger picture. The best way to force learning is through progressively more challenging project assignments where one can attempt to apply Level 1 logic in a Level 2 environment, Level 2 logic in a Level 3 environment, and Level 3 logic in a Level 4 environment.
It should also be noted that the learning curve, as shown in Figure 1, has distinct steps or horizons (like a stairway). This is to signify that graduation from one level to another is a marked event. The broader behavior comes as somewhat of a revelation, a sudden awareness of the new horizon and, with that, a substantially new manner of thinking. To be effective, training should target one level above an individual's current horizon.
Many of us have a natural inclination or preference for one level over another and may be inclined to gravitate to, and remain within, certain roles in this four-step sequence. It is logical that such a preference should be taken into account in career planning and in assessing learning needs. However, we need to ensure that it is the needs of the project and not the natural inclinations and preferences of the people that is driving our approach to project management for any given project.
Thus, the principle of matching is very important. We should ensure that Level 1 projects are undertaken with an MBR competency, Level 2 projects with an MBM competency, Level 3 projects with an MBO competency, and Level 4 projects with an MBV competency.
2. Seely, Mark,
Thinking Beyond the Rules. Unpublished manuscript, 1996