Published here June 2003.

Introduction | Why are First Principles/Theories Needed? 
First Principles vs. Theories | What Subjects Should Theory Cover? 
Interpretation and Reflections | Metaphysical Issues | Overall Conclusions

Interpretation of and Reflections on the First Principles

1. The Commitment Principle

Interpretation: We see this to be in the same area as Winograd's and Flores' language/action perspective, which, among other things, is concerned with how commitment evolves. Also the conceptualization is the same: the provider of resources and the supplier, here termed "project delivery team". However, we must always distinguish between commitment as a state of desire i.e. "I am committed to the success of this project", from commitment as an explicit promise for action i.e. "I will do thus and so."

Reflections: The interesting thing here is how commitment evolves, which is not explained.

2. The Success Principle

Interpretation: This principle says, in essence, that to be able to assess the success of the project, the value the customer wants from the project must be defined. This is in the same domain as the value generation model of production/operations.

Reflections: As stated in Wideman's Discussion section, every project evolves through its life cycle. The customer's sense-making proceeds further during the project. Thus, we doubt whether it is possible to solidly fix the success criteria in advance (indeed, the paper says that success criteria can change with time). Rather, what the customer values must be investigated for the needs of the project itself. Further we know that ends cannot be finally fixed without exploring means. Project success is not determined by delivering what the client said they wanted out the outset, rather from assuring that what is delivered meets their expectations and desires at the end. We can all point to projects that came in on time and budget to prescribed quality and yet were disasters.

3. The Tetrad Trade-off Principle

Interpretation: This principle is essentially about the feasibility and integrity of the project plan.

Reflections: Saying that the goal variables should be mutually consistent is not enough. As long as physical laws are not violated, their consistency depends on how good the solutions are that are applied. Current views of this tradeoff suggest there is some fixed sum that is being shared between objectives. We know that by reducing variation in workflow, the level at which the trade-off between cost and schedule must be made can be elevated, and we have seen improved quality at the same time. We are unwilling to gloss over and accept this principle without more careful examination.

4. The Strategy Principle

Interpretation: This principle is about planning as a prerequisite to doing. As presented, these ideas are closer to management-as-planning, which we criticize in our paper.

Reflections: Alternatives to management-as-planning are not considered.

5. The Management Principle

Interpretation: This is about execution and control. The "thermostat control" analogy is evident here.

Reflections: Alternatives to thermostat-type control are not studied and nothing precise is said about execution.

6. The Single-Point Responsibility Principle

Interpretation: We see this as relating closely to (or derived from) principle #3. The integrity of the project plan can be maintained only if one agent is making decisions on the scope etc.

Reflections: This is acceptable as a principle. It is also tied to the belief that one person must be in charge of managing the project delivery process. The implications of this should be explored.

7. The Cultural Environment Principle

Interpretation: This falls into the domain of management or organization theory.

Reflections: Management-as-organizing deals with these questions but the associated idea of decentralized management is not discussed in the paper. It should also consider the mood of the team. If we use the definition of culture as: "The way we do things around here", then management-as-planning leads to a hierarchical culture, and organization and motivating workers becomes a central concern when they are separated from those who plan. In management-as-organizing, we see a distributed decision making system where commitment (to explicit deliveries) leads us to consider both the mood and the ability of people to do what they say. We do not need to motivate people who make good promises.

In summary: We argue that part of the first principles represent underlying, conventional theory and part points to newer theory, but should be made more clear. In particular, the transformation and flow approaches are not explicitly covered by the first principles - we think they should be

What Subjects Should Theory of Project Management Cover?  What Subjects Should Theory of Project Management Cover?

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