This paper was originally published as The Strategy of Running Temporary Projects, Innovation, 1971. Although published over thirty years ago, we believe that its perceptive insights are just as valid today.

Thanks to Bob Youker, World Bank (Retired), for bringing this paper to our attention. The paper has since been edited for web presentation, Editor

Copyright: Lawrence Bennigson, MA, 02108. Email: lbennigson@hbs.ed.

Published here August 2004.

Introduction | Background | Managing the Project
Strategic Design of a Comprehensive Project Management System (CPMS)  
Important Areas to Consider | Standard Success Criteria
The System Can Be Evaluated Separately from the Task | End Game
Editor's Footnote  | PART 2

Important Areas to Consider

Project Management System Decision Making

Management must make two different types of decisions: first, the design of the management system itself, and second, a myriad of consequential daily operating decisions. In this discussion we are primarily concerned with the first.

The General Environment

The comprehensive project management system, by this I mean all the management tools and approaches used to conduct the activity, exists within several environmental "shells." Conditions such as general economic conditions, social unrest, and potential political instability are rooted in relevant world, national, or regional affairs and can be considered part of the general outside environment. These conditions can affect CPMS priorities in a number of ways; for example, an unusually high premium might be placed on cost control procedures in a highly visible public project conducted during recession conditions at a politically unstable time.

The Parent Organization

Often a project is undertaken within the boundaries of a parent organization. These parent organizations impose constraints that have their roots either in the management systems or in financial, social, and political dimensions of the company. For example, generally accepted organizational approaches, typical career development patterns, and the corporate political climate can all affect CPMS design. Thus, struggles to develop bases of power in the parent organization can make decisions such as whom to select as project manager very sensitive indeed.

The Customer Environment

A third set of environmental conditions applies if there is a customer organization. Again, management system, financial, social, and political dimensions are relevant. If the client is in a very tight financial situation, a responsive cost-reporting system may be important. If close coordination with the client is required, this may have important implications for the organizational design selected for the project.

The Task

The task itself, the raison d'Ítre for the CPMS, embodies several characteristics that bear on system design: its importance, its complexity, and the degree of uncertainty about the work to be done. The parent organization, the project team, the customer, and possibly the general community may have quite different ideas about how important the project task is. All these evaluations will affect the priorities assigned to the success criteria.

Complexity refers to the type and variety of skills and the sheer number of people involved in a project. The greater the complexity, the more need for coordination and information handling.

Uncertainty refers to the extent to which task requirements and results can be reliably predicted. Thus, a construction team working on a series of similar housing projects can establish plans well in advance, gather status information as a matter of routine, and expect few coordination problems. In a new-technology development project involving mechanical, electrical, as well as human factor design groups under severe time pressure, plans will have to be flexible and opportunities must be created for frequent contact and coordination between the groups.

Strategic Design of a Comprehensive Project Management System  Strategic Design of a Comprehensive Project Management System

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