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

Managing the Project

There are many views on how to manage a project. Project managers discuss, and the literature chronicles, a rich set of experiences in many areas of application. We can learn how Company X managed Project Y and what the results were. Quite often the experience involves the development of a new information system, reporting scheme, display device, or resource allocation algorithm. While these reports represent useful - in fact, essential - contributions to a growing body of knowledge, it is a question of happenstance whether any such report will be useful to another project manager in helping him decide how to manage his own project.

We also have a rather extensive body of knowledge available regarding the development and analysis of specific management techniques and approaches. The literature explores PERT, GERT, CPM, LOB, and their modifications in detail-and in isolation from other CPMS components. Various ways of setting up a project organization are analyzed in depth - but are not related to other elements of the CPMS, or even necessarily to the key needs of a project situation.

Narrow focus on tactics - however good the tactics are - can have undesirable long-range results. Experiences where project management won the battle (by meeting short-term project needs) but lost the war (by ignoring project needs of strategic importance) are common. Here are just two examples:

Example 1: Not long ago an urban renewal project was being conducted with a rather sophisticated management system that included elaborate plans with work breakdown structures, assigned responsibilities, CPM networks, and milestones. Technically, each individual element of the management system was sound. But the project ran into a stumbling block when it became clear that an individual responsible for conducting a major part of the program felt the plan did not properly reflect work he had done in the past and would do in the future. When the management system failed to obtain the commitment of city administrators who were important to the project's success, then all the tactical, technical pieces of the management system suddenly became futile academic exercises.
Example 2: A major educational program was recently undertaken in a public school district. Great care was taken to develop a sound management system. A technical specialist sensitive to management problems was selected as project manager, a planning system was developed to lay out work packages and responsibilities, an information system was created to monitor progress, and procedures for control were established. All these mechanisms worked - locally, daily, and tactically. Yet when it came time to terminate the project there was trouble. Suddenly it became clear that the people running the project were not prepared to manage away their livelihood, and that not all the administrative mechanisms they had developed could be easily "disintegrated." Without successful termination of the project, it was impossible to demonstrate that permanent, self-supporting changes had been achieved.

If simply putting the "best" individual management tools (tactics) together is not enough to ensure the success of a project, then what more is needed? Successful tactics are those that ultimately support a set of strategic guidelines - providing, of course, the strategy is sound. A strategic approach to the design of project management would first involve identifying:

  • The broad goals of the project,
  • Important constraints on the project, and
  • Keys to success for the management system

After that, management tools that individually, and in the aggregate, support these strategic needs can be selected.

Background  Background

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