Published here March 2005.


Musings Index

Jellyfish and Tadpoles
(A somewhat irreverent look at two serious PM diagrams)

What do jellyfish and tadpoles have to do with project management? You may well ask! These are the labels we have chosen to ascribe to two diagrams that have surfaced recently in the project management literature. Let's deal with the jellyfish first.


The jellyfish diagram is the creature of Glen Alleman and is shown in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1: Relationship diagram representing elements of CMMI-System Engineering
Figure 1: Relationship diagram representing elements of CMMI-System Engineering

Glen is discussing Some Thoughts on Project Management Organizational Maturity Models[1] on David Curling's PMForum web site and in particular the merits of the Project Management Institute's latest Organizational Maturity Model called "OPM3". According to Glen:

"So what's the problem with OPM3®? First, do we need another maturity assessment process? Especially one based on commercial interests? SEI CMMI has a very nice sub-section for project management. But most importantly - and I can't emphasis this enough - CMMI (and similar models) have a business context beyond project management. This includes requirements, quality and procurement."

Glen explains that his diagram shows the relationships between the various elements of CMMI-System Engineering.

He goes on to observe that:

"This picture illustrates the complexities of a maturity model in a mature business domain (system engineering). To show that the quest for Project Management as a "leading" process is misguided at best. Project Management is an enabling process, not a strategic process. Very few firms "manage projects for money". Projects are managed as part of the delivery of products or services. I've worked for "project delivery services" firms, but in the end we built roads, decommissioned nuclear weapons plants, deployed telecommunications infrastructure and managed large ERP systems. Project management was performed, but it was always a secondary process. PM consultants, those who sell PM software, or those who train [project managers] perform project management "as a business."

However that may be, it strikes us as that this diagram is rather beautiful to behold but, like a real jellyfish, something that the average project manager should carefully avoid unless they really know what they are doing.


The tadpole diagram is the latest creature of the Project Management Institute and surfaces in its Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, 3rd Edition, 2004. It is shown in Figure 2 below.

Figure 2: Project management process groups mapped to the plan-do-check-act cycle
Figure 2: Project management process groups mapped to the plan-do-check-act cycle[2]

The diagram is the Guide's attempt to correlate Deming's famous "Plan-Do-Check-Act" quality improvement cycle with its "Process Groups". Of the diagram, the Guide observes:

"The integrative nature of the Process Groups is more complex than the basic plan-do-check-act cycle However, the enhanced cycle can be applied to the interrelationships within and among the Process Groups. The Planning Process Group corresponds to the "plan" component of the plan-do-check-act cycle. The Executing Group corresponds to the "do" component and the Monitoring and Controlling Process Group corresponds to the "check-act" components. In addition, since management of a project is a finite effort, the Initiating Process Group starts these cycles and the Closing Process Group ends them. The integrative nature of project management requires the monitoring and Controlling Process Group interaction with every aspect of the other Process Groups."

Well and good. That means that it is just about into everything.

Of course the diagram is not really called a tadpole diagram, it just reminds us of one. For those unfamiliar with the metamorphic life of a tadpole, perhaps you would like a short lesson. In the tadpoles desperate wiggling for survival against peer predators, it eventually loses its tail, grows legs and arms and hops out of the pond.

Given the anticipated continuing confusion generated by this diagram's similarity to the project life span, let's hope it also achieves the same goal -- loud croaking notwithstanding.

1. See
2. See Guide to the Project management Body of Knowledge, 3rd Edition, 2004, Project Management Institute, PA, 2004, Figure 3-2 p40.
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