Project Life Cycle One Size Fits All
Last month (September 2000) we attended a project management meeting
at which the speaker proudly described the products of his high-technology
start-up company. The company's products were indeed fascinating,
but almost as an after thought did the speaker describe the organization's
rollout schedule and the difficulties they had experienced with
component coordination, integration and configuration. Aside from
needing a better understanding of project management generally,
what appeared to be desperately missing for their projects was an
appropriate project life cycle or span (PLS) process. Which raises
the questions: What PLS is appropriate? Can they be standardized?
And is there one that fits all projects?
It is our view that just as we have successfully applied the concept of a breakdown
structure to both product deliverables and the work activities necessary
to produce them, so should we apply the same concept to examining
the project life span process. Is there a PLS hierarchy? Of course,
though many seem unwilling to recognize it. But why do we need a
PLS in the first place? Because the PLS provides the essential basis
for establishing a controlled journey to the desired destination.
The genesis of the PLS, in its most basic form, is to be found in the term
project management. A project has, by definition, a start and a finish. The
of management is to plan before doing. Hence the fundamental PLS consists of
four sequential periods, namely, "Start", "Plan", "do",
and "Finish". At this fundamental level, surely there can be no
argument? Yet, we continue to marvel at how many project managers skip over
the last period
because either the time, or the money, or both have run out, or the corporate
culture skips over most of the start period as a cost avoidance measure.
At the next breakdown level, different phases are established and these will
include at least the same four periods described above though they are invariably
called by different names. In the engineering and construction industry one
hears terms like "initiation, planning, implementation and commissioning".
In software engineering quite different terms are used such as: "Inception,
elaboration, construction, transition". But the general intent is the
same and it is clear that the phases and how they are managed, for example
of iteration, are heavily dependent on the type of project and its degree of
Each phase is expected to deliver a result at which point an executive decision
can be taken on whether to proceed or turn back. These major milestones are
referred to as "control points" or control gates but their intent
might be better served by the term "emergency exit ramps" – opportunities
to pull over if the vehicle is not performing well. At the third level down
phases are segregated into stages and thence into activities and tasks all of
which are inevitably determined by the circumstances of the specific project.
So, does one size fit all? At its most elementary, top or first level, certainly
yes. At the second level one may find comparability amongst projects of similar
types but at the working level, properly planned PLSs are unlikely to be repeated
unless the projects happen to be very, very similar. Think of it this way: It
is generally agreed that the concept of wearing shoes is good for most people
most of the time, but what size and what style is highly dependent upon the individual
and the occasion.
Certainly, some will assert that it is possible to do without shoes at all,
but the project manager that does without a PLS will be in trouble.
If you are managing a project, make sure that you have a carefully
considered and carefully constructed project life span process.
Without it, you will undoubtedly have difficulty in arriving successfully
at the desired destination. It is up to you to make the right choices.