The Meaning of Project
Recently, my friend Jonathan Norman, manager
for the Major Projects Knowledge Hub at the Major Projects Association in the
UK, challenged their readers to read an academic paper on the subject of project
by Yvonne Schoper. In the email I received, he added: "This applied academic research
paper is part of a collection recently published by the Open Access Journal, Project
Management Research and Practice. You may be skeptical about the value of reading
academic research but give it a go, you may surprise yourself." So I did
and I was, but not quite as Jonathan might have expected.
Schoper makes a "Plea for a more sustainable definition of project success." At
first glance, as with all things associated with the political, you might interpret
this as meaning "Project Success that lasts longer", but that is not the case.
When a project is done, it is done, over, and success is only in the moment, or
at least until all the accolades have died down.
In the Abstract of her
paper, she states: "This paper aims to raise the awareness for the impact that
project managers have for successful projects."
What Yvonne is really doing is advocating for introducing some form
of "sustainability" into the definition of project success, and placing that
responsibility on the shoulders of the project manager.
And to this
end she quotes a number of eminent folks and their definitions of success, but
"The most often used definition comes from Cooke-Davies
who defines project success as a measure against 'the overall objectives of the
project, accomplished through the use of the project's output'."
True that quote was from sixteen years ago but the
clamor has probably got worse since then. However, the real question is: Who is
responsible for accomplishing the use of the project's output? Certainly not
the Project Manager unless by some chance he or she is offered
a higher management position to do so. It does not seem to be clearly understood
that the job of managing a project is a very different kettle of fish from managing
the extraction of benefits from the project's product. For a start, that requires
a very different cultural attitude, let alone the necessary training and experience
for the product and its environment in question. It's like asking a team's coach
to go on after the game to manage the franchise assuming the team was successful
Yvonne goes on to quote a number of examples needing clarification
such as "rotting schools and football stadiums in the rainforest, rotting bridges
without road access" and the like. She adds: "The project and product lifecycle
perspective should be extended to the complete recycling of the product into its
original materials to enable reuse of the raw material." That is indeed a great
idea, although the project life cycle and the product
life cycle are two entirely different things.
But in the first place, who
is responsible for constructing the project-product life span, especially with
an extra fifth phase including final disposal? Again, that is not a part of the
typical mandate given to the project manager unless, that is, specifically included
in the project manager's charter, hopefully based on the project's business case.
I have yet to see that, but it's possible in theory, though not very practical
in reality for the reasons just described.
Finally, in her Outlook and Conclusion,
all 250,000 IPMA certified project managers worldwide would agree to this new,
sustainable understanding of project success and act accordingly, e.g., by
refusing to manage unsustainable, unethical or resources-exploiting projects,
the profession of project managers could contribute hugely to the change necessary
to preserve the planet earth for future generations."
that if that wish really came to pass, most of those IPMA members, along with
their teams, would soon be out of work, for lack of viable projects to work on.
Widespread unemployment is not a happy sight.
I am not against a discussion
of sustainability and anything practical that we can or should do about it, and
there are certainly plenty of such things we all can do. But I am strongly opposed
to trying to shift the responsibility on to the shoulders of the wrong target.
1. See reference
at the start of this article.
2. Cooke-Davies 2002.
3. Ibid, see Outlook and Conclusion at the end of the paper.