Published here November 2016.


Musings Index

More on Project Management Hierarchies

In our Musings of November and December 2015, I wrote about useful Word Hierarchies in Project Management (Part  1 and Part 2). Now, it seems a good time to talk about hierarchies directly associated with the project management domain. For example, I suspect that by now most readers are familiar with the Project Management Institute's organizational management competency ladder. It illustrates an increasing level of maturity from bottom to top that looks like this:


Given Name




Focus on process improvement



Appropriate PM processes used, measured & controlled



PM practices actually used



Simple PM methodology only



Trial & Error, i.e. No formal PM processes

Figure 1: Organizational Competency Hierarchy Table

As we have been working on the update of our ubiquitous Wideman Comparative Glossary of Project Management Terms we have encountered the need to differentiate between the various disciplines in the project management domain in its broader sense. What is evident is the following hierarchy from bottom to top that looks like this:


Given Name


(Public/Corporate Governance)

Corporate umbrella Policies & Standards


Project Management Governance

Authority, management and control derived from corporate Policies & Standards


Project Portfolio Management

Portfolio Policies & Procedures


Program Management

Program Policies & Procedures


Single Project Management

Detailed Policies & Procedures


(Process Management)

Optional Tools & Techniques

Figure 2: Project Management Discipline Hierarchy Table

The first and last items in the above table are included to indicate the boundaries of the Project Management Domain. So what we are left with is essentially four levels of primary project management disciplines. However, the descriptions shown are not intended to suggest that the content at each level is limited only to internal matters, but the policies at each level also encompass relevant external impacts and concerns. For example, in highly complex projects the substantive issues are typically determined externally. We hope to talk more about these when we are further advanced with our Project Management Glossary update.

Now, however, my colleague, Mark Seely, has reminded me of his The Dynamic Baseline Model for Project Management (DBM — three parts) that we introduced as our guest article series back in December 2005.

As you may recall from the above papers, the Dynamic Baseline model establishes the complexity of an initiative based on the levels the initiative disturbs, or renders dynamic, within the hierarchy. It establishes a reference or control point for management, based on the stable reference above the dynamic baselines. This concept can be thought of in terms of expanding horizons of management purview i.e., the higher the dynamics, the greater the horizon of management concern and, the greater the complexity.[1]

For some time now, Mark has been working on a Values based framework that displays a hierarchy of purpose as shown in Figure 3. As the illustration shows, there are "Values" that reduce to codified principles; "Principles" that reduce to strategic objectives; "Objectives" that reduce to tactical methods; and "Methods" that reduce to regulatory or institutional "Rules."

It should be clarified that in this simplistic way:

 5. The highest-level construct, "Values", is a reference to societal
     values, an overarching concept that should be shared by all
 4. "Principles" refers to the corporate principles of the organization,
     the common good as ascribed through its Mission and Vision
 3. "Objectives" are the desired strategic outcomes of the various
     business lines that comprise the organization.
 2. "Methods" refers to custom frameworks applied to an
     implementation, for example, Charter and Work Breakdown
     Structure baselines.
 1. "Rules" are the routine instructions to employees relating to
     the conduct of their work, whether they are by policy,
     notification or law

Each of these is a baseline within the Dynamic Baseline taxonomy, namely, the "Values Baseline", the "Principles Baseline", the "Objectives Baseline", the "Methods Baseline" and the "Rules Baseline." In project management, these map to the Figure 2 — Project Management Discipline Hierarchy Table shown earlier. As viewed from the bottom up, each of the Levels correlate as follows:

At Level 1 — Process Management, the product configuration impacts the initiative, while the "Rules" of the process provide a stable reference. Hence this is a Rules-based archetype. All baselines above it are also stable and therefore are of no concern to Level 1 Management.

At Level 2 — Project Management interferes with the rules of the Level 1 baseline so one needs to interpret or perhaps side step the rules to establish a custom initiative. At this level, the stable reference is "Methods" (or the particular methodology that is adopted) in pursuit of a typical custom initiative. It is a Methods-based archetype. The rules within will change dynamically to accommodate the unique features of the custom initiative. All baselines above it are also stable and therefore are of no concern to Level 2 Management.

At Level 3 — Program Management interferes with the Level 2 Methods baseline. The Methods baseline and the Rules baseline both change dynamically to suit. This construct is based on a stable "Objectives" reference. It is an Objectives-based archetype. The two baselines above it are also stable and therefore are of no concern to Level 3 Management.

At Level 4 —Portfolio Management interferes with the Objectives baseline. The Objectives, Methods and Rules baselines below all change dynamically to suit. This construct is based on a stable "Principles" reference. It is a Principles-based archetype. The baseline above is also stable and therefore of no concern to Level 4 governance.

It is important to note that Level 4 signifies that the limits of the project are determined substantially beyond the purview of the assigned project manager, but are contained within the purview of the project's corporate masters. In other words, if one were to establish a Work Breakdown Structure for a Level 4 initiative, then rather than the familiar triangular shape of the lower levels, here it would appear as an "hour glass". That is with one inverted triangle resting on top of the familiar triangle.

The open system determinacy goes to the heart of the issue in complex project challenges (think enterprise IM/IT).

At Level 5 — Public Governance interferes with the Principles baseline. All baselines below Values change dynamically to suit. This is a Values-based archetype. As with Level 4, the determinacy is open, however, at Level 5, the determinacy is essentially with societal interests and concerns (think Canada's problematic Gun Registry).

Moving up through the five levels, as might be expected, the dynamics in play expand, uncertainty expands, and complexity increases exponentially.

With these tables and their interrelationships, I hope to demonstrate the progressive complexity of projects and project relationships of which we may not always be aware in our day-to-day travails. As Mark indicates, one of the biggest takeaways is the opportunity to triage intended initiatives at Levels 4 and 5, to establish whether or not the intended course is naturally synergistic with the evolving external determinacies. Determinacies established outside the project need be addresses as more of a constraint than a risk.

Always remember that projects of all kinds are man-made constructs that never exist on their own, that is, in isolation. They are always a part of an enveloping organizational structure that may range from the simple family home, to a worldwide institution.

1. The details of the DBM are set out in Mark's 2005 listing, and in the book WIN-PM (When it's not Project Management) available for download at
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