Published here December 2013


Musings Index

Reinventing the Project Management Wheel

Do we really need to keep reinventing the project management wheel? Can we not really consolidate what we know to be practical as a solid foundation and build up from there? Ten years ago, I wrote a paper on this web site titled: Modeling Project Management. It reviewed two decades of project management literature for graphical models of the subject.

More particularly, in the last page I summarized the paper in these words:

"If the illustrations I have shown [in the previous pages] can be accepted as evidence, then project management has clearly come a long way since the 1970s. For example, judging from the mind map in Figure 14, the subject is now much more comprehensive. Conceivably it could still be expanded further by such potential additions as stakeholder management, cash flow management, data management, document storage and retrieval [records] management, management of cultural differences, and even vocabulary management as included in Figure 13.

With a little imagination, and research reading, one could add several more, such as critical chain buffer management,[1] customer relations management, issues management, public relations management, and even knowledge management[2] itself - the list seems almost endless. So, how best to depict project management graphically is problematic and depends partly on the purpose of the illustration. Hence, it is essential to specify the purpose.

The write-up to Figure 14 is fairly clear in this regard. It is viewed from the perspective of the project manager and what that person should know to be able to perform a competent job. To some extent it shows relative importance of content by assembling major topics with secondary subject content. This may not satisfy "experts" in particular subject areas such as scheduling or earned value as they would see this as a reduction in rank of their favorite subjects.

But by the same token, are we aiming high enough? If project management is to succeed as pervasively as projects have now become, it must capture the attention and imagination of senior executives. Their perspective is quite different as the grayed areas in Figure 14 begin to suggest. What would the illustration look like from that perspective?

Hence, what we see over the years is a steady progression from an internal project focus to a much broader strategic view and clearly there is still plenty to learn in the latter area. For example, with the increased recognition of the importance of project portfolio management, the strategic design of the project organization's life span phase controls, i.e. the executive controls, become increasing significant. However, what we also see in the succession of illustrations are a number of promising avenues abandoned without further consideration.

For example, I believe that to understand what project management is, what it does and how it works (which is where I started), understanding the relationships between the various elements is vital. I also believe that the commitment to delivery between the project management team and the project sponsor, owner or client as suggested in Figure 12, is the compelling rationale for project management. And further, that this commitment must be conducted consistent with a rational project life span.

And what about the proper definition of the management process and its integration with each of the specialist functions through the project life span as implied in Figure 2? As suggested in Figure 4, the combination of scope and quality is recognized as "performance". Similarly, cost and time are recognized as effort, but what about scope and cost as viability, or quality and time as competitiveness?

As Forsberg, Mooz and Cotterham have observed:[3]

"Of all the project management concepts, Lessons Learned from prior failures and successes is the most neglected."

It appears that this observation applies equally to the modeling of project management and the challenge is to examine past works more thoroughly to ensure that we are building on what we have, rather than perpetually reinventing the wheel!"

In the foregoing quote, I have emphasized observations of particular interest at this time. For example: "Stakeholder management" has just been added to popular project management "standards". Wow, it only took a decade! Unfortunately, these latest publications or versions show only limited regard for the research and publicity done in the previous three decades. Nevertheless, I am still looking forward to the addition of some of the other ten topics I mentioned.

But there's more. We are currently seeing increased interest in project portfolio management and project governance, but again previous work of practical benefit seems to be being overlooked. Certainly, capturing the attention and imagination of senior executives seems to be as remote as ever. Perhaps the unexplored combinations of scope and cost as viability, or quality and time as competitiveness would attract more of their attention? Such combinations are explicitly shown in Figure 4 of the original 1987 Project management body of knowledge publication.

Moreover, recognizing the distinction between "managing the evolution of the product" and "managing the evolution of the project" would solve a lot of present day ambiguities - and that concept has been around since the first PMBOK® Guide in 1996.

Forsberg, Mooz and Cotterham got it right. "Of all the project management concepts, Lessons Learned from prior failures and successes is the most neglected." And that thought seems to apply to many authors who should know better. Worse yet, where project management policies, procedures and guidelines are concerned, any trend towards "Bigger is Better" only results in increased complexity and reduced understanding.

In developing their text for the Human Resources Management chapter of the Project Management Institute's first Project Management Body of Knowledge document, authors John R. Adams, Ph.D, and Linn C. Stuckenbruck, Ph.D, made the point clear. They wrote: "In expanding the material previously published, every effort was made to use as much of the previous work as could reasonably fit within our perspective of project management. This approach is consistent with the philosophy of building on, rather than re-inventing, the work that has been previously accomplished."[4]

That advice from over a quarter of a century ago remains just as valid today.

1. Sood, S., Taming Uncertainty, PMNetwork, Project Management Institute, March 2003, p57.
2. PM Perspectives, PMNetwork, Project Management Institute, May 2003, p2 & 33.
3. Forsberg, K., H. Mooz & H. Cotterham, Visualizing Project Management: A Model for Business and Technical Success, 2nd Edition, Wiley, NY, 2000, p5.
4. Project Management Body of Knowledge, Project Management Institute, March 1987, ppF1-2
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