Published here November 2004.


Musings Index

Where Do Projects Come From?

On 8/22/04, Kevin Lines wrote:

Good Afternoon Max, from sunny Queensland Australia.

I'm presently the Superintendent of Asset Management Support at [our corporation] and would be interested in your views on the following.

I've managed many projects over the past 25 years (electricity, coal & sugar industries) and these days manage people and processes rather than projects. I've always leaned heavily on the Kepner Tregoe (KT) principles of problem solving and decision making followed by the KT project management principles (define, plan, implement). I've recently developed a process for [our organization] which takes a young project engineer from start to finish using a heavily corporate-modified KT process.

Even though you can apply "problem solving and decision making" principles I believe there has to be something out there that follows a process that defines why we have selected that particular project to solve a particular issue. Can you suggest an easy to follow process that can be used on a $50,000 project as well as a $5 million project?

On 8/22/04 Max replied:

Good morning Kevin (from rainy British Columbia - but we have had a long hot summer.)

You are trespassing into the fuzzy world of project creation. All projects start either from necessity or from someone's idea and vision. The necessity ones are fairly easy to cope with because the problems are specific and a range of solutions can be proffered. It is then a question of choosing the most feasible and profitable or cost effective responses using the approaches you've indicated.

The "idea and vision" ones are much more difficult because first they have to be found. That is an issue of left brain right brain. You need some "original thinkers" who, in a typical population are few and far between - especially good ones! I am not sure that any rigid process will work for that. Brainstorming is perhaps the best technique - but you still have to have the right minds present for brainstorming to work.

You might want to take a look at value management/value engineering/value analysis as a comparable process. The resulting documentation should provide the justification for the decision (unless the final decision is "political"!) :-)

Hope that helps,


From the Kepner-Tregoe web site (accessed 8/24/04)

The Kepner-Tregoe Matrix is a special, well-orchestrated, synchronized and documented Root Cause analysis and decision-making method.

It is a conscious, step-by-step approach for systematically solving problems, making good decisions, and analyzing potential risks and opportunities. It helps you maximize critical thinking skills, systematically organize and prioritize information, set objectives, evaluate alternatives, and analyze impact

Kepner-Tregoe describes the following steps to approach decision analysis:

  1. Prepare a decision statement having both an action and a result component
  2. Establish strategic requirements (Musts), operational objectives (Wants), and restraints (Limits)
  3. Rank objectives and assign relative weights
  4. Generate alternatives
  5. Assign a relative score for each alternative on an objective-by-objective basis
  6. Calculate weighted score for each alternative and identify top two or three
  7. List adverse consequences for each top alternative and evaluate probability (high, medium, low) and severity (high, medium, low)
  8. Make a final, single choice between top alternatives
Value management

The steps in value management are somewhat simpler:

  1. Gather information about the problem to be solved
  2. Speculate on alternatives that would meet the requirements
  3. Analyze the alternatives to identify the best solutions
  4. Present the alternatives and justify the best recommendation to the decision-maker
  5. Prepare final report describing what was implemented and the quantified results

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