The views expressed in this article are strictly those of Max Wideman.
The contents of the book under review are the copyright property of the author.
Published here February 2017

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Paul claims that his research shows that the early stages of a capital project life span tend to be done with less rigor and discipline than the later stages. In other words: "Executives just do not pay enough attention to the formative stages of the project".[17] To be fair, the number of projects that actually make it through the Front-End to Execution will only be a small proportion of the number of possibilities initially investigated. One in ten on average is often cited. Therefore, executives are in the unenviable position of guessing which projects are the ones worth giving more detailed attention.

While the issue of executives' attitudes is sometimes inferred in Paul's book, it is not expressly addressed. In other words, the attitudes of executives responsible for operations or "Business as Usual" (BAU) are not the same as the attitudes of executives responsible for the management of major projects. For example, as we wrote back in 2003,[18] the business community believes in understaffing which it can prove is generally good business most of the time.[19] In many organizations, project front-end work is considered a part of general management and hence it, too, tends to be understaffed.

In contrast, large projects by their nature are uncertain and hence contain risks the management of which requires extra effort. For a project to be under-resourced, especially in the front-end, not only magnifies the risks, but also sets a project up for potential failure. This potential inevitably conflicts with the recommendation to introduce more effort, especially executive effort, as espoused by promoters of the Stage-Gate process. Thus, the very mindsets of the two types of management, i.e., between BAU and PM are diametrically opposed.

The nature and need for the front-end process is made clear enough in Paul's book, but is the message powerful enough to persuade the senior executives in most organizations? On this point, for the reasons we have just explored, we are rather doubtful. Moreover, to become an executive with significant power and responsibility you need to be self assured, self confident, probably extrovert, and capable of beating the competition. In which case, you are not going to take a lecture on a front-end process lightly.

Rather, we think that the front-end process should be made a part of standard project management offerings and appear in international project management standards. After all, the stage-gate process is applicable to all large projects of all types, whether in infrastructure construction, administration, manufacturing or technology, and whether to organizations are private, public or not-for-profit. In other words, the front-end process should be a part of project management best practice. Then, and only then, might more executives be willing to heed the message.

What We Liked  What We Liked

17. Ibid p13.
18.See First Principles Generally, Issue #1, 2nd paragraph
19. According to Marie Scotto in his book: Project Resource Planning, Chapter 13, Project Management Handbook, Jossey-Bass, 1998
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