The original version of this paper was presented at the Project Management Institute's 28th Annual Seminar & Symposium, Chicago, Illinois, September 29, 1997. It was subsequently updated and reproduced on this web site in November 2000.

Republished here April 2023.

Introduction | We are Not Alone | What Basis? | Models | Concept Mapping
PMKS Theme | Objectives | Assumptions | Exclusion | Starting Point | Conclusions
Appendix A | Appendix B

Models to the Rescue

Pictorial models help us understand complex relationships. They can broaden and clarify our perspectives by helping us to see the big picture, help to avoid confusion by explaining how things work, and express rules more simply by clarifying relationships. Who, for instance, would be able to grasp the complexities of nature's DNA structure without the colored 3-D graphics we see on TV?

Project management is also a complex structure and there have been a number of attempts to capture it through models. Some examples include the early "Schedule-Cost-Performance" model, the "Scope of Project Management" model, the "Matrix Model", the 1987 PMBoK "Star" model, or the "3-D Integrative (toolbox) Model"[5]. However, few of these seem to capture the totality of project management.

One of the most recent models has been developed by Forsberg, Mooz and Cotterham.[6] Their model depicts a wheel made up of 9 management elements or spokes, held together by a 10th element which forms its rim. This wheel progresses along a three-stranded axle representing the product's life cycle. The model is somewhat complex and therefore unsuited to our purpose, but it is important for several reasons.

In addition to the usual topics of teamwork, project life cycle and the elements of management control, Forsberg et al first emphasize the importance of communicating through a common vocabulary for each project — even small ones. They also differentiate between "technical" management and "project" management. Most crucial, they separate the "perpetual" aspects of the project life cycle, imposed by the project environment, the "sequence-driven" aspect imposed by logical performance, and the "situation-driven" aspect, imposed by managing.[7] These are all facets of project management that are commonly overlooked.

For example, the Project Management Institute's current Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge takes a systems input-process-output view of project management and is replete with diagrammatic models. Unfortunately, in this author's view, the most important project management model, "Links Among Process Groups ..."[8] is badly flawed. It, and subsequent diagrams, confuse a major management situational process with several sequential processes and show misleading relationships.

In a thoughtful 1992 Project Management Journal paper on project management descriptors, Abdomerovic observed that "Information today is produced in such quantities that our efforts may be repeatedly wasted simply because it is not possible to determine what work has already been done or, at a minimum, we spend more time looking for documents than looking at them."[9]

His paper describes research on some 2000 titles from which he abstracted more than 1800 descriptors and shows how they might be organized into a structured hierarchy. The structure has two difficulties. The normal hierarchy gives no indication of what rules are being applied in, or relationships implied by, entering a descriptor at any given location. Also, his hierarchy has up to 18 levels, rather more than is practical. Nevertheless, his paper does provide a valuable resource for our project.

On What Basis?  On What Basis?

5. Wideman, R. M., A Framework for Project and Program Management, Project Management Institute, PA, 1991, Appendix A: A Historical Perspective.
6. Forsberg, K., H. Mooz & H. Cotterham, Visualizing Project Management, John Wiley & Sons, NY, 1996.
7. Ibid., p22.
8. Duncan, W. R., A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, Project Management Institute, PA, 1996, p28.
9. Abdomerovic, M., Project Management Descriptors, Project Management Journal, Project Management Institute, PA, 1992, p42.

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