Aaron J. Shenhar, Professor of Technology Management, James J. Renier Visiting Chair, Center for the Development of Technological Leadership, University of Minnesota, MN and R. Max Wideman

This paper is the first of a series of six papers describing the search for a best practices linkage from project classification through management style to project success. It represent part of the research conducted between 1992 and 1998. This paper was presented to an INFORMS Conference in Washington, DC, in May, 1996, and briefly reviews the genesis of modern project management and its scope in today's business and technical environment.

Published here December, 2001.

Background  | Genesis | Scope | Typology | Classification | Linking | Conclusion

Proposed Project Classification System

Understanding the descriptors along each dimension of Figure 3 is important. The three levels of complexity are as follows.

Level 1 - Assembly: This represents a project consisting of a collection of components and modules combined into a single unit. A typical assembly may perform a well defined function within a larger system, thus constituting one of its subsystems, or it can be an independent self-contained product that performs a single function of a limited scale. A computer's central processing unit, its display screen, or its printer are three separate examples of the former, while radios, washing machines or a single family home are examples of the latter.

Level 2 - System: This represents a project consisting of a complex collection of interactive elements and subsystems within a single product, jointly performing a wide range of independent functions to meet a specific operational mission or need. Examples include radar, computer work stations, any form of transportation vehicle, or multiple-use high-rise buildings.

Level 3 - Array: This represents a program, rather than a single project, where program is taken to mean a series of related projects designed to accomplish broad goals and to which the individual projects contribute. Often, arrays are dispersed over wide geographical areas, or over an extended period of time, and consist of a variety of project systems. Examples include any of a city's infrastructure, inter-airport airside control, or any of the national defense systems.

Figure 3: Proposed Project Typology

Figure 3: Proposed Project Typology

The four levels of Technological Uncertainty depend on the technology content of the project. They are as follows.

Type A - Established Technology: These projects rely on existing and well established base technologies to which all industry players have equal access. Although such projects may well be very large in scale, no new technology is employed at any stage. The majority of projects in the construction and road building industries fall into this category.

Type B - Mostly Established Technology: These are similar to Type A, but involve some new technology or feature. While the majority of the work has relatively low uncertainty, the new feature provides market advantage but also a higher degree of uncertainty. Examples include many industrial projects of incremental innovation, as well as improvements and modifications to existing products.

Type C - Advanced Technology: Often referred to as High-Tech projects, these are projects in which most of the technologies are employed together for the first time. However, the individual technologies already exist, having been developed prior to project initiation. Defense industry projects typically fall into this category.

Type D - Highly Advanced Technology: Such projects require exploratory development and may be referred to as Super High-Tech. They call for the incorporation of technologies which are not entirely existing, emerging or even unknown solutions at the time of project initiation. Project execution therefore involves technology development, testing and selection from among alternatives. Research and development projects fall into this category.

Developing a Project Typology  Developing a Project Typology

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