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

Genesis of Modern Project Management

We need to be sure that we have a common understanding of what a project is. Perhaps the simplest definition is that a project is "A unique set of activities with a beginning and an end, undertaken to meet some established goals, objectives and deliverables within defined constraints of scope, quality, time, cost and stakeholder or customer satisfaction." Even though the word "project" is often misused, this definition implies that a project is a process quite distinct from the product which is the output from this process. Note also that scope, quality, time and cost determine the 'boundaries' or limitations of the project (process), but that the measure of customer's satisfaction is the measure of the project's 'success'.

Intuitively, we must know that the success of a project depends on both the management process as well as the 'value' of the product upon completion. Surprisingly, the issue of project success, what it is and what management style or organizational approach can best achieve it has received only quite recent attention in the project management literature. Yet, the corner stone of modern and successful project management also derives from ancient history.

More than 2,500 years ago, the famous Chinese philosopher, Confucius, expressed this sentiment. "In all things, success depends upon previous preparation - and without such preparation there is sure to be failure." In modern parlance, this elementary observation translates into a simple two-step sequence: 'Plan before doing', or the more popular exhortation 'Plan Your Work, Work Your Plan!' This basic concept is the foundation of the project life cycle by which projects need to be managed. First plan, then produce.

Of course, the real world of project management is not quite so simple, but it helps if we can grasp the fundamentals. Interestingly, the two steps have entirely different characteristics and require quite different management approaches. This is because planning is (or should be) about 'Doing the right things' to ensure the success of the project.

It includes ensuring that the correct objectives are selected and correctly stated, selecting the best solutions, and the best way of implementing them. It also includes, and this is frequently overlooked, reaching agreement on the relevant measurable critical success indicators by which the project's management will direct or guide the project process. Planning is about maximizing the project's 'effectiveness'.

Producing, on the other hand, is about 'Doing the things right' or, in the words of the Total Quality Management enthusiasts - 'Do it right the first time!'. If the project is to be contained within its scope, quality, time and cost parameters, then the focus must be on competent administration and creating a productive environment. Producing is about maximizing the project's 'efficiency'.

Integrating the considerations just outlined above enables a project to be put through a systematic project management process consisting of the generic four-phase project life cycle shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Four-phase Generic Project Life Cycle
Figure 1: Four-phase Generic Project Life Cycle
Background  Background

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