The Basic Proposition
We are fine with the concept of treating the so-called "front end" of projects in terms of "Hierarchical Levels". That is assuming that these levels of management, in a vertical hierarchal sense, are associated with correspondingly earlier and earlier phases or stages of the project's life span, albeit typically portrayed horizontally! Although the match may not be exact, it is not unreasonable for purposes of analysis and serves the paper well. In fact, many companies recognize the existence of multiple phases in the front end of projects in a concept known as "Front-end" or "Front-end loading" (FEL).
Examples of project life spans encompassing specific front-end phases are shown in Figures 1 and 2.
Figure 1: Additional phasing added to a construction project
Figure 2: Additional phases found in a World Bank project
Figure 3 illustrates the vital pre-assembly phases of a new systems project in the highly technological world of systems development.
Figure 3: The essential pre-assembly phases of a system development project
Our paper: The Role of the Project Life Cycle (Life Span) in Project Management, from which these illustrations are drawn, reviews the evolution of the project life span over a period of three decades, the 1980s through to the 2000s. So it is interesting that this topic should reemerge now in the fourth decade. Indeed, the authors observe that:
"Yet this area needs managing. In fact, there is huge evidence (going well back to DOD days) that the front end is both where the most damaging errors get built in and, alternatively, where there is the biggest scope for enhancing value (Morris, 2009)."
The authors go on to observe that:
"The PMBOK® Guide does not address the development nature of project front-end management"
We strongly support these observations by the authors.
Notwithstanding, our serious concern and specific comments are with "Level 1: Technical". In any discussion of project management, the term "technical" is ambiguous and imprecise. Amongst the knowledge areas of project management, the term "technical" may be used to differentiate the so-called "hard" skills such as time management, cost control management, or risk analysis, from the soft skills such as communications and people management. However, the term may also be used to refer to the work involved in managing the technology of the product to be delivered or, in other words, a surrogate for "technology" management.
Thus, we believe that much more work needs to be done on this Level 1 as described. Indeed, we believe that "Level 1" is actually two levels, as we shall try to demonstrate. For convenience we will label these as Levels 1a and 1b, to avoid confusion with the Levels 2 and 3 as described by the authors.
5. This Figure 1 can be found as Figure 13 in The Role of the Project Life Cycle (Life Span) in Project Management, A literature review by R. Max Wideman on this page: http://www.maxwideman.com/papers/plc-models/1990s.htm. This paper was updated in February 2004, but the graphic dates back to consulting work conducted in 1996.
6. This Figure 2 was provided to us by Bob Youker around January 2004.
7. This Figure 3 can be found as Figure 19 in The Role of the
Project Life Cycle (Life Span) in Project Management, A literature review by R.
It is attributable to author Peter Morris.
8. Morris, et al., p21
9. Ibid. Although this statement was published in 2011, referring to the PMI publication of 2008, this statement is still true of the latest PMI standards published in 2013.