The following research paper has been prepared with a view to advancing the body of project management knowledge.

Last updated 2/1/04

Introduction | Historical Perspective | Early Project Management Focused Texts
Project Life Spans, Late 1980s | Project Life Spans in the 1990s
Whither Project Life Spans in the 2000-Decade? | Summary and Conclusions

Project Life Spans, Late 1980s

During the '80s, the documenting of project management as a recognizable discipline proceeded apace largely inspired by the influence of the US Institute and the Internet (now renamed International Project Management Association or IPMA) in Europe. For example, Patzak, in Dimensions of Project Management, an IPMA book published in honor of Roland W. Gutsch, the founder of IPMA upon his 65th birthday, discusses the systems approach to project planning (1990). He wrote

"The starting point for the analysis of the phenomenon PROJECT is to look at a process -- the process of transferring an initial state I [Input, or problem] into a desired final state O [Output or problem solution]. In state O all more or less intended outcomes of the process 'project execution' are available having been produced during the whole process. These outputs are concrete (products, organizations, etc.) or abstract (plans, knowledge, experiences, emotional states, etc.) or both. They may be distinguished into
  1. Outputs during the process (e.g. satisfaction of personnel, gain of experience)
  2. Outputs at the end of the process (final products, state of knowledge)
So, it is obvious that the total process output is much more than the product that is the object to be produced in the project under consideration. Management has to be concerned with all dimensions of process output."

"The problem solving process -- the project execution -- shows a typical cycle of project life, which is structured into the following pattern of phases:
  1. Objectives Definition Phase (what is to be accomplished?)
  2. Design Phase (what/how to do it)
  3. Realization Phase (doing it)
  4. Implementation Phase (hand-over of it)
These phases can be observed in any problem solving process, they do not change with different project definitions."[14]

Interestingly, Patzak goes on to observe that in every phase there is both a management function as well as an execution function and describes the difference in some detail. These observations are important because they introduce the idea of system processing and an acknowledgement of outputs other than those stemming directly from the objective of the project, especially those associated with the people working on the project.

The US influence during this period was reflected in such books as Kerzner's epic 980-page book Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling, and Controlling (1989) and Cleland's book Project Management: Strategic Design and Implementation (1990). Kerzner discusses systems theory and concepts at some length but along the way draws a clear distinction between the project life span and the product life span. Figure 7 depicts his product life span resulting from research and development.[15] The distinction between project and product life spans is important because a number of present-day writers either make no distinction or define the former in terms of the latter.

Figure 7: Kerzner's R&D product life cycle
Figure 7: Kerzner's R&D product life cycle

This confusion appears to extend to the Cleland book's chapter on The Project Management Process, which discusses the various phases of the project life cycle in some depth. But the reader may be forgiven for any misunderstanding arising from the apparent ambivalence displayed in the text. The section on project life cycles quotes a number of sources, starting out with one that consists of twelve phases beginning with 'Concept' and ending with 'Production/Maintenance'.[16] The project/product life cycle issue aside, this sequential list reads more like an outline for a Gantt (bar) chart schedule. However, another "Generic project life cycle" quoted encompasses the phases "Conceptual; Definition; Production; Operational; and Divestment".[17] True, the author notes that different industries use different terminology, and a closer reading of the text makes it clear that the term "Divestment" does not mean disposal of the product at the end of its useful life but rather the transfer of the product at the end of the project's useful life! Still, there can be no doubt that Belanger is confusing product with project life cycle as late as 1997 when he describes the life cycle phases of a construction project as "General Concept; Definition; Detailed Planning; Development and Construction; Implementation and Operation; Closeout or Retirement"[18] (emphasis added.)

About his generic project life cycle, Cleland makes an important point

"Between the various phases are decision points, at which an explicit decision is made concerning whether the next phase should be undertaken, its timing, etc."[19]

This idea represents an important development for two reasons:

  1. It introduces the idea of strategic high-level decision points (also known as Executive Control Points, Gates or Gating) at which a decision is taken whether or not to continue, and
  2. It is distinguished from those earlier texts that emphasize that such phases may, and frequently do, overlap.

This idea is reinforced by Youker in a keynote paper presented at INTERNET 88. In the address he stated in part:

" The development cycle for World Bank projects . . . defines six sequential steps: identification, preparation, appraisal, negotiations, implementation and supervision and expost evaluation. Other organizations use slightly different terms but most think of the process as a cycle. In reality, even though one can learn from experience, one can never return to the past. So the cycle is really a spiral, circling through the required steps but always moving on to new projects. The cycle consists of a series of steps separated by decision points. The process moves toward implementation and start-up of operations. Evaluation is an ex-post look to seek if the objectives were accomplished and if they were the right objectives." [19a]

Youker's illustration is shown in Figure 7a.

Figure 7a: Youker's World Bank investment project life span

Figure 7a: Youker's World Bank investment project life span
(click for larger diagram - opens a new window. Close window to return to this page.)

In passing, a number of people had difficulty in relating the "generic" project life span with a "practical" life span such as construction. The author's Figure 8, (circa 1987) not only showed the connection but also indicated the general proportionate time of each phase as a percentage of the construction time, based on building project data collected in the 1970s.[20]

Figure 8: Wideman's construction bar chart related to the generic project life span
Figure 8: Wideman's construction bar chart related to the generic project life span

The question of responsibility was also an issue. Figure 9 shows the project delivery system developed by Public Works Canada (1989).[21]

Figure 9: Public Works Canada's facility life span
Figure 9: Public Works Canada's facility life span

This diagram emphasizes the deliverables expected from each phase, but the text accompanying the diagram high lights both focused responsibility and an expectation that this responsibility will change from one individual to another during the course of the project.

"During the first, third and fifth phases, a single key player has direct responsibility. During the other phases, this responsibility shifts to the key player responsibility for the next phase. The second, fourth and sixth phases do not usually exist independently but form part of the adjoining phases. They are shown separately to emphasize the overlapping responsibilities of the key players during transition from one phase to another. A smooth transition between phases allows orderly project delivery."
Early Project Management Focused Texts  Early Project Management Focused Texts

14. Patzak, G., Project Management Paradigm: A System Oriented Model of Project Planning, in Dimensions of Project Management, edited by H. Reschke& H. Schelle, Springer-Verlag, Berlin, 1990, pp26-27.
15. Kerzner, Dr. H., Project management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling, and Controlling, Third Edition, Van Nostrand Reinhold, NY, 1989, p84.
16. Cleland, Dr. D. I., Project Management: Strategic Design and Implementation, TAB Books, PA, 1990, p23.
17. Ibid, p27.
18. Belanger, T. C. Choosing a Project Life Cycle, chapter 6 of Field Guide to Project Management, edited by D. I. Cleland, Van Nostrand Reinhold, NY, 1997, p62.
19. Cleland, Dr. D. I., Project Management: Strategic Design and Implementation, TAB Books, PA, 1990, p25.
19a. Youker, R., Managing the project cycle for time, cost and quality: lessons from World Bank experience, Keynote paper, INTERNET 88, Glasgow, 1988, Vol 7 No 1 February 1989 p54.
20. Wideman, R. M., Project Management Framework lecture overhead slide circa 1987.
21. Project Delivery System, Public Works Canada, Government of Canada, 1989, p5.
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