This paper was printed as Chapter 5 in the GPM state-of-the-art book Dimensions of Project Management edited by H. ReschkeŠ & H. Schelle and published by Springer-Verlag in 1990. The book involved 29 authors from 16 countries and was assembled in honor of Roland W. Gutsch's 65th birthday. Roland, a personal friend, was founder and long-time leader of the International Project Management Association in Europe.

Abstract | Introduction | What is | Dimensions | Internal Culture
Corporate Culture | Influencing Environment | Internal Strategies
Surroundings | External Strategies | Stakeholders | Public Relations
Examples | Recent Projects | Consultants | Summary | References

Dimensions of the Project Environment

For convenience, and working outwards, the project environment may be thought of in terms of the project time environment, the internal project culture, the original corporate culture, and the external social surroundings.

For those who have not had experience of a construction project "in the trenches" so to speak, it is sometimes difficult to capture the feeling of pressure, stress and ultimate satisfaction of a project well accomplished, which the construction project management process offers. For the first timers, many experience a bewilderment as to what is really happening around them. Yet, most projects, if they are well run, exhibit some very typical but distinguishing features as they run their course.

The Project Time Environment -Š Four Distinct Project Phases

A typical construction project life cycle is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Project Life Cycle - Four Basic Phases
Figure 1: Project Life Cycle - Four Basic Phases

From the figure it will be seen that there are, or should be, four distinct project periods which make up the typical life span of a well run project. These phases are shown as

  • Concept
  • Planning
  • Execution
  • Transfer.

As an aid to memory, these phases may be readily recalled by the letters C-D-E-F standing for: Conceive Develop Execute, and Finish.

Figure 1 also shows typical activities which are required within each phase for building, say, a process facility. Of course, within each phase a number of sub-phases or stages can be identified, which relate to the typical construction project. But for our purposes, the four phases shown are generic to any type of construction project, and serve to underline the vital importance of progression from concept to planning, if the project is to be successfully implemented.

Thus, these first two phases, often referred to as the feasibility and engineering phases, are the opportunity to "build the project on paper", while the third and fourth phases, which include preparing detailed drawings and specifications, encompass the physical implementation of the project. Note particularly that submission approvals are called for at the end of each of the first two phases, and commissioning and completion approvals are typically required towards the ends of the latter two phases. Thus, each phase is like a mini-project with its own objectives and constraints. And so it should be seen to be, and conducted accordingly.

The successful conclusion of each of the phases are major milestones, which are really like "gates" between the phases, and which perform the function of major "Executive Control Points". Some projects somehow manage to slip through these gates without being in full compliance with project requirements to that point. Inevitably, such projects find themselves being re-cycled back to the earlier phase - to the detriment of the final project cost and schedule.

The Level-of-Effort Curve

Also of special significance is the variation in the level-of-effort (LoE), which is associated with these project phases, and which is required to conduct a project through its life cycle. The LoE curve represents the number of people dedicated to the project on a full or part time basis. It will be seen from Figure 1 that, typically, the number of people involved rises steadily through the first two phases, but increases dramatically in the execution phase.

It is at this time that difficulties of communication and coordination are experienced, with consequent high levels of stress, and/or shortages of materials and equipment, or other unnecessary delays. The success of the execution phase is therefore highly dependent upon the quality of the planning in the prior planning phase.

The finishing phase is equally dramatic - some might say traumatic. At the peak, there must be a careful balancing act between maintaining full steam ahead to accomplish all the work required, and being ready to cut the throttle as soon as sufficient work is no longer accessible to maintain the productivity of those on the project. A major lag in this decision frequently accounts for serious cost overruns. Again, if the original planning has been in anyway inadequate, changes at this point can have serious impacts on cost, schedule and the satisfaction of the participants.

Failure to follow these simple steps, is a failure in managing the project time environment.

What is the project environment?  What is the project environment?

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