This is an academic tome, yet at the same time we did find it surprisingly easy and enjoyable reading. That's largely because it is written in a clear, unambiguous style. There is no question where author Peter Morris is coming from. We also hope that as a "non-academic" we are not being presumptive in declaring that the contents throughout the book provide incredible insights and sound and realistic advice. Having said that, we should add that given Peter's experience and background his book does lean heavily towards projects of the more tangible output type such as infrastructure, rather than the less tangible such as information technology.
But where are we heading with all of this? The book sets out to Construct (in Part 1), Deconstruct (in Part 2) and Reconstruct (in Part 3), so in a preemptive observation at the end of Part 2, titled "Foundations for the future", Peter observes:
"What I argue for is ... that the unit of analysis should be the project, rather than project management processes or functions, but that, in addition to studying projects as organizational phenomena, we should be looking at how their conception, developing, execution and handover can, and should, be managed."
Interestingly, this observation speaks to the issue of the design of the project's life span and reflects design for management and control purposes. That is to say, it invokes the concept of "governance" handed down by the next level up in the organizational hierarchy. This is clearly beyond the scope of the existing definition of project manager.
Peter goes on to observe:
"And that we should be thinking of the purpose for which [the projects] should be being managed. They should add value to the realization of the sponsor's aims and strategies, should 'fit' the context in which they and their sponsor will be operating, and should be alert to, and address, the changes in business and societal conditions that we see coming down the pike."
This pushes the responsibility even higher in the organizational hierarchy, and begs the questions: "What knowledge is needed to manage [such] projects successfully?" And "Is 'Project Management' the generic term for this [whole] knowledge domain?" For example, Peter observes that:
"Portfolio Management is, as we've seen, about managing the allocation of resources in terms of the opportunities available, the risks posed, and the potential returns offered."
"But it is actually more than this. It's said of Steve Jobs that one of his decisive skills as [the late] CEO of Apple was his judgment on which of the many, many options to develop next [but] Apple should not do. His judgment in managing the overall Apple portfolio, in selecting the features to incorporate, was critical to the success of the company."
From this we are left with the impression that the responsibility for project management, in its fullest sense, clearly stretches right up to the person in the "top job". We are inclined to agree, but with responsibility for ultimate success delegated across a variety of people, each responsible for a diversity of parts, the coordination of which in the production phases is the responsibility of the project manager.
Peter ends his book with "Conclusions for the Discipline", a list containing no less than 44 observations and recommendations. Plus one parting shot:
"Be positive and determined. But enjoy the humor of life. 'That day is wasted on which we have not laughed.'"
Amen to that a fitting end to an exhaustive book that should be on the bookshelf of every serious practitioner of project management.
What is our personal takeaway?
- "Project management", in its broadest sense, is the totality of the subject described in this book.
- Therefore, project management in this broader sense is a big and serious team discipline. However, in practice it is doubtful that "The Project Manager's role" can be so all encompassing. This role is best focused on the challenging business of planning and execution of realizing the intended product.
- Others are better equipped to recognize and deal with Peter's essential "Front-End".
R. Max Wideman
12. Ibid, p233
15. Ibid, p235
16. Ibid, p273
17. Ibid, pp283-286
18. Ibid, p286 quoted from an imprint on the sundial at Mansfield, an old English country house!