Published here June 2012

Introduction to the Books | About the Authors and Their Books
Book 1 - What Executives Need to Know about Project Management
Book 2 - What Functional Managers Need to Know about Project Management
Book 3 - Introduction | Book Structure | What We Liked | Downside | Summary
Book 4 - Managing Complex Projects

What We Liked

This book introduced a new perspective on "traditional" project management and this is clearly stated at the start of Chapter 1, thus:

"Traditional project management works well when the direction of the project is clearly understood, the scope is well defined, all key stakeholders agree on the objectives and expectations, the risks have been assessed and well understood, and the probability of success is considered to be very high. In comparison, for companies that wish to be innovative and become market leaders rather than market followers, the type of projects approved may be based on 'fuzzy' objectives, optimism, and a willingness to take risks and basically do not follow a specific set of selection criteria."[25]

We call the latter types of project "Voyages of Discovery". Those who are more polite may refer to them as "Research". Either way, if that is how management wishes to spend its time, money and resources, then so be it. And project managers must accommodate to that kind of a business environment.

Or again:

"Most companies either have or are in the process of developing an enterprise project management (EPM) methodology. EPM systems are usually rigid processes designed around policies and procedures, and work efficiently when the statement of work is well defined. But with the new type of projects expected over the next decade, these rigid and inflexible processes may be more of a hindrance."[26]

We could not agree more. Nevertheless:

"The fundamental principles of project management can be applied to all parts of a business. Simply stated, companies are managing their business through projects, and every major activity within the company can be viewed as a project ... Of significant importance is the focus of training executives to function as project sponsors."[27]

More interesting comments:

"Project management has evolved into a business process rather than a project management process."[28] And "It is important to understand that meeting customers' requirements is sometimes accomplished through the expense of disrupting the corporate culture and ongoing business operations."[29]

We are sure that both these statements are likely to be seen as controversial and it would be well that the project management communities give them serious consideration. The impact on present day project management organizations' attitudes could be significant and their shape in the future could be radically different. In which case, we see a clash with other management organizations, such as in the UK where there is a royal Chartered Management Institute (CMI). CMI serves managers in the officially recognized profession of general management and, incidentally, offers a CMI Diploma in Programme[30] and Project Management.

This general thread through this book is illustrated by the graphic shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Changing Views of Project Management
Figure 3: Changing Views of Project Management[31]

By way of explanation when it comes to knowledge requirements, the accompanying text observes:

"For many years, engineers were assigned as project managers due to their technical knowledge and many advanced degrees in the engineering profession. This concept was customer driven. Customers required project managers to possess detailed knowledge of the product and a command of technology rather than an understanding of how teams functioned or how to integrate and coordinate deliverables. [But] in today's project environment, many project managers have more of an understanding of technology rather than a command of technology ... Project managers are now viewed as business managers rather than as pure project managers or task managers."[32]

We are not certain how universal this trend is, but if true, then maybe it is time to relegate the PMBoK to the historical archives.

In the chapters that follow, there are many such futuristic statements that readers will find challenging, specifically in reaching an understanding of the terms "value" and (hence) "success". Both terms have a wide variety of interpretations in the literature, depending on the context, and therefore need to be defined accordingly. These subsequent chapters do a good job of exploring and explaining this controversial terrain.

One good example amongst many is the following narrative:

"The decision made by the City of Denver and the contractors was to keep the airport closed until the computerized baggage handling system was fully operational. This generated a large portion of the cost overrun but maximized the value of the airport well into the future. Today, travelers through the airport marvel at its success, and not many people still remember the cost overruns or the problems with the baggage handling system.

[Denver International Airport] provides us with an important lesson to consider: Sometimes it is better to accept a cost overrun in order to maximize the value in a project's deliverables than to maintain the budget and add incremental value piecemeal over a decade or longer."[33] (Emphasis is in the original).

As prior text in the book explains, the decision was taken in very difficult and controversial circumstances and therefore not an easy one. In the most simplistic of terms the choice was between an unknown but eventual 400% cost overrun,[34] or a widespread adverse public opinion as a result of passengers being inconvenienced by a dysfunctional airport. Nevertheless, from a project manager's perspective, the project was not finished until the product was delivered complete in all its major functions. From a corporate perspective, the overrun represented the price for avoiding adverse public opinion.

Book Structure  Book Structure

25. Ibid, p3
26. Ibid, p7
27. Ibid, p9
28. Ibid, p10
29. Ibid, p11
30. "Programme" is the English spelling of the North American "Program".
31. Ibid, p20
32. Ibid, p21
33. Ibid, p119
34. Ibid, p116-117. Original planned cost: $1 billion; Final cost: Over $5 billion. The good news, the project manager was not fired.
Home | Issacons | PM Glossary | Papers & Books | Max's Musings
Guest Articles | Contact Info | Search My Site | Site Map | Top of Page