Monthly Archives: April 2009

What is a project??????

The current definitions of a project have a common theme, but generally fail to differentiate projects from on-going operations. With governments world-wide starting to legislate about ‘projects’ we need to tighten up these definitions from within our profession before lawyers do the job for us!

There seems to be two elements of a project that clearly separate the practice and profession from operational work. These are:

  • Projects are about creating change. Turning a block of land into a building, developing a new business process, or writing a software program. At the end of the project there’s something significantly different in the world.
  • Projects are also temporary organisations. The key role of a project manager is to develop the temporary team, lead them in the work of the project and then dissipate the team at the end as the output from the project is transitioned to the client or operational users.

If these two factors are present, the endeavour is almost certainly a project. If one is present, it may be a project.

How do these ideas compare to the current definition of a project? The PMBOK® Guide has the following key elements in its definition:

  • It is a temporary endeavour*. Whilst this is true of a project, all endeavours are temporary. Endeavour is synonymous with ‘work’ and all work is temporary. The work by the accounts department to process the end of month accounts in a business is temporary but highly unlikely to be a project.
  • To create a unique product, service or result. Again whilst this is true, virtually every product, service or result is ‘unique’. Every Ford motorcar rolling off a production line is unique; it has a unique chassis number, a unique engine number, and has been made at a different time to the cars before it and after it. The difference between a project and an operational production item is the project is intended to create a distinct change. Producing a routine set of monthly accounts or another car from a production line is business as usual – the operation’s management may be looking for incremental improvements in their process but not change. The result of a project is a change in the environment (eg, a new building) or a change in the way the organisation works.

Other standards add additional factors to the PMBOK’s starting point such as the need for coordinated activities over time (dates), the use of resources and the presence of risk. None of these additional factors differentiate a project from operational work; all endeavours involve coordinating the activities of resources over time to achieve the intended outcome, and the outcome is always at risk.

The change needed to existing definitions of a project to actively differentiate projects from operational work is not great. The PMBOK definition could be amended from:

A temporary endeavor to create a unique product, service or result.


An endeavor, undertaken by a temporary team to create a new or changed, product, service or result.

This definition may not be perfect but it’s a lot closer to differentiating projects from operational work. 

Your comments will be appreciated.

*Definitions of endeavour (various sources)=
 – a purposeful or industrious undertaking
 – an earnest and conscientious activity intended to do or accomplish something
 – an effort to do something

 – an attempt by employing effort

The Right Way, the Wrong Way and the PMI Way

We are in the middle of a busy training period leading up to the change in the PMP exam. Several candidates have commented on needing to learn the PMI way rather than the real world way for their exam.

The idea that the PMI way is not real world is a very wrong assumption!

There are several factors that may make the PMI way different to your way but they are based on sound concepts. Some of the factors that create a difference are:

  • The PMBOK® Guide is a knowledge framework that contains processes that are generally applicable to most projects, most of the time. The consequence of this is the processes need tailoring for specific projects. The PMP and CAPM exams are generic and world wide they focus on answers that are likely to be correct for most people most of the time.
  • The PMBOK is developed by hundreds of project managers from around the world. The result is a coordinated amalgam of ideas. The PMP exam is based on the information in the PMBOK and information drawn from a range of text books written by leading authors. All of the correct answers are based on information from people with significant project management know-how. This may be different to yours but it is valid.
  • PMI has aspirations for the profession of project management. Some underlying themes found in the majority of questions such as the high level of proficiency of the performing organisation and the professional competence of the project managers may be a stretch based on the culture of your organisation but are highly desirable aims and are not unrealistic.

Building a major oil platform in the North Sea is different to writing a small software patch in Bangalore (and both are projects) so the exams will always contain elements that are not right for your projects.

This does not devalue the way you do your projects. As long as the projects your organisation manages are constantly delivered on time, on budget, on scope and fully satisfying all of the key stakeholders. If this happens,  your organisations approach to project management is obviously right in the context you are working in. It is just your way is different to the generally accepted way most successful projects are delivered world-wide and the PMI exams are focused on this generally accepted view of good practice.

PMI Exam Changes PMP and CAPM

Exam candidates need to know the change dates of 1st July for PMP and 1st August for CAPM are absolute! All examination deferrals and re-sits taken on or after these dates will be based on the new exam.

This policy will involve some extra work for PMP candidates and a complete re-run of your training for CAPM candidates if your training has been based on the current PMBOK® Guide 3rd Edition. The scope of changes between the 3rd and 4th Editions is very significant at the detailed level needed for the examinations (particularly CAPM).

You’ve been warned!!

PMI’s ‘Voices on Project Management’ Blog

Just a quick note to let you know I have joined the PMI ‘Voices on Project Management’ team of bloggers. Over 40 people commented my recent post discussing the Agile software development methodology [see my posts].

Given PMI’s central role as a project managment standards developer, you are all encouraged to join in the discussions sparked PMI’s range of ‘voices’ on their blogs to help drive the evolution of project management world-wide.

Ask for information you can use

Folowing on from my earlier post ‘A though on PMOs and Project Controls’ , PMOs and projects regularly collect and report on data but you have to ask how often is the data converted into information the organisation can use?

I have just wasted 15 minutes trying to respond to a survey commissioned by our local city council. The structure of the survey was so bad there is no way the data collected would allow any useful information to be gathered. Two of the questions (from memory) were:

  • ‘Overall how do you rate the Port Phillip City Council’s performance’ with a range of 5 options from bad to excellent. Sound like an insightful question but what does the answer tell anyone?? The Council delivers a wide range of totally separate services from refuse collection to maternal and child welfare. Any overall answer is meaningless; unless the Councillors are spending rate payer’s money on a ‘feel good’ ego trip and hope they will be rated ‘good’. It does not matter if the answer is bad, good or indifferent unless the data collected identifies what is good or bad so management action can be taken to lock in the good and improve the bad.
  • “How do you rate the street cleaning service overall?”  More specific but still useless data. The council cleans shopping strips on a daily basis, other roads on an occasional basis and numerous lanes and footpaths very rarely. My answer was shopping strips great, major roads OK, side roads like the one I live in fairly poor and the laneways are a total disaster….. But how would I rate the service overall??? At this point I terminated the interview!

    Overall rating should be complied from specific measurements weighted appropriately. In this case a weighted assessment of the relative importance of clean shopping strips -v- clean local streets -v- clean laneways to the local citizens. How do you assess the weightings? Ask a sample group of people which they feel is more important on a comparative basis before running the survey. Then collect specific data and build some useful information that can help direct improvements in the overall service.

When designing this sort of data gathering, you also need to filter out influences like staff culture (the Port Phillip staff are really great and helpful) from systemic issues such as the contract conditions the street cleaning contractor operates under.

Then by compiling all of the various rating for the specific services, an overall rating for the council could be compiled and more importantly the high performing areas noted and lessons from these areas transferred to the less well performing areas.

There’s a lot to learn from this example of bad surveying. Designing surveys and collecting data is not a trivial exercise. There is nothing simpler than bogging a PMO down collecting masses of data that can never be converted into useful information. Do this and the PMO will be seen as a useless bureaucracy and sooner or later it will be reorganised out of existence.

Focus the data collection on a limited range of key factors that can provide useful management information and the PMO will be seen as a real value add to the business.

So how do you rate your PMO overall?     Only kidding…..

On a closing note –
The number of really bad surveys seem to be increasing exponentially – I think around 80% of the various project management surveys I look at, mostly from post graduate students, seem to be either designed to support a pre-determined answer or so badly designed the data could be interpreted to suit any answer the researcher chooses. There is a real discipline and skill in developing an effective survey; unfortunately it’s a skill that seems to be in very short supply.

Frank Costigan QC

This is a brief post to mark the passing of a truly inspirational lawyer. I have been privileged to meet Frank Costigan on a number of occasions a various functions for Arbitrators arranged by the Institute of Arbitrators and Mediators, Australia (IAMA).

Despite his courage and fame associated with tackling organised crime in Australia during the 1980s (The Costigan Royal Commission), I met a gentle, caring and gracious human being.

Franks credo is well worth reflecting upon:

“ … No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; … any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee …” – John Donne
“Meditation XVII: Nunc Lento Sonitu Dicunt, Morieris”

If the mark of greatness is making a difference in this world, Frank Costigan QC certainly achieved greatness.

PMBOK -v- Methodology

Earlier this week, I was reviewing proposed abstracts for the PMOZ project management conference in Australia. One paper proposed comparing the PRINCE2 Methodology with the PMBOK Methodology.

The paper did not get accepted because its basic premise is completely wrong! The PMBOK® Guide is not and never has been a methodology.

Methodologies define the processes, responsibilities and workflows needed to achieve an objective. PRINCE2 is a good project methodology for managing projects with a large internal component. Agile and Waterfall are two different software development methodologies that incorporate elements of project management.

The PMBOK® Guide is an international standard. To give it its full name, it is A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge. The processes described in the PMBOK® Guide are generally accepted good practice that apply to most project most of the time. This is the foundation for a good project management methodology but the PMBOK® Guide is not, and cannot ever be a methodology without adaptation.

The step between the PMBOK® Guide and a methodology is determining what, who and how:

  • What of the processes should be applied in you organisation, to what extent and with how much rigour?
  • Who is responsible for the implementation of the processes, including; generic roles and responsibilities, project org. structures and governance committees
  • How the processes will be applied, templates, guidelines and workflows.

These are critically important issues.

  • If a PMO sets out to ‘implement the PMBOK’ you are heading for disaster.
  • If the same PMO sets out to develop a tailored methodology based on the good practices described in the PMBOK you are potentially on the right road.

Certainly in my business, if someone does not know the difference between a standard and a methodology, I tend to start asking a lot more questions about their competence. Having been involved in the last two upgrades of the PMBOK® Guide I consider it to be a very valuable resource to underpin the development of any project management methodology but you still need to do the hard work of determining the what, who, how and ‘how much’ for yourself to build the methodology and optimise the outcomes for your organisation.

Happy Easter.