Monthly Archives: October 2011

The Origins of Project Management

Based on Lynda’s analysis of ‘stakeholder’ using the new Google Ngram Viewer (see: Lynda’s post), I thought I would compare ‘stakeholder’ with ‘Project Management’.

Lynda’s Stakeholder graph:

The Ngram for Stakeholder

My graph of Project Management to the same dimensions:

The Ngram for Project Management

Comparing the two charts suggests ‘stakeholder management’ is a growing social phenomenon whereas ‘project management’ has reached a plateau, possibly suggesting it is a mature business function. Comparing the raw numbers, ‘stakeholder management’ has a very long way to go to catch up with ‘project management’ in terms of the amount of writing about the subject suggesting it will be an expanding area of interest for many years to come.

Interestingly, the start of the steady rise in interest in ‘project management’ from around 1960 fully supports the hypothesis in my paper The Origins of Modern Project Management that the spread of project management was directly linked to the development of CPM scheduling. The original work on CPM was done in 1957!

To explore the Ngram Viewer yourself, see: http://books.google.com/ngrams/

The rise of Stakeholders

Google have released a fascinating tool to analyse the data in some 5 million books scanned as part of their ‘Google Books’ project.

There have been some 129 million books published since the invention of printing, so-far Google have scanned 15 million of these and the researchers have selected 5 million books that have a sufficient level of quality to be useful. The information in these books has been digitised and the contents made accessible as data through the Google Ngram Viewer (see: http://books.google.com/ngrams/). The tool effectively maps the rise of social phenomena by plotting the number of times a work or phrase is used in books published in any particular year. To compensate for the growth in the number of books published year-on-year, the data is normalised. For more on this see: http://www.ted.com/talks/what_we_learned_from_5_million_books.html

Using the Ngram Viewer, the rise of ‘Stakeholders’ from a pure legal/gambling term (the neutral party who holds the ‘stakes’ during a game of chance or similar) to its current status is amazing. Pre 1970 there is a continual low-level reference primarily in legal books dealing with disputes over various ‘stakes’. Through the 1980s the focus shifted to corporate stakeholders (ie, shareholders and others). From the 1990s on the term has had an increasingly wider use.

The Ngram for 'stakeholder'

It is fascinating to see this data supporting the analysis of the history of stakeholders contained in my first book Stakeholder Relationship Management: A Maturity Model for Organisational Implementation (soon to be in its 2nd Edition – see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/Book_Sales.html#Book_Bourne)

I have a feeling the Google Ngram Viewer will become an increasingly useful research tool, particularly as the raw data can be downloaded for independent analysis.

Mistakes!

Experience is that marvellous thing that enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it for the second time and fortunately we all have a wonderful capability for accruing experience! It is almost impossible to do anything new without the probability of mistakes occurring.

A mistake is an error in action, calculation, opinion, or judgment caused by insufficient knowledge, poor reasoning, carelessness or a misunderstanding or misconception. Examples include forgetting our passwords; eating more food because it is served in a bigger bowl and overpaying for gym memberships and phone plans.

We all tend to:

    • Look but not always see: when we look at something we think we see all there is to see, but we don’t. The eye’s area of clear vision is a cone of about 2 degrees – the size of a 5 cent coin (or quarter) at normal viewing distances.
    • We connect dots we don’t know we’re connecting, the sub-conscious mind does this for us based on preconceptions and stereotypes!
    • We wear rose-colored glasses and/or think the grass looks greener – our innate biases drive us to these errors (for more on ‘bias’ see: WP 1069 – The innate effect of Bias).
    • We are really terrible at really appreciating probability, perspective, size and shape – if you don’t believe these two table tops are the same size go to: http://www.michaelbach.de/ot/sze_shepardTables/index.html.

Shepard's Parallelogram Illusion

    From a stakeholder management perspective, the challenge is not eliminating mistakes – this is impossible, rather designing systems and processes in a way that will minimise unnecessary mistakes and accepting there will always be others that will require managing.

We can minimise mistakes by being aware we make them and avoiding the known traps and pitfalls. Joseph T. Hallinan’s book, Why We Make Mistakes is a good starting point.

Another impossible image by Roger Shepard

Dealing with the mistakes that occur requires acknowledgement of the error and appropriate actions to rectify the mistake. This applies equally to you, your team members and other stakeholders. The biggest mistake is expecting perfection (ie, the absence of mistakes)! The second biggest is failing to acknowledge a mistake once it has happened; as Confucius said “A man who has committed a mistake and doesn’t correct it is committing another mistake.”

So the next time the wheels fall off your project because someone made a mistake, rather than blaming the person, recognise mistakes are normal and be prepared to deal with ‘normality’.