Tag Archives: Project Management

How the chair can make a meeting ineffective

The chair of any meeting has a unique ability to destroy the value of the meeting!

Eight of the key ways to reduce the meeting’s value are:

  1. Playing favourites. Bad chairs tend to shut down some attendees whilst allowing others they see as politically important to occupy most of the speaking time. The outcome from this behaviour tends to be poor decision-making; bad chairs don’t care. Their interest is to stay the good books of the people they see as politically important.
  2. Changing the rules. Bad chairs keep the rules to themselves and change the rules when it suits them. They don’t give advice on what preparation attendees need to make or advise how the meeting will be conducted. While this trait may appear to appear to be a gambit to leave the chair in control, in reality it means the meeting is likely to be less than useful.
  3. Showing bias. When there is a vigorous debate between various groups in the meeting a bad chair will obviously be supporting one side.  Good chairs remain neutral whilst they may feel strongly about subject their primary function is to ensure the meeting reaches a consensus, not that the meeting reaches a decision that they predetermine as being optimum (although they need to be part of the consensus).
  4. Failing to define its purpose. Bad chairs do not define a clear objective for the meeting, fail to set priorities, and don’t circulate an agreed agenda. Good chairs define the purpose of every meeting with crystal clarity so attendees can come prepared and stay focused.
  5. Losing control. The hallmarks of a bad chair during the meeting include running over time, getting off track, get rattled, and allowing discussion to descend into personal arguments. Good facilitators keep their hands firmly on the reins consistently and politely guiding discussion back to the purpose of the meeting.
  6. Failing to communicate. Bad chairs tend to display no sense of appreciation for the points made by contributors to the discussion and tend to ignore many of the attendees. Good chairs are great communicators remember everybody’s name, include newcomers, and are excellent at active listening and summarising points to ensure everybody has a clear understanding of the current state discussion[1].
  7. Failing to make decisions. Deadlocks happen in most meetings, bad chairs cannot solve them. A good chair will either take a vote, extend discussion for a set (limited) period, set up a working party, or call an extraordinary meeting to deal with the item later; any of these options are better than allowing the meeting to waffle on allowing tension and confusion to grow.
  8. Failing to engage with meeting participants outside of the meeting. Bad chairs are missing in action, too busy to be involved with the delegates other than during the meeting. Good chairs recognise the meeting is part of a continuing process that requires responsive input and support between meetings.

Meetings are an expensive resource often costing thousands of dollars an hour to run. If you are the chair of the meeting, or are responsible for calling a meeting, you need to ensure the meeting is managed effectively to maximise the opportunity for success.  This is important for every type of meeting from a short team ‘stand-up’ through to company board meetings – the further up the hierarchy the greater the cost of ineffective meetings. Unfortunately ‘bad chairs’ seem to be common at all levels; the idea for this post came from an article by Kath Walters in the AICD March 2017 magazine focused on the behaviour of dysfunctional boards of directors.

Recognising poor performance is one thing, doing something about it is another; for more on managing effective meetings see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1075_Meetings.pdf

Meeting management and effective communication also feature in our PMP and CAPM courses – the next 5-day intensive course starts 20th March, see: http://www.mosaicproject.com.au/

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[1] For more on active listening see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1012_Active_Listening.pdf

There’s a great Scheduling party in Atlanta this May!

Why not attend the Project Management College of Scheduling (PM-COS) annual conference either as a speaker or delegate and collect your ‘ticket to project success’?

pmcos2017

Some of the reasons for joining us at The Ritz-Carlton, Atlanta include:

  • CPM Scheduling has been around for more than fifty years.  How much is art?  How much is science?  Help us decide.
  • Network with schedule professionals from around the globe including many of the top practitioners and experts in the field.
  • Learn tips from experts such as the role that case law plays in schedule delay analysis.
  • Help us address important issues facing the scheduling profession today and how to resolve them as we move forward.
  • Attend presentations and panel discussions to learn the recent developments in the profession and how to implement them on your projects.

For more information and to register, visit us at www.pmcos.org!

The Yin and Yang of Integrated Data Systems

yin_yangIntegrated project management information systems (PMIS) are becoming more common and more sophisticated ranging from ‘web portals’ that hold project data through to the potential for fully integrated design and construction management using BIM[1].  The benefits derived from using these systems can be as much as 20% of the build price on complex construction projects using BIM.

pmisThe advantages of this type of information storage and retrieval system include:

  • Ready access to data when needed via PDAs and ‘tablets’ significantly reducing the need for ‘push’ communication and the existence of ‘redundant data’[2].
  • One place to look for information with indexing and cross-referencing to minimise the potential for missed information.
  • Audit trails and systems to ensure only the latest version of any document is available.
  • Cross-linking of data in different documents and formats to assist with configuration management, requirements traceability, and change control.
  • Controls on who can ‘see’ the data, access the data and edit the data.
  • Workflow functions to remind people of their next job, list open actions, record actual progress, etc[3].
  • A range of built-in functions to validate data and avoid ‘clashes’, including locking or ‘freezing’ parts of the data set when that information has been moved into ‘work’.

These benefits are significant and a well-designed system reduces errors and enhances productivity leading to reduced costs, but the ‘yin’ of well-designed PMIS comes with a ‘yang’!

People increasingly tend to believe information produced from a computer system, this is true of ‘Facebook’, Wikipedia and flows through to more sophisticated systems. There also seems to be a steady reduction in the ability of younger people in particular to critically analyse information; in short, if it comes from the computer many people will assume it is correct. Add to this the ability of many of the more sophisticated PMIS tools to transpose and transfer information between different parts of the systems automatically or semiautomatically and there is a potential for many of the benefits outlined above to be undermined by poor data. This issue has been identified for decades and has the acronym GIGO – garbage in, garbage out.

The question posed in this blog is how many projects and project support organisations (PMOs, etc.) consider or actively implement effective data traceability.  Failed audits, overruns from scope oversights, and uninformed or ill-informed decision-making are just a few of the consequences project teams suffer from if they do not have full traceability of their project management data. This issue exists in any information processing system from basic schedule updating, through monthly reporting to the most sophisticated, integrated PMIS. If you cannot rely on the source data, no amount of processing will improve the situation! And to be able to rely on data, you need to be able to trace it back to its source.

tracabilityTraceability is defined as ‘the ability to trace the location, history and use of each data element’. This sounds simple but in reality can be very challenging, and the results of poor visibility can be devastating to a project. Some of the key questions to ask are:

  • Where did this data or these actuals come from?
  • What is the authorizing document and when did it get signed/approved?
  • Has everyone approved the change request or action item?

Traceability does not happen by accident! Project management information systems have to be designed with traceability as a key element in each of its aspects.  As information comes into the system the author or the origin of the information has to be recorded (preferably automatically). Depending on the nature of the information it may need to be quarantined until appropriate checks have been carried out and/or approvals have been obtained and then there needs to be traceability of any subsequent changes. The foundation of traceability is the combination of processes (people) and data management.

Therefore, the ‘yang’ of a sophisticated integrated project management information systems is that as the systems become more integrated and sophisticated people will come to rely on the information provided and ‘trust it’ whilst the source and veracity of the data used becomes less obvious.

Resolving this is partly process and partly people. The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) has produced the Time and Cost Management Contract Suite 2015 focused on complex construction projects using BIM.  This contract defines a number of key support roles (largely independent of the parties) focused on managing the information flows into and out of the system to ensure its accuracy and validity. Similar roles and responsibilities are essential in any effective PMIS.

My latest post on the PMI ‘Voices blog’, From Data to Wisdom: Creating & Managing Knowledge highlights the importance of data as the underpinning of all reporting and communication.  So the question is, how much focus does your project team or PMO put on ensuring the data it is using is timely, complete, accurate and traceable?

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[1] BIM = Building Information Modelling, see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1082_BIM_Levels.pdf

[2] For more on planning project communication see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/Mag_Articles/ESEI-09-communication-planning.pdf

[3] A discussion on how these capabilities can enhance project controls is at: https://mosaicprojects.wordpress.com/2016/11/26/the-future-of-project-controls/

USA moving to formalise project and program management capabilities

The concept of professional project management is gathering pace. The USA Government’s Program Management Improvement and Accountability Act of 2015 (PMIAA) was unanimously passed by the US Senate by in November 2015, and was passed by Congress in September 2016 on a 404-11 vote.  Because Congress made some minor changes, it now has to was returned to the Senate before it can be and signed into law by the President on the 14th December 2016 (see comment below).

obama-law

The Act requires the Deputy Director for Management of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to:

  • adopt and oversee implementation of government-wide standards, policies, and guidelines for program and project management for executive agencies;
  • chair the Program Management Policy Council (established by this Act);
  • establish standards and policies for executive agencies consistent with widely accepted standards for program and project management planning and delivery;
  • engage with the private sector to identify best practices in program and project management that would improve Federal program and project management;
  • conduct portfolio reviews to address programs identified as high risk by the Government Accountability Office (GAO);
  • conduct portfolio reviews of agency programs at least annually to assess the quality and effectiveness of program management; and
  • establish a five-year strategic plan for program and project management.

The Act also requires the head of each federal agency that is required to have a Chief Financial Officer (other than Defence which has its own rules) to designate a Program Management Improvement Officer to implement agency program management policies and develop a strategy for enhancing the role of program managers within the agency.

The Office of Personnel Management must issue regulations that:

  1. identify key skills and competencies needed for an agency program and project manager,
  2. establish a new job series or update and improve an existing job series for program and project management within an agency, and
  3. establish a new career path for program and project managers.

And finally, the GAO must issue a report within three years of enactment, in conjunction with its high-risk list, examining the effectiveness of the following (as required or established under this Act) on improving Federal program and project management:

  • the standards, policies, and guidelines for program and project management;
  • the strategic plan;
  • Program Management Improvement Officers; and
  • the Program Management Policy Council.

When enacted the Act will enhance accountability and best practices in project and program management throughout the federal government by:

  1. Creating a formal job series and career path for program/project managers in the federal government, to include training and mentoring – PMP, PMI-SP and similar certifications will become increasingly important!
  2. Developing and implementing, with input from private industry, a standards-based program/project management policy across the federal government.
  3. Recognizing the essential role of executive sponsorship and engagement by designating a senior executive in federal agencies to be responsible for program/project management policy and strategy.
  4. Sharing knowledge of successful approaches to program/project management through an inter-agency council on program and project management.
  5. Implementing program/project portfolio reviews.
  6. Establishing a 5-year strategic plan for program/project management.

You can read the text of the Act here, and stay up-to-date on the Act’s progress here.  The approach USA is aligned with regulatory actions in both the UK and the EU to require government agencies to improve project and program delivery. If this trend continues hopefully the ‘accidental’ project manager / sponsor will be consigned to history and the use of qualified professionals will become the norm.

Follow these links for more on achieving your PMP credential of PMI-SP credential.

The future of project controls

Last week I participated in two PUXX panel discussions in Perth and Sydney focused on predicting the influence of technology on project controls.  The range of subjects covered ranged from drones and remote monitoring to virtual reality.

Many of the topics discussed offered better ways to do things we already do, provided we can make effective use of the data generated in ever increasing quantities – significant improvements but essentially ‘business-as-usual’ done better. The aspect I want to focus on in this post is the potential to completely reframe the way project schedules are developed and controlled when existing ‘gaming technology’ and BIM are synthesised.

The current paradigm used for critical path scheduling is a (dumbed-down) solution to a complex set of problems required to allow the software to run on primitive mainframe computers in the late 1950s – the fundamentals have not changed since! See: A Brief History of Scheduling.

The underlying assumption is a project consists of a set of activities each with a defined duration and depending on the logical relationship between the activities, some are ‘critical’ others have ‘float’.  The basic flaw in this approach can be demonstrated by looking at the various options open to a schedule to define the work involved in 3 simple foundations involving excavation and mass concrete fill.

schedule-options

All four of the above options above are viable alternatives that may be chosen by different schedulers to describe the work using CPM, and none of them really describe what actually happens. The addition of more links would help but even then the real situation which is one resource crew visits three locations in turn and excavates the foundations, a second crew follows and places the concrete with some options for overlapping, parallel working and possibly synchronising the actual pouring of all three foundations on the same day…….. Optimising the work of the crews is the key to a cost effective outcome and this depends on what follows their work.  For more on resource optimisation see: www.mosaicprojects.com.au/Resources_Papers_152.html. Advances in computer software offer the opportunity to develop a new way of working.

The starting point for the hypothesis outlined I this post is 4D BIM (Building Information Modelling). Last month I was in London working on the final edits to the second edition of the CIOB’s book, Guide to Good Practice in the Management of Time in Complex Projects (due for publication in 2017 as The Management of Time in Major Projects). One of the enhancements in the second edition is an increased focus on BIM. To assist our work a demonstration of cutting edge 4D BIM was provided Freeform.

Their current capabilities include:

  • The ability to model in real time clashes in working space provided the space needed for each crews work is parameterised. Change the timing of one work crew and the effect on others in a space is highlighted.
  • The ability to view the work from any position at any time in the construction process; allowing things such as a tower crane driver’s actual line of sight to be literally ‘seen’ at different stages of the construction.
  • The relatively normal ability to import schedule timings from a range of standard tools to animate the building of the model, and the ability to feedback information derived from processes such as the identification of clashes in the use of working space using
  • The space occupied by temporary works and various pieces of equipment can be defined and clashes with permanent works identified over time.
  • Finally the ability for a person to see and move around within the virtual model using the same type of 3D virtual reality goggles used by many gaming programmes. The wearer is literally immersed in the model.

For all of this in action on a major rail project see: https://www.newcivilengineer.com/future-tech/pushing-the-limits-of-bim/10012298.article

Moving into the world of game playing, there are many different games that allow players in competition, or collaboration, to ‘build’ cities, empires, fortifications, farms, etc. These games know the resources available to the players and how many resources will be required to construct each new element in the game – if you don’t have the resources, you can’t build the new asset.

Combining these two concepts opens up the possibility for a completely new approach to scheduling physical projects that involve the deployment of resources to physical locations to undertake work. The concept of location-based scheduling is not new, it was used in the 1930s to construct the Empire State Building (see: Line of Balance) and is still widely used.  For more on location-based scheduling see: Location-Based Management for Construction: Planning, Scheduling, and Control by Prof. Russell Kenley.

How these concepts tie into BIM starts with the model itself.  A BIM model consists of a series of parameterised objects. Each object can contain data on its size, weight, durability, cost, maintainability, carbon footprint, etc. As BIM develops many of these objects will come from standard libraries created by suppliers and subcontractors. Change an object, for example, replace windows from manufacturer “A” with similar Windows from manufacturer “B” and the model is update and potential issues with sizes, fixings and waterproofing can be identified. It is only a small step from this point to add parameters related to the resources needed to undertake the work of installation.

With this information and relatively minor enhancements to current BIM capabilities, once the engineering model is reasonably complete a whole new paradigm for planning work opens up.

4d-vr

To plan the work the ‘planning team’ put on their virtual reality headsets and literally ‘walk’ onto the site.  As they start to locate temporary works and begin the building process the model is tracking the use of resources and physical space in real time. The plan is developed based on the embedded parameters in the fully integrated 3D model.

Current 4D imports a schedule ‘shows you’ the effect.  Using the proposed gaming approach and parameterized objects you can literally build the project in the virtual space and either see the consequences on resource loading or be limited by resource availability.  A whole bunch of games do this already, add in existing clash detection capabilities (but applied to workers using the space) and you change the whole focus of planning a project. Decisions can be made to adjust the size of resource crews and the flow of work can be optimised to balance the competing objectives of cost efficiency, time efficiency and resource optimisation.

The proposed model is a paradigm shift away from CPM and its arbitrary determination of activities and durations to a process focused on the smooth flow of resources through work areas. The computational base will be focused on resource effectiveness and resource utilisation. Change ‘critical path’ to ‘critical resources’, eliminate the illusion of ‘float’ but look for underutilised resources and resource waiting time. To optimise the work, different scenarios can be stored, replayed and edited – the ultimate ‘what-if’ experience.

The concept of schedule density ties in with this approach nicely; initial planning is done for the whole project at the ‘low density’ level with activity durations of several weeks or months setting out the overall ‘time budget’ for the project and establishing the strategic flow of work.  As the design improves and more information becomes available, the schedule is enhanced first to ‘medium density’ and then to ‘high density’. The actual work is controlled by the ‘high density’ part of the schedule. For more on ‘schedule density’ see: www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1016_Schedule_Density.pdf.

Where this concept gets really interesting is in the control of the work.  The medium and high density elements of the schedule are built using the same ‘virtual reality’ process as the overall schedule, therefore each object in the overall BIM model can include data on the resources allocated to the work, the sequence of work and the time allowed. Given workers on BIM-enabled projects already use various PDAs to access details of their work, the same tablet or smart device can be used to tell the workers their next job and how long that have to complete it. When they complete the task, updating the BIM model with that progress information updates the schedule, tells the crew their next job and tells the next resources planned to move into the area that the space is available. The schedule and the 3D model are the same entity.

Similarly, off-site manufacturing and design lead-times can be integrated into the dataset.  Each manufactured item can have its design, manufacture and transport and approval times associated with the element making the development of an off-site works / procurement schedule a simple process to extract the report once the schedule is set.  Identifying delays in the supply chain and dealing with changes in the timing of installation become staigtforward.

When inevitable problems occur, the project management team have the ideal tool to work through solutions and determine the optimum way forward, as soon as the new schedule is agreed, the BIM model already holds the information.

One of the key concepts in ‘schedule density’ is that any work planned for the short-term future has to be based on the actual performance of the crews doing the work. In a BIM enabled scheduling system this can also be automated. The work content of each activity is held in the model as is the crew assigned to the work. As soon as the work crew’s productivity can be measured, the benchmark values used in the original planning can be updated with real data. Where changes in performance are needed to deal with slippages and productivity issues these can be properly planned and incorporated into the schedule based on when the implemented changes can be expected to occur.

I’m not sure if this is BIM2 or BIM++ but these ideas are not very far in advance of current capabilities – all we need now is a software developer to take on the ideas and make them work.

These concepts will be harder to apply to ‘soft projects’ but the planning paradigms in soft projects have already been shaken up by Agile. But integrating 3D modelling with an integrated capability for real 4D interaction certainly seem to make sense for projects where the primary time management issue is the flow of resources in the correct sequence through a defined series of work locations in three dimensions.   What do you think???

Are you a workshop leader or facilitator?

workshopWorkshops are a routine feature in many projects. They are typically used either to find a solution to a problem or to develop and integrate knowledge needed for the work (eg, requirements gathering and prioritisation).

Effective project managers know that every workshop is a meeting and many of the rules for running effective meetings need to be applied including:

They also know that unlike normal meetings workshops are a creative process that needs the active contribution of the attendees to craft the best answer to the problem or question being posed…..  This means time is needed to ‘break the ice’ so that the people in the workshop feel comfortable working together and the facilitator needs to act as a host welcoming and engaging people as they arrive.

The job of the facilitator is to ensure the workshop ‘works’ and produces the required outcomes. The facilitator (or workshop leader) only needs sufficient knowledge of the subject under discussion to allow them to ask pertinent questions and summarise discussion – the core skills of facilitation lay in ensuring everyone is engaged and participates, all points of view are heard, the group works towards a consensus or conclusion efficiently and the outputs are agreed.  For more on facilitation see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1067_Facilitation.pdf

Facilitation is a very useful skill for a project manager to acquire and use, however, to organise and run a successful workshop there are a two key questions that need to be asked very early in the planning stage – unfortunately both of these are frequently overlooked!

Question 1 – Will I be a key contributor to the process of developing the workshop’s output? If the answer to this question is ‘yes’ the project manager should consider engaging someone else to act as the facilitator for the workshop.  The role of the facilitator is to make sure everyone contributes, all of the ideas are brought into discussion and the best solution is reached; it is nearly impossible to do this if you are also contributing significant input to the discussion.

Question 2 – Do I want to lead the workshop towards a predetermined conclusion or do I want the workshop to have free reign to explore and develop its own solutions?  While a degree of flexibility is needed in both situations, if the workshop is focused on getting buy-in to a concept that is already in mind (quite common in problem solving mode) the approach to managing the workshop will be quite different to an open discussion looking at all of the options.

Based on your answers to these questions there are four quite different types of workshop that require different approaches to deliver successful outcomes:

workshops

The best way to approach the planning and running each of these workshop types varies significantly.

You facilitate. In situations where you have no particular input to contribute and no predetermined outcome in mind (beyond the fact you need an outcome) facilitating the work of the group participating in the workshop can be a good way to build credibility and enhance your leadership position. Provided you are comfortable in the role, facilitating the workshop to achieve a useful outcome is a valid role for the project manager.  If you are not comfortable in the role, there is nothing wrong with using an experienced facilitator, your objective is simply to get a useful outcome from the process (for example a prioritised list of requirements).

Others facilitate. Where you are going to be a key participant in the workshop process and have significant input to contribute as a subject matter expert, but do not want to drive to a predetermined conclusion, the use of a neutral facilitator is essential.  The job of the facilitator is to ensure all of the viewpoints in the room are heard and the outcomes from the workshop incorporate the views of the participants, either based on a consensus or by applying an impartial selection / decision making process. It is virtually impossible to simultaneously be a participating expert and an impartial facilitator.

Briefing sessions. Have a very different focus, the purpose of the workshop is to explore and understand a predetermined proposition.  The role of the facilitator shifts towards making sure everyone’s questions are heard and answered, and there is a full understanding of the proposition being put. The outcome from the workshop is focused on creating understanding and buy-in from the participants rather than crafting a free-form solution – depending on the nature of the proposition being discussed, there may, or may not, be opportunities to adjust or fine-tune the concepts. However, provided someone else is the primary source of the concepts being discussed, the project manager can usefully take the role of facilitator.

Sales sessions. Have a similar focus to briefing sessions but the concept being ‘sold’ is primarily ‘owned’ by the project manager.  In this situation if you want genuine buy-in from the workshop participants it is essential that the workshop is facilitated by someone else!  The facilitator’s job is to make sure everyone is heard and to help lead the group towards a common understanding and consensus. Your job is to answer the questions and ‘sell’ the proposition (and where appropriate adapt your proposition based on the feedback received).

Understanding the objectives of the workshop and the best way for you to participate in delivering a successful outcome lays the foundation for success.  Then the hard work starts……..

Seeking a definition of a project.

Good definitions are short and unambiguous and are essential for almost every aspect of life. Even something as simple as ordering a snack requires a clear understanding of what’ required – this understanding is the basis of a definition. For example, doughnuts and bagels have a lot in common, they are both round and have a hole (a torus), and are made from dough but they are ‘definitely’ very different commodities! If you need a bagel for breakfast or a doughnut for you coffee everyone involved in the transaction needs to understand your requirements if your expectations are to be fulfilled.

bagel

donut

 

 

 

 

 

The simple fact is if you cannot define something precisely, you have real problems explaining what it is, what it does and the value it offers, and this lack of definition/understanding seems to be a key challenge facing the project management community (by the way, the bagel is on the left…… the other picture is a Krispy Kreme donut).

Definitions serve two interlinked purposes, they describe the subject of the definition in sufficient detail to allow the concept to be recognised and understood and they exclude similar ‘concepts’ that do not fit the definition. Definitions do not explain the subject, merely define it.

Way back in 2002 we suggested the definition of ‘a project’ was flawed. Almost any temporary work organised to achieve an objective could fit into almost all of the definitions currently in use – unfortunately not much has changed since. PMI’s definition of a ‘project’ is still a: temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. This definition is imprecise, for example, a football team engaged in a match is involved in:

  • A temporary endeavour – the match lasts a defined time.
  • Undertaken to create a unique result – the papers are full of results on the weekend and each match is unique.
  • Undertaken to create a unique product or service – the value is in the entertainment provided to fans, either as a ‘product’ (using a marketing perspective) or as a service to the team’s fans.

Add in elements from other definitions of a project such as a ‘defined start and end’, ‘planned sequence of activities’, etcetera and you still fail to clearly differentiate a team engaged in a project from a football team engaged in a match; but no-one considers a game of football a project. Football captains may be team leaders, but they are not ‘project managers’.

The definition we proposed in 2002 looked at the social and stakeholder aspects of a project and arrived at an augmented description: A project is a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result which the relevant stakeholders agree shall be managed as a project. This definition would clearly exclude the football team engaged in a match unless everyone of significance decided to treat the match as a project but still suffers from a number of weaknesses. To see how this definition works download the 2002 paper from, www.mosaicprojects.com.au/PDF_Papers/P007_Project_Fact.pdf

 

Updating the definition

Since 2002 there has been a significant amount of academic work undertaken that looks at how projects really function which may provide the basis for a better definition of a project.  The key area of research has been focused on describing projects as temporary organisations that need governing and managing; either as a standalone organisation involving actors from many different ‘permanent organisations’ such as the group of people assembled on a construction site, or as a temporary organisation within a larger organisation such a an internal project team (particularly cross-functional project teams). The research suggests that all projects are undertaken by temporary teams that are assembled to undertake the work and then dissipate at the end of the project.

My feeling is recognising the concept of a project as a particular type of temporary organisation provides the basis for a precise and unambiguous definition of ‘a project’. But on its own this is insufficient – whilst every project involves a temporary organisation, many temporary organisations are not involved in projects.

Another fundamental problem with the basic PMBOK definition is the concept of an ‘endeavour’.  The definition of endeavour used as a noun is: an attempt to achieve a goal; as a verb it is: try hard to do or achieve something.  But, ‘making an effort to do something’ is completely intangible; projects involve people! Hitting a nail with a hammer is an endeavour to drive it into a piece of wood but this information is not a lot of use on its own; you need to know who is endeavouring to drive the nail and for what purpose?

Nail-Quote-Abraham-Maslow

Another issue is the focus on outputs – a product service or result; the output is not the project, the project is the work needed to create the output. Once the output is finished, the project ceases to exist!  A building project is the work involved in creating the building, once the building is finished it is a building, not a project. But confronted with the need to create a new building different people will create different projects to achieve similar results:

  • One organisation may choose to create two projects, one to design the building, another to construct it;
  • A different organisation may choose to create a single ‘design and construct’ project;
  • Another organisation may simply treat the work as ‘business as usual’.

The scope of the work involved in any particular project is determined by its stakeholders – projects are a construct created by people for their mutual convenience, not by some immutable fact of nature.

 

A concise definition of a project

Unpacking the elements involved in a project we find:

  • A temporary organisation is always involved, but not all temporary organisations are project teams.
  •  Projects cause a change by creating something new or different – this objective defines the work to be accomplished and usually includes constraints such as the time and money available for the work. These requirements and scope of work included in a project have to be defined and agreed by the relevant stakeholders at some point – there are no pre-set parameters.
  • The stakeholders have to agree that the work to accomplish the scope will be managed as ‘a project’ for the project to exist; the alternative is ‘business as usual’ or some other form of activity.

Modifying our 2002 definition to incorporate these factors suggests a definition along these lines:

A project is a temporary organisation established to deliver a defined set of requirements and scope of work, which the relevant stakeholders agree shall be managed as a project.

The definition originally proposed has been updated based on discussions with colleagues to:

Project:  A temporary organisation established to accomplish an objective, under the leadership of a person (or people) nominated to fulfil the role of project manager.

Project manager: A person (or people) appointed to lead and direct the work of  a project organisation on behalf of its stakeholders, to achieve its objective. The job title and the degree of authority and autonomy granted to the project manager are determined by the governance arrangements established by the project’s stakeholders.

Project management: The application of knowledge, skills tools and techniques to lead and direct the work of a project organisation.

This definition overcomes many of the fundamental problems with the existing options:

  • It recognises projects are done by people for people, they are not amorphous expenditures of ‘energy’.
  • It allows for the fact that projects do not exist in nature, they are ‘artificial constructs’ created by people for their mutual convenience, and different people confronting similar objectives can create very different arrangements to accomplish the work.
  • It recognises that projects are only projects if the people doing the work and the people overseeing the work decide to treat the work as a project.  The ‘always present’ factors are:
    • People decide to call the work a project (but just calling it a project is not enough)
    • The work is directed to achieving an objective that involves a change in something (new, altered, improved, demolished, etc)
    • The people doing the work are part of a temporary organisation (team / contract / ad hoc / etc) created to facilitate achieving the objective.
    • The work is led by a person fulfilling the role of a project manager and the work is managed as a project (PMBOK / ISO 21500 / Agile / etc).

What do you think a good project definition may be that is concise and unambiguous?

The challenge is to craft a technically correct definition, and then apply the Socratic method of thinking outlined in our 2002 paper at:  www.mosaicprojects.com.au/PDF_Papers/P007_Project_Fact.pdf.

I look forward to your thoughts!