INTRODUCTION: If you have ever planned a wedding, moved house (or built one!) or even just planned a beach trip, you are already familiar with the basic idea behind projects. In a nutshell: trying to achieve a definite, unique result of some importance, in a limited time, with limited resources.
More formally, a project is
(a) a time-limited set of efforts and activities,
(b) that requires appropriate resources, planning and organisation,
(c) which are directed towards a definite goal; and,
(d) produce a unique deliverable result towards gaining desired onward benefits.Where also, the Tasmanian Government Project Management Guidelines (2011)-- a main reference for this workshop (please, download) -- provides a key pair of observations:
A project is a group of interrelated activities that are planned and then executed in a certain sequence to create a unique product or service to defined quality criteria within a specific timeframe, in order to achieve planned and agreed outcomes . . . . The structure of a project will vary depending on the benefits it is intended to provide. It may even be necessary to restructure a project into a number of sub-projects or establish a program of projects to achieve these benefits. [pp. 9 - 10]Already, this brings us face to face with the notorious Iron Triangle of Project Management:
Project management is a structured way of managing change [through implementing projects]. It focuses on developing specifically defined Project Outputs that are to be delivered by a certain time, to a defined quality and with a given level of resources so that planned Project Outcomes are achieved. Effective project management is essential for the success of a project.
In applying any general project management methodology, it is important to consider the corporate and business culture that forms a particular project’s environment. [p. 10]
In effect: good, cheap, fast -- pick any two (you will pay for it with the third).
A common solution is to go for generations of product. That is, we seek to deliver an initial product of reasonable quality in good time, then extend the scope later on. But, judging and delivering "reasonable" performance/quality in "good" time can be tricky indeed. And thereby hangs the challenge, study, science and practice -- nowadays, even, profession -- of project management.
Background: What is Project Management about?
(Why the fuss and bother?)
(Why the fuss and bother?)
Today, the Pharaohs are long gone (and their mummies long since had to be moved into caves hidden in the Valley of the Kings . . . with the tomb-looters following hot on their heels!). The Pyramids of Giza near Cairo have long been stripped of their shining polished limestone facings, and these grand artificial mountains were equally long since vanadalised otherwise for building materials etc. But, they are now major tourism assets.
One rather doubts that there was a Steering Committee meeting in the days of Khufu, in which is was opined that forty centuries on, the pyramids would be centres of tourism to Egypt and so the cost-benefits balance should be tipped just a tad more in the direction of benefits. The workmen doubtless complained that they needed more pay and better benefits, but even a Pharaoh has his limits on what he can pay or command. As a later king of Egypt learned the hard way, when he called the Israelite workmen "lazy," beat their supervisors and demanded that they make the same quota of mud-bricks without being pre-supplied with straw.
(It is suspected, too, that some of the tomb-building workmen were likely among the first looters of the tombs of their Kings; yes, bullying, corruption, theft and sabotage as resistance to real or perceived oppression have long been associated with grand construction projects!)
To give an idea of just how major a project building a pyramid was, here is an internal "ramp" theory for Khufu's Great Pyramid:
(And yes, it is not known just how it was done. Here is a far less conventional, water-shaft theory. Ponder the implications in terms of design and planning, then executing structures that are nearly exactly square and aligned with the directions of the compass, with -- for Khufu's Great Pyramid -- precise and fairly complex internal structures. Then, have them faced with smoothly finished white limestone faces. [Notice, too, the videos themselves were developed through projects also; projects are "everywhere."])
Just from these classic examples and preliminary thoughts, we can already make out many of the key issues we will need to focus on, if we are to build up basic understanding and skills for project management. For instance:
1] Projects are common and important in personal life, business, government, not- for- profits, charities, schools etc. (So, Project Management (PM) skills are very relevant and are widely transferable.)
2] Projects target definite and somehow unique goals, where we face limited time, money (and other resources), may need scarce skills, and often face uncertainties and challenges. In short, we bother with projects because they allow us to achieve important goals in an effective, well-organised, reasonably efficient way in the face of an uncertain world. For instance, we can see how a a project-at-a-glance worksheet (used as a cover page for a project proposal or project concept note or project brief) makes the case for a project; in a nutshell:
3] To be able to summarise the project like that, it is wise to first lay out its process and context logic using a logical framework -- Log Frame -- chart (here, in a format modified to support project implementers rather than what donor agencies tend to emphasise):
4] The Iron Triangle: trading off scope, cost/resource use and time required to achieve a result of adequate quality, is obviously a focal issue that drives the management of a project.
5] There is often a process logic in projects that forces a pattern of chained activities. E.g. step A (straw, mud, moulds etc) needs to be done before step B (make the bricks), and forces scheduling of resources and effort against a timeline, with specific deliverable results (e.g. quotas) due at milestone points. (This shows the usefulness of Gantt timeline charts with work breakdown structures and other soon- to- be- familiar planning tools.)
An example of a Gantt Chart showing activities (and summary activities),
process logic order (and hierarchical work breakdown structure) ,
timeline, percent completion and a "now" marker
6] Good project governance -- making good project decisions and making them stick -- is also a challenge given not only uncertainties and risks in general, but also temptations to bully, abuse, steal (by force or fraud), cut corners, waste, etc. That brings up the 3-4-5 SWOT-GOVERNANCE managerial issues:
7] With that degree of care required just to plan and propose a project, obviously projects (other than hobby activities!) are seldom taken up just for their own sake; we seek deliverable benefits that contribute to immediate and long term desirable outcomes, that justify the costs, challenges and risks of a project.
8] Thus there are many things to be negotiated among project stakeholders -- those who influence or benefit from or are affected by the project -- and the "business case"/"proposal" for undertaking a project therefore has to address and balance: good value for money, risks, costs, benefits and challenges.
This list helps us to see how to best organise this workshop:
OUTLINE: First, this unit gives an overview of the framework for projects, the what, why, who, where and when. Several following units will address how-to, and as workshop participants pick a sample project assignment and develop it, they will prove helpful. So will the resources page. Then, a face- to- face workshop session will allow us to discuss our sample project frameworks and work to improve them. For evaluation, the improved assignments will be the heart of assessing and certification of achieved project management skills. And there will be an outlook unit that points to where we can go from this "Bootcamp" level.
(PRINCE2 is recommended -- and, it will be the background concept for this workshop:)
|An outline framework for the PRINCE2 -- PRojects In Controlled Environments -- approach to PM|
Who, Where, When? (The PEST-SWOT-Strategic Change factors)
Already, we can see that projects -- formal and informal -- are "everywhere." They are going on all the time . . . and that they fail too often. Frequently, because they have not been properly thought-through, organised, resourced and supported.
That points straight to us, as "nothing works right, unless we work right."
That also means we first have to:
- properly understand ourselves in our situation,
- investigate what the balance of opportunities and threats we face is like, so that
- we recognise how best to capitalise on our strengths, in order to
- identify and make good use of opportunities,
- effectively countering threats, and
- compensating for (or, if reasonably possible, correcting . . . ) weaknesses.
Where, change is always a challenge, as it is at best discomforting and can be seen as itself a threat.
Partly, by those who are very uncomfortable with or feel threatened by a proposed change.
More importantly, change will be openly opposed or subtly undermined by powerful factions in a situation that draw power, profit and other benefits from continuing along the path of business as usual (BAU). [Cf. and ponder analyses of the dynamics of Bureaucracy here and here, applying to our circumstances.]
So, while there is always continuity and many functions and operations have to be kept going, strategic change projects often become a challenge because they are putting forward an alternative (ALT) to BAU.
This tends to provoke conflicts, may trigger clashes (or evasive, undermining behaviour), and it will certainly bring up pressure to conform to comfortable or accustomed ways.
The degree of likely conflict thus depends on how wedded the dominant factions are to BAU, how threatened they feel, how obvious the change need is; and, how marginalised change advocates and champions of ALT are.
Unfortunately, this can be happening even when "we" are obviously heading over a cliff:
(The joke in this cartoon is only funny if you are not caught up in such a march of folly.)
More formally, we can picture the challenge in terms of reading warning signs right and in good time to turn back from ruin. Turning back also typically requires that we build a critical mass coalition that can initiate, sustain and carry forward the required changes:
This can actually be used directly in a session where a good cross-section of stakeholders have been gathered under the umbrella of a "Godfather" and "Sponsors" of change. For instance,
- set up a large wall-chart as above and circulate sheets of bristol board and felt-tip pens to participants working in small groups,
- then work through the elements of the chart step by step, using the groups.
- Start with, what do you think our three to five main opportunities and three to five main threats over the next five years are, or the like.
- Then, relative to these challenges, what are our three to five main strengths and weaknesses? [Somehow, being specific like this helps draw out perspectives and issues that otherwise tend to get locked out or overlooked. Depending on how tense the situation is, you may wish to mix groups at random, or use natural stakeholder group based teams. If some groups are marginalised, you may need the latter, even though it tends to be more tense. A good facilitator and a good moderator are worth their weight in gold, here. Be prepared to pay the going rate.]
- Collect the submissions and post them -- use little masking tape loops to stick up the bristol board strips and, for documentation, snap a photograph -- a key advantage is this approach is self-documenting.
- Discuss and winnow down to a reasonable consensus, or to the main schools of thought. Put those on pre-prepared overlays for the charts -- or, you can use another old favourite: flip charts . . . or even white boards, and again snap pictures. (Today's Tablets and Smart Phones make this easy to do. The way this makes the workshop self-documenting is a great advantage. [Stick key pics in the appendix on documentation!])
- Then, ask, what is our present path, and where is it likely to end up in the next five to ten years.
- How well does it match the requirement of building on strength to exploit opportunities, counter threats, and compensate for weaknesses?
- Who benefits and who gets hurt by it? Short term, long term?
- Is this BAU approach acceptable to our various stakeholders, why or why not?
- What are three to five main potential alternatives?
- How well do these alternatives match the SWOT picture?
- Which of these is best, why, and where would it take us in the next five to ten years?
- What are the gaps between the expected BAU-track future and the suggested ALT future?
- Should we make a change, how -- and how long will it take, with what sort of resources?
better and more fairly meeting our needs today, without undermining the ability of our children to meet their needs tomorrow; through correctly understanding and husbanding/responding to our natural [bio-physical], socio-cultural and economic-policy environment, its resources, trends and hazards. [Adapted, Gro Harlem Bruntland et al, WCED, 1987.]
How all of this can work out in terms of fostering decisions for major projects at national level (the level we have to think about here in Montserrat and across the Caribbean) can be understood in light of a model for stakeholder interaction proposed by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation:
A Case Study on BAU vs. ALT, Acts 27
There is a lot of practical, relevant, hard- to- dismiss wisdom in the scriptures, especially when they describe specific historical events; so let us now go there:
Acts 27:1 And when it was decided that we should sail for Italy [--> so Paul's appeal to Caesar's judgement seat could be heard], they delivered Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan Cohort named Julius. 2 And embarking in a ship of Adramyttium, which was about to sail to the ports along the coast of Asia, we put to sea, accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica. 3 The next day we put in at Sidon. And Julius treated Paul kindly and gave him leave to go to his friends and be cared for.
Shipwrecked at Malta
4 And putting out to sea from there we sailed under the lee of Cyprus, because the winds were against us. 5 And when we had sailed across the open sea along the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra in Lycia. 6 There the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing for Italy and put us on board.
7 We sailed slowly for a number of days and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, and as the wind did not allow us to go farther, we sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone. 8 Coasting along it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea.
9 Since much time had passed, and the voyage was now dangerous because even the Fast[a] was already over, Paul advised them, 10 saying, “Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” 11 But the centurion paid more attention to the pilot and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said. 12 And because the harbour was not suitable to spend the winter in, the majority decided to put out to sea from there, on the chance that somehow they could reach Phoenix, a harbour of Crete [--> about 40 miles further down the coast], facing both southwest and northwest, and spend the winter there.
13 Now when the south wind blew gently, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, they weighed anchor and sailed along Crete, close to the shore. 14 But soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land [--> it seems, an early winter storm]. 15 And when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along.
16 Running under the lee of a small island called Cauda,[b] we managed with difficulty to secure the ship's boat. 17 After hoisting it up, they used supports to undergird the ship. Then, fearing that they would run aground on the Syrtis [--> dangerous sand bars on the Libyan coast off to the SW], they lowered the gear,[c] and thus they were driven along. 18 Since we were violently storm-tossed, they began the next day to jettison the cargo. 19 And on the third day they threw the ship's tackle overboard with their own hands.
20 When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned . . . [ESV, UK]
Of course (as we can see by reading on), by the grace of God, they shipwrecked on the coast of Malta.
However, vv 9 - 15 tell us an all- too- familiar story of governance and decision-making gone bad; leading to a march of folly that ended in shipwreck. For, Mr Moneybags and his bought- and- paid- for sailing master were obviously concerned for the ship, cargo and investment more than for lives at risk in a dangerous season and environment. Fair Havens was too open a bay for their liking, and they wanted to slip 40 miles down-coast to a superior harbour. But sailing was dangerous at that time, it was very late in the year. They likely argued that it was just a quick afternoon's sail once there was a good little bit of wind. Paul, a prisoner in chains (and by then already a veteran of three shipwrecks) just did not look credible enough by contrast. Both the Centurion in charge and the majority -- see, nice and democratic! -- went with the "experts."
Right over the cliff.
So, we need to ponder how to create a critical mass for sound change in good time.
That puts the PEST + BP factors on the table:
P - political (including legal and regulatory) issues and trendsThis points to the opportunities and threats we face. We then match these with our strengths and weaknesses profile to see where BAU is most likely headed, or could possibly be headed. This may motivate a shift to a sounder, more sustainable ALT-ernative. But to get to the critical mass to change, you may well have to identify people with a stake in the outcomes who are likely to have been pushed to the margins and effectively silenced like the lemming being told "Shut up, you moron!"
E - economic ones
S - socio-cultural factors
T - technology and science issues
BP - bio-physical/natural environment
That brings up the cluster of key factors that creates critical mass for change:
Sponsors at Middle/Senior Management level
Incubators that allow initiatives to be developed and practically demonstrated
Godfathers at Top Management level
|Responsible critic or destructive hit-man?|
Where, in an organisation with an institutional culture dominated by irresponsible behaviour, a climate of intimidation/ bullying and ruthless office politics, business as usual is very likely indeed to be on an ill-advised march of folly.
|Watch out for that golden parachute! |
(Or, the one who "always lands on his feet
like a cat" -- leaving others "holding the bag")
By contrast, healthy organisations, businesses and communities will see to it that the critical mass is in place and that a steady stream of credibly sound change initiatives is flowing. (Which means there must be an appetite for a certain degree of manageable risk, shown in willingness to have a due proportion of failed change initiatives.)
And, they will be particularly concerned to identify, develop, and incubate promising, well- thought- out ideas and initiatives to the point where practical demonstration at some reasonable scale removes reasonable doubt on feasibility and desirability. For, that is how the future is built in a rapidly changing world -- good ideas are developed and demonstrated then scaled up and pushed hard.
But, sadly, unhealthy organisations are very common.
They can be readily recognised by how quickly they habitually push sound but politically incorrect ideas and their would-be implementers to the fringes; promoting polarisation, hostility, stereotyping, scape-goating and targetting. It is then a simple step to send out the career-busting hit-men to keep such undesirables out or to drive them out.
This pattern of unhealthy organisations is so important that we should expand a bit:
- A key indicator of this is organisational favouritism, where,
- even when -- nominally -- centres and structures of innovation and support for innovation are present, they have in fact been co-opted by domineering factions.
- This leads to a culture of favouritism, back-stabbing and slanderous gossip, lack of trust-worthiness, questionable deals made behind closed doors, demand for conformity to party-line agendas, picking and targetting scapegoats and manipulation; such that
- evaluation of innovations and would be innovators is drastically undermined and such evaluation as happens is "political" rather than responsible, objective and fair. This creates
- a self-perpetuating, cynical institutional culture of abuse, marked by intimidation, silencing of responsible concerns, frustration, domineering, bullying and folly [cf. the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster here, here, here];
- even, in cases where the domineering bullies imagine themselves to be representing "diversity" and "progress" or "justice" as champions of "the marginalised" or "the oppressed."
Unfortunately, this latter pattern is exceedingly common all over the Caribbean -- and far beyond.
So, we must now turn to the challenge:
Promoting a healthy portfolio of sound strategic change projects
How can we build a sound strategic change portfolio; one full of good, healthily progressing projects that help us fulfill a long term vision -- for an organisation, a business, a government, a community?
This is obviously not an easy task.
The best way probably begins by recognising that projects (like many other things) are based on the pattern:
INPUTS --> TRANSFORMATIONAL ACTIVITIES --> OUTPUTS + OUTCOMES:
. . . and projects thus have a "natural" life cycle that we must learn how to manage, e.g.:
Where, too, projects are inherently diverse -- they target unique outcomes so every project is different and requires specific understanding and management of its own particular circumstances. That said, we need to appreciate that there are several schools of thought and linked broad types of project, requiring some flexibility in project management approaches. For instance, consider the commonalities and differences between:
- Construction and Civil Engineering projects
- Organisation or community development "soft" projects
- Public or health education and mobilisation initiatives
- IT and Software development projects
- research and development projects for new technologies
- Development Agency initiatives
- Procurement or Defence Acquisition projects (especially when dealing with risky, unknown or unfamiliar technologies)
- And, more
All of this brings us to the need for:
Programme-based Project Cycle Management (PbPCM)
The unifying element for a group of projects towards a common vision is the programme, a unit of organisation that binds together projects and associated activities and operations towards a common mission and goal. For instance, in the 1960's, the Apollo Program -- that is how Americans spell it -- developed the rockets and the mission that put men on the Moon on Sunday July 20, 1969 [a moment I listened to on shortwave radio along with my family; a moment that is forever burned deep into my memory]. Spin-off results of that programme are all around us, for it created a world of technology that led to the modern microprocessor and micro computer (thus eventually today's ICT age), new materials, a whole new way to organise major initiatives . . . the programme of action [which is what we are now studying!], etc., etc., even something as mundane as Tang, the well-known powdered breakfast drink.
Programmes host projects, often using a "project team" or "matrix" type organisational structure:
Now, here is a subtle trick: it is a common error to imagine that programmes are "more difficult/ more advanced" than projects, so it is best to dispense with the programmes and just focus on trying to get "simple" projects right.
The problem is, projects still -- naturally -- have life cycles and need to be carefully managed, and it is this life cycle process that drives their complexity and tendency to get into hot water. That is, projects (other than extremely simple and routine ones) naturally embed key elements of a programme. So it often makes sense to cluster projects together and manage them as a programme.
So, too, if we try to dispense with the programme idea and manage reasonably complex and non-routine projects as they come based on whatever seems good at the moment, we are very likely to make big mistakes. Mistakes, that we will only learn of when they are blowing up in our faces. At which point the projects will become very costly to either fix or to abandon.
So, the first strategic change project we need in our strategic change portfolios is "the project to create the programme that manages our portfolio of strategic change projects."
We have to build the capacity to do it right, to do it right reliably.
On this matter, flying by the seat of our pants is a recipe for crashing and burning.
This, then, brings project cycle management (PCM) to the fore. So, let us refer to the framework adopted by the European Union:
In short, we can best manage a portfolio of strategic change initiatives by creating a programme unit, and using a proper programme-based project cycle management framework. The first project for such a programme is to create the Programme Unit, by whatever name, and to properly charter it so that it is properly governed and supported.
Now, let's flesh out this initial, skeletal overview a bit by moving on to the meat of the matter: HOW . . .