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Maintaining Flexibile Images of Projects

January 25, 2012 1 comment

I’ve been reading a book that reflects much of my own preoccupations about the overly prescriptive, universal, rational, linear and technical discipline of project management.  This book is called  Images of Project by Mark Winter and Tony Szczepanek written in 2009.

Why has it taken 2 years to find me I do not know.  My recent research into project manager identity did highlight causes for concern in the tendency of myopic thinking by project managers from standards from national and international professional project management associations.   I’m a project manager practitioner and a projects researcher myself.  Both PMI PMP and OGC Prince 2 certified, I have a MBA, and nearing the end of my MRes on route to PhD!  My preoccupation has always been that one size does not fit all in the project world – and have struggled with narrow thinking of project management offices who are TRYING to improve project capability and performance.  PMI I think try to encourage flexible thinking, but many organizations take a extreme standardization route – making project method a law – that in the end may contribute to project failure.

In this book, these core conceptions of the project are truly tested.  I found Winter and Szczepanek were able to articulate what had been only my intuition before – and not put into words.  Their premise  is that knowledge and theory guides experience and practice which in turn loops around to inform/yeild more knowledge and theory.  This is not new of course, but they highlight that if you start with a certain image about a project that this image automatically (perhaps unconsciously) guides subsequent action i.e. if you see a project as something with charter/scope/schedule/critical path/budget/deliverables etc. (often a typical view of the project) then this is the framework you will use to manage the project.  But, some projects the scope is not certain – you may not even know what the problem is yet.  Critical path analysis may be unhelpful as a more social/political and iterative mode of operation is best.  Sometimes there may be a intervention, or management of an organizational change required.  In each of these cases using a different image, and therefore a different framework (or overlapping frameworks) will be better placed to achieve the outcomes desired.

Of course, this will be a bit of a stretch for project managers – as they have been largely trained and certified in the core conception, process and skills in a project.  Yet, I am confident that it is a stretch that is possible for project managers.  Even professional associations are adapting e.g. you can see this in PMI’s agile method, or adding stakeholder management/engagement to their standards…. but unfortunately it does not help a great deal your emphasis is misplaced from the first place.

The book might be criticized for being a little repetitive at times but I can see this only helping to get the point across.  For me they were already singing to the converted, and have just given me examples of both situations and appropriate frameworks that can be used in my own projects.  You will get this benefit too.  I thoroughly recommend that any serious programme or project manager buy this book.  It is a bit pricey, but in my humble opinion will be a very good investment, and give you some new ways of understanding, and constructing projects.  I would go so far to say this book should become ‘core’ text on all project management education programmes.

After all, projects are socially constructed realities with very real effects on ours, and societies wellbeing.

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