how to build an ethical project framework

Michela Ruffa, PMP, Director at Large, PMINorthern Italy Chapter


From their investigations on the ethics in projects (a neologism—“ProgEtica/ProjEthics” —has been suggested in order to describe this type of research in one word), authors have explored the domain of comprehension, as many philosophers and thinkers have in the past, specifically as it applies to the relationship between individuals in the project environment.

Each project is characterized by rules that define the ethical space; just like a house or a living space, for each project, the team is called on to build a nice and comfortable space to live in (see the writings from the philosopher, Pico della Mirandola, 1486, n.d.).

In this scenario, the authors use the word “comprehension” as a “comprehensive” approach to guaranteeing project success:

  • Comprehension is more than understanding and has a wider spectrum of meanings.
  • Comprehension is more than communicating: as project managers, we are expected not only to communicate in an effective way, but also to understand the whole project system in a multidimensional approach.
  • Comprehension is strictly related to stakeholder management. As project managers, we are expected to collect and manage customer requirements, but also to be proactive, to read between the lines, to see the big picture, and to keep together the pieces that come from many different cultures and points of view.
  • Comprehension is strictly related to complexity. If we try to reduce complexity into simplified categories, we do not act ethically—to comprehend means to respect differences of any kind and to take care of details.

A useful exercise is to reflect on the outputs deriving from the negation of comprehension, the incomprehension, which leads to hate, rejection, and exclusion.

At the end of this paper, some concrete suggestions are proposed to promote the establishment of the new ethical approach through comprehension.


What is ethics? What is the definition of ethics we like the most and the one that applies the most to the project environment?

Ethics (from the ancient Greek, ethos = home, dwelling) represents the way a human being inhabits the earth and makes it suitable for him or her to live in.

The initiation of a project—with its characteristic of uniqueness—is a true creation act, the beginning of a new world: Projects need a set of rules, which, acting as borders, define the space of possibilities for them to becoming real (Ruffa & Setti 2011).

Project success is based on wellness and comfort. Project managers should think of a project as a comfortable and nice-to-live-in “house,” which promote wellness and growth. This is what we call ProjEthics: not only a set of rules—passively received like a law coming down from the top of a hierarchy—but a set of desirable conditions and constraints implemented to practice freedom and responsibility.

In this paper, we want to explore a special way to ProjEthical contexts: comprehension. Exploring comprehension as a mindset, a professional attitude, and specific behaviors to establish and promote ProjEthical conditions for our projects. In other words, the goal of the paper is to answer the question: “Is comprehension a way to build and promote ProjEthical contexts?”

About Comprehension

We strongly believe that words must be the center of our attempt to develop the concept of comprehension. Words create, define, answer, put questions, influence, save, preserve memories, and, finally, help us to comprehend. So, let's start with the word itself: comprehension.

The Definition of Comprehension (from the Oxford Dictionary)

Exhibit 1 – The Definition of Comprehension (from the Oxford Dictionary)

Definition of comprehension (WIKIPEDIA) (logic): the totality of intensions, that is, attributes, characters, marks, properties, or qualities, that the object possesses, or else the totality of intensions that are pertinent to the context of a given discussion.

Etymology (WIKIPEDIA): from Middle French, compréhension. (1372) Emprunté au latin comprehension, dérivé de comprehendere, saisir ensemble, embrasser par la pensée.

Definition of intension (WIKIPEDIA): In linguistics, logic, philosophy, and other fields, an intension is any property or quality connoted by a word, phrase, or other symbol. In the case of a word, it is often implied by the word's definition. The term may also refer to all such intensions collectively, although the term comprehension is technically more correct for this.

The meaning of a word can be thought of as the bond between the idea or thing the word refers to and the word itself. Ferdinand de Saussure, who is considered the founder of modern linguistics, contrasts three concepts:

•  The signifier — the “sound image” or string of letters on a page that one recognizes as a sign.

•  The signified — the concept or idea that a sign evokes.

•  The referent — the actual thing or set of things a sign refers to. See also Dyadic signs and Reference (semantics).

Intension is analogous to the signified, extension to the referent. The intension thus links the signifier to the sign's extension; without intension of some sort, words can have no meaning.

Playing with words always bring about surprising outcomes. Let's create an example by manipulating the refrain of a famous blues/jazz song:

“Cause I'm just a soul whose intentions are good, Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood. ”(Benjamin, Marcus * Caldwell, 1964)

[As if to say: put the right intensions inside your communication…you will reach comprehension!]

In the following section we will write this word comprehension as follows: com-prehension, thus emphasizing the two semantic components com- (all together, the whole picture) and -prehend (to take, to catch, to capture, to include); a best practice – not to abuse of !- from language experts and philosophers from the Heideggerian school. (Martin Heidergen, 2012)

Lessons Learned from the Giants: Pico della Mirandola

Pico della Mirandola: Comprehension as the key to human thought

Philosophy is the field in which the relationship between comprehension and ethics has been defined and investigated. In some cases, this relationship is not explicit and requires a deeper analysis of proposed theories to be revealed. This happened with Pico della Mirandola (24 February 1463–17 November 1494), an Italian Renaissance philosopher whose work contained one of the first and most interesting formulations of the idea of comprehension, both as a premise and as a result of the human ascent to knowledge perfection (ethics).

Pico's 900 theses, a collection, which provides a complete and sufficient basis for the discovery of all knowledge, is very interesting and important evidence of syncretism, which is defined as “the combining of different (often contradictory) beliefs, often while melding practices of various schools of thought. Syncretism may involve the merger and analogizing of several originally discrete traditions, especially in the theology and mythology of religion, thus asserting an underlying unity and allowing for an inclusive approach to other faiths.” (Syncretism, 2012, ¶1). In other words, the aim to make principia converge in a universal and comprehensive basis for the discovery of all knowledge, where comprehension means inclusion based on similarities. Ethics is the way; comprehension is the condition.

But inclusion based on similarities is not the only acceptation Pico proposes for comprehension. In his “De hominis dignitate” oration on the Dignity of Man, he “exalts the human creature for his/her freedom and capacity to know and to dominate reality as a whole. Far from being simply that, however, the Discourse deals with the vocation of the human creature who possessing no determinate image, is urged to pursue its own perfection. Such a pursuit begins with moral self-discipline, passes through the familiar, multifarious world of images and fields of knowledge, and strives toward that most lofty goal, which defies representation. Pico believes that this paradigm, by virtue of the fact that it is to be found in every tradition, is universal” (Pico Project, 2012, ¶2). It is the total celebration of power and freedom for human beings, based on their own choices and responsibilities. “He therefore took man, this creature of indeterminate image, set him in the middle of the world and thus spoke to him: ”We have given you, Adam, no fixed seat nor features proper to yourself nor endowment peculiar to you alone, in order that whatever seat, whatever features, whatever endowment you may responsibly desire, these same you may have and possess according to your desire and judgment” (Pico della Mirandola, 1486, §4.18).

The possibilities are countless, and a comprehensive approach is necessary because all of them may need to be considered but are different, and the differences among them allow human beings to choose one. In this case, comprehension means evaluation based on difference and the ability to comprehend is the ability to distinguish the value of differences.

Again, comprehension is the condition (but also the result) to practice ethics but considered from a different perspective. And the synthesis, more than the coexistence, of both ideas of comprehension that we find in Pico's work, is what makes this philosopher so important.

Lessons Learned from the Giants: Edgar Morin

Edgar Morin and the Ethics of com-prehesion

Edgar Morin (Paris, 8 July 1921) is one of the most appreciated philosophers and scientists in the Complexity domain.

He developed his thought in detail in a huge treatise, “The Method,“ whose sixth volume, a sort of summary of his thoughts, is dedicated to ethics. At the center of his reasoning about ethics, Edgar Morin places comprehension, in a more explicit and programmatic manner when compared with Pico's thoughts. These two philosophers offer us a valuable consonance.

How do we learn to comprehend?

Edgar Morin believes that three processes must be present and interacting to generate human comprehension:

1. The objective comprehension, which is based on explication (the term comes from the Latin language, ex-plicare, which means to explain, to get off the implicit, literally ex-plicum, that is the action to develop a paper that has been folded up. In the objective comprehension, the decomposition is a suitable tool, which is used to face a complicated situation. For instance, a WBS (work breakdown structure) in a project is the attempt to reduce the complication (not exactly the complexity) of the whole project scope via a logical decomposition process; an engine, or a software application, is a complicated system, with many components with linear and clearly defined interfaces and a whole predictable behavior. When we have a problem with a complicated system, we can face it by decomposing it into smaller pieces or investigation areas, following an iterative process (failure sectioning). Explication collects data concerning a person and it typically reasons the following cause-effect categories.

2. The subjective comprehension, which comes from a strict interaction between two people, two subjects, via a mimetic process (that includes projection and/or identification) where sentiments, motivation, empathy, pain, and disease are involved. Explication de-humanizes while explicating: sympathy and love are forms of comprehension but they must also be supported by the intellectual comprehension.

3. The complex comprehension absorbs and integrates both objective and subjective comprehension.

The complex comprehension is multidimensional, much, like A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) itself, with the introduction of the specific Knowledge Areas and the emphasis on the integration in a direct attempt not to reduce the project management discipline into a mono-dimensional approach. (Morin 2004)

Objective and Subject Comprehension, while completing one another

Exhibit 2 – Objective and Subject Comprehension, while completing one another

The complex comprehension doesn't reduce the other to a mono-dimensional representation, because not just one aspect or characteristic can represent a subject. This thesis was also emphasized by the Nobel Prize winner, Amartya Sen in his work, Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny (Issues of Our Time): any person is an overlapping of multiple identities and belongings, and each time we reduce “the other” as belonging to a single identity, we are setting up roadblocks to comprehension. Complex comprehension tries to assume deep motivations for human behaviors.


The error in human communications is a permanent source of incomprehension. Any form of knowledge comes from an interpretation, so the error is always present in any kind of communication. We can say that the knowledge and the incomprehension have the same source. Interpretation, which is a sort of reverse engineering, starts from data, facts, and tries to go back to the ideas, like an archeologist tries to resume the tale of a whole life by analyzing skeleton bones. We must be aware of the presence of the error and consider it. In Morin's opinion, one of the typical errors is to underestimate the error (“L'erreur de sous-estimer l'erreur”). (Morin, 1984, pp 130–144)


The German writer Herman Hesse, in his Narziss und Goldmund, 1930, says that “Science is the Art of making Differences.” Our mind is trained to immediately detect differences, the wrong details, because this is an ancestral heritage of the prehistoric period, when humans used to hunt in small groups: a quick detecting of a small anomaly in a big picture is a matter of surviving.

“To see the differences,” looking for them and respect them is a deeply ethical approach. On the other hand, the indifference is the lack of capability to detect and understand differences, to give them evidence and value. That's why in situations of conflict, we develop indifference for the enemy; it becomes a sort of sight disability when we cannot see, because we cannot develop a meta-vision—a higher and detached point of view.

In the famous Don Quixote adventures, the hero is involved in many situations that represent the opposite of indifference, a deep sharing of the destiny of the other, against all appearances, higher form of vision:

  • The windmills
  • The sheep
  • The theater's actors
    When we read a tale or a novel, we enter into a world of easier comprehension, as opposed to real life. In the movies and/or at the theatre we lose our defenses and reduce the protective indifference. We are ready to comprehend beyond appearances when involved.

In other words, the comprehension is a form of perception based on the capability to capture “differences.”

Don Quixote, the universal hero who avoided in-difference

Exhibit 3 – Don Quixote, the universal hero who avoided in-difference


Each culture necessarily forces prejudices in the minds of the people. The imprinting is what we receive from the past (in time) and from the outside (in space) and influences our judgment, often in a subtle way. Even if we are not conscious, we always carry the flags of some institutions and have a backpack full of assumptions that someone else made for us. The concept of imprinting is strictly related to the concept of identity, in the sense of the belonging to one (or more) specific group that implies one (or more) cultural heritage.

Com-prehension and…


These days, everyone agrees that projects are getting more and more complex, even if not everyone thinks about the idea of “complexity” in the same way.

In our opinion, complexity in projects is related to their intrinsic nature of Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS). In science, a complex adaptive system is defined as ”a system composed of a great number of elements, both in type and in quantity, which are characterized by non-linear connections (i.e., the reciprocal influences of action and reaction existing in a dynamic condition); such elements and connections determine an overall behavior, which is not equal to the sum of the behaviors of the single elements, but it also depends on their interaction; moreover, it is able to react and adapt with respect to the reference context” (De Toni & Comello, 2005, p. 10). In such kinds of systems, prediction is difficult and uncertainty is turned to a value, because it only allows possible conditions to become reality.

If we start thinking of projects as complex systems, we become aware that whatever dimension, information, stakeholder, idea, opinion, word, and approach deserve to be taken into account and not wasted, because each of them might become a strategic factor for success. No a-priori distinction is possible between “hard” and “soft” elements, between which aspects are worth being managed and which are not, between what is important and what is not. Points of view become as reliable as objective data, weak signals are as valuable as evidence, chatter content is as precious as what is written in official documents.

Complex is not synonymous with complicated. Complicated comes from the Latin term cum plicum, where plicum means “paper crease.” Complex comes from the Latin term cum plexum, where plexum means “knot, weave.”

“To deal with complicated systems or problems, an analytical approach has to be adopted because it enables to find the right solution by disassembling the whole and focusing on its parts. If the problem is solved for one or more components then the whole can be reassembled and the problem is solved for the whole too. A mechanism is a typical example of complicated system. Complex problems require a totally different approach, a systemic approach. The whole structure cannot be understood by analyzing its single parts, but by thinking in terms of synthesis, or system” (Ruffa & Setti, 2011, p. 2)

A systemic approach is based on specific guidelines and rules. Specific tools are required, as well as specific capabilities, mainly related to the ability to discover, consider, and understand connections. A successful systemic approach has to be built on comprehension, as the attitude to catch the “big picture” but also the ability to represent it. Comprehension means the possibility to “grasp” and get possession of the overall idea, the “essence” behind the perception (“referents”), but it also has to be intended as the capability to communicate it through the appropriate and effective “signifiers.”

Michelangelo Buonarroti's Prigione perfectly symbolizes this “two way” approach to perceiving the whole.

One of Michelangelo's Prigioni (Schiavo che si ridesta, 2011)

Exhibit 4 – One of Michelangelo's Prigioni (Schiavo che si ridesta, 2011)


In the previous paragraphs, we mentioned the need for some common principia and rules for the project to accomplish itself. It's what we have defined as ethics. To make these principia and rules produce the benefits they have been defined for and to really transform them into an effective factor of project success, a general comprehensive attitude is necessary, because comprehension allows everyone to look at rules and constraints as “enhancers” of possibilities and not as nasty limits to action.

Rules, comprehension, and conflicts

In projects, and anywhere stakeholders act, conflicts arise every day. It's not possible to avoid them, and it wouldn't be so interesting eliminating them anyway, because they may deeply contribute to the development and progress of reference contexts. Constructive conflicts do not aim to defeat one part and make the other one win; they strive to produce a new condition as the better (and not the best, even if it may be better than the previous one) possible result of confrontation, arguing, negotiation, punishment, and solution.

In projects, the only possible way to solve a conflict and re-establish harmony (balance) is something similar to the Jewish RYB practice, described by Zagrebelsky in his book, Il crucifige e la democrazia. According to this very ancient tradition, when a third “super partes” entity is not available to judge, the involved parts themselves have to come to a recognition of faults and damages and together find the way to recompose the conflict and, when necessary, define the compensation (Zagrebelsky, 2007, pp 27–32). This way of approaching conflicts and looking for solutions cannot be effective if not based on comprehension, because it requires the ability to perceive the “big picture” and the overall dynamics, reasons and goals, and to be able to address helpful decisions and actions. Only comprehension enhances the capability to consider, understand, and give importance to all aspects and all points of view, instead of getting focused (and lost) in some partial details and/or personal positions.

Rules, comprehension, and responsibility

Rules in projects help to regulate and manage stakeholders’ behaviors and actions and to pursue goal accomplishment and project success. But rules may also support stakeholders in acting out on responsibility (respons-ability: ability to respond) because they give guidance to choices and allow actions to be effective. Could you imagine how useless any decision, thought, or initiative would be in a context without clear rules? Nothing would relate to cause and effect, no condition would be evaluable, and, in the end, no “answer” would be possible.

It is then clear that rules are necessary for responsibility, but to allow responsibility to be fully exercised, comprehension is needed as the main requirement: promoting and enhancing awareness and understanding of all possible actions, comprehension really makes the practice of being “respons-ible” fully applicable. In this sense, comprehension brings freedom in projects, beyond rules and roles.

Rules, comprehension, and power

Power is defined as “a measurement of an entity's ability to control its environment, including the behavior of other entities” (Power, 2012, ¶1). It is often associated to characteristics as capability, influence, physical force, strength, energy. This kind of individual power, self-centered, needs to be regulated and balanced through the definition and enforcement of rules; to avoid it becomes dangerous for others’ security and interests. Rules are therefore the means through which individual actions are limited and controlled, in the name of common sake. They are the power to containing the power.

In projects, of course, individual power exists and may sometimes be necessary; therefore, in projects we choose to adopt rules to govern it. PMI's Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct, clearly defines limits to actions and behaviors of project managers professionals, to preserve the integrity and respect of all stakeholders.

But there is also another form of power to consider, which is much more interesting if you aim, as we do, to establish and continuously improve ProjEthical conditions in our projects. It is power as the ability and the capability to “make the future happen,” to proactively decide and contribute to realize what you desire for your project. This kind of power, more than controlling, influence, and strength, is based on strategic thinking, leadership, and comprehension.

From this point of view, rules, though still needed, are not established to limit stakeholders’ actions and behaviors but to enhance their possibilities to build up and realize the vision for project success. As project success is a common, shared and agreed on goal, rules in projects in particular have to help stakeholders in balancing interests, through a comprehensive leadership style. Not influencing others to make them agree on what has to be done, but making right decisions and actions emerge from the whole. A comprehensive attitude enhances the capability of everyone to participate to the interests of many and to use power as a project success factor, not only a personal one.


We live in the communication era, with sources full of information and messages, but this presents a frustrating paradox: Although we are connected to each other in real time, with the possibility to exchange any information quickly, we seldom reach comprehension; unfortunately, communicating does not imply comprehending.

Understanding (also called intellection) is a psychological process related to an abstract or physical object, such as a person, situation, or message, whereby one is able to think about it and use concepts to deal adequately with that object. Understanding is a relationship between the knower and an object of understanding. Understanding implies abilities and dispositions with respect to an object of knowledge sufficient to support intelligent behavior.

An understanding is the limit of a conceptualization. To understand something is to have conceptualized it to a given measure. To understand is to stand under the authority of your understanding.

Another important concern for any project manager is what the PMBOK® Guide refers to as “understanding the environment,” which implies much more than simply communicating. The negation of the comprehension, the in-comprehension—to leave things/people/aspects out of the boundaries—leads to dogmatism, fanaticism, misunderstanding, war, and struggle.

Communicate, communicate, communicate! Yes, but…it's not enough—it's just the first step in a complex cognitive process.

Comprehension as a superior form of knowledge

Exhibit 5 – Comprehension as a superior form of knowledge


Each stakeholder brings into the project his or her world, culture, language, and history. The stakeholder must be comprehended…but how? Let's start, one more time, with the definition of stakeholder:

Definition of Stakeholder according to the PMBOK<sup>®</sup> Guide

Exhibit 6 – Definition of Stakeholder according to the PMBOK® Guide

Which verbs relate to stakeholders according to the PMBOK® Guide? It is a very useful exercise to search and count in the text the occurrence of the word stakeholder (176 times in the fourth edition!) and collect the verbs that are near or referring to the word stakeholder. It is a linguistic trick to help us to answer to the question: “What should we do with stakeholders?”,

  • Managing
  • Identifying
  • Defining their risk tolerance
  • Interviewing
  • Requirement gathering
  • Communication
  • Influencing
  • Reporting

That's enough to teach us that the kind of comprehension the stakeholders need to receive is a complex one, according to Morin's sense. This is already a very rich lesson we can obtain by taking words in our hands and playing with them, but there are also new lands to explore “beyond” the traditional approaches.

Ethnographic approach

The ethnography has its goal in recognizing and analyzing the cultural codes that are typical of a group and its context in order to reach the comprehension of the reasons why certain phenomena take place.

The instruments of work of the ethnographic researcher traditionally are the interview and the observation, whereas the main sources for data collection are the “traces” of organizational life, the collective events, and the subjects themselves. The anthropological thinking implies a “participated observation”; that is, the capability of entering into an empathic relationship with the observer subjects in order to understand their points of view and visions. In this approach to the stakeholder it is possible to identify some “cultural parameters,” such as:

  • Ethics
  • Creativity
  • Innovation
  • Organizational wellness

Each stakeholder will be analyzed from all these points of view and will be assigned a score following specific metrics.

Informal network

In any kind of association between individuals, it is necessary to introduce rules; these rules establish formal relationships between subjects and structures that are based on three pillars:

  • Functional hierarchies
  • Roles definition
  • Operations mechanisms (business processes)

Externally and autonomously in respect to these links, other informal networks take shape. They are flexible, able to adapt themselves (the so called auto-organization, a property of many kinds of CAS [Complex Adaptive Systems]), in order to react to stimulus and external change: these networks are able to elaborate on the correct answers to external threats. The network is built as a graph, in which the different types of objects are connected with one another by different kinds of relationships: “he works with…,” “he knows…,” “he plays tennis with…,” and “he is in conflict with…”

Once the network is defined, the next step consists of describing the

  • Characteristics of the relationships (work, advise, trust…)
  • Characteristics of the network (diameter, density, centralization, sub-groups…)
  • Characteristics of the individuals (age, seniority, skills…)

MBTI Type observation

The aim of this type of observation is to capture the complexity and the diversity of human behaviors, through an unbiased observation, which avoids prejudices, and applying psychological categories (from C.G. Jung and others).

The four behavioral categories we can find within the MBTI model (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) are the following:

  • extraversion/introversion
  • sensing/intuition
  • thinking/feeling
  • judging/perception

Practical Suggestions to Building Up ProjEthics Through a Comprehensive Approach

In the previous paragraphs, we explored the idea of comprehension and how it can promote a constructive approach to facing many of the challenges project managers encounter every day in their professional lives, turning constraints and limits into choices and success leverages. Of course, such an attitude to grasping the essence of the overall picture, to consider and relate all “intensions,” looking at them with unbiased eyes but being able to value differences, is not easy or natural—it requires continuous attention, concentration, training, practice, and care. The following paragraphs contain some suggestions that, based on our own experience, may help comprehension become a more common habit in project contexts.

Practice awareness

Awareness is the most important condition to develop comprehensive attitudes in projects. Awareness implies knowledge and, more importantly, continuous concentration and presence. The mind and the senses need to be focused on what's going on and what's emerging, “here and now.”

To develop awareness, defining and reviewing activities help a lot. In projects, definitions and reviews are daily commitments. But, sometimes, the “ordinary” duty is not enough and specific opportunities might need to be created, to develop a general habit to awareness. They can be “add-ons” to already planned activities (defining WBS, stakeholders analysis, risks identification, lessons learned) or ad-hoc moments for the project team to focus on what they need to be aware of, in that specific moment and situation.

Games and rituals might help too. Games related to words are the most effective ones, because of the power words have in their own nature to refer to something else—an idea, a feeling, a context. To respect words, even in games (in games, above all) awareness is needed, and words are the most important means to practicing comprehension.

Rituals help us to remind of something important the way it has to be, and to build/re-establish the related “experience:” a status, a mind condition, a procedure. In all cases, awareness is the first step. All project teams should have their own rituals, because they will not only promote and maintain awareness, but also contribute to building up a stronger team.

Practice curiosity and astonishment

No comprehensive attitude is possible when our mind is not keen on exploring and discovering new things and new points of view, when it does not desire to go beyond boundaries, when it is scared of changes, when it is not interested in learning, and when it is not curious.

As Giusi Meloni reminds us, “curiosity is embedded in our brain and its specific function is to move us to explore, learn and grow, expanding our knowledge, experiences and skills. […] For curiosity to work at its best, we need to perceive and judge an event not only as surprising and challenging but also as potentially under our control. This is where different personalities also come into play: although we are all naturally curious, the degree of curiosity we possess varies, influencing our behavior in various stages of our life, from career choices to relationships and hobbies.” (Meloni, 2011, pp 2–3) Curiosity cannot be taken for granted; training and practice are necessary to making ourselves naturally curious, able to “take care” and to establish connections among what is new and what is known, balancing fear and excitement in the learning process.

Deeply related to curiosity, another attitude has to be taken into account: it is astonishment, the feeling and the mind condition that accompany something extremely surprising. Astonishment depends of course on its cause and on how much amazing and unexpected it is. But, astonishment is, above all, our capability to be positively impressed by what we observe and well-disposed toward everything we might learn, without being conditioned by prejudices and beliefs. It's the ability to discover the extraordinary in the ordinary, what is valuable in mediocrity, what is important in uselessness, and what is special in normality.

To make comprehension possible, curiosity and astonishment have to be cultivated and developed. More than everything, they have to be encouraged because these are parts of human nature. Creating a project environment in which errors are allowed and risks are considered more as opportunities than as threats, may be an effective way of helping curiosity and astonishment become the ways of learning, growing, and comprehending.

The Project Manifesto states: build up the project identity, announce the project identity. A comprehensive exercise

As previously stated, in our opinion, ProjEthics is not only a set of rules, but a set of desirable conditions and constraints that promote project success in a comfortable and nice-to-live-in “house,” characterized by wellness and growth.

To contribute to the building of this kind of project context, the Project Manifesto is one of the most important tools to be adopted. The Project Manifesto, in our idea, is defined as “both representation and metaphor of the self-consciousness that the project (and the project team) wants to achieve and to aim at in the course of creation of possible worlds.” (Varanini et al., 2009, p. 165). While PMBOK® Guide Project Charter and Project Management Plan address all aspects of what the project has to do, the Project Manifesto is supposed to define the stakeholders’ shared vision about what the project wants to be and to become, what kind of “home” they want to build.

The Project Manifesto, therefore, represents the description of the project's “essence,” beyond scope, tasks, stakeholders, costs, risks; it includes vision, mission, values, rules, guidelines, constraints, opportunities, cultural references, everything contributing to defining the project identity. It's the ProjEthical “summa,” the project comprehension—the project comprehending itself.

But the Project Manifesto also becomes the means, the way, the words, the “shape,” and the images stakeholders decide to adopt to announce the project to the world, to talk about the project in the context they act in, the way they distinguish the project from other projects and initiatives, and the way they feel it as “their” project. A comprehensive approach has to be adopted if we want “others” to not only understand what the project has to do, its goals, its scope, its constraints, its organization, but also feel the “essence” of the initiative as a creation act.

The Project Manifesto requires comprehension, to build up and then announce the project identity. It also sets the conditions for comprehension to be promoted and empowered, allowing ProjEthics to become a real condition for project developing and success. It is a very powerful tool to be adopted and experienced in our project management profession.


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Zagrebelsky, G. (2007). Il crucifige! e la democrazia. Einaudi Editore.

© 2012, Stefano Setti, Michela Ruffa
Originally published as a part of 2012 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Marseille, France



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