Project Management Institute

Cultural projects

PMP's point of view

Julián González Iglesias, CINTAE ARTS AND BUSINESS


If a project creates a unique result as definition, then we can assume that every project is unique, but not necessarily 100% different from the rest of them. In this paper we analyze analogies inside cultural projects, facing them up with other types of projects. We try to create a first approximation to cultural projects typology.

We will shape the three main aspects of cultural projects:

  1. Cultural products move inside an imperfect competition system
  2. The law of diminishing returns does not apply
  3. Both characteristics lay in a wide and unique environment


Cultural projects development is biasing by the same nature of cultural products. This development has two specific interpretations over a framework:

1. Cultural products move inside an imperfect competition system.

Cultural products get a move in an economy of public goods, and in a public knowledge. Cultural projects have to be undertaken in a market where knowledge is protected by rules and laws as return of investment. These are laws of intellectual property. On the other hand, having less production direct costs and working in a public knowledge, then it must be established a procedure to protect creators.

2. The law of diminishing returns does not apply.

Normally cultural products are not biased by “law of diminishing returns”. Cultural sector does not exploit physical goods; otherwise it is based on knowledge. Knowledge would not be biased by periodic crisis, although this factor is out of the scope of this paper.

3. Both characteristics lay in a wide and unique environment.

  • Language: It is the main factor for cultural projects, mainly for projects oriented to final customers. There are some exceptions to this constraint, but the most important is music projects.
  • Local Culture: We have to study carefully stakeholders, because our project or its results can offend or be illegal in some countries due to culture, religion or local law.
  • Copyright's Local Law : Intellectual rights are not the same in multinational projects. Even inside Europe copyright laws are different.
  • Public administration: Public Administrations promote a big number of cultural projects and create a framework for a bigger number of them.
  • Infrastructure: Projects always depend on infrastructure, but it can be a main topic if we are oriented to final customers in theaters, stadiums, open spaces, libraries, homes…
  • Technology: Culture uses today a big range of technologies from a printer to an e-book or a hologram.
  • Company size: Culture sector is miscellaneous. We can found international companies in cinema subsector or little companies in a very fragmented theater subsector.
  • Globalization: As the rest of sectors Culture is breaking borders and geographic and cultural barriers.

Paper Objectives

The objectives of this document are the following:

  1. To introduce cultural project market to the reader
  2. 2. To explain how to face up to cultural projects features by Projects Managers.

Main Characteristics

Common characteristics with other projects: Ex. Different cultures, languages.

Special characteristics: Our projects can cause lawsuits, violent reactions, change of political tendencies, happiness. because our project results are addressed to human feelings.

Cultural products move inside an imperfect competition system.

Cultural products get a move in an economy of public goods, and in a public knowledge. Cultural projects have to be undertaken in a market where knowledge is protected by rules and laws as return of investment. These are laws of intellectual property. On the other hand, having less production direct costs and working in a public knowledge, then it must be established a procedure to protect creators.

This effect is known as imperfect competition.

Culture has been understood traditionally from a point of view of public good, having a function of social cohesion, propagating values, and the conjunction of mutual interest. The economy has take culture into account recently, when knowledge management was transformed in the most powerful row material for ROI. This knowledge management has been already used in ICT sector. Creativity is being applied to a wide range of the economic activity (emotional intelligence).

The culture, in all his expressions, as the art, the cultural heritage, the book, the performance arts, the plastic arts, is an important piece of this knowledge management. And so it has been admitted by the European directives, as a factor to expand the economy, inside the sustainable models of production.

Why business school, or institutional departments of economy has not take this fact into account, it is something that has his origin in the “protectionist” character that has been adopted in the most part of the European countries, not in USA.

In the most part of R&D programs, it has not been included, and nevertheless, all his activity moves itself inside the modern laws of the creativity. So, we can see the enormous quantities of income for cultural contents in England. Only in performance arts there is 29 billion pounds, and crisis has not damage this sector. The sector needs qualified human resources, mainly for production, audience management, project design… and everything happens in a sector without programs regulated for this activity in a lot of European countries.

The law of diminishing returns does not apply

Traditionally the sector is not influenced by the competition created by new competitors in a growth market. On the other hand the cultural market is hardly controlled, and the target market is hardly influenced by public administrations. Cultural business is a relational business, based on a close collaboration between stakeholders (public administration, consumers, consulting companies, schools of new skills). This fact prompts to develop new ways based on two new elements in the productive processes:

Emotional intelligence:

The emotional intelligence is based on the knowledge of the emotions present in every bundle of relations. Emotions are based on feelings, which origins are beliefs. They are reproduced in an automatic way as genes. The above mentioned beliefs have their origin in the memes, whose definition and analysis must be taken into account in any negotiation.

Practical Creativity:

That is the development of transverse analyses, and other methods to stimulate the creativity.

Applying methods of analysis and creation of procedures that give an answer to the challenges emerged (undertaking programs, adjusted to the needs of our market, and with a viable budget), require a great aptitude using the creativity to search where nobody is searching, to learn from other sectors and to be able of doing the correct translation in terms of methodology, time and program.

These characters do that classical economy is specified in the cultural sector; and they create other areas of development, not known in the knowledge management. The economic growth, based on the exploitation of the intellectual resources with a great added value, prompts new activities. These are not affected by the law of diminishing returns, as typically happen in any competitive system.

Both characteristics lay in a wide and unique environment

Epistemology (origin of the method):

All these aspects must be born in mind in the project design for this sector. Therefore, we will study other analogous sectors and will proceed to establish criteria and protocols affected by all these specific characteristics of the cultural sector and the knowledge management.

The cultural project management must search in analogous, or adjacent, sectors the necessary criteria to realize the transformation of our ideas in projects. Because of the same definition, it constructs the viability of the same activity.

Because of the experience and knowledge about marketing and surveys, we will use them as a good base to understand cultural projects. So, in the definition of the survey, there are applied criteria, formats and definitions, which are applicable to the cultural sector, and they help to create a frame to define cultural projects as something definable, analyzable, and competitive. We will apply this frame of reference, and we will expose all the aspects that make a field measurable and predictably of the culture.

How do Project Managers overcome this challenge? PM's point of view

Cultural sector, like any sector, has its own peculiarities. Here resources are, as in IT projects, people and their intellect. Therefore, we can found some similarities between them. In the following lines we will distinguish between traditional and innovative cultural projects. Traditional projects as a Shakespeare play, and innovative as a new performance with lights and music played by problematic people for therapeutic purposes.

In a cultural project we can found the producer and the art director. Comparing roles in cultural and IT projects, then producer has a role as a project manager, because he is accountable about costs, time and scope. Even he controls the Acquire Project Team Process. And art director would be the equivalent of technical manager.

Facing specific Initiating features:

Developing the Project Charter, we found the first Cultural Projects specific characteristics: Results are hard to predict. Then feasibility studies are complex to execute. Even if we have carried out similar projects, we are working mainly with human resources, not goods, and their intellect. Other times we are creating an innovative product where we have no previous experience; and then, ROI estimation is really difficult. It could be as estimating IPod success in its initiating phase. Some times estimation is an art not a science.

As we told before, our project or its results can offend our stakeholder. Therefore, we have to work hardly in the Identification Stakeholder Process (ISP). We have to identify them carefully to write a useful communication plan that improves our success ratio. The ISP will be a main input of the Risk Management Process.

Facing Planning features:

Developing project plan, we found specific characteristics in the cost, human resource, communication, risk and procurement plan.

As mentioned before, language (as part of the culture) is the main factor for cultural projects if we are addressing our results to final audience. For example, it can be easily shown in Hollywood and Bollywood markets, with borders well defined (See Exhibit 1). For projects with small budget language can be a barrier. For translating a book or playing in another language, we could need specialist in our team or even change all of them. Therefore, we have to include a clear definition of languages used in our Define Scope Process (DSP)

On the other hand we can see European projects focused in an international exchange of expertise for professionals in the cultural sector.

World Language Map (“Maps courtesy of, used with permission.”)

Exhibit 1 – World Language Map (“Maps courtesy of, used with permission.”)

Copyrights affects hardly in cost plan and procurement plan. We have to safeguard our creation from copies and we have to pay for other artist creation used in our own project, as we do in an industrial project with patents. An input of the following plans is the DSP: cost, human resource, communication, risk and procurement plan will depend strongly on DSP. For example, for local projects risk of copy will decrease and then costs and effort for copyright will be smaller. Nevertheless, if we are working in a national or international project, then we will increase our effort and costs to safe our rights.

Creating the Risk Plan we have to take all previous factors into consideration. In addition, we will bear in mind problems with cultural origin (ethnic, religion, tradition…). Some books are forbidden in some countries, some attitudes are prosecuted in others, and even some words are common in a country and a taboo in another. If cultural features are usually important for project management, then in cultural projects they are more important, because they are in the public sphere.

For international projects we have to know or to be assessed by experts about local laws. For example, in some countries it is forbidden to show children images without explicit permission of their parents, or it is forbidden a tobacco sponsor for minor audience, or in a sport show.

Other important risk, in a project distributed geographically, is the lack of collaboration in information gathering. The main weapon to fight against this is a good communication plan and its correct application and the interest of a powerful sponsor. Having a good sponsor, normally, does not depend on PM, so we have to focus on the communications plan.

Facing Executing features:

In innovative current cultural projects, it is used development and analysis transversal techniques, as well as all kind of technologies, virtual reality, 3D images, video with high definition, broadband communications… If our project includes new technologies as a support base, then we will need to have technicians with correct skills inside our team, or have a partner supporting us for this purpose.

One typical characteristic in cultural projects is casting to select team members (artists). This selection is under producer responsibility. It could be executed by casting manager, equivalent in other sectors to human resources manager. Director has to be consulted about requirements and final selection. But these constraints change depending on companies and projects, as it happens in other sectors. Time and resources, i.e. projects costs, used to select our team members depends on the importance of them in our project. Casting is one of the critical activities to achieve in cultural projects where artist's performance is our final product. Likely in other sectors there are not such differences in the project result depending on our team members; and then we do not have to invest so much money; or not? There is another important factor in human resource selection: it is team members’ costs. Similar to sports, there are big differences between wages of two people developing the same role, depending mainly on the fame of them, instead of university degrees or certifications.

The most important assets for cultural projects are team members, in other words people. Then Manage Project Team process is very important for the Project Manager. But is there any type of project where people are not the most important asset?

Normally in other type of projects, we try to hide our work processes and even our mistakes, but in some projects, as in cinema, work in progress or errors are reported and communicated to public knowledge as marketing campaign. Two examples of this are “Making Of’ and “Bloopers”.

Facing Monitoring & Controlling features:

To measure success in mass media projects, it is used the estimation of audience share. These measures are made by independent companies. Afterwards, sponsors’ investments are based on these figures and KPI's.

As a rule success of our results will be evaluated by objective KPI's, but in cultural projects personal feelings are a measurement. Although finally we will be able to obtain the economic measure, sometimes fame goes beyond money. What is more important fame or money?

Facing Closing features:

Closing processes are similar to closing processes in other sector. Here we will only take care of copyright contracts and how to check costs related with them.

Our experience

We have worked as PM on several and different sectors. Julián González is working in cultural projects since 1993, and previously he has had a wide experience in marketing. Mariano de Abajo has work mainly in ICT projects, collaborating with Julián occasionally in recent years. We have compared our experiences as Project Managers and PM in cultural projects and we have tried to summarize part of them in this document.

Final Words

The cultural sector has turned over, to be strong between the emergent sectors of a sustainable economy, based on the exploitation of the intellectual resources and the knowledge management, with a great sustainable growth in the time, and a horizon without end. This sector is outlined as one of the key sectors in the new economic development, it contributes to the well-being of other sectors, and it has a potential of unlimited work.

His planning, development and execution requires human capital, especially intellectuals. This paper is a first approximation to the criteria that determine the development of projects in this sector, the elements that come on. As well as we are those who contribute to his expansion, we are those who prevent it, to conclude in a system that helps us to simulate his viability.

Evolution of Theater in Spain

Exhibit 2 – Evolution of Theater in Spain


Arnheim R. (1971) Entropy and Art. Berkeley: University of California Press. (ISBN 9780520026179)

Baudrillard, J. (2010) Crítica de la economía política del signo. Editorial Siglo XXI (ISBN: 8432313971 ISBN-13: 9788432313974)

Lasuén Sancho, JR. Aranzadi del Cerro, J. (2002) El crecimiento económico y las artes. Madrid: Fundación Autor. (ISBN: 9788480484725)

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

© 2012, Mariano de Abajo Bedmar and Julián González
Originally published as a part of 2012 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Marseille, France



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