The dynamic baseline model for project management

Quang P. Duong, University of Ottawa Centre on Governance, Vanier Hall, University of Ottawa, 11 Marie Curie, Ottawa, Ontario K1N 6N5 Canada

Abstract

This paper describes the Dynamic Baseline Model© (DBM) as a framework for analysis of the project management learning process and an indicator of the expected success of a project. By matching project complexity with the appropriate project management approach, the DBM identifies individual learning needs and the appropriate response to the challenges of today’s projects. As project management tools and techniques are more and more applied as a one-size-fits-all solution, there is a need to explore beyond these tools and techniques. The DBM suggests that our ability to create solutions is bounded by our current learning horizon, which may be too restrictive for the needs of a project. The model helps us find suitable solutions by enabling us to ask the right questions.

Keywords: dynamic baseline model; project management learning process; project complexity; learning horizon

A well-publicized statistic from the Standish Group study of software projects in the public and private sectors indicates that nearly 90% of the studied projects failed, with more than one-third canceled before they were completed. This record of failure is interpreted by most as evidence that project management tools and techniques have not been effectively applied; this in turn has led to a call for further research in developing new techniques and in educating and certifying more project managers in the associated skills. Increasing our capability to deliver projects is perhaps the most convenient response to the situation. The more fundamental issue of whether or not classical project management concepts still apply and the extent to which they fit with the new realities is a more complex subject area; one requiring much debate and entailing a lot of controversy. To focus the debate, we must first explore a more simple question—whether or not projects can be classified by their propensity to fail—and obvious corollaries—the degree to which this propensity would be dependent on the capability of the project team or perhaps the project commodity type (information technology, systems engineering, buildings, etc.), or whether or not this propensity can be linked to some more appropriate indicator.

The Dynamic Baseline Model© (DBM) (Seely & Duong, 1999) provides a framework for addressing these types of questions. Using a set of graphical depictions, constructs, and terminologies, the DBM explores the evolution of project management behaviors, establishes realistic levels of project complexity and expectations, and provides a linkage, or matching, between the behavior and the project complexity level.

The model provides the context for discussion, helping us to ask the right questions, to address the courses of action necessary for improving our performance, and to identify learning requirements appropriate for today’s projects.

Project Management Learning

There are two sides to the model, the people side and the project side. The model is introduced starting with a cursory overview of the people side in order to establish the necessary context for the ensuing project discussions.

Under the DBM, the project management learning curve (see Seely, 1996) has the following four levels, as depicted in Figure 1.

images

Figure 1. A Four-Level Project Management Learning Curve

Level 1: Management by rules (MBR) behavior is the first level of learning. MBR is an indoctrination into the official operations for an organization. Employees are encouraged to develop a strong sense of affiliation with the institutional framework that defines the organization—rules, regulations, policies, procedures, directives, laws, acts, etc. At this level of learning, an employee is taught how to apply existing rules to conduct business, and, on occasion, to interpret rules in some new way for the purpose of addressing project issues not readily covered in the existing framework.

Level 2: Management by methods (MBM) behavior is the next level of learning in which those proficient in MBR build on their knowledge base with customized project management processes and procedures. At this level, practitioners get acquainted with, and become proficient in the use of, standard project management tools, frameworks, and templates.

The work breakdown structure (WBS), the responsibility assignment matrix, scheduling techniques, cost/schedule performance control, and monitoring and configuration management are the hallmarks of Level 2 learning. At this level, an employee has the capacity to use the tools to analyze project performance data and to make recommendations for corrective actions accordingly.

Level 3: Management by objectives (MBO) is the next level of learning. MBO is all about establishing and maintaining the project objectives as the reference point, and managing and manipulating the methods at Level 2 and the rules at Level 1 as appropriate to that horizon. The graduated learning process is important in this regard—these manipulations require a strong grounding in the methods and the rules, knowledge of the tools and their limitations, knowing which rules to break, and the implications of doing so. At this level, an employee is expected to make the decisions and tradeoffs that will help the project meet its objectives.

Level 4: Management by values (MBV) is the next level of learning. At this level, an employee has the capacity to manipulate and evolve the objective throughout the project life cycle as appropriate to the overarching corporate values. MBV practitioners are expected to revisit and adjust project objectives with their attention focused on the corporate-values horizon. In turn, this requires the capacity to manipulate the tools and the rules with the knowledge and experience to understand the implications, as per Level 3.

The learning circles at each phase in the graduated process are inclusive; i.e., it is recognized that proficiency in any one level requires a thorough grounding in the knowledge of the lower levels. Graduation from one level to another generally comes from trial-and-error application of each behavior phase within successively more complex project types. Simply put, when a behavior level does not apply, we seek the bigger picture. The best way to force learning is through progressively more challenging project assignments where one can attempt to apply Level 1 logic in a Level 2 environment, Level 2 logic in a Level 3 environment, and Level 3 logic in a Level 4 environment. It should also be noted that the learning curve, as depicted in Figure 1, has distinct steps or horizons (like a stairway). This is to signify that graduation from one level to another is a marked event. The broader behavior comes as somewhat of a revelation, a sudden awareness of the new horizon and, with that, a substantially new manner of thinking. To be effective, training should target one level above an individual’s current horizon.

Many of us have a natural inclination or preference for one level over another and may be inclined to gravitate to, and remain within, certain roles in the four-step process. It is logical that such a preference be taken into account in career planning and in assessing learning needs. However, we need to ensure that it is the needs of the project and not the natural inclinations and preferences of the people that is driving our approach to project management for a given project. Thus, the principle of matching is very important, ensuring that Level 1 projects are undertaken with an MBR competency, Level 2 projects with a MBM competency, Level 3 projects with a MBO competency, and Level 4 projects with a MBV competency.

Project Classification

The DBM also features a four-level project classification based on what we call the project lowest static baseline (LSB). Using the flow down of organizational objectives—from corporate values to project objectives to functional requirements to product design—the LSB is the lowest level that is relatively fixed for a given project, and is therefore readily “baselineable” (see Figure 2). The DBM is the foundation upon which a project is positioned. A project can only be expected to meet its LSB, and therefore, success or failure should only realistically be measured relative to that baseline.

images

Figure 2. Dynamic (D) and Static (S) Baselines

Another direct conclusion of this model is that our capacity to deliver a project is directly linked to our record of achievement in projects with similar LSBs. If this were true, then we could look beyond the stereotypical labels associated with commodity type, and consider the LSB as a determining factor in predicting a project’s success.

MBR

For Level 1 projects, the LSB is the product design baseline, illustrated in Figure 3. These projects are referred to in the DBM as production. For production projects, the art and science of project management is in selecting and manipulating alternative procedures to implement the design with optimal efficiency; i.e., the procedures form a dynamic baseline. The corresponding project management behavior appropriate to a Level 1 environment is MBR.

The Project. A typical MBR application would be a “build-to-print” type initiative having a tangible product and a stable proven design. The operation would be highly routine and “systematized.” This level would arguably not even be a project under the PMBOK® Guide’s (1996) definition of a project. The typical organizational structure would be a functional line operation.

The People. The ideal MBR behavior features a highly dependable, reliable individual with a strong affiliation with the official operations of the company. With a focus on detail, the career-long MBR practitioner would be a Myers-Briggs ISTJ (Introverted/Sensing/Thinking/Judgmental) or “Inspector,” representing approximately 10% of the population.

The project management training syllabus for MBR includes subjects such as:

images  Life-cycle costing

images  Material requirements planning

images  Process control

images  Procurement practice

images  Quality assurance

images  Quality control

images  Queuing theory

images  Scheduling (Gantt, PERT, CPM, Line of Balance)

images  Design specifications.

MBM

At Level 2, the LSB is the requirements baseline, illustrated in Figure 4. These projects are referred to in the DBM as construction. For construction projects, the art and science of project management is in selecting and manipulating alternative design approaches to implement the requirements with optimal efficiency; i.e., the design is a dynamic baseline. The corresponding project management behavior appropriate to a Level 2 environment is MBM.

The Project. A typical MBM application would be an “implement-the-requirement” scenario having a tangible product, evolving design, stable technology, and low integration. In fact, the requirements of an MBM project are generally sufficiently stable that the tendering process is often used to position the implementation with a contractor. The project management organizational structure would be a dedicated or “projectized” organization.

The People. The ideal MBM behavior features a high aptitude for the mastery of tools. The career-long MBM practitioner would be a Myers-Briggs ISTP (Introverted/Sensing/ Thinking/Perceptive) or “Crafter,” representing approximately 10% of the population.

The project management training syllabus for MBM includes subjects such as:

images  Configuration management

images  Contingency

images  Desk books

images  Earned value management

images  Matrix management

images  Pareto diagram

images  Procurement template

images  Requirements assignment matrix

images  Resource-leveling statement of work

images

Figure 3. Static Design Baseline

images

Figure 4. Static Requirements Baseline

images

Figure 5. Static Objectives Baseline

images  Risk management

images  Systems engineering framework

images  Software tools (MS Project, Primavera)

images  Trend analysis, regression

images  WBS.

MBO

At Level 3, the project LSB is the objectives baseline, illustrated in Figure 5. These projects are referred to in the DBM as development. For development projects, the art and science of project management is in selecting and manipulating alternative requirements approaches to implement the objective with optimal efficiency; i.e., the requirements are a dynamic baseline. The corresponding project management behavior appropriate to a Level 3 environment is MBO.

The Project. A typical MBO application would have evolving requirements and a containable total system responsibility or TSR obligation. MBO work entails closed systems engineering with significant internal integration risk. It would feature a semitangible product (combination of hardware and software) and leading-edge technology. MBOs have a distinct advantage over higher-level projects in being able to operate covertly due to the TSR. Because the bureaucracy associated with MBR does not suit the highly unique nature of MBO projects, they must be “insulated” from the routine line-operations protocol described in the company rule-book. Hence, they do not only operate in a projectized environment; it is generally difficult to establish status information such as cost/schedule performance for outside stakeholders.

images

Figure 6.Static Corporate Values Baseline

The People. The ideal MBO behavior features a highly goal-oriented individual, strong-willed, with high leadership skills. A MBO practitioner would be a Myers-Briggs ENTJ (Extroverted/iNtuitive/Thinking/Judgmental) or “Field-Marshal,” representing 2% of the population.

The project management training syllabus for MBO includes subjects such as:

images  Conflict resolution

images  Crashing

images  Decision theory

images  Effective meetings

images  Fast tracking

images  Human resources (McGregor, Ouchi, McClelland, Maslow, Hertzberg, etc.)

images  Management reserve

images  Motivational theories

images  Negotiation

images  Project charter

images  Project procurement management

images  Utility theory.

MBV

At Level 4, the project LSB is the values baseline, illustrated in Figure 6. These projects are referred to in the DBM as evolution. For evolution projects, the art and science of project management is in selecting and manipulating alternative objectives to achieve fundamental corporate values with optimal efficiency; i.e., the objectives are a dynamic baseline. The corresponding project management behavior appropriate to a Level 4 environment is MBV.

The Project. For a typical MBV application, the issues are intangible. As is typical of the information technology projects, the end product deeply touches many end users—affecting the fundamental way in which they conduct their business and, with that, their ability to achieve their objectives. Evolution projects are not TSR. The work must simultaneously consider project issues and the severe implications to the routine business operations of the organization.

The People. The ideal MBV behavior features a very high affinity for ambiguity—the ability to deal with evolving and competing objectives. Part of this personality would be a very high emotional quotient (EQ) (Goleman, 1995). Myers-Briggs would identify the individual capable of MBV as an ENFP (Extroverted/INtuitive/Feeling/Perceptive) or “Champion,” representing 3% of the population.

The project management training syllabus for MBV includes subjects such as:

images  Governance issues

images  Analytical hierarchy process

images  Capability snapshot

images  EQ

images  Diplomacy

images  Organizational performance management

images  Myers-Briggs

images  Partnering

images  Principles (Covey, 1989)

images  Program management

images  Statement of operational objectives

images  Strategic analysis.

Lowest Management Level

The lowest management level (LML) is the control point for a project. It represents the level at which the project must be managed on an ongoing basis in order to deal effectively with the dynamic issues below the LSB.

images

Figure 7.The History of Project Management

For a “production” project, the LML is the supervisor level. A supervisor is the lowest management level with sufficient capacity and authority to deal effectively with a dynamic procedures baseline.

For a “construction” project, the LML is the manager level. A manager is the lowest management level with sufficient capacity and authority to deal effectively with a dynamic design baseline.

For a “development” project, the LML is the director level. A director is the lowest management level with sufficient capacity and authority to deal effectively with a dynamic requirements baseline.

For an “evolution” project, the LML is the owner level. The project owner is the lowest management level with sufficient capacity and authority to deal effectively with a dynamic objectives baseline.

Expectation of Success

We know that there is a fundamental difference in project risk when, say, building a skyscraper versus building a battleship versus automating a financial system; but it is interesting that some construction projects go completely out of control, and the odd information technology project achieves its objectives. It is suggested that this is more than simply randomness or hit and miss. The DBM would explain this in terms of the position of the LSB, regardless of the commodity type.

In the case where the LSB is the product design (i.e., MBR), it is not only anticipated that the project will be completed on time and on budget, but also expected that gains in efficiency will be realized through repeat applications in order to come out ahead on cost and schedule—an expected efficiency of slightly over 100%. For MBM, a dynamic design baseline yields a typical overrun of up to 10%. In MBO projects, a dynamic requirements baseline yields a typical overrun in the range of 50%. In MBV projects, a dynamic objectives baseline yields a 90% failure rate.

The DBM would suggest that when high-level baselines are left in a state of ambiguity, the inclination to adopt classical (Level 2 or MBM) project management practices as the response would not be appropriate. Therefore, to move forward with today’s projects, classical project management approaches are not enough. For the 90% of IT projects that fail, we need to either stretch conventional thinking in project management to include principles appropriate to evolving objectives (MBV), or marginalize project management practice and develop something new.

Extrapolation of the Model

As suggested in the introduction of this paper, the focus of management and project management has been evolving. Throughout recent history, project management has followed a trend from MBR to MBM to MBO to MBV, as illustrated in Figure 7.

The MBR mindset was important to the growth in business infrastructure, prominent from 1930 to 1960. During this period, the focus was on “institutionalizing” business practices, and with that came the development of rules, regulations, policies, procedures, directives, laws, acts, etc.

During the post-war period of industrial growth, MBM approaches became the major focus. Modern project management practice was born with the development of the classical scheduling techniques such as the Gantt chart, PERT, and CPM developed in the 1950s (Moder, Phillips, & Davis, 1983).

images

Figure 8.Extrapolation of the DBM

With the proliferation of the transistor in the 1950s and the integrated circuit shortly thereafter, projects became more complex. With the development of sophisticated engineering systems, the objective was now to bring mechanics to life. The Department of Defense (U.S.) was a major driver of MBO. The advent of the cold war in the 1960s created demand for countermeasures that, as a matter of public security, pushed the envelope of technology, and drove project management into MBO. This was the era of cost/schedule control. The Project Management Institute (PMI®) was born in 1969, and the Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification started shortly thereafter.

With the proliferation of the microcomputer came the information age. The cold war ended, and the project management focus once again shifted, this time to MBV. As companies automated their business processes for the purposes of reducing cost and enhancing availability of information, the terminology changed with terms like CASE tool, business process reengineering (BPR), and Internet.

The future should be interesting with the approach of the next level—Level 5. An extrapolation of the model, as illustrated in Figure 8, would lead to a management approach where the essential values of the corporation are a dynamic baseline. This would entail dealing with some higher-order issues—perhaps management by politics (MBP), wherein project managers would contend with harmonizing various corporate agendas. With the current record number of acquisitions and mergers around the globe, perhaps this is Level 5 in action; however, if project management principles were to be employed in this effort, an extrapolation of the model would indicate an extremely low chance of success.

A Level 5, MBP would deal with an intangible product with a focus on governance issues. The LML at Level 5 would be, in essence, a politician. Such an individual would require a high affinity for ambiguity, a high EQ—in Myers-Briggs this would be an ESTP (Extroverted/Sensing/Thinking/Perceptive) or “Promoter,” representing approximately 3% of the population at large.

Learning Needs

The project management learning curve was addressed in the introduction of this paper. Having established the principles and terminology of the DBM, we can now use the model to address how best to move project practitioners up through the competency hierarchy from MBR to MBM to MBO to MBV, and perhaps beyond, as appropriate to their interests and aptitudes.

The people side of the DBM portrays the behavior pattern that is natural to each level, using the Myers-Briggs framework. Not everyone in project management aspires to take the lead on a project. As exemplified in project management conferences and training programs, there are those that are drawn to the development and use of project management tools, and others that seem naturally inclined to focus on the issues. It should be noted that, although the character profiles are treated very lightly in this paper, human behavior is a very complex subject area, and, as such, attempting to categorize people in some neat pattern to suit the model would be a tricky and perhaps dangerous exercise. Nonetheless, these profiles are important for the sole purpose of establishing the framework for discussion.

We should expect that throughout their career, there are those that stay within the MBR mindset and develop their expertise on that basis. There are others that will feel more comfortable with the methods and stay with the tools and methodologies, and so on. For those who have the interest in, and aptitude for, harnessing the bigger-picture challenges, there needs to be the encouragement, recognition, and training to enable their progression.

An important issue is ensuring that good candidates for MBO and MBV are not eliminated for lack of an adequate performance record at the lower levels. For example, it may not follow that the best MBO and MBV candidates should necessarily be selected from the pool of top MBR or MBM performers (see Figure 9). Myers-Briggs seems to indicate that people’s natural behavior inclinations would be an important factor.

Among the learning options—teaching the terminology, training in tools, lecturing on issues, and mentoring in real time—each of the DBM levels has unique learning needs. Teaching works well for MBR; training is an important addition for MBM, to gain a mastery of the tools such as packaged software applications; MBO requires a high degree of experience, the “battle scars” and the eventual confidence of a tried and proven track record; MBV requires the combined bottom-up project experience of MBO, as well as a high level of experience in the specific business operations associated with the project. Finding a candidate with a proven track record in both is a clear problem for Level 4 and above.

images

Figure 9.Four Project Management Career Paths

images

Figure 10.Comparison to the PMP®

With regard to PMI’s PMP certification—the PMBOK® Guide is largely at the MBM level (covering the Level 1 and Level 2 components illustrated in Figure 10), with much focus on project terminologies and frameworks. Those preparing practitioners, or considering certification requirements, for MBO and MBV can perhaps use the PMP certification exam as the foundation, and add custom programs as appropriate. The shift from MBM to MBO requires additional concentration on the “soft” skills—human resources, communication, and integration. These additions need to be magnified for MBV preparations.

Conclusion

This paper establishes graphical depictions, constructs, and terminologies to enable efficient dialog on complex project issues for the DBM. It identifies project Level 1 “production,” Level 2 “construction,” Level 3 “development,” and Level 4 “evolution.” The commensurate people approaches are MBR, MBM, MBO, and MBV, respectively. The LSB is suggested as the best indicator of the probability of success, and the concept of a control point or the LML is identified for each. It is suggested that these terms can be added to the current lexicon of project management terminology for more effective analysis of today’s project issues.

The DBM portrays project management learning as a building process through successive learning horizons. According to the mathematician John Allen Paulos (1998), there is a limit to a person’s ability to process and understand information; this limit is defined by what Paulos calls our “complexity horizon.” In the project management context, up to the complexity horizon, advancing project management solutions for a given project means exercising the wisdom of knowledge and experience. Attempting a project beyond our horizon means exercising faith—two or more levels representing a leap of faith. The DBM, by identifying the knowledge horizons, enables us to distinguish knowledge from faith so that we can identify when our project investments are “in good hands” and when they are left to chance.

This distinction between knowledge and faith is important. Extending Paulos’ hypothesis, it is suggested that, when managing beyond our horizon, we tend to embrace and seek comfort within that which is familiar, employing project approaches that are within our knowledge horizon. The resulting under-targeting of solutions amounts to forcing the problem to accommodate the solution, and not the other way around—diverting our attention from the true issues.

The DBM does not provide solutions—that’s where the reader comes in. Five sample paradoxes are discussed in the appendix to illustrate the complexity of today’s issues and to demonstrate the need for a discussion framework to expand our thinking. The DBM provides a map for navigating to new learning horizons, to assist in our quest to conquer today’s project management.

Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank the referees and the editor for comments that have improved both the content and presentation of the paper. Comments on the earlier version of the paper by Jean G. Roy and Rick M. Trites are also greatly appreciated. The positions expressed remain the personal opinions of the authors only.

References

Covey, Stephen R. (1989). The 7 habits of highly effective people: Restoring the character ethic. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Goleman, Daniel. (1995). Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. New York: Bantam Books.

Paulos, John A. (1998). Once upon a number: The hidden mathematical logic of stories.Basic Books.

Project Management Institute. (1996). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® guide). Upper Darby, PA: Project Management Institute.

Seely, Mark. (1996). Thinking beyond the rules. Unpublished manuscript.

Seely, Mark, & Duong, Quang. (1999). The dynamic baseline model. Unpublished manuscript.

Moder, Joseph J., Phillips, Cecil R., & Davis, Edward W. (1983). Project management with CPM, PERT and precedence diagramming, 3rd ed. Van Nostrand Reinhold.

Moder, Joseph J., Phillips, Cecil R., & Davis, Edward W. (1983). Project management with CPM, PERT and precedence diagramming, 3rd ed. Van Nostrand Reinhold.

 

images

Mark A. Seely, PMP, PEng, is a professional engineer with extensive experience helping managers deal with issues associated with large-scale complex projects in the private and public sectors. He received an MBA from the University of Ottawa (Canada) and is actively involved with the Project Management Institute (PMI®), holding various board positions, lecturing on project management, and providing PMP® certification training. He is currently a Fellow at the Centre on Governance, University of Ottawa.

images

Quang P. Duong obtained his Ph.D. in statistics from the University of Western Ontario (London, Canada). His areas of research include the application of statistical methods to solve project management issues. He was with the Management Sciences group at Bell Canada where he applied statistical and operations research techniques to a wide range of business problems, in addition to lecturing at various universities. He is currently a Fellow at the Centre on Governance, University of Ottawa.

APPENDIX—FIVE PROJECT MANAGEMENT PARADOXES

The Planning and Control Paradox

... more and more we demand that which applies less and less ...

Projects of the information age, the MBVs and MBPs, encounter dynamically changing objectives and values baselines. This means two things:

images  The number of people “touched” by the product and implicated in the project delivery is increasing geometrically. As the growth in PMI membership will indicate, the interest in project management throughout the world is virtually exploding at this point in time. These people are craving the PMBOK® Guide knowledge base.

images  The projects causing the growth in interest are not readily baseline-able at the levels contemplated by the PMBOK® Guide. The challenging part of MBV is in harnessing the diversity of end users toward a common business purpose— i.e., managing a dynamic associated with having multiple competing objectives.

Each of the DBM levels has an associated classical area of study. For MBR, it is classical production management; for MBM, it is classical project management; for MBO, it is classical engineering management; for MBV, it is classical business administration, and for MBP, it is classical public administration (see Figure A1).

When looking for solutions to today’s project challenges, we need to ensure that we are not spending too much time “turning over the wrong rocks.” Classical project management principles are appealing, but the issues may very well lie in another domain.

images

Figure A1. Related Areas of Study

The Customer Service Paradox

... in striving to accommodate user needs, we jeopardize the solution that we are providing on their behalf ...

Undertaking an MBO project with a fixed set of objectives to deal with is one thing; having to please a multitude of end users en route per MBV is another. For the information age, and the projects that are part of it, connectivity is the key. Using the number of lines of communication as an indicator, the degrees of freedom among the various end users implicated in the system follows the formula n(n-1)/2. Further, as we form end-user groups with various interests, the potential combinations go through the roof: n(2n/2+n-1); i.e., 10 people can come at you in 5,210 ways (see Figure A2).

images

Figure A2. Communications Explosion

Our capacity to deal with projects changes dramatically as the LSB moves back through the project life cycle. Although we (the project management community) are particularly adept at handling MBR and MBM, MBOs remain a challenge, and the MBVs seem to be largely beyond our grasp.

In order to have a reasonable chance at success in today’s MBVs and MBPs, it would seem that we have a responsibility to stakeholders to do one of two things: improve our capacity to manage, or simplify the requirement (see Figure A3).

The former is the subject of a diverse number of groups looking for the right project management certification formula.

The latter is more complex. It involves addressing tradeoffs, freezing platforms, and imposing standards through some central authority with far-reaching implications to end-user authority and accountability.

As we search for the solution, one thing is certain: notwithstanding our best intentions, there is no point in proceeding if the ambition with which we undertake a project outweighs our capacity to deliver.

images

Figure A3. Our Capacity to Repeat Success

The Project Leader Paradox

... the leader must have the capacity to rise above the issues while remaining grounded in the project realities ...

The LML is an important component of the DBM. In order for a project manager to deal with real-time issues associated with lower baseline tradeoffs, it is vital to the success of the project that a sufficiently senior individual be appointed. For MBV, this means the owner level (vice president or equivalent). It has also been established within the DBM that the project manager must have the appropriate project management acumen to deal with the project complexities. A situation where the sufficiently senior representative has not had the bottom-up—MBR to MBM to MBO to MBV—career path raises a serious dilemma (see Figure A4).

images

Figure A4. The Lowest Management Level

At the MBO level, this is not an issue. Project managers are generally developed from the bottom up. MBV, however, represents a significant departure from this rule. The LML for an MBV (or above) project is generally assigned on the basis of a sound understanding of the business, not for his or her project management skills.

Without the project background, an inexperienced project manager is destined to start at the beginning of the project management learning curve, MBR, or at best, MBM. Imparting MBR solutions in an MBV environment can be particularly disconcerting for subordinate MBO and MBV practitioners. By the same token, trying to ensure bottom-up project managers have a sufficient grasp of the corporate agenda can be particularly stressful to senior management.

It is generally at the MBV level that this detachment between the necessity for bottom-up project experience and top-down corporate experience becomes an issue. Improperly managed, the compromise tends to be a top-down direction with the injection of project management practices that are not really harmonized with the work in progress.

The Partnering Paradox

... success in a common purpose requires severability of cause and effect...

Globalization is creating a reconfiguration of business enterprises internationally. The objective these days is to be the most efficient at producing a good or service and, when it is more efficient to do so, engage the services of others as a partner toward the desired outcome. The notion of partnering suggests two or more business entities sharing a common purpose. The parties therefore work together: each contributing to its best advantage for the overall greater good. What can be lost in the enthusiasm of cooperation are the entitlements of each party: “partnering,” the spirit of working together versus a “partnership,” being jointly and distinctly liable.

In the MBR, MBM, and some MBO environments, the causation, or attribution of cause and effect, to one of the parties is determinable due to TSR (illustrated in Figure A5). In MBV, however, the partnership is much closer, and the causation is less clear. With an information technology system, for example, Party A may attempt to transfer the obligation for implementing of a system to Party B through a clearly defined contract document. However, as long as Party A continues to control and influence the environment within which Party B must implement its part of the bargain, the causation is obscured. Notwithstanding best intentions to draw a boundary between their respective obligations at the outset with a carefully drafted contract instrument, maintaining a privity of contract is dependent on this causation more than on the printed word.

images

Figure A5. Total System Responsibility (TSR)

For MBVs, the obscuring of influence over the destiny of the work is by and large the determining factor (illustrated in Figure A6). The danger for MBV is that once two parties are engaged in a true legal partnership, both parties become liable, and seemingly neither is responsible.

images

Figure A6.Level 4 Partnerships

The Learning Paradox

... to learn effectively we need to understand what we don’t know ...

The theory of the DBM would imply certain levels of understanding within the various horizons. When applying the DBM, if you asked an MBR for an analysis of a Level 4 problem, he or she would have the capacity to recite the various infractions to the corporate rules and regulations. If application of the rules were not apparent, then he or she would probably create some new rules for you to follow as the suggested solution. If you gave an MBM the same task, he or she would have the capacity to identify where the project strayed from the various tools, templates, and methodologies set as the guiding framework for the project. To correct the problem, he or she would create and provide some new tools for you to follow. If you gave an MBO the task, he or she would point to areas where the objective has been compromised because too much latitude has been given to the seemingly whimsical desires of end users. His or her solution would amount to imposing constraints to maintain the objective.

An important part of project management learning is understanding that there is always a higher level or “bigger picture.” Level 4 problems require Level 4 solutions. That’s not to say that there is no place for fixed objectives, tools, and rules at Level 4, but rather that the corporate values have to be the guiding force. A Level 4 approach would keep the corporate values as the target horizon. The MBV practitioner, rather than remaining intransigent to the original objective, would know the optimal point at which to allow a change, and would let it evolve in a controlled fashion.

When teaching project management, practitioners generally want to learn one level ahead of their current position, the next horizon, as illustrated in Figure A7. Two or more levels ahead would be too confusing and not well received. Because we don’t know what we don’t know, our tendency is to be complacent with our level of understanding. We run the risk of advancing solutions that do not apply to a given situation. It appears that the way to sensitize people to the need for a higher learning is to give them the responsibility for projects, and hold them accountable for the results. An alternative approach is to map the course from the outset, so that people can identify with a broader context.

images

Figure A7.Learning in the Next Horizon

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.

©2001 by the Project Management Institute
2001, Vol. 32, No. 2, 25-36
8756-9728/01/$5.00 per article + $0.50 per page

Advertisement

Advertisement

Related Content

Advertisement

Publishing or acceptance of an advertisement is neither a guarantee nor endorsement of the advertiser's product or service. View advertising policy.