Baseline concepts of the content and character of project management

ESA Project Manager

Throughout the life of the Project Management Institute (PMI) there have been numerous representations, requests and resolutions for the organization to address itself to the problems of ethics, standards and accreditation. However, at the same time, it has been cautioned that project management, by its nature, must be judged on its accomplishments rather than its definition.

The Southern Ontario Chapter established the ESA Project, and the PMI Board endorsed the approach, to study the problems and develop “mechanisms” for implementing and maintaining programs in the areas of ethics, standards and accreditation.

The project started with the organization of an ESA Management Group in Toronto and the development of task groups through other chapters of the Institute with individual assignments for each group. Numerous chapters accepted the challenge and provided excellent input to the overall picture. One important aspect of the program became evident early in the project as a result of these contacts. That was the need for the Management Group to further define the objectives and develop the approaches necessary to solve the problems which arose in attempts to initiate the tasks. This overview demonstrates how this evolved.

As in many previous discussions of project management, the desire was strong to state a universally acceptable definition of project management. It was apparent, as before, that this was a conclusion that required further development of basic elements.

A result of that discussion made it clear that the direction of the project should be to develop a comprehension and agreement of the content of the body of knowledge referred to as project management. Therefore the discussions turned to the examination of the original charts of subject matter which were contained in the proposal to establish the project. (See Figure I).

Figure I
Original Ethics, Standards, Accreditation Chart

Original Ethics, Standards, Accreditation Chart

Figure II
Revised Ethics, Standards, Accreditation Chart

Revised Ethics, Standards, Accreditation Chart

Use of the chart as a basic guide made it easy to develop, expound upon, and define what was meant by each word. The result was a change in the chart to some clearer understandings of what was meant by the terms shown and definitions of what tasks should be undertaken. (See Figure II).

Ground rules for conducting the tasks were drawn up as they were deemed necessary to develop the topics and transmit them to the Institute. A key point arose as a result of the attempts of the scheduling task group in Toronto to work on standards for scheduling.

It was decided that the first phase of the project was to break down the content and characteristics of each topic in project management and define them, following the branching techniques of a work breakdown structure, and to name the topics as sub-management groupings. (See Figure III).

Figure III
PMI/ESA Project Task Areas

PMI/ESA Project Task Areas

One ground rule solved an inherent problem that exists in any discussion of project management. That was that the breakdowns or the definitions which resulted should not be expressed in terms of “how to do it” or the “process of doing it”. This forced the discussions into abstract terms and assisted in arriving at universally acceptable terminology.

The bottom lines of the breakdown trees delineated a level below which discussions would have to involve areas of preferential methods. It is below these lines that specific standards could be developed, where the differences of opinion would be greatest and hence would require much more concentrated effort. It was felt that this more detailed effort should be the second phase of the project whereby those groups wishing to participate could take minute topics to work on and proceed further to guidelines and standards.

The briefs, presentations and discussions of the panelists at the conference will center around the various charts that proceed downward from the one shown in Figure III.

As the results came into focus, it became the recommendation of this project group to request the Institute Board to establish the series of ESA Charts and Glossaries as the PMI/ESA BASELINE. The idea was that, working through the Baseline concept, the Institute could convey to its members and others a baseline against which to measure, discuss, work and agree.

A mechanism has been proposed whereby group representations can be made to change the baseline, embellish it, clarify it, etc., to the point that as a baseline it would become a working mechanism of the Institute and would be the route to reaching the bottom line — the standards.

This presentation of the Baseline Concept represents an initial step in the ESA process and hence the ESA group has made a recommendation for continuation.

The ESA Project, which is a pseudonym for ethics, standards and accreditation, has its roots in the very beginnings of the Project Management Institute. Each Board of Directors, year by year, has been subjected to representations of one sort or another for establishment of standards, adoption of a code of ethics, granting of university degrees in P.M., and certification for Project Managers.

But in each case, it seemed to be an insurmountable task. Until now. Somehow the time is ripe. Not for hard, fast rules of procedure, but for well thought-out mechanisms to approach each of the problems surrounding ethics, standards and accreditation.

The ESA project was set up to find mechanisms to achieve these elusive goals. We have found the right road. That is what the ESA Challenge is about.

The Baseline Concept, as you see it here, is not an exercise in how you should conduct your business. It is not a set of hard, fast rules, and it is not perfect. Nor is it complete.

But it is a sounding board. It is a statement of what Project Management contains by way of useful effort. It is a target for us all to shoot at and to criticize. It is a challenge to you, a mechanism to allow change. It is dynamic. It is a beginning for the standards process.

Any semblance of standards would occur with topical matters falling in at lower levels in the charts than what is shown here. In fact, the ESA teams found that it was prudent to stop at the levels shown to be able to consider them further, perhaps adjust them somewhat, then determine the ways and means to proceed further.

In fact it was determined that to develop deeper breakdowns it was necessary to work in a concentrated manner, dealing with fewer parts of the breakdown than the broad scope of an overall chart.

For example, on the Time Management Chart it is possible to work further down the scale to break out specifically designated methods of scheduling and to define symbolism standards and calculation algorythms as being associated with a type of system.

It is possible to define for the benefit of the industry what is meant by the term “critical” or “float”. Perhaps that seems rather simple and basic to the field in which we work; but trying to agree on a useful and applicable definition requires discussion, argument, compromise and agreeable resolution.

While the above example is a clear and comprehensible one, consider some of the other topics of the Baseline Charts to determine what one might consider as potential for establishing as a standard within a baseline element.

That’s where the challenge comes in. With the Baseline in place, the members, chapters, industry groups, company departments can elect on their own initiative to take part in the standards process. And the recommendations of the ESA Group Study provide the mechanism to assure that their efforts receive adequate hearing and consideration, but not in a form that wastes the time of the Board, the ESA Committees or members of the Institute.

The Baseline Concept is put into position as a target for other viewpoints. Not just argumentative viewpoints, but objective viewpoints, the objective being to prove that something else would be better. The form or content could be different if proven to be more useful.

The baseline is most likely to be polished and adjusted in the years to come. It is likely to be expanded to a bottom line, in the case of each chart, whereby a standard can be identified and defined in a form which suggests that it is a minimum, a necessity, a resolved definition or a guideline.

The ESA Challenge then is to the members of PMI to take advantage of the ESA Process and present views for consideration and perhaps adoption. By working through the medium of the Baseline, there is now a common ground on which to conduct the process. It is no longer useful to write to the Board to suggest “they” do something. It means all members, wherever they are, can participate in an important function of the Institute.

One of the major objectives of the ESA Project was to establish some useful standards. It was determined early in the process that the topics of ethics and accreditation should be set aside for further study and that separate groups should be formed for each of the other topics within the standards group.

The scheduling group provided the key to determining the initial route to be taken. Various groups floundered trying to determine what it was that had to be done. The scheduling group began by trying to list what words were inherent in the concept of scheduling.

From there it was acknowledged that scheduling as a topic was only a minor element in a greater process called Time Management. The ESA Management Group agreed that each of the topic areas designated were the heart of the project management process and that management considerations should be consciously directed toward these elements. Once defined, standards might be developed within the topical areas.

The scheduling group was subsequently renamed the Time Management Group and the same theme was applied to the other topics. With that as a starter and the development of the inherent word lists, it was obvious that the words and their definitions required agreement as to which were most applicable. This in itself is a form of standardization. The format was given the label “Baseline Concept of the Content and Character of Project Management”. It became the format of the body of knowledge and provided a means for definitions in an orderly step-by-step fashion.

The Time Management Group met for many long meetings throughout the first year of the project, just working its way down through the parts of the chart. New ideas were injected. Many were rejected. The chart became voluminous so a condensation process took place. Agreement was reached for every point appearing on the chart.

The same process was basically true of the Cost Management Baseline Chart. The Cost Management Group, made up entirely of personnel within the Stelco, Inc. Major Project Group, met on many occasions to struggle with the shape of the Baseline, injecting ideas, twisting words to find an agreeable definition.

These exercises, which occurred primarily in the Time and Cost Groups, suggested the format to enable an approach to the other topics which had a less visible base from which to start.

Communications started with the same work discussions and involved some visits to Pittsburgh, Calgary and Edmonton to obtain views of other persons with an interest. Slowly the words began to take shape. Then some final discussions were conducted within the ESA Management Group to formulate the chart displayed in the Communications Management section.

By the time the group had need to define the Scope, Quality and Human Resource Charts the pattern was set and the topics were more easily discussed. Ideas came to the fore and were considered as being appropriate to the point that those participating agreed that a Baseline had been achieved.

The reject information that passed through the topical groups is not included in this report for the simple reason that it is more voluminous than what is actually shown here. Groups wishing to further comprehend the content will benefit greatly by attempting revisions of their own and making the attempt to rationalize different formats. It is this exercise that becomes important and beneficial to everyone who participates in the ESA challenge.

The Baseline Concept is a starting point for the development of the body of knowledge of project management and the gradual development of any standards that may be useful to the field. That is why the ESA group requested that the Baseline Concept be adopted as a standard of the Institute. Others have developed concepts and will again. But in order to keep a firm grip on the body of knowledge, a base must be established. From there members can either convince themselves that they understand the terms and the ramifications of management activity surrounding those terms, or they can accept the ESA challenge to develop presentations which enable the ESA Management Group to make recommendations for revisions to the Board of Directors. There is undoubtedly lots of room for improvement and clarification as well as amplification to some standards.


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You are cordially invited to offer papers for presentation at PMI’s 16th Annual Seminar/Symposium in Philadelphia on October 8-10, 1984.

The theme for PMI ‘84 is INNOVATION, the antithesis of the control concept that George Orwell so vividly portrayed in his novel, 1984. We are seeking papers that will stress different approaches to basic project management, whether successful or unsuccessul, novel solutions to long-standing problems and even untried methods that might stimulate creative thinking. In keeping with the Seminar/Symposium’s theme, we are putting no limits on scope or subject.

Our goal is to present a program that will lead attendees to solutions to their specific day-to-day project management problems. We hope to receive responses from a broad range of authors from private industry and government, as well as academia.

At PMI ‘84 you will have the opportunity to present your ideas to over 1000 professionals and, in turn, receive constructive feedback. You will have added opportunities to discuss your ideas with other authors and panel participants.

PMI ‘84 will bring you to one of America’s most innovative cities. You’ll be able to experience Philadelphia’s historical gems, its prestigious museums and its famous and varied cuisine. And, hopefully, you’ll be exposed to World Series fever. We promise you an enjoyable and stimulating visit.

Paper Proposal Requirements and Timing

As a first step in the paper selection process we request a proposal for our review. Your proposal shall include:

A 500 word maxium abstract, typed in English.

A brief biographical sketch.

Please submit 5 copies of your proposal by December 31, 1983 to:

Eric D. Schwartz, Technical Program Manager

Kelley Schwartz, Inc.

32 Strawberry Street

Philadelphia, PA 19106

Notifications of acceptance will be made by February 1, 1984. Specific guidelines regarding the required format of the full paper will accompany the notice.

Paper Requirements and Timing

Papers shall be limited to 10,000 words and shall be suitable for a 30 minute presentation. All papers must be received by April 31, 1984.

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.

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