Project management for non project managers, building again il Duomo



Over the recent years, action plans have been, or are being put in place, by many companies to recognize the added value and the specifics of their Project Managers (PM). This professionalization, supported by the Project Management Institute (PMI®)policy and its certification process, ensures the consistency of understanding and vocabulary amongst this community. Though, quite often, other stakeholders do not share the same jargon and concerns PM have.

In Thales, in order to bridge this gap, came the idea to create an innovative 1-day awareness session about Project Management for non-PM, thus efficiently completing the existing set of trainings dedicated to Project Management. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide®) five processes and nine areas of knowledge are presented, along with the company's dedicated processes and tools. To make it lively, it is illustrated by an end-to-end case study which is out of the core-business, but that can be easily referred to by all participants, in this instance the building of the Cathedral of Milan (“il Duomo”).

This presentation reviews the rationale of providing non-Project Managers with the basics of Project Management. It also describes how this 1-day awareness session was conceived and organized, using the building of the Duomo as a central case study.

How Project Management is dealt with in companies in 2010

To start with a truism, let us say that projects, and therefore Project Managers, have always existed. Though, for many years, the profession of Project Managers was not recognized and acknowledged as it is now. Considering French companies, even the vocabulary reflected how fuzzy it was around the definition of Project Manager. They could be referred to as “Responsable des operations” (Operations Manager) in one company, and “Chargé d’affaires” (In charge of won business deals, i.e. managing a contract once it is signed) in another. As per Boileau's saying, “what is well conceived is clearly said” (“ce qui ce conçoit bien s’énonce clairement”). Related to this fuzziness of vocabulary were also the scope of work and responsibilities of these Project Managers. They again varied from company to company, and very often from one department to another within the same company.

The consequences of such diversity was that Project Managers were often selected from either technical or commercial staff, with an on-the-job training that made to some extent Project Managers dependant on the company's processes and field of activities. Vice versa, it made the company dependent on these “tailored-PM”.

In a world where flexibility and adaptability are more and more required to follow up with or to anticipate the rapid changes of techniques and activities companies must carry out to remain competitive, such a model was meant for change. The globalization requires that a unique vocabulary and understanding be shared all over the world so that multi-national companies are able to have consistent governance and processes across each subsidiary.

Consequently, in recent years, this diversity in how Project Managers were considered within their companies has evolved significantly. The creation of the Project Management Institute (PMI®), and the certification of “Project Manager Professional” (PMP®) is a cornerstone to this evolution. Many schools or universities have also put in place dedicated sessions and degrees for Project Managers, thus acknowledging the universal pattern of Project Management that is, in essence, domain-agnostic.

Last but not least, customers are ever more demanding for their suppliers. Getting “certified” Project Managers, based on international and recognized standards, has become over the recent years a common requirement.

Companies, taking into account these various needs, are, more and more, leveraging the benefits brought by the educational bodies and by PMI. It is translated in many of them by the definition of a common foundation for Project Managers that includes responsibilities, scope of work, tools and processes. This foundation layer is often built around A Guide to the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). On top of this foundation layer, each company can define its specifics for Project Managers, based on both its field of activities and the nature of the projects at stake. For the former, it implies to instantiate the Project Management principles as defined in the PMBOK® Guide into an actual governance and its related processes. For the latter, it is often a way to train and qualify Project Managers based on, but not limited to, the following criteria : size of the project (budget), complexity (e.g. level of sub-contracting, contractual scheme,…), how the customer is strategic for the company independently from the current project,…

The benefits brought by this professionalization of the Project Managers are significant.

For companies, it allows them to have a homogeneous and consistent governance across the company, and to share common processes across the countries, thus making it possible to work as virtual teams, wherever individuals are actually located. It also formalizes the duties and responsibilities of Project Managers, and by consequence the roles and responsibilities of others. Last but not least, it enables much more flexibility with domain-agnostic Project Managers, who can therefore more easily adapt to the rapid transformation of the companies, be it sometimes in their core-system itself. For example, many traditional industry companies are evolving from a product-oriented company into a solution-oriented one. The ability of Project Managers to get a “meta-view” of their profession is a key skill to accompany such a type of transformation. All these factors lead to an increased efficiency, and therefore to a better competitiveness.

For individuals, apart from a better recognition of their job, this professionalization allows them to get the support necessary on a day-to-day basis thanks to the formalization brought with it. It also enlarges the opportunities Project Managers may have within the same company, or even outside the company.

One key element for success : communication between the company's stakeholders

As discussed in above, companies have indeed acknowledged and formalized what Project Management consisted of, and for those moving from a product-oriented scheme to a solution-oriented one, they have thus put it at the core of their business organization. These principles being defined, and the population of Project Managers being organized in a consistent “corps”, field reality in the day-to-day life of the projects may be quite different.

Out of the 5 processes and 9 knowledge areas defined in the PMBOK® Guide, companies will usually focus on those for which the implementation relies mainly on techniques and tools : process allowing to make sure the WBS is comprehensive and detailed, Earned Value Management to follow up the progress of the projects. Two knowledge areas, the Project Human Resource Management and the Project Communications Management, are much more subtle to address as they rely on the human factor and interpersonal skills.

Let us zoom in on one aspect, stakeholders. As per the PMBOK® Guide definition (PMI, 2008, p. 442), “Project stakeholders are persons and organizations such as customers, sponsors, the performing organization, and the public that are actively involved in the project, or whose interests may be positively or negatively affected by the execution or completion of the project. They may also exert influence over the project and its deliverables.”

Let us zoom in further to those stakeholders that are internal to the company, and for the fun of it, let us caricature how they may perceive the Project Manager using made up quotations. (Exhibit 1)

View of Project Managers by Stakeholders

Exhibit 1 – View of Project Managers by Stakeholders

Exhibit 1 is, of course, very gross, but as in any caricature, there are probably a few traits that bear some truth. As Project Managers, we have a different view point and a sensible explanation about our behaviour and decisions. It is a basic example of mis-communication. The receiver of the communication applies a filter to the sender's message based on his/her cultural background, history, expertise, but also based on his/her role in the company and the responsibilities associated to it. Though the objectives and values born by a company are unique and nowadays well communicated to all thanks notably to the intranet, it remains that Project Managers and other internal stakeholders have different constraints and objectives that make them see things the way they see it and make decisions the way they do it in a sometimes different manner.

What is at stake are the consequences of this mis-communication. Again, quoting the PMBOK® Guide definition of stakeholders, (PMI, 2008, p. 442) “they may also exert influence over the project and its deliverables”, and this “positively or negatively”. As an example, a Supply Chain Manager, if considering only his/her own scope of responsibilities, could completely ignore a Project Manager's request, and endanger the success of a project. Vice-versa, he/she could adopt a very pro-active attitude, and ease or find solutions that could save a project, however late or badly expressed the PM's request was. The difference between both behaviours cannot rely only on governance or processes. It will rely mainly on the interpersonal skills of both parties, the PM and the Supply Chain Manager. There is also an important factor that interferes with interpersonal skills, empathy. This is the ability to understand the other's perspective, the ability to be in the other's shoes for a moment. It does not mean to forgive or accept any request from the other, but it provides some perspective as to how it was made. This can definitely ease or smooth a relationship.

As a de-centered approach : Project Management for non – Project Managers

In Thales, as discussed in above in “How Project Management is dealt with in companies in 2010”, a strong focus has been put over the recent years into the Program Management and the training of Project Managers. This has successfully led to having a homogeneous population of PM, sharing the same vocabulary and techniques all over the company. Though, as discussed in “One key element for success : communication between the company's stakeholders”, a project needs many other stakeholders who do not have the same view, and very often do not share the same concepts and vocabulary. As also discussed in the same section, depending of course upon each individual, this lack of knowledge about the PM's constraints and objectives can prevent empathy, and lead in some instances to some blocking attitudes or conflicting situations.

To address this point, it came the idea within Thales to provide non-PM stakeholders with a basic knowledge of what a project is, about what a PM's tasks and responsibilities are. The format is called “training”, but the most appropriate term would be an “awareness session”. Each profession has already a lot of specifics to learn to always keep up and improve one's expertise. Therefore, it was decided to limit to one day this awareness session about the basics of Project Management. The purpose of this one day is to go through all the cycle of the project so that in the end its participants share the same vocabulary about Project Management and understand the PM's needs and constraints. The purpose is not to mix roles : a legal should remain a legal, a sales manager a sales manager, and so on and so forth. It is actually key that each one do so : it is the basic power / counter-power principle that ensures decisions and actions are well balanced in the overall interest of the company's success. Though, this sharing of vocabulary and knowledge should help to foster empathy. A Sales Manager will be reminded of why the PM is so insistent about reviewing in detail each contract's provision as it will impact the life of the project once it is signed. The legal counsellor may understand why the PM, based on his/her knowledge of the customer, is insistent about smoothing or shaping differently certain phrases or clauses. A Supply Manager may understand that the PM is sometimes in the impossibility to better forecast as it is an out of the blue decision from the customer that needs to be fulfilled immediately because of some particular context. Etc…

This one-day awareness session about Program Management is built around 3 principles:

  1. PMI's foundation to “drive” the whole day : The 5 process groups are providing the time dimension whereas the 9 knowledge areas are defining the content dimension,
  2. Concrete cases based on Thales activities and practices. The purpose is two-fold :
    • to link the generic approach to the specifics of the company's processes
    • to link the theoretical approach to the practical life of every day projects
  3. One “end-to-end” case study

As an original approach : an end-to-end case study out of the company's scope

As described in As a de-centered approach : Project Management for non – Project Managers, the third principle to build this awareness session is to go through an end-to-end case, that allows participants to match not only the theory with practical examples, but also to have a comprehensive view of the whole project life cycle.

Thales is the world-leader company for mission-critical information systems. It provides worldwide security systems on three core-businesses: aerospace and space, defense (air, land, naval, joint), and security. Projects cover a wide range of domains, from optical and radar imaging instruments for a satellite to a supervision system for the Makkah metro in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Obviously, the environment and timeline are very different from one project to another, though all are managed through the same governance and processes.

Taking into account this diversity of domains, using an example from an aircraft radar equipment may not have been fully clear or attractive for someone dealing with a high-availability ticketing system for transportation, and vice-versa. Besides, even for those familiar with a domain, it is sometimes more entertaining and more efficient in terms of pedagogy to use an out-of-scope example. Hence came the idea of using a famous architectural building, in this instance a cathedral, which everyone could refer to, whatever his/her field of activity. Having in view the PMI Congress for EMEA in Milan, our choice went naturally to “Il Duomo”.

Building again “il Duomo”

The building of Il Duomo is a long and fascinating history, starting in 1386 and spanning more than five centuries. During this long period, the cathedral evolved a lot, leading to a mix of styles (e.g. gothic with baroque and then with neo-classical and neo-gothic styles) that makes it often qualified as “a miracle of harmony”. Numerous architects and artists, as well as other personalities were involved in the building of the cathedral.

When compiling all the information to use it in the one-day awareness session, the most surprising news for us was about the discussion that exists as to whether the building of Il Duomo, and more generally of cathedrals, were or not driven by Project Management principles. One main factor of this debate is related to the time constraint.

As per the PMBOK Guide® definition (PMI, 2008, p 5), “a project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result. The temporary nature of projects indicates a definite beginning and end. The end is reached when the project's objectives have been achieved or when the project is terminated because its objectives will not or cannot be met, or when the need for the project no longer exists. Temporary does not necessarily mean short in duration.” Project Time Management is defined as follows (PMI, 2008, p129) : “includes the processes required to manage timely completion of the project.” When starting the project in 1386, there was no clear-cut date at which the cathedral should be “delivered”. A cathedral was meant for God, and God, by nature, does not know of any time constraint. And that is actually what happened: the building drifted over time, depending upon the political situation, whether at war or at peace, whether some budget were available or not. This has even led to an expression in Milanese, “è come la fabricca del Duomo”, it's like the building of the Duomo. It is used to qualify any enterprise that, by the inhuman size of its scope or for mere inefficiency reasons, never ends !

Though, counter-examples are sometimes as good as examples to understand a concept. Besides, taking period by period, or considering an innovative “head or tail” approach, the richness of the historical facts has allowed us to highlight through concrete examples good project management practices, and sometimes by contrast wrong ones.

The participant to the one-day awareness session will therefore be guided to “building the Duomo again”, understanding how the theoretical principles of Project Management do apply in real life, or how some practices could have been improved had these principles been used.

The scope management is reviewed, with a focus on how an initial scope should be defined and how an iterative process can be put in place over time. The management of Human Resources is also a key element of the awareness session, in particular with a focus on the “implication rose window (Houllier, 2009)”. Communications Management is dealt with, emphasizing on how information and data could be stored and shared over such a long period of time. Risk management, and how it was perceived centuries ago compared to the notion we have of it today, is also an important part of the session.


Starting with the view that the profession of Project Managers is now more and more acknowledged per se within companies, thanks to the standards and credentials defined by organizations like PMI, it was seen as complementary that other stakeholders share the same vocabulary and concepts about Project Management. This is all the more true that many companies evolve from a product-orientated business strategy to a solution-driven one. It puts Project Management at the core of the business of the company, and requires the adhesion and support from all employees. To share what the Project Management is about, and what the needs and constraints a Project Managers has, a one-day awareness session is going to be organized in Thales as per the principles listed in this white paper. It revolves around three axes: the PMI foundation, cases specific to the company to illustrate the theory, and finally an out-of-scope example, end-to-end, that can help participants to better understand the concepts through an historical and famous example.

One of the most important soft skills a Project Manager needs is openness and the willingness to communicate with others. Active listening is also a key element of communication. Through this awareness session, it is hoped not only to infuse the “Project Management” mindset to all professions of the company, but also to benefit from the contribution of all participants to this session. Thanks to the questions or challenges the participants will raise, it should lead Project Managers to also reflect on their profession and their practices, and to possibly identify new ways for improvement.

As a final word, let us associate and thank our colleagues at Thales Université, Catherine Bacarrère, Anne Caudron, and Françoise Nahabétian, with whom we have teamed to prepare the one-day awareness session on Project Management, as well as the presentation and this white paper for the PMI Congress.


Kerzner H.(2003) Project Management, A system approach to planning, scheduling and controlling, Eighth Edition, Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons

PMI (2008) A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide®) Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute

Houllier, J-R (2009), The implication Rose Window (Slides presentation)

Artaria, Ferdinand (1830), Description de la cathédrale de Milan accompagnée d’observations historiques et critiques sur les monuments d’art dont elle est enrichie, Chez Epimaque et Pascal Artaria.

Ciceri, Angelo (1966), La cathédrale de Milan, Veneranda Fabbrica Del Duomo Di Milano.

Sanvito Paolo (1996), Le chantier de la cathédrale de Milan, in Chantiers médiévaux, ed. Francesco Aceto et al., Présence de l’art, (Paris), 291-325.

Patrick Demouy (Mars-Avril 2010), Un chantier bien organisé, in Les bâtisseurs de cathédrales, Historia.

© 2010, Jean-Roch Houllier, Jean Saupin
Originally published as a part of 2010 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Milan, Italy



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