Saturday, September 20, 2014

Capacity focus, 92: Some first thoughts on Project Management 101 in a context of development and sustainability concerns

I have for over twenty-five years been of the view that one of the best start-points for learning basic management (and linked leadership skills) is to study basic project management. 
(Cf. the section on Planning and Management p. 105 ff here . . . NB: there's a spot of web site rot to address on the html side. Later . . . )
Multiplying this by issues linked to sustainable development and challenges surfacing in an in-process government transition here in Montserrat, I think a few capacity focus notes are in order on project management basics. Just, as a marker.

First, a useful view on what a project is, is:
PROJECT:  a time-framed cluster of linked activities towards achieving a goal, 
. . . such as this longstanding simple example I used from all those years ago:
EXAMPLE PROJECT: To make a cup of tea.
We start at the end, "cup of tea made," and work back to the beginning by asking "What must be done before this stage (technically, 'event') is reached"?  This specifies the activities, events, and their logical order, which we represent in a network diagram:
                        END:   Cup of tea made
                        1.         Fetch cup, saucer, tea, colander
                        2.         Boil water
                        3.         Fetch milk, spoon, sugar
                        4.         Put tea in colander
                        5.         Pour boiling water through tea into [cup]
                        6.         Remove colander and spent tea
                        7.         Add sugar and milk to taste and stir
                        8.         Clean up
In the network diagram, Activities are represented by numbered arrows and the resulting Events by circles.  The key rule is that an Event cannot occur until all activities which flow out of it can start, that is, all Activities pointing into it have been completed.  For instance, we cannot add sugar and milk to our cup of tea until the colander is out of the way, but we can fetch the milk and sugar at any time before we stir them into the tea.

Of course, one could go into elaborate discussions on network diagrams or linked Gantt charts, MS Project and similar software etc and resource allocation debates, budgeting and more, but that would rapidly go on to technical project management, suited to a major construction exercise or developing a software application. Whilst, just as ordinary people find Carpenter's tools very useful to do basic things, just so, a preliminary exposure to project management principles and concepts as well as linked skills and contexts will be helpful for us all.

So far, we have been looking at project planning, which is of course a basic example of planning

For which, let us borrow another diagram from the same linked primer:

The key idea here, is that planning and implementing are linked activities, pointed towards a definite goal, with deliverable results. But, as it is hard to keep on track, the management task includes monitoring and adjusting on the fly. This leads to moving along a progressive spiral path: analyse, plan, implement, monitor- evaluate- control; repeat until satisfied or until it is objectively clear that one ought not to further commit oneself to failure and has a better alternative.  

Much as, courtesy Wiki, we can see how a sail-boat heading upwind has to tack from one side to another in a zig-zag fashion in order to "beat to windward":

Sometimes, the challenges are so powerful that one has to re-visit one's analysis of the context and the SWOT picture . . . a good plan builds on strengths, to exploit opportunities, counter threats, and compensate for or correct weaknesses. (Indeed, just above a key challenge for a sail-boat is that it cannot generally sail straight upwind. So, by sliding off to one side then the other in the zig-zag we see, it can generally make upwind progress. But a steady knowing eye needs to be had on what is going on and how trends are developing, or such a boat can get into a lot of trouble fast. Especially in a race.)

So, by understanding and adapting to the situation, trends and shocks, we are able to make progress.

Generally, gradually.

That requires planning and executing a strategy, 
STRATEGY: a planned or emergent pattern of effort, activities and resource deployment to achieve goals in a situation
. . . which requires a focus on the objectives that indicate achievement of the goals [what you want], the "strategy" pattern of effort and activities [how to get there], and required resource inputs [what it takes . . . logistics].

In turn, this brings up the classic "Iron Triangle" of project management tradeoffs (here with a software development example, HT Scott Ambler):

What we want is, fast delivery of a cheap project with all the bells and whistles that so warm the cockles of our hearts. In reality, you cannot get all three maxed out, and must make trade-off compromises and sacrifices. Where, quality denotes fitness for purpose or function, and enduring satisfaction with benefits delivered, based on the right balance being struck.

Even, this blog post is a case in point. 

There's only so much time and effort that can be put in, to meet available time constraints and deliver a quality post: responsibly adequate on a big topic but not boring and overly long.

While I am at it, let me add a glance at one of my favourite planning tools, the logical framework or Log Frame . . . as I have adapted it for the needs of project implementers working with the project cycle:

[U/D Oct 4th] We may expand the project narrative logic into a planning model:

Another is the overview level Gantt chart, here adapted to look at a "stoplight" LED view of achieved vs planned:

The matrix based project team structure is a useful context for thinking about organising projects under a programme of action organisation home, too:

 While we are at it, there's the issue of people and performance, bringing up the situational leadership model of Hersey and Blanchard:

There is never a cut and dry one size fits all solution to leading and managing to achieve results while preserving enough harmony and teamwork to get the magical result that the whole is greater than the mere sum of the parts. 

Where also, groups classically go through challenges in a cycle of forming, storming, agreeing (norm-ing), working (and networking), and adjourning. Building a workable plan that there is enough support for to move the boat forward upwind is a problem, and more than one captain . . . leader . . .  has found him-/her- self demoted -- or even thrown overboard.

A tough, often thankless job.

By now, it should be clear how a basic look at and exercise in project management soon enough becomes a key start-point for growing in capacity to analyse situations, come up with strategies and plans, then put them to work successfully while working with, inspiring and mobilising people . . . leadership.

Where, of course, projects come in a cycle that can be looked at in terms of phased activities (and of course, linked paperwork it is not wise to rush over) -- here, courtesy the Gov't of Tasmania:

Closing the loop and highlighting project governance documentation and decisions:

For a first level quick look, I would suggest this slideshare slide show:

Then, for a bit more, this more elaborate one:

And, I think the Government of Tasmania has done us all a world of good by publishing this very useful project management primer. (And don't overlook the EU on managing the project cycle, here. Project cycle management is the strategic management, corporate or community governance look at projects and the programmes of action that sponsor and "cover" them. More on that, later.)

Where, all of this needs to be set in the context of sustainable development, SD for short:
SD: we must strive to better, more fairly meet our needs today – development, without undermining the ability of our children to meet their needs tomorrow – sustainability. (So, in our development efforts, we have to carefully husband our natural, socio-cultural and economic surroundings and resources – environment, in light of correctly understanding how development interacts with our surroundings.)
Readers in and around Montserrat should note that the UK International Development Act, 2002, that establishes the legal framework for DfID, our principal aid and development partner, in Sections 1 - 3, specifically defines development aid in terms of sustainability. 

This means that we must learn, understand deeply and make this ethics of development concept and axiom a key part of all our thinking and planning for development, which is already a good idea in its own right.

If you doubt its value and validity, consider that from the McGregor Royal Society Report was published in 1938 based on five years of volcano grumbling, Montserrat's development efforts should have been systematically redeployed away from putting all our eggs in the Plymouth basket. Then, after hurricane Hugo hit Sept 17, 1989, where the Wadge-Isaacs 1986 - 9 hazard studies were in hand,  that was even more vital. But, such were ignored, and we continued with development on a business as usual track that set us up for the disaster we are still trying to begin to recover from:

(That's the top of what IIRC is a 40+ ft church spire, since buried.)

Those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to relive it.

SD and linked issues are central to understanding context, trends and risks, thus to sound leadership and planning. Of which project planning is such a key part.

As my Mom was so fond of saying: a word to the wise.

Okie, preliminary quick and dirty thoughts. 

DV, I will be working with partners on a workshop based course. 

Developing. END

PS: A survey video in light of the PMP PMBOK approach: