The Evolution of Project Management. The Mini-Project Manager Concept

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Importance of Project Management is an important topic because all organisations, be they small or large, at one time or other, are involved in implementing new undertakings. These undertakings may be diverse, such as, the development of a new product or service; the¬†Estate Management London¬†establishment of a new production line in a manufacturing enterprise; a public relations promotion campaign; or a major building programme. Whilst the 1980’s were about quality and the 1990’s were all about globalisation, the 2000’s are about velocity. That is, to keep ahead of their competitors, organisations are continually faced with the development of complex products, services and processes with very short time-to-market windows combined with the need for cross-functional expertise. In this scenario, project management becomes a very important and powerful tool in the hands of organisations that understand its use and have the competencies to apply it.

The development of project management capabilities¬†in organisations, simultaneously with the application of information management systems, allow enterprise teams to work in partnership in defining plans and managing take-to-market projects by synchronising team-oriented tasks, schedules, and resource allocations. This allows cross-functional teams to create and share project information. However, this is not sufficient, information management systems have the potential to allow project management practices to take place in a real-time environment. As a consequence of this potential project management proficiency, locally, nationally or globally dispersed users are able to concurrently view and interact with the same updated project information immediately, including project schedules, threaded discussions, and other relevant documentation. In this scenario the term dispersed user takes on a wider meaning. It not only includes the cross-functional management teams but also experts drawn from the organisation’s supply chain, and business partners.

On a macro level organisations are motivated to implement project management techniques to ensure that their undertakings (small or major) are delivered on time, within the cost budget and to the stipulated quality. On a micro level, project management combined

with an appropriate information management system has the objectives of: (a) reducing project overhead costs; (b) customising the project workplace to fit the operational style of the project teams and respective team members; (c) proactively informing the executive management strata of the strategic projects on a real-time basis; (d) ensuring that project team members share accurate, meaningful and timely project documents; and (e) ensuring that critical task deadlines are met. Whilst the motivation and objectives to apply project management in organisations is commendable, they do not assure project success.

Project management has been practiced for thousands of years dating back to the Egyptian epoch, but it was in the mid-1950’s that organisations commenced applying formal project management tools and techniques to complex projects. Modern project management methods had their origins in two parallel but different problems of planning and control in projects in the united states. The first case involved the U. S Navy which at that time was concerned with the control of contracts for its Polaris Missile project. These contracts consisted of research, development work and manufacturing of parts that were unique and had never been previously undertaken.

This particular project was characterised by high uncertainty, since neither cost nor time could be accurately estimated. Hence, completion times were based on probabilities. Time estimates were based on optimistic, pessimistic and most likely. These three time scenarios were mathematically assessed to determine the probable completion date. This procedure was called program evaluation review technique (PERT). Initially, the PERT technique did not take into consideration cost. However, the cost feature was later included using the same estimating approach as with time. Due to the three estimation scenarios, PERT was found (and still is) to be best suited for projects with a high degree of uncertainty reflecting their level of uniqueness. The second case, involved the private sector, namely, E. I du Pont de Nemours Company, which had undertaken to construct major chemical plants in U. S. Unlike the Navy Polaris project, these construction undertakings required accurate time and cost estimates. The methodology developed by this company was originally referred to as project planning and scheduling (PPS). PPS required realistic estimates of cost and time, and is thus a more definitive approach than PERT. The PPS technique was later developed into the critical path method (CPM) that became very popular with the construction industry. During the 1960s and 1970s, both PERT and CPM increased their popularity within the private and public sectors. Defence Departments of various countries, NASA, and large engineering and construction companies world wide applied project management principles and tools to manage large budget, schedule-driven projects. The popularity in the use of these project management tools during this period coincided with the development of computers and the associated packages that specialised in project management. However, initially these computer packages were very costly and were executed only on mainframe or mini computers. The use of project management techniques in the 1980s was facilitated with the advent of the personal computer and associated low cost project management software. Hence, during this period, the manufacturing and software development sectors commenced to adopt and implement sophisticated project management practices as well. By the 1990s, project management theories, tools, and techniques were widely received by different industries and organisations.

[1] Prior to 1958: Craft system to human relations. During this time, the evolution of technology, such as, automobiles and telecommunications shortened the project schedule. For instance, automobiles allowed effective resource allocation and mobility, whilst the telecommunication system increased the speed of communication. Furthermore, the job specification which later became the basis of developing the work Breakdown Structure (WBS) was widely used and Henry Gantt invented the Gantt chart. Examples of projects undertaken during this period as supported by documented evidence include: (a) Building the Pacific Railroad in 1850’s; (b) Construction of the Hoover Dam in 1931-1936, that employed approximately 5, 200 workers and is still one of the highest gravity dams in the U. S. generating about four billion kilowatt hours a year; and (c) The Manhattan Project in 1942-1945 that was the pioneer research and development project for producing the atomic bomb, involving 125, 000 workers and costing nearly $2 billion.

[2] 1958-1979: Application of Management Science. Significant technology advancement took place between 1958 and 1979, such as, the first automatic plain-paper copier by Xerox in 1959. Between 1956 and 1958 several core project management tools including CPM and PERT were introduced. However, this period was characterised by the rapid development of computer technology. The progression from the mainframe to the mini-computer in the 1970’s made computers affordable to medium size companies. In 1975, Bill Gates and Paul Allen founded Microsoft. Furthermore, the evolution of computer technology facilitated the emergence of several project management software companies, including, Artemis (1977), Oracle (1977), and Scitor Corporation (1979). In the 1970’s other project management tools such as Material Requirements Planning (MRP) were also introduced.

Examples of projects undertaken during this period and which influenced the development of modem project management as we know it today include: (a)Polaris missile project initiated in 1956 that had the objective of delivering nuclear missiles carried by submarines, known as Fleet Ballistic Missile for the U. S Navy. The project successfully launched its first Polaris missile in 1961; (b) Apollo project initiated in 1960 with the objective of sending man to the moon; and (c) E. I du Pont de Nemours chemical plant project commencing in 1958, that had the objective of building major chemical production plants across the U. S.

[3] 1980-1994: Production Centre Human resources. The 1980s and 1990’s are characterised by the revolutionary development in the information management sector with the introduction of the personal computer (PC) and associated computer communications networking facilities. This development resulted in having low cost multitasking Pcs that had high efficiency in managing and controlling complex project schedules. During this period low cost project management software for Pcs became widely available that made project management techniques more easily accessible.

Examples of major projects undertaken during this period that illustrate the application of high technology, and project management tools and practices include: (a) England France Channel project, 1989 to1991. This project was an international project that involved two governments, several financial institutions, engineering construction companies, and other various organisations from the two countries. The language, use of standard metrics, and other communication differences needed to be closely coordinated; (b) Space Shuttle Challenger project, 1983 to 1986. The disaster of the Challenger space shuttle focused attention on risk management, group dynamics, and quality management; and (c) xv Calgary Winter Olympic of 1988 which successfully applied project management practices to event management.

[4] 1995-Present: Creating a New Environment. This period is dominated by the developments related to the internet that changed dramatically business practices in the mid 1990’s. The internet has provided fast, interactive, and customised new medium that allows people to browse, purchase, and track products and services online instantly. This has resulted in making firms more productive, more efficient, and more client oriented. Furthermore, many of today’s project management software have an internet connectivity feature. This allows automatic uploading of data so that anyone around the globe with a standard browser can: (a) input the most recent status of their assigned tasks; (b) find out how the overall project is doing; (c) be informed of any delays or advances in the schedule; and (d) stay “in the loop” for their project role, while working independently at a remote site.

An example of a major project undertaken during this period is the Year 2000 (Y2K) project. The Y2K Project, known as the millennium bug referred to the problem that computers may not function correctly on January lst, 2000 at 12 AM. This was a global phenomenon and was highly problematic because resolving the problem at one’s organisation did not guarantee immunity, since a breakdown in the organisation’s supply chain could affect the organisation’s operating capability. Many organisations set up a project office to control and comply with their stakeholders regarding the Y2K issue. Furthermore, use of the internet was common practice that led to the establishment of the virtual project office. The goal of this virtual project office was: (a) to deliver uninterrupted turn-of-the-century; (b) monitor Y2K project efforts; (c) provide coordination; (d) develop a risk management plan; and (e) communicate Y2K compliance efforts with various stakeholders. Thus, the virtual project office was a focal point for all the project works, and it increased the awareness and importance of risk management practices to numerous organisations.

A couple of months ago we started a free service to analyze a person’s style of management. Through our “Bryce Management Analysis, ” a manager answers a series of questions (30 in all) and, based on his responses, we produce a report which assesses his style of management as well as other attributes.

The data collected from these surveys has confirmed a lot of my suspicions; that companies are regressing back to a Theory X form of management. Over the last twenty years we have witnessed a dramatic swing from a Theory Y or Z form of management, back to Theory X. Whereas workers used to be empowered to make decisions and tackle assignments (a la Theory Y or Z), managers today tend to micromanage every action or decision in their department. Workers are told what to do, how to do it, and when it has to be done, with little regard for their input. We see this not only in the corporate world, but in nonprofit organizations as well. The result is that organizations today are run by control freaks who would be more content working with robots as opposed to human beings. This mentality has resulted in an apathetic workforce that doesn’t trust management. It also breeds contempt and disloyalty for management, as well as making for some excellent fodder for such things as Dilbert and NBC’s hit comedy, “The Office. ”

Although there are instances where a Theory X form of management can work effectively, it nonetheless represents a top-down unidirectional “master-slave” relationship. Theory X can work well in certain crisis situations, such as “crunch-time” projects, but it is hardly conducive for a normal mode of operation in today’s society. Let me be clear on this, under a Theory X form of management, project planning, estimating, scheduling, reporting and control is performed top-down. Instead, a bi-directional approach is recommended which is a critical aspect of the Mini-Project Manager concept.

The Mini-Project Manager (MPM) concept is based on our experiences in several I. T. shops over a number of years and was first described in the Project Management activities of our “PRIDE” methodologies dating back to 1971. Unlike Theory X, the MPM concept seeks to empower workers and make them more responsible for their actions. It promotes more management and less supervision. Actually, under the MPM concept, the individual is expected to act professionally and supervise themselves.

There are still some top-down activities to be performed by management, such as project planning where projects are defined and prioritized. Further, managers select and allocate human resources to participate in project assignments. It also includes establishing project Work Breakdown Structures (WBS; e. g., phases, activities, tasks) and precedent relationships between such structures. Here, the manager relies on such things as Skills Inventories, Resource Allocations, Calendars, and Priority Modeling tools.

After projects are assigned, workers estimate the amount of effort needed to perform the work. This is a critical aspect of the MPM concept and is typically not found in today’s Theory X environments. Here, the worker is asked, “What do you think? ” But understand this, the worker’s estimate is an expression of his personal commitment to the work involved. If the manager does not agree with the estimate, he may ask the worker to rationalize his estimate. If the manager is unhappy with the answer, he may elect to give the assignment to someone else (perhaps another employee or a contractor). Nonetheless, the estimate is an expression of commitment by the person.

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