Chapter 4 The Changed Project Landscape – The People Project Triangle

CHAPTER 4

The Changed Project Landscape

Project Management Thinking

People have been changing things using projects certainly since the rise of civilizations. Huge structures were built by the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians thousands of years ago that are still with us today. Infrastructure on the scale of an airport or a high-speed rail link delivered without power tools. Possibly, it helped to have an endless supply of forced labor and an incentive scheme where a poor appraisal led to literal termination. However, this is not the old world we want to talk about. It does not relate to a specific period, as the change happened at different times in different industries and countries. The old world is how it was before the shareholder value revolution discussed in Chapter 3 and before the professionalization of project management as a discipline.

Before the drive for shareholder value increased the pace of business change, projects tended to take place away from the ongoing operations—organized as separate entities and resourced and managed accordingly. In most cases, there was also some form of project management office (PMO) to support the governance of multiple projects. In other areas, the organization tended to look after itself.

Projects were typically consecutive, rather than concurrent. Project managers arrived at a completion date based on the effort and duration required. There was acceptance that “things took that long.”

The staffing of projects was also different in the old world. Particularly large or difficult projects involved the services of external consultancies as today, and as today, needed to involve lots of internal staff with domain knowledge. Smaller projects were staffed from the business. Before shareholder value pressures developed, there were personnel departments that considered staff as permanent features to be managed through a lifetime career, so there were also plenty of people making their way on the management track being moved around from line jobs to overseas posts and back again to head office. For these rising managers, part of their career progression were periods as a “Special Projects Manager.” These managers had experience of the business, its people, processes, and systems and would also have the time to focus on the project.

This is how one of the authors came to this career. He ran a couple of projects and realized he was a project manager (PM). It turned out that he had the right attributes and so developed the technical skills and became full-time dedicated to the developing profession.

If you look back at our prologue project, many of the features of that project would have been different in the old landscape. For example, the PM might have been full time and dedicated and the project team members may have been seconded on to the project and taken out of their normal jobs.

But, the post shareholder value project landscape is not like this. Look again at the producer matrix in Chapter 3. In addition to increasing the efficiency, the business must address effectiveness—doing the things that add value to customers. Both these things require improvements to existing operations. Such improvements require projects, but these projects now must be done in flattened-down and thinned-out organizations with human resource functions expert in ensuring the organization is always “rightsized.” These projects now must be done in organizations without special PMs and with departments lean to the bone with staff already working extreme hours and no spare capacity. Such departments are often unwilling to second staff for months or even give them up for a few hours a day.

The context within which projects are run now is described earlier. There is an increasing pressure to deliver programs and projects much more quickly. In some cases, dates for delivery are set before projects are properly defined, and this causes more pressure on the balance of time, costs, and scope.

This pace of business change now means, often, several projects are taking place at the same time. Organizations have to multi-task, adding to the complexity and increasing the management challenge, forcing it to juggle demands on money and resources and time.

The Evolution of Project Management

In the old world, project management was not a concept familiar outside engineering and IT, and even in those spheres, there was a large variation in approaches to delivering projects. The UK Government was a good example of undertaking numerous engineering and IT projects which frequently overran, were over budget and didn’t deliver to the customer’s expectations. In 1983, to overcome this weakness in its project capability, it adopted a methodology called PROMPT II (Project Resource ­Organization Management Planning Techniques). In 1987, based on its experience with PROMPT II in practice, the methodology was enhanced and became PRINCE2. In 1990, keen to see improved project performance across government contracts and wider industry, the government placed the enhanced method into the public domain as an open method.

Table 4.1 shows how much change there has been in the evolution of the project management environment.


Table 4.1 The evolution of project management

Old world

New world

Techniques originated in IT and construction

Methodologies have evolved, PRINCE2 now in its fourth generation, kept up to date with modern day needs, birth of agile

Few accredited PMs

PM as a profession, accreditations under PRINCE2, APM, PPI

Few business change PMs

Readily available business change PMs

Dedicated project resources

Blend of dedicated resource and those with Business as Usual (BaU) responsibilities

Project work away from BaU

Work is in or close to the business or operation

PMO capability rare, except in the Level 1 projects

Enterprise PMO capability more common providing prioritization, budget control, and so on

You had more time; you could plan to a date

You are often given a date

Gantt charts consecutive

More work is concurrent, multiple business change projects

People waiting between jobs available for projects

No longer spare people

Genuine development

Business lead, change managers, subject matter experts with BaU responsibilities in addition

“Special Projects Manager” (SPM)

No longer spare people to tackle projects

SPM will have business knowledge

Specialist PMs may not have business knowledge

SPM unlikely to have PM skills

PM likely to be qualified, business support may not

In IT, it was a development from the business analyst role

PMs drawn from wider backgrounds

Failure was usually a secret

Failure more easily communicated


Methodologies and skills have responded to organizational pressures. The early 2000s saw the birth of the agile principles for software development. The science of project management is well served by these improvements, and that organizations are in a much better place to deliver projects of all types. However, our experience is that although composite projects are underpinned by these methodologies, there are specific issues that are overlooked. This book provides our insights into that missing knowledge and some of the art of project management for composite projects.