Project Management: Initiating a Project – 1 Million Years BC

Apologies for the title, there's no dinosaurs or a skimpily clad Raquel Welch in this article. However, is it just me or are far too many organizations living in the time of the dinosaurs when it comes to initiating a new project? Far too often I'm seeing organizations holding a meeting in stuffy suits using…

Apologies for the title, there's no dinosaurs or a skimpily clad Raquel Welch in this article. However, is it just me or are far too many organizations living in the time of the dinosaurs when it comes to initiating a new project? Far too often I'm seeing organizations holding a meeting in stuffy suits using stuffy language making a decision on what it is that they want a particular project to achieve. Innovation and enterprise are used as nothing but rhetoric. Imagination, art, creativity and open passion stifled away and kept in dark places for the sake of formality and conformity.

Systems and process are put in place, initiation documents drawn up, timescales and miles planned. Hours and hours are put into drawing up organizational structures, setting up program boards and steering groups. Finances are strictly planned and monitored, risks evaluated, contingency plans drawn up and personnel expertly fitted into Work Breakdown structures. I do not argument that all this is important, indeed these methods and processes I use myself. But what is the end result? Generally a well managed and quality assured route to a mediocre (or poor poor) result.

Yet the aforementioned is carried out by some of the most qualified and intelligent people and within complex organizations on a daily basis for years on end. Yet the results, with a few exceptions are generally the same – mediocrity … mediocrity that is often celebrated as a success. As Einstein himself said “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

I have yet to see anything outstanding produced without:

Amusement
Art
Creativity
Dreams
Drive
Enthusiasm
Gratitude
Hope
Innovation
Inspiration
Interest
Joy
Leadership
Love
Motivation
Passion
Pride
Serenity

In the real world these attributes are known as Emotional Intelligence, in the world of project management they are known as soft systems (as apposed to non-human elements known as hard systems.). Now let's take a look at the common and all too familiar processes generally used in the initiation of a project:

Feasibility Study
Project Initiation Document
Project Charter
Business Plan / Case
Project Statement of Work
Stakeholder Management Strategy

There is no doubt that these processes have value and have been time tested and tested. However I believe a project should not just aim to arrive “on time and on budget” but should reach for the stars and strive to achieve something innovative, remarkable and recognably brilliant. This in my experience can not be achieved using systems and processes heavily weighed on hard systems. All of the processes above are predominately hard system methodologies. If this is the root and starting point for a project how are we to reach an additional result?

I have always advocated that extremely processes should be driven by people and putting a heavy focus on soft systems at the initiative stage of a project. This article itself was inspired by a guide to project management I had previously published aimed at the novice. On re-reading this basic article I started to believe it gave a greater pathway to success than some of the more technical and comprehensive documents I have developed.

This has resulted in a dramatic change in my thinking and project approach; not just at the initiation stage but for the whole of a projects lifecycle. If soft systems are not an integral element of every stage of a project then how can exceptional results be expected?

It is time for evolution (revolution?) And a move towards a more modern approach of thinking.