Life on Project Earth
Welcome to Project Earth, where most work related things seem to end up becoming a project
In his November/December 2021 article for Harvard Business Review (The Project Economy Has Arrived), Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez, a former Chairman of the Project Management Institute (PMI), argues that projects “are increasingly driving both short-term performance and long-term value creation” in companies both large and small, as opposed to the “advances in efficiency and productivity” that “created tremendous value” in the 20th century. Nieto-Rodriguez points out that this a global phenomenon:
In Germany, for example, projects have been rising steadily as a percentage of GDP since at least 2009, and in 2019 they accounted for as much as 41% of the total. Precise data is hard to come by for other countries, but similar percentages are likely to apply in most other Western economies. The percentages are probably even higher in China and other leading Asian economies, where project-based work has long been an important source of growth.
The State of Project Earth
Nieto-Rodriguez notes that the PMI projected in 2017 that the “value of project-oriented economic activity worldwide would grow from $12 trillion in 2017 to $20 trillion in 2027, in the process putting some 88 million people to work in project management–oriented roles — and those estimates were made before nations started spending trillions on pandemic-recovery projects.”
So welcome to Project Earth, where most work related things seem to end up becoming a project.
In a September 2017 study by 451 Research entitled “The New Work Management System for the Digital Enterprise,” study authors provided an “anonymized list” of all job titles that “purchased a license for an online work management vendor’s tool” (a Work Management tool is a hybrid management / analytical tool that is typically used to manage projects and tasks and can also be used for process improvement work). As shown in Figure 1, below, this list of job titles covers a broad range of organizational roles.
451 Research study authors also noted that “official project managers constitute less than 10% of this (work management tool) vendor’s customer base, and IT less than 1%.” Indicating that the trend of projects becoming a significant part of everyone’s job is continuing to increase.
Needed: Multiple Ways of Working on Projects
As Nieto-Rodriguez points out, one of the difficulties arising, as the sheer volume of project work increases, is that “…projects don’t lend themselves naturally to…a rigidly sequential, one-size-fits-all approach,” but that is often what we get when we apply “one standardized project-management methodology” to all an organization’s projects.
What we need is to be able to select from multiple Ways Of Working, which is becoming a more and more common approach for organizations who are embracing Agile project methods for at least a portion of their project activity (see “Choose Your WoW”, Amber, Lines, for example, for a full explanation of a structured approach for selecting Agile methods for a given project). As Nieto-Rodriguez reminds us:
Agile and traditional project management aren’t at war with each other. In a change-driven world, companies can’t apply just one methodology to all their projects. Instead, they need a toolbox of approaches — among them agile and traditional project management, certainly, but also design thinking, change management, and product development.
Inevitably, as it becomes more and more clear that one project management methodology cannot be the end all be all — because, no, not everything can be Agile, which even its founders understood (see the BlueProject Post Made Up Agile) — there will be more and more organizations that include selecting a project method as part of project start-up activities; thus, formally instituting an acceptance of multiple Ways Of Working.
A “Project Canvas” by Any Other Name
One of Nieto-Rodriguez’s closing arguments in the The Project Economy Has Arrived is that we need a “framework” that allows “…everybody in the organization to see, understand, and work productively on the key elements of any given project,” and that his Project Canvas framework is exactly what any organization needs. Do I think this is true? Not really.
Yes, any viable organization needs a consistent, structured way to approach projects, and this could be an organizational Project Canvas, of sorts, but it does not need to be Nieto-Rodriguez’s Project Canvas.
I do think the Project Canvas that Nieto-Rodriguez introduces us to (see Figure 2, above) has some essential elements that every organization should consider when preparing to embark on a proposed project. These essential elements are:
- Project Purpose and Benefits. Why are we doing this project, and what are the key quantitative and qualitative benefits it is expected to deliver?
- Stakeholders and Project Resources Required. Who are the Sponsors of this project and the other Key Stakeholders? What resources will be needed to deliver this project?
- Project Investment. What will the project cost the organization, at least in terms of an initial set of investments?
- Key Project Deliverables. There is an old project management saying: if a project task isn’t driving toward a specific deliverable, then why are we doing it? What are the tangible deliverables this project will deliver?
- Project Approach How will the project be executed, and what Critical Success Factors are being considered in the project approach?
Beyond the five components summarized above, what is needed are some additional, organizationally specific elements. Minimally these should include:
- Project Portfolio Importance or Rating. How does this project fit into the strategic objectives of the active project portfolio(s)? If there isn’t a project portfolio defined, why not? (according to PMI, A Project Portfolio is a collection of projects, programs and other work that is grouped together to facilitate the effective management of that work to meet strategic business objectives.)
- Ongoing Cost / Benefit Once Project Implemented. What are the likely ongoing costs and benefits (quantifiable and qualitative) that will result from the project’s implementation.
- Project Risks Identified. Identifying the risks associated with a project before it is embarked upon is nothing short of critical.
- Stakeholder Assessment and Organization Change Management Plan. Not all projects will require an elaborate Organizational Change Management Plan, but without at least a simple Stakeholder Assessment there is no way to know if you’ll need extensive Organization Change Management to be part of the project.
- Project Method(s) Selected Define the project methods that will be employed and why. This item will be linked to the Project Approach, above, but will also articulate the structure of the project. Will the software elements of the project be pure Agile Scrum? If not, why not?
- Overall Project Execution Priority A rating / assessment of the project’s overall priority, which will help determine if the project should be executed sooner than later or ever.
The key in all of this Project Canvas work is to try to keep the “framework” fairly simple, but to address all the key elements that will go into determining:
- What a project is supposed to accomplish
- How the project will be accomplished
- And Why this project is important to execute now (vs. other work that is already planned within limited resources and budget)
Finally, every organization’s Project Canvas is going to be, by definition, fairly specific to that organization’s business, and needs to be customized with this in mind. Figure 3, below, shows an example of this by virtue of some work I did with a past client.
So, welcome to Project Earth, and good luck with your Canvas. If you like to work on projects you are not going to be bored at any time in the near future.