Will They Never Learn?
The other day we came across yet another reference to the five phases of project
management. Not that we have anything against projects with five phases but five
is simply not a common number. Given that in project management a phase is a
period of time, then the most basic, and we believe the most fundamental principle
behind project management, is two periods. These two periods are simply think
before doing, or more technically, plan then produce. From there, the next level
in the hierarchy consists of four phases: conceive, define, execute and finish.
Well, actually, the reference in question was to : "Initiating, Planning,
Executing, Controlling and Closing." Controlling is a phase? That suggests
that we can move into a "controlling" phase and when we're done with
that we move out - presumably with some kind of phase deliverable or product.
At that point we can simply press on and not worry about controlling any more.
No wonder so many projects get out of control!
But, you say, the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge issued
by the Project Management Institute (both 1996 and 2000*
editions, p28 and p31 respectively) describes these as processes,
not phases, see figure 1. True, but a project
is a process, and by the same token, so is each project phase. Initiating,
Planning, Executing and Closing are clearly the four phases of a
project as we identified earlier, but controlling is equally clearly
not one of them. Moreover, the Guide's illustration shows no connection
between the Controlling process and the initiating process, suggesting
that Initiating requires no control where, we would submit, control
would in fact have the most influence on the ensuing culture of
the project. Conversely, the same diagram shows no flow through
from the Executing process and the Closing process - only through
the Controlling process. This is rather akin to the project bookkeeper,
and some project managers for that matter, who think they can keep
costs within budget simply by not paying the bills - to say nothing
of ignoring claims for extras.
But control? That's a different animal altogether. As Forsberg, Mooz and Cotterham
have clearly illustrated in their book Visualizing Project management (Wiley,
2nd Edition, 2000, p43) a distinction must be drawn between "situationally"
applied management elements and the "sequential" project cycle. The
Control process and its supporting components of baseline planning, measure,
compare and correct, are clearly situational and hence cannot, in any way, be
described as a "phase".
One wonders whether anyone really examines these purported official standards
and, if so, are they really understood? Surely the role of the project
management associations and their supporting luminaries have a duty
to illuminate - not obfuscate.