New Implications

There are a number of implications for subscribing to the new paradigm of project management.

Redefinition of a Project

According to the prevailing paradigm, a project is a temporary endeavor to create something, e.g., a service or product. A project is something short lived based on balancing an eclectic selection of a series of tools, techniques, and principles. This definition leads to treating projects as an endeavor akin to getting the "damn thing built" and throwing the end result over the fence. It leads to a near- term myopic perspective that can have negative consequences beyond the completion of a project.

Under the new paradigm, quite simply, a project is redefined into something much broader in context by becoming a focused, integrated human endeavor to achieve a specific, common purpose.

A project is a human endeavor because it is, in the purest sense, a result of people using their energies to produce something. Without people, no project exists. Tools, techniques, or methodologies become merely means to an end, not the goal as is often the case.

A project is focused in that all the human resources are employed in a manner that achieves desired results. All decisions and actions are taken in the context of furthering the purpose of a project. Without focus, a project can become (or not become) an exercise in efficiency but also ineffectiveness. When that happens, of course, projects begin to have a life of their own.

A project is integrated in that all decisions and activities are interdependent. A project does not have to be viewed as a balancing act of seemingly disconnected elements. Often, projects are seen as exercises of suboptimization, tradeoff , and zero sum results. Someone or something wins and someone or something else loses. An integrated view necessitates taking a more holistic perspective that recognizes that decisions and actions have impacts. Managing a project becomes less of a juggling act and more of a deliberate , orchestrated approach.

Finally, a project achieves a specific purpose. From that perspective, all energies and efforts of a project are oriented towards achieving something that is shared among all stakeholders. Consequently, a project becomes an endeavor that not only achieves its own goal, but also furthers more expansive goals, such as those of a higher organization. A project cannot operate , in other words, as an island; its purpose should be aligned with a parent organization and stakeholders. Otherwise, a project will not only lack commitment from the "higher" ranks of the institution, but also the "lower" ranks, such as the team members .


The secret weapon or the perfect process no longer becomes the center of attention. Excellence comes from delivering a product or service that achieves a desired result. Unfortunately, having the best tool or most efficient process often becomes the end in itself, especially on technical projects. A tool or technique, for example, may generate code efficiently and ease the work of developers, but it may still generate something that fails to further the goal of a project. In other words, it results in "gold plating " a process as well as a product or service.

According to the new paradigm, decisions regarding the selection of tools, methods , and even people are oriented towards achieving desired results, not perfecting an activity unless, of course, it directly contributes towards achieving desired results.


The new paradigm places less value on defining all the elements of a project in precise detail and more on how to define and improve their relationships to achieve desired results. The key to accomplishing that is to identify and improve relationships among the major elements of a project, whether resource, tool, technique, or methodology. Such items, therefore, are seen as enablers to improve relationships to achieve a common goal. Strengths become important as enablers and weaknesses as an opportunity to move forward.

James Bailey illustrates the concept clearly when discussing a flock of birds. In the past, the belief was that a flock of birds followed a leader. It has become increasingly clear, however, that each bird does not key off the leader but its neighbors, creating an overall behavior for the flock . [42]

Interdependence, from a project perspective of course, is more than a flock of birds moving in unison . It may be more a matter of mutual success and based on a symbiotic relationship. [43]


Under the prevailing paradigm, too much emphasis is placed on determining what must be done. This emphasis has led not only to implementing counterproductive tools, techniques, and methodologies, but also shackling the performance by instituting bureaucracy. The question should be, first of all: Why? Why a certain level of detail in planning? Why a decision to accept or reject a variance that has arisen? By asking why, the basis for a tool, technique, or methodology is questioned over whether it advances the goals of a project.

I once attended an effective listening class at a Fortune 500 training facility. The instructor, although very good, said that the most dangerous word to use in a business environment is "why" because asking such a question can make people defensive. I disagree . That question should be asked constantly, especially on projects. And everyone should ask it. Asking why, of course, is not a rebellion if the intent is to determine if something contributes towards achieving desired results. Only then will a project perform both efficiently and effectively.

The ability to ask why is very important from a motivational standpoint by giving meaning to people. The message from the holy mountain does little good in furthering ownership and commitment. Project managers can provide the necessary meaning by constantly asking the question for themselves and on behalf of others.


As discussed, project management has often been an attempt to force feed tools, techniques, and concepts on projects without really contributing to the goals of projects. Situated in a dynamic environment, projects can easily deviate from plans. In reaction, "more of the same" is implemented which, ironically, does not really change anything other than worsening a situation. More merely becomes symptomatic of reaction.

Under the new paradigm, more does not equate with better because a project and its environment are considered dynamic. The emphasis on responsiveness is achieved by determining why certain actions must happen. These actions are the ones that provide the most leverage to achieve desired results. By selecting the action that provides the most leverage, projects can function both efficiently and effectively.

Basically, a project functions as an adaptive structure, whereby as a system it adjusts to its environment based on feedback. A system then adjusts or optimizes itself to its environment.

This ability to adapt to its environment enables survivability . Clearly, then, systems that are so rigidly adapted to their environments are the ones most vulnerable to dramatic changes in the environment. [44] Systems that are most flexible in response to their environment have a higher probability of survival.


The new paradigm recognizes that quantification is not the only driver of a project. In fact, it recognizes that quantification is reflective, if anything, of qualitative factors such as beliefs and values. The very decision on what to measure and the very selection of the measure itself is a qualitative decision and is affected by actions taken.

The criticality of the qualitative aspects is reflected in the importance of the people side of project management. Failure to successfully handle it can wreak havoc. As an information technology (IT) and operations auditor , the folly of relying on the quantitative aspects at the expense of people was often revealed to me. I have seen measures that reflected great efficiencies at the expense of effectiveness. What I discovered was that numbers only told part of a story. How the people performed on a project sometimes, and frequently, painted a different picture from what the numbers revealed. Frequently, the deciding factors on the performance of a project were items that were not directly measurable, such as the leadership abilities of project managers, constraints not readily quantifiable, and lack of political support from corporate headquarters.


Under the new paradigm, projects are seen as dynamic entities. They are constantly going in and out of equilibrium due to interactions among their elements and their environment. At each point in the project life cycle, projects respond to changes differently. For example, membership among the stakeholders can constantly change, causing a shift in priorities. International events, seemingly remote to a team located in the basement of a large complex, may impact the team dramatically. Nonlocal factors can impact local environments and sometimes vice versa. The point here is that a project and its environment constantly changes and the new paradigm stresses acceptance of this reality.

Many project managers who subscribe to the prevailing paradigm view it as blasphemy. That is because a salient concept of management in general and project management in particular has an unrealistic emphasis on maintaining control. The idea is to impose a structure that requires an almost teleological, absolutist perspective. Subscribing to this perspective can result in a constant war of imposing rather than adapting project management principles and practices on projects. As discussed, such an approach can, and often does, prove counterproductive because it fails to enable project managers to be flexible and adaptable. The key is to apply the right approach at the right time at the right level, which is contingent on adapting to the dynamics of a project and its environment.


Above all, the new paradigm stresses putting people at the center of a project. Without the willful participation of stakeholders, projects will inevitably fail or if they succeed, they do so at great cost. People are not seen as just another resource. They are the main resource, not time, money, or equipment. Under the prevailing paradigm, however, the people side so often receives lip service and the attention soon focuses on the "hard" side of project management. Yet, it is people who must participate not only in the formulation of plans, but also in the implementation of all the tools, techniques, and practices of project management. Without their agreement, project management becomes nothing more than an administrative exercise.

Under the prevailing paradigm, many of the causes of failures, e.g., unclear scope and poor scheduling, appear to relate to the hard side of project management. After careful assessment, however, such failures are manifestations of a failure in leadership. As long as the project managers subscribe to the prevailing paradigm, problems will continue to reappear because project managers are not addressing the real source of the problem ” leadership.

James Bailey likens the current circumstance to one of a parent facing what he calls shades of gray. A need exists for the psyche of each sibling to work together with various groups and cultures in different, complex ways that require considerable adaptation. [45] The challenge for project managers is to move everyone in the same direction to focus on a common goal.

Out of the behavior of individuals comes a unique behavior in and of itself. The relationship between the person and his or her setting becomes important but not easy. It will not be easy because there will always be, at least potentially , different permutations of the relationships, thanks to the wide variety of people at different moments in time. The group behavior is different than the sum of all the individual behaviors added together. Looking at individual behavior does not lend itself to understanding and predicting group behavior. [46] This unique, group behavior impedes individuals to act rationally because they are constrained by the actions of others. [47] Out of this diversity come patterns of behavior. The struggle, therefore, is for project managers to manage the diverse relationships that exist on a project in such a way that furthers, not constrains, goal attainment .

[42] James Bailey, After Thought , Basic Books, New York, 1996, p. 151.

[43] Fritjof Capra, The Turning Point , Bantam Books, Toronto, 1988, p. 278.

[44] Fritjof Capra, The Turning Point , Bantam Books, Toronto, 1988, p. 149.

[45] James Bailey, After Thought , Basic Books, New York, 1996, p. 174.

[46] James Bailey, After Thought , Basic Books, New York, 1996, p. 177.

[47] James Bailey, After Thought , Basic Books, New York, 1996, p. 180.

Leading High Performance Projects
The Photoshop CS2 Speed Clinic: Automating Photoshop to Get Twice the Work Done in Half the Time
ISBN: 193215910X
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Year: 2003
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