Projects, Project Management, and Project Performance Improvement

Welcome back!

Previously, I have written blogs on several of the eight (8) components on which we focus in providing our professional support services (Purpose, PreparednessPeople, Portfolios, Products,Programs, Projects, and Processes), how they are managed, and how their performance can be improved.

Now, this particular blog will focus on Projects, Project Management, and Project Performance Improvement.

We are focused on helping our clients work smarter to overcome their performance struggles and achieve measurable results that are better, faster, and/or less costly today than they were before.  In addition, we hope those same results will improve in the future when compared with what they are today (e.g., higher profits, higher revenues, more satisfied customers, better products, etc.). This improvement, in many organizations, involves a focus on improving one project at a time.  As a result, this focus requires attention to three key concepts: what is a Project, what is Project Management, and what is Project Performance Improvement.

According to the Project Management Institute, a Project is “a time-limited undertaking to deliver a unique product, service or outcome” or, “a temporary endeavor with a set of constraints that is undertaken to create (or improve) a product, service, system or result”.  (

An Operation, on the other hand, is an ongoing work assignment that, while it has constraints, is focused on maintaining and sustaining the status-quo, NOT changing it.  Hence, the term “ongoing project” is an oxymoron, at best, and an outright contradiction, at worst.

Then, too, while a project should be a “proactive, integrative, and preventive” work assignment, we’ve found that, all too often, they can end up being the opposite: a “reactive, isolated, and corrective” one.  As a result, if you’re not careful, working on a project can feel like “fire-fighting”.  How and why does this  dramatic switch happen?  More on that below…

First, let’s consider seven (7) reasons why a project can be initiated with an example for each one. These are:

  1. Market Demand (example: manufacturing all-in-one “smart phones”)
  2. Business Need (example: developing a new product line)
  3. Customer Request (example: an RFP for procuring a fleet of vans)
  4. Technological Advance (example: improving automobile airbags)
  5. Legal Requirement (example: compliance with SOX  or HIPAA)
  6. Ecological Impact (example: achieving sustainability via a new recycling initiative)
  7. Social Need (example: establishing a Food Bank program)

Project Management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques that are found in a set of 47 processes that organizations employ to initiate, plan, execute, monitor/control, and close a project.  These 47 processes are organized in the 5th Edition of PMI’s Body of Knowledge document (PMBOK® Guide) in ten (10) Chapters or Management Knowledge Areas:  Integration, Scope, Time, Cost, Quality, Human Resources, Communication, Risk, Procurement, and Stakeholders.

Project Performance Improvement is the process of achieving measurable results by the projects in your organization by collecting data on their respective outputs (or outcomes) and comparing the PLANNED or expected results with the ACTUAL or delivered results.  When the ACTUAL results of a project are better than, faster than, less costly than, and/or more profitable (or a combination of these) than the PLANNED or expected results, that is the first step toward project performance improvement or enhancement.  Then, when that type of performance becomes “normal” across multiple projects over time, that is organizational maturity, improvement or enhancement.

Unfortunately, as was mentioned above, projects often end up being “reactive, isolated, andcorrective” instead of “proactive, integrative, and preventive“.  This is because Project Sponsors and Project Managers typically don’t recognize that each project has an inherent and dynamic state of “balance”, “equilibrium” or “homeostasis” to it.  This state involves identifying the following expectations for:

  1. WHAT has to be done (the project’s Scope),
  2. HOW WELL it has to conform to requirements (the project’s Quality),
  3. BY WHEN (the project’s Time/Schedule), and
  4. FOR HOW MUCH $ (the project’s Cost/Budget)

An “anti-project” that is “reactive, isolated, and corrective” is one in which the Performing organization (Seller) allows the Customer organization (Buyer) to define and control ALL FOUR of these elements.  However, in order to be a true “project” in a state of “balance”, the Customer organization only gets to set three of those expectations but, they get to go FIRST!

So, they can set the following expectations:

  • For #1, 2, and 3 (but NOT 4);
  • For #2, 3, and 4 (but NOT 1);
  • For #1, 2 and 4 (but NOT 3); or
  • For #1, 3, and 4 (but NOT 2).

Leaving the Performing organization to calculate, negotiate, and set whatever the remaining expectation is.  Stated in plain English, it says that, in order to be SMART or in a state of “balance”, the Customer organization can get the project done:

  • Good and Fast (but NOT Cheap; the Cost/Budget will need to be negotiated)
  • Good and Cheap (but NOT Fast; the Time/Schedule will need to be negotiated)
  • Fast and Cheap (but NOT Good; the Scope or Quality will need to be negotiated)

So, summarizing the above: an “anti-project” is a short-term work assignment that is NOT in a state of “balance” in one of those areas.  What ends up happening in an “anti-project” can usually be summarized as follows:  “There’s never enough time or money to do it right the first time; so, they do the best they can with what they’ve got but, eventually, realize they’ll have to find enough time and/or money to fix it forever!

Are there “anti-projects”, “projects” or both of them in your organization?  Which one(s) of the seven reasons specified above normally trigger or cause them to be initiated or undertaken? Are they in an initial state of “balance”, “equilibrium” or “homeostasis” or do you need to make trade-offs among the competing objectives and alternatives in order to get them to that state?   How well are these resulting projects managed?  Is the management approach that is used successful in terms of the Scope, Quality, Schedule, and Budget outcomes, or does it need to be improved?  Are Risks being managed effectively? If not, how would you go about performing “due diligence” during the planning stage?

Please contact me and share your project, project management, and project performance improvement challenges, issues and concerns and I’ll try to help you address them.  I’ll be glad to share some ideas with you at no expense.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published