Archive for the ‘Multi-project management’ Category

The resource allocation syndrome (Engwall & Jerbant, 2003)

Mittwoch, April 22nd, 2009


Engwall, Mats; Jerbant, Anna: The resource allocation syndrome – the prime challenge of multi-project management?; in: International Journal of Project Management, Vol. 21 (2003), No. 6, pp. 403-409.

Engwall & Jerbant analyse the nature of organisations, whose operations are mostly carried out as simultaneous or successive projects. By studying a couple of qualitative cases the authors try to answer why the resource allocation syndrome is the number one issue for multi-project management and which underlying mechanisms are behind this phenomenon.

The resource allocation syndrome is at the heart of operational problems in multi-project management, it’s called syndrome because multi-project management is mainly obsessed with front-end allocation of resources.  This shows in the main characteristics: projects have interdependencies and typically lack resources; management is concerned with priority setting and resources re-allocation; competition arises between the projects; management focuses on short term problem solving.

The root causes for these syndromes can be found on both the demand and the supply side.  On the demand side the two root causes identified are the effect of failing projects on the schedule, the authors observed that project delay causes after-the-fact prioritisation and thus makes management re-active and rather unhelpful; and secondly over commitment cripples the multi-project-management.

On the supply side the problems are caused by management accounting systems, in this case the inability to properly record all resources and projects; and effect of opportunistic management behaviour, especially grabbing and booking good people before they are needed just to have them on the project.

Learning and acting in project situations through a meta-method (MAP) a case study: Contextual and situational approach for project management governance in management education (Bredillet, 2008)

Dienstag, Oktober 28th, 2008


Bredillet, Christophe N.: Learning and acting in project situations through a meta-method (MAP) a case study – Contextual and situational approach for project management governance in management education; in: International Journal of Project Management, Vol. 26 (2008), No. 3, pp. 238-250.

[This is a relatively complex post that follows – the article goes into epistemology quite deep (What is knowledge? How do we acquire it?) without much explanation given by the author. I tried to put together some explanatory background to make the rationale for the article more accessible. If you are just interested in the curriculum Bredillet proposes for learning project management on the job, skip these parts and jump right to the end of the post.]

In this article Bredillet outlines his meta-method used to teach project management. This method’s goal is to provide a framework in terms of processes and structure for learning in situ, namely on projects, programmes and alike. Bredillet argues that this method is best in accounting for complex, uncertain and ambiguous environments.

[Skip this part if you’re only interested in the actual application of the method.]

The authors starts with reviewing the three dominant project perspectives. a) Instrumental Perspective, which defines a project as a temporary endeavour to create something. b) Cognitive Perspective, which defines projects as exploitation of constraints and human/monetary capital in order to achieve an outcome. c) Political Perspective, which define projects as spatial actions which are temporarily limited, thus interacting with their environment. Bredillet argues that project management education does not reflect these perspectives according to their importance in the real world.

Bredillet argues that project management, knowledge creation and production (epistemology) have to integrate classical scientific aspects (Positivism) as well as fuzzy symbolisms (Constructivism). He says: „that the ‚demiurgic‘ characteristic of project management involves seeing this field as an open space, without ‚having‘ (Have) but rather with a raison d’être (Be), because of the construction of Real by the projects“ (p. 240).
Without any prior indulgence into epistemology (‚What is knowledge?‘ E. v. Glaserfeldt, Simon, Le Moigne etc.) this sentence is rather cryptic. What Bredillet wants to achieve is to unify the Positivist and Constructivist epistemology. Positivist epistemology can shortly be summarised to be our approach to understand the world quantitatively (= have = materialism, with only few degrees of freedom, e.g., best practices, OR, statistical methods). On the other hand Constructivist epistemology tries to understand the world with a qualitative focus (=be = immateriality, with many degrees of freedom, e.g., learning, knowledge management, change management). Bredillet summarises the constructivist epistemology citing Comte as „from Science comes Prevision, from Prevision comes Action“, and the positivist epistemology according to Le Moigne’s two hypothesis of reference – phenomenological („an existing and knowledgeable reality may be constructed by its observers who are then its constructors“) and teleological („knowledge is what gets us somewhere and that knowledge is constructed with an aim“).

Bredillet then argues that most research follows the positivist approach, valuing explicit over tacit knowledge, individual knowledge over team/organisational knowledge. To practically span the gap between Constructivism and Positivism Bredillet suggests to acknowledge tacit, explicit, team and individual knowledge as „distinct forms – inseparable and mutually enabling“ (p. 240).

How to unify Constructivsm and Postivitsm in Learning of Project Management?
Practically he explores common concepts always from both views, from the positivist and the constructivist standpoint, for instance, Bredillet describes concepts of organisational learning using the single-loop model (Postivism) vs. double-loop model, and system dynamics theory (Constructivsm).  Secondly, Bredillet stresses that learning and praxis are integrated, which is what the MAP method is all about:

„The MAP method provides structure and process for analysing, solving and governance of macro, meso, and micro projects. It is founded on the interaction between decision-makers, project team, and various stakeholders.“ (p. 240)

The three theoretical roots for the map method are (1) Praxeological epistemology, (2) N-Learning vs. S-Learning, (3) Theory of Convention. Thus the map method novelty is that it

  • Recognises the co-evolution of actor and his/her environment,
  • Enables integrated learning,
  • Aims at generating a convention (rules of decision) to cope with the uncertainty and complexity in projects.

Ad (1): The basic premises of Praxeological epistemology [in Economics] taken from Block (1973):

  • Human action can only be undertaken by individual actors
  • Action necessarily requires a desired end and a technological plan
  • Human action necessarily aims at improving the future
  • Human action necessarily involves a choice among competing ends
  • All means are necessarily scarce
  • The actor must rank his alternative ends
  • Choices continually change, both because of changed ends as well as means
  • Labour power and nature logically predate, and were used to form, capital
  • Technological knowledge is a factor of production

Ad (2): I don’t know whether n-Learning in this context stands for nano-Learning (constantly feeding mini chunks of learning on the job) or networked learning (network over the internet to learn from each other – blogs, wikis, mail etc.). Neither could I find a proper definition of S-Learning. Generally it seem to stand for supervised learning. Which can take place most commonly when training Neural Networks, and sometimes on the job.
Sorry – later on in the article Bredillet clarifies the lingo: N-Learning = Neoclassical Learning = Knowledge is cumulative; and S-Learning = Schumpeterian Learning = creative gales of destruction.

Ad (3): Convention Theory (as explained in this paper) debunks the notion that price is the best coordination mechanism in the economy. It states that there are collective coordination mechanisms and not only bilateral contracts, whose contingencies can be foreseen and written down.
Furthermore Convention Theory assumes Substantive Rationality of actors, radical uncertainty (no one knows the probability of future events), reflexive reasoning (‚I know that you know, that I know‘). Thus Convention Theory assumes Procedural Rationality of actors – actors judge by rational decision processes & rules and not by rational outcome of decisions.
These rules or convention for decision-making are sought by actors in the market. Moreover the theory states that

  • Through conventions knowledge can be economised (e.g., mimicking the behaviour of other market participants);
  • Conventions are a self-organising tools, relying on confidence in the convention
  • Four types of coordination exist – market, industry, domestic, civic

[Start reading again if you’re just interested in the application of the method.]

In the article Bredillet then continues to discuss the elements of the MAP meta model:

  • Project situations (entrepreneurial = generating a new position, advantage) vs. operations situations (= exploiting existing position, advantage)
  • Organisational ecosystem [as depicted on the right of my drawing]
  • Learning dynamics and praxis, with the three cornerstones of knowledge management, organisational learning, and learning organisation

Thus learning in this complex, dynamic ecosystem with its different foci of learning should have three goals – (1) individual learning, e.g., acquire Prince 2/PMP methodology; (2) Team learning, e.g., acquire team conventions; and (3) organisational learning, e.g., acquire new competitive position.

The MAP model itself consists of the several project management theories and concepts [theories are depicted on the left side of my drawing], the concepts included are

  • Strategic Management
  • Risk Management
  • Programme Management
  • Prospective Analysis
  • Projects vs. Operations
  • Ecosystem project/context
  • Trajectory of projects/lifecycles
  • Knowledge Management – processes & objects; and individual & organisational level
  • Systems thinking, dynamics
  • Organisational design
  • Systems engineering
  • Modelling, object language, systems man model
  • Applied sciences
  • Organisational Learning (single loop vs. double loop, contingency theory, psychology, information theory, systems dynamics)
  • Individual learning – dimensions (knowledge, attitudes, aptitudes) and processes (practical, emotional, cognitive)
  • Group and team learning, communities of practice
  • Leadership, competences, interpersonal aspects
  • Performance management – BSC, intellectual capital, intangible assets, performance assessments, TQM, standardisation

The praxeology of these can be broken down into three steps, each with its own set of tools:

  1. System design – social system design (stakeholder analysis, interactions matrices), technical system design (logical framework, e.g., WBS matrix, and logical system tree)
  2. System analysis – risk analysis (technical/social risk analysis/mapping), scenario analysis (stakeholder variables & zones)
  3. System management – scheduling, organisation & planning, strategic control

As such, Bredillet describes the MAP method trajectory as

  1. Strategic choice with a) conception, b) formulation
  2. Tactical alternatives with a) alternatives analysis and evaluation, b) decision
  3. Realisation with a) implementation, b) reports and feedback, c) transition into operations, c) post-audit review

In praxis the learning takes part in form of simulations, where real life complex situations have to be solved using the various concepts, methods, tools, and techniques (quantitative and psycho-sociological) which are included in the MAP-method. To close the reflective learning loop at the end two meta-reports have to be written – use of methods and team work, and how learning is transferred to the workplace. Bredillet says that with this method his students developed case studies, scenario analysis, corporate strategy evaluation, and tools for strategic control.

Project portfolio management – There’s more to it than what management enacts (Blichfeldt & Eskerodt, 2008)

Donnerstag, Oktober 23rd, 2008

Project portfolio management – There’s more to it than what management enacts (Blichfeldt & Eskerodt, 2008)

Blichfeldt, Bodil Stilling; Eskerod, Pernille: Project portfolio management – There’s more to it than what management enacts; in: International Journal of Project Management, Vol. 26 (2008), No. 4, pp. 357-365.

Project Portfolio Management in Theory consists of

  • Initial screening, selection, and prioritisation of proposed projects
  • Concurrent re-prioritisation
  • Allocation and re-allocation of resources

These activities are free of any value. Blichfeldt & Eskerodt analyse the reality of project portfolio management to find out if it does any good to the organisations it is used in.

In reality they find that project portfolio management is merely a battle for resources and that portfolios consist of way to many projects to be practically manageable. He finds two distinct categories of projects in a portfolio – (1) enacted projects and (2) hidden projects.

Among the enacted projects are typically the new product developments, the classic project, trimmed for successful launch of a new cash cow. But in this enacted project category there are also the larger renewal projects. The larger renewal projects are usually not directly linked to the demand side, their primary aim is to enhance internal activities and not customer value, and some of them cut across departments. Overall the large renewal projects are not as well managed as product development projects – they lack experience, have a low priority, and lack structure, reviews etc.

The second category are the hidden projects. Usually bottom-up initiatives, departments or even single persons start during their work hours, or in specifically allocated time to pursue innovative projects of own interest.

Blichfeldt & Eskerod recommend to enact more projects. Manage the larger renewal projects in a more structured way, and include the hidden projects into the portfolio. If they drain resources they must be managed. Without destroying the creativity and innovation that usually come from these grass-root projects, organisations should allocate resources to a pool of loosely-controlled resources. Unenacted projects should be allowed to draw resources from this pool, with minimal administrative burden.

Making a difference? Evaluating an innovative approach to the project management Centre of Excellence in a UK government department (O’Leary & Williams, 2008)

Donnerstag, Oktober 23rd, 2008

Making a difference? Evaluating an innovative approach to the project management Centre of Excellence in a UK government department (O’Leary & Williams, 2008)

O’Leary, Tim; Williams, Terry: Making a difference? Evaluating an innovative approach to the project management Centre of Excellence in a UK government department; in: International Journal of Project Management, Vol. 26 (2008), No. 5, pp. 556-565.

The UK has rolled out the ambitious programme of setting-up IT Centres of Excellence in all its departments. Focal point of these Centres of Excellence are Programme Offices.

The role of these Programme Offices has been defined as: Reporting, Recovering & Standardising.
The objectives for the programme offices are monitoring and reporting the status of the IT initiatives in the department, and implementing a structured life cycle methodology. This methodology ties in with a stage-gate framework that needs to be introduced. Additionally hit-teams of delivery managers have been set-up to turn-around ailing projects.

O’Leary and Williams find that the interventions seem to work successfully, whereas the reporting and standardisation objective has yet to be fulfilled. Moreover the authors analyse the root causes for this success. They found that the basis of success was:

  • Administrative control of department’s IT budget
  • Leadership of IT director
  • Exploitation of project management rhetoric
  • Quality of delivery managers

Project leadership in multi-project settings – Findings from a critical incident study (Kaulio, 2008)

Donnerstag, Oktober 23rd, 2008

 Project leadership in multi-project settings - Findings from a critical incident study (Kaulio, 2008)

Kaulio, Matti A.: Project leadership in multi-project settings – Findings from a critical incident study; in: International Journal of Project Management, Vol. 26 (2008), No. 4, pp. 338-347.

Kaulio asked project leaders, who operate in a multi-project environment about critical incidents in their last projects. The idea of critical incidents is, that as soon as a participant remembers the critical incident it must have some importance. Ideally it then is followed by a blueprint analysis followed by measuring the criticality is measured on each contact point. Kaulio focusses only on the elicitation of the critical incidents, without doing the triple-loop of the original research concept. The author shows the frequency of critical incidents happening:

  • Technical difficulties
  • Dyadic leadership
  • Group dynamics
  • Consultant relations
  • Client relations
  • Peer relations
  • Project adjustments
  • Re-prioritisations
  • Liked dyadic-group processes
  • Formation of project
  • Court decisions
  • Dependencies
  • Requirements specification

Kaulio then maps these critical incidents according to the Locus of Control (internal vs. external) and whether they are a Management or a Leadership issue. Thus he argues  most of the critical incidents can be tied back to internal project leadership:

Locus of Control External
  • Project adjustment
  • Court decision
  • Consultant relations
  • Client relations
  • Peer relations
  • Formation of project
  • Dependencies
  • Requirements specification
  • Dyadic leadership
  • Group dynamics
  • Linked dyadic-group processes
  • Technical difficulties
  • Re-prioritisation
Management Leadership

The balance between order and chaos in multi-project firms: A conceptual model (Geraldi, 2008)

Donnerstag, Oktober 23rd, 2008

 The balance between order and chaos in multi-project firms: A conceptual model (Geraldi, 2008)

Geraldi, Joana G.: The balance between order and chaos in multi-project firms – A conceptual model; in: International Journal of Project Management, Vol. 26 (2008), No. 4, pp. 348-356.

Geraldi takes a deeper look into multi-project settings at the ‚Edge of Chaos‘. Geraldi describes the Edge of Chaos as that fine line between chaos and order. Wikipedia (I know I shouldn’t cite it) has something else to say about the Edge of Chaos:

In the sciences in general, the phrase has come to refer to a metaphor that some physical, biological, economic and social systems operate in a region between order and either complete randomness or chaos, where the complexity is maximal. The generality and significance of the idea, however, has since been called into question by Melanie Mitchell and others. The phrase has also been borrowed by the business community and is sometimes used inappropriately and in contexts that are far from the original scope of the meaning of the term.

Geraldi defines the Edge of Chaos as a match between complexity and flexibility.  Complexity can either be located within faith or facts. Flexibility, on the other hand, is either high or low, whilst it is measured along the dimensions of scope + goals, processes + tools, and roles + staffing. Geraldi argues that only two of these archetypes represent a fit (highlighted below):

Complexity Faith Bureaucratisation of Chaos Creative Reflective
Fact Mechanic-Structured Chaotification of order
Low High

A comprehensive model for selecting information system project under fuzzy environment (Chen & Cheng, in press)

Dienstag, Oktober 7th, 2008

A comprehensive model for selecting information system project under fuzzy environment (Chen & Cheng, in press)Chen, Chen-Tung; Cheng, Hui-Ling: A comprehensive model for selecting information system project under fuzzy environment; in: International Journal of Project Management, in press.doi:10.1016/j.ijproman.2008.04.001Update: this article has been published in:  International Journal of Project Management Vol. 27 (2009), No. 4, pp. 389–399.Upfront management is an ever growing body of research and currently develops into it’s own profession. In this article Chen & Cheng propose a model for the optimal IT project portfolio selection. They outline a seven step process from the IT/IS/ITC project proposal to the enterprise success

  1. IS/IT/ITC project proposal
  2. Project type classification
  3. Individual project analysis
  4. Optimal portfolio selection
  5. Portfolio adjustment
  6. Successfully selection
  7. Enterprise success

Behind the process are three different types of selection methods and tools – (1) crisp selection, (2) strategy development, and (3) fuzzy selection.The crisp selection is the first step in the project evaluation activities. It consists of different factual financial analyses, e.g. analysis of discounted cash flow, cost-benefits, total investment, payback period, and the return on investment.Strategy development is the step after the crisp selection, whilst it also impacts the first selection step by setting guidelines on how to evaluate the project crisply. Strategy development consists of a project strategic status analysis. According to Chen & Cheng’s framework a project falls in one of four categories – strategic, turnaround, factory, or support.The last step is the fuzzy selection. In this step typical qualitative characteristics of a project are evaluated, e.g., risk, feasibility, suitability, and productivity improvements. In this step lies the novelty of Chen & Cheng’s approach. They let the evaluators assign a linguistic variable for rating, e.g., from good to poor. Then each variable is translated into a numerical value, e.g., poor = 0, good = 10. As such, every evaluator produces a vector of ratings for each project, e.g., (0;5;7;2) – vector length depends on the number of characteristics evaluated. These vectors are then aggregated and normalised.[The article also covers an in-depth numerical example for this proposed method.]

Organisational control in programme teams – An empirical study in change programme context (Nieminen & Lehtonen, 2008)

Freitag, Oktober 3rd, 2008

 Organisational control in programme teams - An empirical study in change programme context

Nieminen, Anu; Lehtonen, Mikko: Organisational control in programme teams – An empirical study in change programme context; in: International Journal of Project Management, Vol. 26 (2008), No. 1, pp. 63-72.

Nieminen & Lehtonen search for control mechanisms and modes in organisational change programmes. Therefore the authors investigated four cases of organisational change programmes with a significant share of IT in them. Overall they identified 23 control mechanisms, which are used complimentary rather than exclusively.

The identified control mechanisms fall into three basic categories – (1) Bureaucratic Control, (2) Clan Control, and (3) Self Control. For each of these Nieminen & Lehtonen describe the focus, basis, and mechanisms of control.

Bureaucratic Control focuses on performance, i.e., behaviour, and outcomes, i.e., results and actions. The basis of bureaucratic control are rules and surveillance. Mechanisms typically employed are boundary and diagnostic mechanisms.

Clan Control focusses on socialisation, i.e., values, attitudes, and beliefs. The basis of clan control are interactions, values, and norms. Mechanisms typically employed are belief mechanisms, interactive mechanisms, and team control.

Self Control focusses on self-regulation, i.e., own actions vs. perceived organisational goals. It is based on self-monitoring and typically useses autonomoy as control mechanism.

In their empirical study Nieminen & Lehtonen find that a broad mix of control mechanisms is found in any programme, though significant differences exist between programmes. Furthermore the level of self-control seems to be positively related to other control mechanisms. Lastely the authors show that the physical environment strongly impacts the control mechanisms.

In their managerial implications Nieminen & Lehtonen conclude, that although ease of implementation is lowest for bureaucratic control – environments with ambigous goals need mechanisms of clan- and self-control.

The effectiveness in managing a group of multiple projects: Factors of influence and measurement criteria (Patanakul & Milosevic, in press)

Freitag, Oktober 3rd, 2008

The effectiveness in managing a group of multiple projects: Factors of influence and measurement criteria (Patanakul & Milosevic, in press)Patanakul, Peerasit; Milosevic, Dragan: The effectiveness in managing a group of multiple projects: Factors of influence and measurement criteria; in: International Journal of Project Management, in press, corrected proof. This article has been published inInternational Journal of Project Management, Vol. 27 (2009), pp. 216–233. Multi-project management. I covered a similar topic yesterday looking at it from a Complexity Theory viewpoint. The authors argue that multi-project management is increasingly used in the industry mainly for reasons of better utilisation. [Having worked as a multi-project manager for marketing projects back in the old days, I don’t know if that is really true. My projects always culminated in a week with crazy workload, followed by dry spells, where I bored myself to death.]Patanakul & Milosevic analyse the critical success factors for managing multi-projects from a ‚bundle of projects‘-perspective, i.e., by interviewing a multi-project manager and his/her supervisor. Thus they build six case studies of organisations using multi-project-management. Accordingly the authors define multi-project as the middle state in the project continuum, where single projects are on one end, and programmes are on the other end of the scale.What do Patankul & Milosevic find? The antecedents of multi-project management effectiveness are

  • Organisational field
    • Project assignments
      • Projects‘ strategic importance
      • Required fit to managers‘ competencies
      • Organisational & personal limitations
    • Resource allocation
      • Sufficient resource allocation
      • Sustainable resource allocation
    • Organisational culture
      • Commitment
      • Communication
      • Teamwork
      • Rewards
  • Operational field
    • Project management processes
      • Individual processes
      • Inter-project processes
      • Interdependency management
    • Competencies of the multi-project manager
      • Competencies for leading individual projects
      • Competencies for coordinating between projects

Finally the authors identify the consequences of multi-project management effectiveness as

  • Organisation
    • Resource productivity
    • Organisational learning
  • Project
    • Time-to-Market
    • Customer satisfaction
  • Personal
    • Personal growth
    • Personal satisfaction