I saw a queen bumblebee the other day, the first one I have seen this year, scouting for somewhere to start a nest. That got me thinking about life cycles, and then – of course – project life cycles (that’s how my mind works!). You see lots of diagrams of project life cycles which suggest that work flows in a sequence something like – Define what you want to do, Plan how to do it, Execute the project work, then Learn the lessons so you carry out the next project even better. My experience suggests to me there are two big problems with that model.
First, there aren’t enough phases in it. Yes, a project begins with an idea and requires us to Define in broad terms how to turn that idea into a useful output. If it looks like the project would make sense, we Plan it in detail. But there a phase here that you never see in the textbooks but which is crucial. I call it Decision, where the people who matter release the money and resources to let serious work begin. It’s not a momentary event, it’s a phase, because it calls for persuasion, negotiation, compromise and more to get the decision makers where we want them, and that takes time. Next comes what I call Production, actually creating the physical product, service, organisational change, whatever that the project is about. Tied to that is another phase you never see discussed: Delivery. This is persuading the customer to accept the output we have created and letting us go home, which means building up the right positive attitude in their mind, and that also takes time. Last, what I call Progression – taking what we have learned forward to enhance our skills and expertise.
The second problem with a traditional life cycle model is that these phases do not run in series. They overlap. If Definition starts on day 1, so does Decision – for the project team has a selling job to do. They have to convince the decision makers to permit Planning to begin for a start. Once that decision is made, planning ramps up and continues right the way through to the end of the project, dealing with all the changes and challenges that inevitably come along the way. All through the planning of the baseline, the team are working on the decision makers to get the second big Decision – approval to start Production. And on the first day of Production, they are starting the second campaign to ensure that when the time comes, the customer will approve Delivery of the output. As for Progression, that too starts right at the beginning and runs right through and beyond the end of the actual project work, because there is no point waiting until day 300 to think about what you could have done better on day 1. See the diagram below to understand what I mean.
To hear about how this approach worked on a real project, pop across to my podcast at zavanak.com/the-project-life-cycle/ I just hope that bumblebee finds a perfect place for a nest.
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