Last month (September 2000) we were at a presentation where the speaker proudly presented the Hi-Tech products of his newly opened company. The products were really fascinating, but then the speaker, just by the way, described the planned development of the company as well as the problems they experienced with the coordination of different parts of the project, integration and configuration. In addition to the fact that he obviously needed a better understanding of the general concepts of project management, what they really lacked was an appropriate project life cycle or a project life cycle definition process (PLS process). This led me to ask myself the following question: Which PLS process is appropriate for this situation?
Can it be standardized? And is there one universal process model that fits all projects?
It is our opinion that just as we have successfully applied the WBSstructure to project products and to the work activities necessary for product realization, so we should apply the same concept to the project life cycle analysis process. Is there a PLShierarchy? Of course, many are inclined to say that it does not exist. But why do we need a PLS hierarchy at all? Because PLS offers a basis on which the goals we have set can be reached in a controlled way.
The genesis of PLS, in its basic form, can be found in the very name Project Management. The project has, by its very definition, a clearly defined beginning and end. And the essence of management is to plan before the realization starts. Therefore, the basic PLSse consists of four basic segments: Start, Planning, Realization and End. There can certainly be no objections to these basic observations? However, we can see on a daily basis how many project managers skip this last phase either due to lack of time, money or both, or that it is ingrained in the work culture of some companies to skip most of the start-up phase to reduce costs.
At the next level of decomposition, different phases can be identified which would include the already mentioned four but now under different names. In the construction industry we can hear names like: “Initiation, planning, implementation and delivery”. In the software industry, different terms are used, such as: “Idea origin, idea development, development and transition / integration”. But the general intention is the same and it is clear that the phases and the way they are managed, for example the degree to which cyclical models are applied, are highly dependent on the type of project and the degree of uncertainty prevailing in a particular industry. Each phase is expected to produce a certain result on the basis of which a decision can be made whether to continue with the further realization of the project. These key events are called “checkpoints,” or “decision points,” but their true purpose may be better described as “emergencies” – opportunities to stop the whole process if it doesn’t make good progress. And the third level of decomposition would consist of phases and activities and work tasks that would undoubtedly depend on the current circumstances in which the specific project is located. So the question is is there one universal model? At the most basic, highest and / or first level, the answer is yes. At the second level of decomposition, similarity can be found among projects of the same type, but at the level of activities, a properly done PLSse will probably never coincide with some other axes if the projects are very, very similar. You can look at it this way: There is a general agreement that wearing shoes is a good thing for most people and most of the time, but what size and type of shoes will be depends on the person and the environment.
Of course, some people will say that shoes do not have to be worn at all, but a project manager without PLS will still be in trouble. If you are managing a project, be sure to carefully consider and construct a process to define the project life cycle. Without it, you will undoubtedly have difficulty achieving the set goals. It is up to you to make the right decision.
Author: Max Wideman