I’ve really been enjoying reading the 3-part article by Larry Peterson “Living Projects” – having earned my stripes as a software development project manager I am well aware of the conflict between the theory and practise of planning and scheduling a project from start to finish and the realities of software development.
The development of the Agile method of project management was the software developers’ response to years of being forced into a waterfall method for their projects, and I have much sympathy for them (having been one for many years myself).
But methods such as Agile are something different from what Larry is advocating when he refers to Living Projects. His view is that projects should be “organic” – not exactly to have a life of their own but to be able to grow, develop and evolve for success in the same way as living species.
Many complex projects involve a cultural change as well as new systems, services or products and when changes are required to how we have always done things, or viewed things, it is almost impossible to predict how that should happen in advance. It might involve establishing new working relationships, or altering existing ones, and those affected may be resistant to the change.
But as a complex project progresses it becomes easier to see how solutions can be found for the changes that personally affect people. So a project that is adaptable and can grow and develop over time will lead to a more successful outcome.
And just as young livings beings (animals and humans) make mistakes, learn and grow into more successful adults so projects (given the funding and support) should be allowed to make mistakes to come out at the end with a better result. Instead, in business, mistakes are usually seen as failure rather than an opportunity to learn and improve.
If the stakeholders and project manager do have the foresight to understand that mistakes can be a route to growing, developing and improving, then those involved in a project must also have the commitment and ability to respond in an agile way to changes in the project environment (more about Agile next time). Then a project can be invested with vitality and achieve genuine success.
It seems that focusing on the successes of the past to learn and grow, just as living systems do, is more beneficial to the outcome of a project than focusing on the mistakes and problems, which only leads to a culture of blame. So maybe if more of us viewed our projects as living organisms then the successful evolution of project management might be more assured.