Book Review: Reinventing Project Management

    By: PDMA Headquarters on Oct 04, 2013

    Book Review: Reinventing Project Management: The Diamond Approach to Successful Growth and Innovation 

    By: Aaron Shenhar and Dov DvirBoston : Harvard Business School Press , 2007 . 276+xii pages . 
    Review by: Gerald Mulenburg

    Book ImageReinventing Project Management looks at project management, and especially product development, through a new set of lenses that may make it a seminal work for the future. The authors provide a desperately needed depth of practical knowledge and understanding of product development and today's project management environment in which more projects fail than succeed (Standish Group International, Inc., 2007). The theme of the book is based on four critical dimensions relevant to projects—complexity, technology, novelty, and pace—that are inherently challenging to manage. The authors' research supporting the proposed model includes a wide range of different types of projects that illustrate the efficacy of the model's value and its flexibility. Projects researched range from super high-tech National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) missions and microwave ovens to financial software and animated movie projects and even to the Segway people mover, which is technically successful but yet to receive major acceptance in the marketplace.

    The book's premise is that today's organizational success depends on projects. As the authors state, “No business enterprise can survive if it is only focused on improving its operations. Projects are the engines that drive innovation [and] are also the drivers that make organizations better, stronger, and more efficient” (p. 4). They emphasize that projects are everyone's responsibility and that the ideas presented in the book are not just for those involved in or new to project management: “… The evidence suggests [that] failure is often found even in well-managed projects that are run by experienced managers and supported by highly regarded organizations” (p. 6). Think about the failed NASA Mars missions, the nonacceptance of the Segway people mover compared with the iPod, and the myriad public projects that exceeded schedules and budgets by orders of magnitude, many of which were eventually abandoned. It may be a hard pill for management to swallow, but, as the authors clearly state, “most project problems are not technical but managerial” (p. 7). It should be no surprise then that gaining management's understanding of the value of, and their involvement in, projects is a major focus of the book.

    The authors point out that a major reason many projects fail is the inability to identify the uncertainty and complexity involved when using traditional project management methods and tools. Traditional models, they say, work fine for projects that are well understood initially as to what is needed and how to achieve that need. In fact, for many projects, once a need is identified and a plan is made to address that need management takes a hands-off approach. The reason, therefore, that traditional project management models fail is a decoupling between projects and their business environment. This results in a gap between the organization's management and the project teams, which too often have a sketchy view of the true business purposes for a project. The authors emphasize the need for a new framework to evaluate projects early in their inception to identify where, as well as what, requires the major focus of attention. They meet that requirement through what they call the diamond approach.

    The diamond approach looks at the four dimensions of novelty, technology, complexity, and pace of a project. Novelty, as used by the authors, involves the uncertainty of the goal that is to be achieved and is an indicator of how clear or unclear the project goal and requirements are. Is the project about developing a new derivative, building upon an existing platform, or creating a breakthrough product or service? Technology describes the level of technological uncertainty involved and ranges from low to super high-tech. The complexity of a project, however, involves both the complexity of the product and of the organization involved, which is also described in the book. The measures of complexity range from an assembly of components to an array (i.e., a complex system of systems). Finally, pace is the urgency required for the project, or its time frame for completion. It is interesting to note that pace along with complexity are parts of the diamond approach model, and they are also part of the triple constraint model pervasive in traditional project management methodology (comprising cost, scope, and time) advocated by the Project Management Institute.

    When the four dimensions of the diamond model are drawn on a standard x–y set of axes, connecting the values of the four dimensions with straight lines forms a diamond-like figure. Complexity is drawn to the left from the origin where the x–y axes cross, and novelty is drawn to the right on the x axis. Technology extends upward from the origin and pace downward from the origin. Adding scale measures for each dimension provides a means to draw the appropriate diamond for any project. For example, starting from an identified point on the complexity axis and drawing a line from it to the appropriate points on the technology and pace vertical axes forms the left side of the diamond. Repeating this procedure from a point on the novelty axis to the two points on the vertical technology and pace axes forms the right side of the diamond. This visual image of a project allows all project stakeholders to view the project in the same way and to evaluate the importance of each of the diamond's four dimensions.

    The authors applied the diamond model to numerous completed and troubled projects and, using the insight provided by the diamond framework, found major discrepancies between how the projects were managed versus how they probably should have been managed. They describe their results in detail in the book, including both the projects' actual and recommended diamonds.

    After making the case for this new model of project management and describing the diamond framework to meet that need, the second part of the book provides details about each of the four dimensions in its own chapter. This gives readers the necessary background about each dimension to use in describing their own projects in the diamond format. Putting the diamond approach to work for both operational and strategic projects is covered in part three of the book with applications to business innovation in organizations and in the marketplace. Numerous examples and stepwise processes assist the reader in applying the straightforward techniques involved in using the diamond approach. The authors state that traditional project management is “focused on time, budget, and performance goals [and] has missed a key point: that projects are always put in place for business reasons” (p. 205). The final chapter discusses reinventing project management in organizations with ample guidance on accomplishing this. An extensive appendix describes the research methods and findings and is followed by a notes section identifying the sources cited in the book.

    Reinventing Project Management is a significant addition to the product development and project management literature and practice, with the four dimensions of the diamond framework seemingly intuitive but clearly supported by the authors' research. Of course, these four dimensions could easily be expanded to include other dimensions such as the remaining traditional triple-constraint dimensions of cost, scope, and quality. However, by their research findings, the authors show that misinterpreting the value of one or more of the factors of the diamond framework is often the primary cause of project failure. Anyone, from the highest levels of management to the lowliest of project managers, when faced with a challenging development project, will gain value from this book through a better understanding of the four dimensions of the diamond framework for evaluating the best approach for managing his or her project.

    Released: October 4, 2013, 8:35 am | Updated: November 20, 2013, 11:47 am
    Keywords: PDMA Blog

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