Designer projects

Hmmm… would my project look best in Chanel or Hilfiger?

Actually that’s not what I mean. I’ve been reading The Genius of Design by Penny Sparke. I like to take one concept (in this case the design of physical objects) and apply it to another field that on the face of it isn’t related at all – the abstract concept of a “project”.

One core concept from the book is the separation of the act of design from the act of construction. What had previously been executed simultaneously by an artisan was now separated. Where we are at the moment in project management is the artisan stage. Yes, Project Management Offices try to bring some kind of order to the individualism of project managers but the requirements that enable division of labour have not yet been met. The design of a project cannot easily be separated from the project manager. This is not the same as having one person plan the project and having another person manage it – the latter will pick and choose what they keep through necessity. So, the design of the project must be able to withstand the shocks and bumps where the ship of management dreams is facing the rocks of reality.

It struck me that the weak-point is that currently within the vague realm of “planning” the design of the project is implicit. Some things aren’t so hidden such as the communications plan but other things are mixed-in with the details of how the product of the project is going to be created i.e. they are too implementation-specific.

The problem with implicity (or is it implicitness?) is that things tend to happen without thought. Luck starts to overtake judgement in the way that the project functions. Also the design of the project is hard to review as a singular entity and that makes it harder to evaluate whether the project is going to “work”. I think that it is important to be able to view the project as a designed mechanism rather than a collection of processes thrown in a box.

Apart from having a nice clean concept of the project in the project manager’s head and the project documentation, the benefit of having an explicit design would be that it is easier to communicate to the team and stakeholders so that they understand how the project is going to work and where they fit into that.

What I would like to see is a generalized design that can be re-used for different projects e.g. the weekly cycle is already defined. Then it is a question of adding in the project-specific layer. This is not the same as adapting the plans from previous projects. There should also be reduced risk of missing important items.

More thoughts on this as the concept solidifies. However it’s not just an intellectual exercise. What I want is to have a standardized design that I can apply to all my projects so that set-up is swifter and it is possible to predict a level of performance.


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