This is the year of the language action perspective for project management. IGLC researchers have been exploring underlying theory of projects seriously for the last 7 years. The discussion appeared to be reaching a conclusion earlier this year with Glenn Ballard's and Lauri Koskela's paper, "Should project management be based on theories of economics or production?" for Building Research and Information. Greg Howell and I concluded that project management (in general) shouldn't be based on either. We wrote our paper to answer what should it be based on. Then, I invited Fernando Flores to speak to the IGLC. As it turned out, Greg ceded our time for presenting our paper to Fernando so he could speak longer. Our paper was not presented. I'll do my best to present it here.
What Should Project Management Be Based On?
I have to start any discussion off by saying how we understand projects.
Projects are unique undertakings of a group of people convened to fulfill a promise made by one person to a customer.
Construction projects are like software projects and class reunions when understood from the above definition. Those three types of projects are dissimilar, as well. But it is the similarity that guided our look at projects to allow us to reach our conclusions on the theory base for projects.
As we worked with LAP we began noticing our clients were able to dramatically improve the reliability of planning through the use of LPS.
Looking closely at what some people call the soft side of project management we saw that all projects are alike. All projects are performed by people. Those people do whatever it is they do in the attempt to satisfy some customer. While economics and production theories are relevant bases for making some decisions on some projects, all projects require that the project participants coordinate actions with others on the project. Noticing the universality of coordination of action first led us to the language action perspective (LAP).
As we worked with LAP we began noticing our clients were able to dramatically improve the reliability of planning, particularly as it is defined as percent of planned tasks completed (PPC). Using the Last Planner System® was the principal means for improving performance. However, we noticed some project teams only able to get so reliable. By looking closely at the planning failures we first uncovered the skill for making and securing reliable promises (M&SRP). As we continued to pay attention to planning failures we noticed what we termed the Two Great Wastes™: not listening and not speaking. Through our coaching people in the effective use of LPS, M&SRP, and avoiding the Two Great Wastes our clients made big gains in reliability. And then we noticed one more thing.
In spite of our clients' best intentions and best efforts things still went wrong that later we concluded were in the control of people on the project.
People would misunderstand what had been said just as they have been misunderstood when they spoke. That coupled with our always present blindness — we don't know what we don't know — and there is the chance for big breakdowns on projects.
The LAP allows us to both explain the behavior and results we observed and it has allowed us to produce far more effective results for our clients.
We were quite encouraged at IGLC-14. People repeatedly used LAP terminology to describe good practices and to explain how projects work. It is exactly the encouragement I needed to keep me writing my book. I've begun showing it to friends. I'm speaking about it at the end of next week. I'll share it with reader in a few weeks.