Photo ©2014 Valerie Dionne
Maybe it’s because I was looking up at the sky, wondering if the Chinese satellite (Tiangong-1) would land on my house*. Maybe it’s just a lifelong fascination with space. Or maybe looking skyward is a proxy for the idea I’ve had trying to get ourselves as project managers to stop thinking “in the box” and through the end of their project, as well as around the project - to consider triple bottom line concerns. Maybe. But for whatever reason, an article in PM Journal caught my attention and I’m glad it did.
The article, Project Networks as Constellations for Value Creation by Markus Laursen (see citation below), talks about the idea of project networks – not the ones that have critical paths and float and dependencies, but the stakeholder-interaction sort of networks, the ones that we study in terms of ‘number of channels in a network of stakeholders is “N times N-1 all divided by 2”, where N is the number of stakeholders.
Laursen, with whom I chatted just today, says that he was aware that many people would think of the “Network” concept this way, so this is a learning moment – consider the communication connectivity network in your project – that’s what this article discusses. We’re talking about something that looks a little like the below:
This looks like a constellation, right? Thus the name for this sort of network drawing and the title of the article.
But alas, my focus was not on the heavens, but rather on the afterlife.
Yes, this is one of the terms Laursen uses in the article to deftly describe that portion of the project after it starts delivering value, after you as the PM have moved on to other projects. This is a main theme of this blog and one of the main things I am trying to convince project managers to do – to think of the project’s longer-term use and delivery of benefits, of value.
This is where the article really started to get my attention, because Laursen takes pains to point out that value is not only limited to immediate economic benefit. He says, “Knowing more about how value is created and how organizations act in value constellations has implications for how projects are managed,prepared, and handed over to operations.” And then, “It is especially interesting to explore non-financial effects and value, as focusing on these types of value may lead to better project performance also in terms of financial value”. He cites Martinsuo & Killen, see reference below, who have written on this very subject in detail. Their point (and you should read their article cited below) is summed up well with this extract:
We use the term strategic value as the key concept in this study, referring to ecological, social, health and safety, societal influence, learning and knowledge development, and longer term business value. Thus far, few studies have explicitly covered how strategic value should be assessed when managing a project portfolio. Some studies include synergy (Jonas et al., 2013; Teller et al., 2012; Voss & Kock, 2013), sustainability (Luchs et al., 2012), future preparedness (Meskendahl, 2010; Martinsuo & Poskela, 2011; Voss & Kock, 2013) and other related aspects as criteria for portfolio selection, balance or success; however, there is little guidance on practical project portfolio coordination and control mechanisms for promoting such values further.
The article has a great discussion, beyond the scope of this post, but worth reading, regarding the definition of value. Laursen correctly says that in PM, value is “a concept that is often understood as somewhat vague and is sometimes used interchangeably with words such as benefit, outcome, and worth. Indeed, I think I’m guilty of this in this very blog post. He uses this definition: value is the relation between benefits and costs. The key, then, is what sorts of benefits, for whom? Are the benefits only related to economics or do they consider ecological, social, and economic benefits?
Well, that’s what this blog has been asking PMs to do since 2011! It’s great to see that this is gaining ground in the technical journals. Next, in my humble opinion, we need to see this in the PMBOK® Guide itself, and also in the Program and Portfolio standards.
Projects do have an afterlife, and we can be stars as PMs if we look up and consider it in our planning. What will the project deliver? What side effects does its daily operation have? How can we provide more benefit and value for our customers and other stakeholders (like the Earth) by considering that afterlife in our planning?
Check it out. Things are looking up!
*this actually reminds me of the film “The Discovery of Heaven” in which [SPOILER ALERT!] one of the main characters, Max, an astronomer, is actually obliterated by a meteoroid because he has located Heaven and you’re just NOT SUPPOSED to do that…
So long, Max.
Cited articles from PM Journal:
Project Networks as Constellations for Value Creation - Laursen, M. (2018). Project Networks as Constellations for Value Creation. Project Management Journal, 49(2), 56–70
Value management in project portfolios: identifying and assessing strategic value. Martinsuo, M. & Killen, C. P. (2014). Project Management Journal, 45(5), 56–70. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/pmj.21452