Project Management

Baking Principles

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Categories: PMI, standards


By Mike Frenette, PMI Standards Member Advisory Group

PMI is about to update The Standard for Project Management in a major way, and a key change is that the standard will become principle based. One might say they are baking principles into standards. So, what does this mean?

Everyone enjoys a tasty, well-baked piece of cake, don’t they? I am no chef, but during my youth, my mother took it upon herself to teach me a few things about baking, such as:

  1. Bring the oven up to heat at the beginning so it will be the right temperature when you are ready to put something in it.
  2. Recipes are for guidance only – what is more important is that everything is the right consistency, which you can only learn from experience.
  3. Once you put something in the oven, avoid opening the oven door so you don’t lose the heat
  4. Avoid banging around or dropping things in the kitchen so your half-baked cake doesn’t fall.

By now, many of you are probably wondering why I am talking about baking cakes in a forum for project professionals. Let’s think about what it means when we label a statement a principle. 

A principle is usually defined as a statement of:

  • moral or ethical value;
  • agreed conduct; or,
  • an underlying law or assumption

Elements of each of these are present in PMI’s use of the word “principle,” but the third is the dominant concept. Therefore, PMI’s guiding definition of a principle is:  A statement that captures and summarizes a generally accepted objective for the practice of the disciplines and functions of portfolio, program, and project management.

If we look at the cake-baking list above, and try to convert each to a principle, we might come up with something like this:

  1. Match the oven temperature to the type of cake
  2. Tailor the recipe for the desired outcome
  3. Retain oven temperature during baking
  4. Ensure a vibration-free environment

So how does this apply to PMI standards?

When standards are developed, the applicable principles must first be laid out. Just as the rails in a bowling alley for beginners avoids balls rolling into the gutters, principles define the boundaries of the standard. The development of principles up front lets those with a stake in the standard agree to the underlying principles before work begins. For example, some might state a principle as “Never spend a lot of your client’s money”. Others might argue that there are times when it is important to spend “a lot” of money to ensure project success, and so the principle might become “Spend only as much of your client’s money as is necessary to ensure project objectives are met.”

Some PMI standards are already principle-based. For example, the recently released Benefits Realization Management: A Practice Guide lists principles, such as:

  • Net benefits justify the use of invested resources
  • Benefits realization is holistically planned and managed

The Standard for Risk Management principles include:

  • Strive for excellence in the practice of risk management
  • Align risk management with the organizational strategy and governance practices

You probably noticed that some of these principles can apply across several standards. For example, one might argue that you should strive for excellence in any discipline related to managing a project  just as one could say that bringing the oven to the correct temperature probably applies to any recipe that calls for something to be baked in an oven.

So, today we are learning about the principles of baking a cake. Next, maybe it will be the principles of riding a bike – or not.

Your comments are most welcome, but please refrain from complaining about cake failures based on my decades-old, perhaps incorrect, memories of my dear Mom’s cake mentoring.

There – standards principles explained. It was a piece of cake!

Stay tuned to The Critical Path blog for further updates as we continue this journey.

Posted by Marjorie Anderson on: August 28, 2019 12:23 PM | Permalink

Comments (22)

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Mario Coquillat Project, Program and Portfolio consultant, mentor and trainer| CoquillatPM San Pedro Del Pinatar, Murcia, Spain
Nice approach for new standards! It´s better than process-based in the current world we´re living.

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Dr. Paul D. Giammalvo Sr. Technical Advisor| PTMC/APMX Jakarta Selatan, Indonesia
Speaking as a life long practitioner coming from a background in construction project management, with 50 years of experience "initiating, planning, executing, controlling and closing" projects where my own money is on the line if the projects "succeed" or "fail" I think this move to a principle-based body of knowledge is a pipe dream.

Cake baking examples notwithstanding can ANYONE think of a REAL LIFE PRINCIPLE that applies ONLY to project management that does not apply to MANAGEMENT IN GENERAL?

Has anyone from PMI bothered to research the work of Fayol or Gantt or Clarence "Kelly" Johnson, Peter Drucker or Deming? Or the work of Gillette and Dana from 1909 "Cost Keeping and Management Engineering: A Treatise for Engineers, Contractors and Superintendents Engaged in the Management of Engineering Construction" https://books.google.co.id/books?redir_esc=y&id=zO-ADudj-R8C&focus

Folks, we need to do a reality check here. Humans have been "initiating, planning, executing, controlling and closing projects in construction, entertainment and new product development sectors for 6000 years.

In that time, SURELY we have or at least should have learned WHAT to do and HOW to go about doing it so the project finishes on time and within budget and deliver what was promised?

There is no shortage of sound research showing us HOW or WHY projects fail, having been identified by Glenn Butts (NASA) over 10 years ago https://is.gd/Mzo3rz and Bent Flyvbjerg (Oxford) http://bit.ly/2wDnh4e; http://bit.ly/2eEugA2 and http://bit.ly/1ly0JDu and EC Harris/Arcadis Annual Construction Dispute Review- https://is.gd/giiuW8

Instead of trying to come up with a principle-based approach (which has already been done by Fayol, Johnson, Drucker and Deming to name but a few) why not focus on getting the practice of project management to be automated by first focusing on fixing what is BROKEN? Those "root causes" that we know are causing projects today to consistently run late, over budget and not delivering the "benefits" for which they were undertaken to produce? Doesn't that make more sense than trying to "discover" principles that are nothing more than "applied common sense" and apply to ALL management?

Another thought for those creating this document. Given that "agile" or "Agile" is nothing more than a rebranding of the Scientific Method dating back to the 12th Century, https://is.gd/CeRhim how about if when you design the 7th Edition, you do so in a way that meets or fulfills the 5 Characteristics of the Scientific Method? https://is.gd/or7fBF (Five key descriptors for the scientific method are: empirical, replicable, provisional, objective and systematic.)

While I think this project is doomed from the start, before you get too invested in what I think is going to lead you up blind alley, why not consider what the Guild of Project Controls has done, taking a "Lego Block" approach by defining those "best tested and proven" practices that we KNOW for a fact work and configuring those as Lego Blocks so they fit together, then allowing people to build their own "fit for purpose" process map using whichever Lego Blocks they need? https://is.gd/cwMLwV Figure 8

Bottom line- I have very little respect for PMI but the fact remains they are the largest and certainly one of the most influential organizations representing the practice of project management and rather than see the organization cause more damage than they already have done, I'd rather make suggestions that will actually RAISE the image of who we are and what we do. How? By earning the trust and respect of the consuming public. And how do we to that? By consistently delivering projects on time, within the budget that substantially deliver the "benefits" or "value" they were undertaken to achieve.

BR,
Dr. PDG, Jakarta

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