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Projects are becoming a way of life for people at work. As a methodology for getting things done, formal project management is taking root in more and more organisations. 40 years ago big, risky, defence and construction projects spurred the development of more rigorous planning and control methodologies. Over the past 20 years, information systems and technology have extended the discipline. These kinds of projects fit well with the notions of teamwork to achieve delivery of specified products to time, cost and quality. The image of a project manager was of a professional with a commercial and engineering mentality and discipline who finds it second nature to apply logic and linear thinking to plan, organise and control work. Now the discipline of project management is being applied to a greater range of work such as the development of strategy and policy, new product and service development, and organisational change. It is also being take up by those with much broader backgrounds.

However many organisations seem slow to embrace the disciplines of project management to secure delivery. This may be down to culture, and the prevailing mentalities and skills of those in senior positions. At one extreme, work is defined in project terms and a project leader appointed, while the conventions of project management are ignored. Another extreme is the organisation where even the mention of project management raises immediate rejection.

In part, project management is the source of its own bad press. To many, project management brings to mind interminable levels of planning, documentation, governance and increasing overhead. The endless lists that characterise project management books, articles and manuals fuel this apprehension. There is the belief, too, that the so-called softer areas of organisation change and its political processes are simply not conducive to mechanistic input and output analysis or “engineered change”. And in the more creative quarters, there is a fear that project management’s organised approach to work can only stifle any potential for innovation.

It is in the nature of our work as organisational consultants to focus on what makes projects succeed, and what prevent progress, and to apply techniques that bring maximum benefit and impact to a project in the immediate and the long term. We have written this book on the back of our experience as consultants, project managers and consultants to projects. We have written for those who are looking to be helped but not swamped.

The book is based on certain assumptions about you, the reader. We assume that you have an interest or responsibility for delivering a project that is about change. You have to engage the support of people over whom you have no direct control. Your project may be at the front end of change, for example the development of strategy and policy, or the design of new services. It could be focussed on the implementation of changes already agreed at the highest level, for example implementing a new service or new organisation. The project could be part of an MBA or to get a professional certification. Your project is not likely to be focussed on capital investment although capital issues may be a part of what you need to manage. We also assume that you will not have had much in the way of formal project management training.

Our aim is to help you extract from the general field of project management those elements that really fit your need. We concentrate on the relationship between change and project management given that so many projects are concerned either directly or indirectly with changing the ways in which people behave and perform. We also have a particular interest in the people aspects of project management because it is the area which produces so many problems in project work.

The characteristics of change projects throw up real dilemmas for project managers. Significant change causes turbulence. It tests commitment and resolve. It requires pace and momentum. Well meaning project managers can become quickly frustrated by lack of clarity on objectives, on what approach to adopt, and on the failure of people to commit. We take the view that project managers can proactively manage these issues and that the skills to do so can become part of their key competencies.

Our chapters address key issues within project management and provide pointers on what to do. We base our work on research and our own experience. In particular we emphasise clear, up front thinking on the purpose of the project and its intended benefits, the detail of what needs to be delivered within the project and all the required activities. This is what you expect in a book on project management. But we explore more fully than most books, the skills of process thinking, contracting with clients and sponsors and how to factor in change management methods in a structured, conscious way. As good management practice feeds good project management, the reverse is also true. Most of these concepts will work for you beyond the project context and we expect you to derive broad benefit from our approach.

The structure of the book is important. We want to differentiate between those elements that we consider the Core parts of the discipline of project management irrespective of the size and complexity of the work, and those elements that come into play with the larger more demanding ventures.

There is a chapter on each of these themes, written to assist you in developing your own approach. Each chapter begins with a summary of how we hope it will help you. We draw upon theory but also make reference to case studies that come from our experience of working with clients. Each chapter finishes with some questions to help you think through your project and plan what to do next. Each chapter stands alone but cross references are made because, despite the sequential nature of project work, you will always find you have to manage more than one process at the same time.

As you read this book you may be come aware of some management thinkers and consultants who over the years have had some profound impact on the ways in which we operate as project managers and change consultants. We would particularly like to single out Peter Block (for his work on developing partnerships with clients and how to contract successfully), William Bridges (for his work on change management), Meredith Belbin (for his work on team effectiveness), Edgar Schein on group processes, and Charles Kepner and Ben Tregoe for their work on group problem solving, decision making and planning.

We acknowledge with thanks their work and others and provide an additional reading list at the end for those of you who wish to pursue issues further.

Our contribution is meant to complement the formal and traditional project management approach enshrined by particular methodologies such as Prince 2. Moreover there are innumerable project management tools and techniques already covered by other books and training materials; for example the use of critical path analysis in planning. We do not seek to replicate these aspects.

We hope that you will find the material easy to follow and useful. We also hope that you might wish to provide us with your views and suggestions on how we could improve the work, and we invite you to do so.