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Life is a Project: Project Management as an Enabling Life Skill

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Author: Neil Robinson

Life is one big project. The trick is in managing it” (Maylor, 2010). When we speak of Project Management, we are inevitably envisaging the management of business projects which may occur across a multitude of commercial and social organisations.

We define a project as “a unique, transient endeavour undertaken to achieve planned objectives” (Association for Project Management [APM], 2012). And we embrace the concept of a positive business case as the sine qua non to justify proceeding. In the business world, we readily adopt this structured and logical approach to articulating our strategic goals, defining the benefits we seek to realise, calculating the costs, evaluating our options and appraising our risks along the way (APM, 2017). We have skilled and experienced Project Management practitioners capable of guiding these business projects through to completion, navigating the constraints of scope, time, cost and quality.

In Maylor’s musings we have a radical departure from this mainstream view. Here we have the concept of Life being viewed as a series of related tasks which can be planned and managed as “one big project”. Is it a valid view? In the sense that Life is temporary, unique and has a purpose, Maylor’s quotation is valid. In theory, the tools, techniques and skills of project management can be applied with equal efficacy to any endeavour that meets the project criteria of temporariness, uniqueness and purpose, including “life projects”. This mindset is the driving force at the heart of growing interest, in the Project Management world, in a concept which may be loosely termed “project skills for life”.  Academic studies have begun to explore the potential developmental and social benefits of teaching project skills to children via “project-based learning” in the classroom. But, by and large, the concept remains a new frontier, of interest mostly to charitable organisations and intrinsically motivated volunteers.

During 2016, one such volunteer-led “project skills for life” initiative was devised to explore the feasibility and potential socio-cultural benefits of empowering an “at-risk” community group, in this case ESL (English as a Second Language) migrants in the process of cross-cultural transition, with a basic set of project management “skills for life”. The “Life is a Project” (LIAP) initiative was conducted in Ealing, West London, as a series of weekly project skills workshops, deliver to a small group of ESL participants, in a zero-cost community venue, over a five-week period. A basic curriculum was developed to introduce the concept of a project-based approach to life-task planning and achievement. Language-graded, visual training materials were developed to demonstrate a simple, five step Imagine-Plan-Do-Check-Achieve project life-cycle approach to the pursuit of life goals.  During the workshops, fundamental concepts of project management, tools and techniques were reinforced with practical “life project” applications defined by participants.  The programme culminated in the planning and delivery of a community-based project – a fund-raising “Refu-tea” party in support of the British Refugee Council.

The LIAP initiative proved the concept that a “demystified” set of project management skills, tools and techniques can be shared successfully with the wider community. LIAP participants embraced these new skills enthusiastically, participating actively in team-based activities and developing their own personal life project plans. In one exceptional instance, the participant pursued her workshop project through to the real-life launch of her business concept.

The exciting outcomes of the LIAP initiative inspired further academic research into the nuances of cross-cultural transitions and the potential of project management “lite” as an enabling life skill. A cross-discipline literature search on theories and case studies of cross-cultural adaptation, migration, project-based learning and skills for life training culminated in the production of a novel academic research paper “Life is a Project: Project Management as an Enabling Life Skill”. This paper has recently been awarded the PMIEF 2017 James R. Snyder International Student Paper of the Year Award for the EMEA region.

What’s next for LIAP?

The 2016 LIAP London endeavour was, in effect, a proof-of-concept. There was initially very little organisational, logistical, or financial support for or interest in the concept from business, professional, government, charitable or social organisations. Now that the validity and potential of the concept has been proven, recognised and awarded, it’s hoped that these bodies will step forward with ideas for further collaboration and exploration of the idea. Moreover it’s hoped that the LIAP initiative provides a source of inspiration for other practitioners to take the plunge and follow through on their thoughts and ideas in the realm of “social good” and opening doors for others.

References

Association for Project Management. (2012). APM body of knowledge. (Sixth ed.). Retrieved September 4, 2016, from http://knowledge.apm.org.uk/bok/project-management#project

Association for Project Management. (2017). Business Case. Retrieved June 28, 2017, from https://www.apm.org.uk/body-of-knowledge/delivery/integrative-management/business-case/

Maylor, H. (2010). Project management (4th ed.). Harlow: Financial Times Prentice Hall.

- Author of this post

Reinhard Wagner has been active for more than 30 years in the field of project- related leadership, in such diverse sectors as Air Defence, Automotive Engineering, and Machinery, as well as various not-for-profit organizations. As a Certified Projects Director (IPMA Level A), he has proven experience in managing projects, programmes and project portfolios in complex and dynamic contexts. He is also an IPMA Certified Programme and Portfolio Management Consultant, and as such supports senior executives in developing and improving their organizational competence in managing projects. For more than 15 years, he has been actively involved in the development of project, programme and portfolio management standards, for example as Convenor of the ISO 21500 “Guidance on Project Management” and the ISO 21503 “Guidance on Programme Management”. Reinhard Wagner is President of IPMA, past President and Honorary Fellow of GPM (the German Project Management Association), as well as Managing Director of Tiba Managementberatung GmbH, Germany´s No. 1 PM Full Service Provider.

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