Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Looking past "The End of the Beginning"


As project managers we think (and often dream) about the end of our projects. And what is that end?

It's the successful turn up of a computer network. Or, it's the availability of a new service. Or, perhaps it's the readiness of a new bridge, a new building, a new drug, a new electric toothbrush.

Do you note a pattern here?

When we're done, something else, usually something bigger, is starting.

We often limit our thinking as project managers to the lifecycle of our project and don't think enough about the lifecycle of the product of our projects. For those of you who weren't paying attention, that's the "bigger thing" that is enabled by your project.

This concept reminded me (or perhaps it's the other way around) of a book and movie which I've always enjoyed. Both the book and movie share the title, "The Discovery of Heaven". Do yourself a favor and rent this film or read the book. It's by famed Dutch author Harry Mulisch, and it's not known so well in the USA but is throughout Europe. Here's the trailer.

From wikipedia, here is the synopsis of the book:

The Discovery of Heaven tells the story of an angel-like being, who is ordered to return to Heaven the stone tablets containing the ten commandments, given to Moses by God, which symbolise in the book the link between Heaven and Earth. The divine being, however, cannot himself travel to Earth, and on several occasions in the book resorts to influencing events. He affects the personal lives of three people (two men and one woman) in order that a child will be conceived. This child would then have an innate desire to seek out and return the Tablets.

The book consists of four parts (dubbed "The Beginning of the Beginning", "The End of the Beginning", "The Beginning of the End", and "The End of the End"). In between these four parts, the angel-like being discusses "The Plan" with his superior, who is supposedly an archangel.

The inspiration for the posting comes not from the religious theme of the book, but rather the way the book is organized:

  • The Beginning of the Beginning
  • The End of the Beginning
  • The Beginning of the End
  • The End of the End

Now back to project management and our way of thinking. We don't realize it when we plan our projects but we only work on the first two parts: The Beginning of the Beginning, where we Initiate and Plan the project, and The End of the Beginning, in which we execute, monitor and control, and close the project. We don't look ahead - often enough - to what happens in the "life and death" of the bridge, the building, the drug, the computer system - even the electric toothbrush.

And that brings me to Life Cycle Analysis, something my partner and I at EarthPM are asserting that we'd better start looking at as PMs - and not just for the very valid environmental reasons, but because it helps us understand the project, its product, and its products' customers more effectively.

I won't detail this here because it's something we'll be covering in our upcoming book, but I would like to reference you to the EPA (US Environmental Protection Agency) site that covers this. They provide an excellent set of PDF training on the subject.

Here's a link to the basic training page of the EPA. There's more, much more to be learned on this subject and we will be covering it in our upcoming book, but I wanted to share this with you here first. Learn more on EarthPM.com.

And go rent that movie!

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