What everyone needs to know about project management

A pattern language for project management

Christopher Alexander's fruitful approach to architecture explains what it takes to create a house or other building that works for the people in it. He identifies the fundamental problems that every designer must resolve when creating a space that works. Program designers, inspired by his work have identified patterns for programming. Simple Project Management similarly defines patterns for project management that address the fundamental issues that every project manager faces and provide a structure that shapes all of the project manager's activities into a coherent and effective whole. (See www.SimpleProjectManagement.com for more information.)

Christopher Alexander noticed that some rooms are more effective than others. He set out to discover why and developed a remarkable approach to architecture that explained in simple language what we have always known (at some level) but couldn't express. He discovered that great buildings, wonderful rooms, comfortable window seats, and lively plazas don't have to happen by accident. They can be created.

Some rooms really are better than others. Alexander demonstrates that the differences are not a matter of individual preference, but are profound indicators that we are shaped by the buildings we live and work in. For example, think about the rooms you have loved to be in. It is certain that most of your favorite rooms have had natural lighting from two or more sides. If this is the common human experience, and it is for everyone I have asked, then why are most rooms built with windows on at most one wall?

Each of Christopher Alexander's patterns describes one of the challenges that the designer or architect must face and then explains how to create an effective solution. It is not enough to solve just one problem though, the design must at the same time solve all of the relevant problems. By overlaying the patterns, by applying several at the same time, the designer can create solutions that are profoundly effective.

Simple Project Management identifies the twelve major challenges that face all project teams. For example, every project must face the challenge of defining what it is trying to accomplish. It must draw a line that separates the work it will take on from the work that it won't. In a word, it must define a scope.

The Simple Project Management book explains what scope is, why it must be defined, and then explains the steps that must be followed in order to solve problems of scope. In our workshops and coaching sessions we demonstrate how to apply the essentials of the scope pattern to real life project management situations.

Christopher Alexander explains that patterns do not define the solution. Instead they define the characteristics that are required for a solution to be effective. Rooms do not have to have the same shape. The windows do not have to be positioned in exactly the same place. They don't have to be made of the same materials. There is no "one-size-fits-all" room design. But most rooms, unless there is a compelling reason otherwise, will be more effective with natural lighting on two sides. There is a reason why corner offices are preferred.

Similarly, there is no detailed scope procedure that fits all circumstances. There is no perfect form or template that is the right one for all projects. The Scope Pattern explains that scope must be written down (with rare exceptions). It explains what must be done to manage scope over time and how to make sure that the scope will satisfy the objectives of the project originators.

The twelve project management patterns, like Christopher Alexander's architectural patterns, are applied in combinations. In each meeting, for example, the project manager will take actions to manage the scope. At the same time, the project manager will work to manage the customer relationship -- not as two separate tasks or two separate conversations. The manager will shape the meeting to satisfy both patterns at the same time.

In his book, A Pattern Language, Christopher Alexander describes patterns that address the positioning of houses, the layout of rooms, and down to the details of window construction. Simple Project Management, in addition to the twelve major patterns, provides smaller patterns on how to handle common problems, including a pattern for how to handle the customer or manager who insists on an unrealistic target date.

While Christopher Alexander has identified hundreds of architectural patterns, he says there are many more that could be developed. If you have a project management pattern that you would like to share with other visitors to this web site, please contact us.

You may find it interesting to discover how many project management patterns are provided in the book. There are more than it might appear at first glance. Good hunting!