No project is an island

A project as “Time-bound intended change

I am attempting to find a way to link projects across a wider (the widest possible) spectrum of application. To include projects from more than just the organisational and commercial parameters we generally have in mind. How often have project discussion found their respective experts at cross-purposes when in open dialogue? It cannot just be me that falls into that trap regularly on LinkedIn.

But then, why stop there? What can we share from wider project thinking? My wife would tell you I was a “project” when we first met – she would also argue I have become others since. My garden overhaul was a project. Fad diets. Training for an event. My career steps. Each piece of coursework at university, they are called projects. We have projects of exploration, research, development, preservation, consolidation, reputation, persuasion. Projects intent on destruction, protection, isolation, and intervention. Malevolent and benevolent, inclusive or divisive, legal or illegal, reclaiming or defending. They can represent an ideology and span generations, be about control of resources, or boundaries, or races for glory or survival. Or they may be much briefer time spans of intended change – even if the change intended is simply halting what others will to be.

I am going to argue that everything we enact can fit within the framework of a project. That all we do as human beings is a project when it is “time-bounded intended change“. My motive is simple. I want to find that common link to all our interventions. And use that to add wider challenge to what it is we fail to see. “No project is an island”, (Mats Engwall 2003), and I believe even the projects we identify with are themselves containing, influencing, competing, and part of, many more.

If you can think of anything that sits beyond these parameters of a project as “time-bound intended change“, I really want to know.

A project. Definitions from wiser folk than me

I offer some of the best definitions that offer a more acknowledged view:

A unique, once-in-a-lifetime task; with a predetermined date of delivery; being subject to one or several performance goals (such as resource usage and quality); consisting of some complex and/or interdependent activities Packendorff (1995 pp320).

APMBoK pp44 provides further project specific definition as “Temporary Structures” or “Temporary Organisations”.

Matthew B Miles (1964) “On Temporary Systems”. In a letter of 1977, Miles reminds us of some key concepts and constructs from his 1964 work. This rejoinder is aimed at Goodman and Goodman who he felt had inadequately represented origins or context of the term. “I content myself with inviting the authors, and other readers, to examine the original discussion” (Miles, 1964), of such “temporary-system features as goal and role redefinition, the consequence of heightened communication for power equalization, and the development of norms … supporting authenticity, inquiry, change, and effortless as a predictable aspect of any time-limited system” (ibid)”.

Engwall (1992) offers a challenge to the isolated and unique considerations presumed in both characteristics and factors of success of temporary structures “this calls for an ontological change; instead of lonely and closed systems, projects have to be conceptualized as contextually-embedded open systems, open in time as well as in ‘space’” (Engwall 1992 pp790).

This is a direct lift from my dissertation of 2020, pp22. The references are well known, and choices were intentionally reflective of acknowledged subject matter experts. The title of this post must also be credited to Engwall 2003.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

Trust before truth

Toddler by the lake metaphor (trust, visibility, and behaviours)

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

Case Study 1 – PPP and me


via visibility, behaviour, and trust.

Late August 2021

A year ago, almost to the day, I stumbled across something rather interesting. At the height of the data analytics stage of my MSc dissertation, a final piece of a jigsaw revealed itself. Truth.

Having spent two solid weeks reviewing, categorising, and connecting interview text, this single axial category seemed to connect it all. A suggestion of the one factor that summed up all other categories I had found. Was it the “truth” of a project that alludes us all, and thereby causes us to fail? In reverse, it seems so obvious as to be self-evident. As such I was, and remain, suspicious of a self-fulling prophecy. Finding nothing more than an answer I had steered my enquiry towards, and thereby subconsciously hidden with an intention to find.

By some quirk of research serendipity, two ongoing enquiries in my headspace collided. First was my dissertation. It very nearly de-railed at this point. The analytics of Grounded Theory is a powerful weapon of qualitative analytics. I had self taught it, and I had not accounted for the mental summersaults it can demand. My fragile brain, and compulsive tendencies, had taken me close to my abyss. This reflects my second enquiry. My diagnosed exogenous depression and suicidal moments were only 13 months in memory (July 2019). Yet my mood at this moment was different. On London Bridge, I was emotionally flat-lining. Whereas now, I was emotionally high. This was over-stimulation, the less obvious opposite to life’s depressive pointlessness in my thoughts. Stimulation is a positive, but this was prolonged flow, and it was close to spiralling out of control.

My wife, and my therapist, were necessarily availed. By coincidence, they are both called Angela. And I needed both my angels to intervene. My project was consuming me, and outside assistance presented perspectives on my behaviour that I was too close to see. With less trust in myself, I instigated some changes:

  • My wife, Angela (one) was to watch me more closely.
  • More candid in communication from me i.e., critical attention towards my overzealous moods.
  • I was to report in more regularly with my therapist, Angela (two).
  • I was to report my dissertation findings to my supervisor, just to sense check all was well.
  • I was to report into my business associate and friend, to get an independent sense of my sense.

Being truthful to myself required a temporary change. The framework of my working environment, within which my dissertation project was housed, proved to be inadequate. Proof based upon the new information received, of external factors not accounted for or even known to exist. These resultant actions are intentionally categorise here as follows:

  • Visibility. Necessarily increased visibility of my emotional state by me; and additional assurance i.e., other assessments (in this case, of my behaviour).
  • Behaviours. A new governance framework to contain my behaviours better, which included the relinquish of a modicum of self-authorisation.
  • Trust. Deteriorating trust based upon past events. Regained by the proactive and open dialogue, and reinforced via adjustments to controls of visibility and behaviour.

I can describe this episode in such terms now. They are my three variables. My truth bearers. I now use them in determining the protection of the most fragile commodity in any project. Singular truth.

These actions enabled me to complete my MSc dissertation. Subconsciously, it seems self-evidence this experience offered insight in these terms described. But more than that, my dissertation was about this very subject, and these same categories had emerged from the Grounded Theory (GT) that had knocked me over. [GT is used to seek axial categories (code) to explain the variables of a phenomena. You are required to keep pushing until one category explains all others found]. Since my graduation with distinction (81% in my dissertation) in October 2020, I have been academically reading and professional consulting with this framework of project thinking to hand.

I continue to extensively sense-check the validity of the phenomenon I now hypothesise. That this same dynamic of visibility, behaviour, and trust, can be equated to any project truth. That everything we do as human beings can be described as a project, and critical project controls evaluated by these terms. With caution I also pose one more question. Could it be possible to assess a project’s likelihood of success, based upon the appropriateness of the control framework within which each project sits?

This is how “Projects | Within Projects” began. And an insight into how my life meaning now sits more at ease.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here: