Peter Morris

A belated tribute to a great mind

I never met Peter Morris. I am saddened to read (a little belatedly) that that is now definitively so. UCL wrote a very nice tribute to honour his passing in September.

As a prolific writer of academic papers and collaborative authoring of project management books with fellow behemoths of the academic class in this space, his contribution was great – and probably timeless.

I would encourage everyone to Google Scholar PWG Morris. He was fearless in criticism when it was due, witty in rejoinder, and faithful to seeking better answers to perennial project problems to the last.

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:

The golden rule

One rule to unite us all

There is a single rule we can each apply in life. A single sentiment that, according to an accomplished historian of origins of beliefs and moral teachings, sits at the heart of all. The golden rule.

This blog offers a little compassion in response to today’s news headlines, all of which – to me at least – share nothing but despair. I introduce an author who has written extensively of this shared message from our past. She has traced it back to a time period of our shared history from which numerous great people found commonality of paths for humanity, in their own way, and from many corners of our shared world.

Origins of the Golden Rule

In 2006, Karen Armstrong, in her book, “The Great Transformation – the world in the time of Buddha, Socrates, Confucius, and Jeremiah“, presents a shared history. Or at least histories running parallel and toward a common truth. It is a book written with all the academic prowess and worldly grace one would expect of a historian of all religion. A historian whose own path was moved from vows of order to more direct intent upon spreading a compassionate message to us all.

The axial age (800-300 BCE)

This book remains focused upon the Axial Age. A remarkably pointed part of our shared history. When we, as a globally dispersed peoples, turned ourselves toward belief systems in ways we still hold as true today. This is a time span of five-hundred years from 800 to 300 BCE. A period that, in timeframe at least, connects faiths, fables, philosophies, and enlightened thought from around the world.

There is philosopher, mystic, and theologian, all represented as influencer, translator, or narrator toward this message. Socrates, the Buddha, Confucius, Lao Tzu, Jeremiah. All laying foundational stones as platforms of hope, wisdom, and compassion, whether in our science, our logic, or how we choose to believe, strive to know, or to pray. These wise people of old, the theologians, the philosophers but also in their teachings, fables, and their doctrines. All being shown to have this same sentiment at their core.

treat others as you would have others treat you

the golden rule

This one Golden Rule, she argues with some persuasion, presents a connection to all. Enabling a circle of disparate but shared history, happenstance, or necessary change, finding way to be reunited by this one rule that binds it all.

Our faltering project in the news today

I read this book again last night. I reflected upon it anew this morning. My reading of the news confirming we perhaps all awoke a little more suspicious of our neighbour. In Leigh-on-Sea, a servant of the people murdered whilst at his duty within his community (cf. BBC). In Kandahar, Islamic State claiming culpability for 47 Shia worshippers killed within the sanctity of their place of worship (cf. Sky News). A 16-year-old boy charged with murdering a boy of 18, on a playing field in south-west London (cf. BBC). In the US, a man expected to plead guilty next week to shooting dead seventeen school children and staff in a Florida school in 2018 – an action he forewarned and then committed when he was aged 19 (cf. Sky News). In other inquiry, an obstructive witness to the bombings in Manchester declining an invitation to aid inquiry, and now to be forced to take the stand next week (cf. BBC). The inquiry into the suicide of the former head of the Royal Marines in October 2020, confirms a firearm removed from his possession days before he was found to have hanged himself at his home (cf. BBC). The deadly game of cat and mouse between border patrols and people smugglers across the sea from Calais to Dover, reportedly seeing 1,835 people reaching UK in 2019, increasing to 18,720 so far in 2021 (cf. BBC citing Home Office statistics).

None of these headlines directly connected to each other. But all seemingly connect in other ways. Desperation, ill-will, them and us, all interfaces and division. All representing boundaries. Gaps between the lives of people. Divisions. Distance. Distant until by one will, such distance is shortened again. With the reality of one life foisted upon another. Thrust desperately, angrily, violently, with malice. Each an intended change to deny life itself.

It seems easy to have a lessened grip on our compassion at moments likes this.

Hope is alive in the Golden Rule

By whatever means or belief we each hold, Karen Armstrong’s message is clear. All of these paths of origin of belief contain the same message. From 800 BCE to today. All such circumstance leading to origins of axial revolution, she reflects upon as intending to lead us the same way.

In her book “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life” she captures the essence of this sentiment into modernity. In this contemporary examination of the Golden Rule, she writes:

“One of the chief tasks of our time must surely be to build a global community in which all peoples can live together in mutual respect; yet religion, which should be making a major contribution, is seen as part of the problem. All faiths insist that compassion is the test of true spirituality and that it brings us into relation with the transcendence we call God, Brahman, Nirvana, or Dao. Each has formulated its own version of what is sometimes called the Golden Rule, “Do not treat others as you would not like them to treat you,” or in its positive form, “Always treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself.” Further, they all insist that you cannot confine your benevolence to your own group; you must have concern for everybody — even your enemies.”

Karen Armstrong “Twelve Steps to a compassionate life”

A rule for every moral compass?

I consider my own moral compass to be well set, with or without a badge to label its form. My obedience to its wisdom perhaps not always honoured as closely as it might, but the sentiment of all teaching I have taken to be true seems suddenly connected to this singular truth. Do not treat others as you would not like them to treat you. That seems to me a worthy Golden Rule to hold us all. A Golden Rule to apply to all our intended change.

Perhaps the biggest of my own many faults is hubris. Or perhaps hypocrisy. Or therein both. I have neither the learning nor good sense to preside more carefully around these most emotive and divisive subjects. Karen Armstrong has many supporters but there are plenty learned people who would disagree. Secularists who deem her too apologetic. Academics who express despair at sentiment too far forgiving of intolerances the other way. Reference to well known polymath thinkers who openly hold views in opposition to her own.

I park myself well shy of the depths of intellect necessary to follow all thread of each alternative and no doubt valid perspective. What is clear to me however, is that some of the essence of this Golden Rule sits well within my own working hypothesis of visibility | behaviour | trust.

v | b | t

Visibility | b | t

We can seek to clarify our own intentions by this rule. See if those intentions would be welcome in reverse. We can look at the bigger projects we feed into and ask the same. Demand to see the visions of those that lead us, and see if the Golden Rule therein applies too.

v | behaviour | t

As with all behaviour there is need to have control. And this one rule sits as a centre-piece to them all. This is fairness. This is compassion. This is respect. These are the behaviours or at least intentions, attitudes, beliefs, that are informing our actions. Actions and motivations of ourselves and as a whole. This is to consider all our projects actors. All other projects to which we connect. And the world as its ultimate passive actor and its frame.

v | b | trust

Herein also is trust. Trust that ancestors in their suffering and sacrifice have held a future promise true. Trust that in all of us this rule can emerge. That from the past versions of us all to the here now, we are derived from those who walked this same path to that same destination. Whatever that destination is, it is one we arrive at together, or individually fall apart. Trust starts with this Golden Rule. It gives a purpose. It gives the justification for us each to be better. A Golden Rule that demands better of us all. By comparison, right now we have no trust. That is true in construction. I think it true at all scale of cooperation. We trust only that we cannot trust. We trust only that we are each selfish. Perhaps in time, we can trust each other to ensure that selfish is what we are not.

A single rule to connect all our projects

As we all scramble around a little today – and every new day that we are trying to find a thread of hope amidst so many headlines to divide us all – perhaps in this one rule we have a single golden thread that connects all humanity, all projects | within projects, that we can each remind ourselves applies always. And a check of ourselves, and all others. How we can each individually better hold to this self regulating control upon our behaviour. Ultimately, our one shared project’s Golden Rule.

treat others as you would have others treat you

So says the compassion in us all

To find out more about Karen Armstrong and her charter for compassion (click here)

To find out more about how I am attempting to connect this Golden Rule to our projects – and find better ways to connect our projects of mind to our projects of management – feel free to subscribe to my daily blog, as linked here.

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:

Flow

What is flow? Can we find it in our projects?

This blog summarises several accounts from academics in psychology and neuroscience on the subject of flow. To which I then add some context as I believe it can apply to projects and outlined using v | b | t.

the positive aspects of human experience – joy, creativity, the process of total involvement with life I call flow

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

This blog is prompted by an observation and a question asked of a correspondent friend on LinkedIn. Who posted a ponderance as to whether the feelings of flow has a place in more group activity. It is a question I have been pondering for a while. Others have been writing of it for decades.

First, I need to introduce the two scholars of note by summaries of their work I hereafter refer:

  • Mihaly Csikszentmihalyl
  • John Vervaeke

I begin with a summary of key matters on the phenomena of flow

—//—

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“Flow: the psychology of optimal experience.” (1990)

The book is written in ten chapters, of which I will offer some detail from chapter 4, “Conditions of flow”. For context the ten chapters read as follows:

  1. Happiness revisited
  2. The anatomy of consciousness
  3. Enjoyment and quality of life
  4. Conditions of flow
  5. The body in flow
  6. The flow of thought
  7. Work as flow
  8. Enjoying solitude and other people
  9. Cheating chaos
  10. The making of meaning

Chapter 4 – conditions of flow

Individual conditions to enable flow

pp71, Chapter 4, the Conditions of flow. The conditions within us to achieve flow are briefly summarised. The opening paragraph presents heightened concentration; lost self-consciousness; a sense that skill set is adequate in ability, relevant to task, and under control. Control in this context presented as a rule-bound action system with clear clues as to the quality of performance of task (ibid pp71). In flow, the activity becoming one performed for its own sake, in of itself the reason.

The autotelic personality

These personal traits or characteristics are what become referred to as the autotelic personality. Pp83 makes contrast to the autotelic personality, i.e., opposite traits are presented. These are traits of those of us unlikely or just incapable of flow. Reasoned by their inability to deny distractions from task focus. By one extreme, the schizophrenic’s curse of being compelled to take note of all feeling and need, without choice. By the other extreme, the excessively self-conscious person so concerned for their imagined appearance to others that the task itself cannot be central in attendance (ibid pp84). Both the inner compulsion or the outer more concern present a lacking of the “attentional fluidity needed to relate to activities for their own sake” (ibid pp85).

attentional fluidity needed to relate to activities for their own sake

What it is to be autotelic (Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi 1990 pp85)

Flow channel – between boredom and anxiety

In all cases of flow there is an expanded complexity to our conscious experience, not so much as to cause anxiety, but enough to overstep thresholds of predictability and boredom (ibid pp74). To which Csikszentmihalyi offers an idea of a flow channel where the levels of skill required are such as to keep us beyond boredom. These skills applied to challenge that is manageably difficult. i.e., presenting enough difficulty to be keep our interest but below a point that anxiety of the scale of challenge consumes our calm. By this 2D measure, an increasing challenge is needing of more skill, and vice-versa (pp74).

Situational conditions to enable flow

Next, the conditions of the activity are examined. pp72 flow activities are described as paramount reality being felt toward optimal experiences in everyday life. Therein pp72, citing Roger Caillois’ four categories of game play to outline a range of activity that can enable a state of flow:

  • Agon (competitive games);
  • Alea (games of chance);
  • ilinx (vertigo – situations that challenge balance or altered body need)
  • Mimicry (as anything altering the reality or context such as the arts)

Csikszentmihalyi is presenting each category as requiring us to expand the edges or boundary condition of one form of our ordinary perception. From the four categories stated these expansions are outlined as: elevating skills to meet those encountered of an opponent; elevating our sense of future focus; the shuffling of different sense perceptions or the altered focus of consciousness we perceive; or temporary transformation into something other than ourselves (ibid pp73).

Scaled up to societal levels

For Csikszentmihalyi, this is also more than a singular experience, reflecting upon flow at much greater scale. Outlined in terms of culture, nation, and therefore whole populations being more at one with a great task. These can be moments of great focus or adversity. Wars, building of great wonder, eras of great advancement, discovery, and change. The common theme being that the individual or the group is brought back to the moment. Less distracted by what else may otherwise demand our attention or want more of our time.

Contextual denying conditions (Anomie or alienation)

Structural impediments are also outlined. At sociological levels these are referenced as anomie (lack of rules) and alienation.

Anomie could arise from great upheaval where societal norms are lost or collective circumstance changes without clarity of what that now means. Periods of sudden mass wealth, mass poverty, or displacement, or falsification of truths, all equally able to remove any clarity on what is permitted and what is not.

Alienation being the opposite, as an overly constrained set of rules oppressively forced upon a people in ways that contravene their beliefs and goals (pp86).

These are sociological and therefore situational or contextual conditions for flow but structural conditions can also be considered as blocks to flow within each of us.

Personal denying conditions

Neuroscience and psychology are then revisited from pp86. Some people shown to have attentions towards concentration more than others. Cortical activations and “evoked potentials” from senses other than those being used in a task being more active and therefore more able to distract in some people, than others. Compared to the more able to concentrate more singularly on the task at hand.

Crucially, this was not deemed to be genetic or predisposed, but potentially a learned skill in of itself (pp88). By way of further examination Csikszentmihalyi then proceeds to consider the role family and early years learning can have on this learned phenomena in later life. Not however to deny us the potential for flow, but simply to have not presented environments where it is naturally able to be encouraged.

People of flow

The chapter concludes with a brief examination of examples of people who have achieved noteworthy outcomes attributable to flow.

Those people who faced up to moments or lives subjected to great ordeal but who not only survived but thrived by their experience. Richard Logan cited as finding a connection between such accounts as those who “found ways to turn bleak objective conditions into subjectively controllable experience.

Blueprint of flow activities

Here Csikszentmihalyi presents a common theme that connects them all.

“blueprint of flow activities.

[1] First, they paid close attention to the most minute details of their environment, discovering in it hidden opportunities for action that matched what little they were capable of doing, given the circumstances.

[2] Then they set goals appropriate to their precious situation, and closely monitored progress through the feedback they received.

[3] Whenever they reached their goal, they upped the ante, setting increasingly complex challenges for themselves.”

Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi 1990, pp90

To which he concludes with a uniting observation that the many examples of those incarcerated who find flow “even though the person is objectively a slave, subjectively [they] are free” (ibid pp92).

In wider survival stories where the adversity is the threat of the environment itself, this was similarly deemed most survivable by those applying themselves in manner akin to flow.

“intrinsically motivated by their actions, they are not easily disturbed by the external threat. With enough psychic energy free to observe and analyse their surroundings objectively, they have a better chance of discovering in them new opportunities for action. If we were to consider one trait a key element of autotelic personality, this might be it.

Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990) pp92

Chapter 4 concludes with a pithy reflection upon some being more naturally, or more fortunate in early learning, to be adept at managing themselves in this way. But also reflects upon how everyone can build their skills towards the goal of more flow, in body, in mind, in group or isolation, in work and in play. Ultimately, in life.

This is the natural segway to introduce some contemporary work by another psychologist of note. John Vervaeke, and some of his recent attempts to present these ideas to a mass audience. And who’s polymath interests and subject cross-pollinations have certainly influenced me.

—//—

John Vervaeke

John Vervaeke PhD is described on his YouTube channel as an award-winning lecturer at the University of Toronto in the departments of psychology, cognitive science and Buddhist psychology. Amongst his contemporary series of work three presents detailed psychologically relevant material that make reference to flow:

The elusive I further introduces concepts such as recursive resonance realisation which I will revisit in later blogs.

Flow in meditative practice

During the early days of the Covid Crisis, Vervaeke launched a meditative series that combined his cognitive science teachings and practices of meditation and contemplation. The third lesson (dharma day) addresses flow, as part of the initial setting up of any meditative practice. The whole practice being taught (lessons one through to ten) ultimately become a basic series of meditative practice intended to slowly train the mind to become more agile between externally focused contemplative focus, and inner meditative practice. This practice intentionally becoming gradually and increasingly a skilled discipline of increasing challenge that requires modal agility between extremes of inner and external address. In lesson six he advises cognitive science is indicating it is this observational modality that offers the benefits with mindfulness, a very effective way of gaining new insight.

Awaking from the meaning crisis – series

This is an epic series of lectures. Ideas of flow but a small part of much wider reaching ideas. Flow features in the following episodes.

Meaning Crisis Part 1. Meaning is a key to life.

What wisdom connects life meaning and self-transcendence? Building on the ideas of shifting the mind early roles of Shaman, flow state, mystical experience and subset as awakening experiences this episode reflects upon sources of meaning and insight which can be compared to the Csikszentmihalyi referenced stretching of boundary conditions of our ordinary perception.

Meaning Crisis part 2 Flow as a metaphor

Being in the zone. Demanding tasks that go just beyond the skill state. Skill improvements and increasing challenge are presented as being the basic engagement qualities that keep us focused on virtual realities – flow state being central to the video game. This is presented as a deeply positive experience. Which Vervaeke argues this to be a directly connected experience akin to what is sought in finding meaning in life.

Vervaeke’s suggestion (00:27:15) is the three means of gaining the better insight are the same three factors that enable flow state: clear feedback; tight coupling with environment; and error matters. He argues that implicit learning and flow sit in the same conditions of cognitive effectiveness. And these become self reinforcing. Because these insights are intuitive the sense of loss of self can be disconcerting or in the Shaman context “otherly”. In cognitive science this is parts of the brain talking that otherwise do not. The metaphor “to bridge”, reflected upon language as a means share meaningful experience. Better language becomes intertwined with metaphor – which is revisited in Part 3 as language complexifies to enhance trust in the message and how in touch this is with reality. All aiding to the possibility of the flow state.

Part 9 – Insight

Mindfulness introduced as the means to use attentional scaling between inner detail and external reality and back. Optimising between the two enables prajna or non-duality to bring an enhanced realness and meaning. Higher states of flow. [The more expanded exploration of these concepts referenced in the meditative series highlighted above.]

Part 10 – Consciousness

Salience landscape cf.  Wallace L Matson “sentience”.  The salience of information is what Matson calls ‘sizing up’.  This is a ‘featurisation’ and ‘foregrounding’ in a recurring process that configures i.e., figurisation, all recurring until the problem is suitably framed.  This dynamical system has three or four levels of recurrence becoming a highly textured and flowing landscape of problem framing.

—//—

How can we move our teams into flow state?

Returning now to the question which prompted this outline of flow. There are key characteristics described which can be reset against our engagements as teams, and in broader context, how we perform collectively or opposed in project environments.

Csikszentmihalyi present two key factors which can be considered in any project setting, of which I split the needed control as a third:

First, nurturing autotelic traits

First the traits of the autotelic personality. Heightened concentration; lost self-consciousness; a sense that skill set is adequate in ability, relevant to task, and under control (Csikszentmihalyi pp71).

Second, providing situational arenas of flow

Second is the situational conditions that encourage flow states. Which Csikszentmihalyi describes by way of the boundary condition of one form of our ordinary perception being challenged. Such as the competition between players, the means of contemplating future outcome; acuity toward the specific information of relevance without distraction; or the means to temporarily live as another to expand perspective.

Third, create flow channels via the right kinds of control

Thirdly, is the manner of keeping the balance of skills demands and challenge to keep teams in the flow channel. Given the key needs of focus, freedom to be, and the sense of psychological safety to be at the edge of skills to challenge, this increases the need to have clarity on appropriate control. Control in this context presented as by Csikszentmihalyi as rule-bound action system with clear clues as to the quality of performance of task. To which Vervaeke might argue is necessarily focused upon clear feedback; tight coupling with environment; and a retained sense of error rates matter.

The conditions for flow restated as v | b | t

Visibility | b | t

autotelic need for clarity of goal; observe and analyse their surroundings objectively, they have a better chance of discovering in them new opportunities for action; situational need for a real time acuity and wider context; closeness of leadership to action to retain the visibility to offer the necessary feedback and checking for error and regular feedback.

v | behaviour | t

autotelic heightened concentration; situational sense that skill set is adequate in ability; enabling adaptability for retained tight coupling with environment; shared vigilance and retained sense of error rates matter; necessarily presenting means for self-management, developing skills over time, and means to not interrupt project momentum when in the right flow channel. This would also mean the checking and feedback was also adaptable, and task challenge and skill orientated to enable project learning, team development, and means to measure, maintain, and improve.

v | b | trust

the autotelic traits all demand a heightened sense of trust. A trust in each other. A trust that focus on the task is not at the expense of missed danger from outside. A trust that mistakes are to be called out early, dealt with and corrected, against clear metrics, and fair feedback and recognised betterment in time. Trust that allows lost self-consciousness is to have psychological safety, trust in the shared respect of peers, and trust in the transparency of leadership upholding the standards to which all are equally judged. A team in flow, in the flow channel, is high energy, but necessarily making and correcting mistakes. Trust must also be shared and enable anxiety at challenge to quickly be reassured by the action orientated correction. This is therefore tied into the clarity of rules, training, and governance, that enables the sense that skill set is adequate in ability, current and therefore relevant to task, and under corrective control.

Concluding remarks

How many of us in construction, or wider project management per se, can read these descriptions of a state of flow and see our project environments and controls encouraging these traits? Who reads the Construction Playbook and see this environment being developed at our next generation of projects are born? Who amongst us sees the command and control manner of management as harnessing these flow channels to match challenge to skills?

These concepts are not new. But the questions are asked regularly and anew. Phrases I have in mind are notions of being like “a military operation” or “like a machine” or “acting as one”. There is more to say here, more to compare. Notably the striking similarity some of these traits reflect when describing the traits of the HRO (High Reliability Organisation).

HROs and Flow is a write for another day. For now, perhaps I need some feedback of my own. And a moment to regain my flow…

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:

The Construction Playbook

Author: Warren Beardall

HM Government Construction Playbook

What role does it play? What impact is intended? Analysed using visibility | behaviour | trust

This blog has been prepared as another test using my experimental method of evaluation through the concept of visibility | behaviour | trust. According to the Construction News the CBI want implementation by public sector to begin quicker. I am trying to find evidence of project procurement having everyone’s welfare at heart, and not just that of the project initiator. So how does the Construction Playbook stand up under this lens?

Context of what follows

My research and attention is asking whether we set our projects up in ways that offer greatest likelihood of success, but necessarily having all project actors welfare within the definition success therein means. My premise being that projects of cooperation only become projects of collaboration when all those invited are intended to be actively within the sentiments of no harm. My assertion that it is better for all our projects if intended to be assessed in this way. Thereby having long-term benefit of this project, but also that of the next as central to the collective business case we should all have in mind.

Does this Construction Playbook therefore have your welfare, the jobs of your employees, your future training and planning needs in mind? Does it have the long-term health of our country and our future project needs in mind. Is it immune to the political vagaries and short-term passing of government terms of office. Is the infrastructure of our administrators of state better guided by this Construction Playbook. Are we?

Or is this just a public sector bringing its own house in order. With less strategic intent and more short-term shoring up. Is the path being set in this guidance one of better collaborations? Or is it leading us all toward new ways of doing old self-serving things under new labels and old deferrals of blame?

This assessment was written between January and March 2021. A number of discussions have been shared since with both academic and industry friends and colleagues. All opinions herein are mine alone. But they are sentiments shared.

Examination of the text

The Construction Playbook : Government Guidance on sourcing and contracting public works project and programmes. Version 1.0 December 2020.

The Construction Playbook has a wide industry sponsorship. It presents significant progress in seeking more consistent approaches to government procurement.  It attempts to remove the singular cost focus of procurement; reinforces a wider sentiment by central government to adopt more strategic and long-term procurement practice; and demands greater upfront preparation and earlier market engagement.

It further introduces an expectation on government departments to apply this overall approach, and to be judged against its requirements.  It advocates more focus upon modern methods of construction (MMC).  More focus on supporting manufacturing ethos within construction.  It states that supply chains should expect to be able to make fair profit.  It advocates cross-departmental buying practices. Standardisation of delivery requirements.  More component and design standardisation across projects, regions, and sectors.  And more consistency and more clarity on key outcome expectations and roles.

Examination with v | b | t

The majority of my analysis here is presented as addressing the behaviours of projects actors. As does the Playbook, itself. This is observed as being principally focused upon the behaviours of the public sector parties, with much of the playbook a reflection upon the controls therein applied separating public sector engagement with private sector, rather than contemplating the controls to govern both. Notwithstanding the collaborative sentiments therefore, I conclude a them and us relationship is being developed from the start. My examination of all that follows highlights and thereafter reflects upon what behaviours this is inviting, intentional or otherwise.

Visibility | b | t

Sharing this Construction Playbook gives a visibility to all parties intending to engage with government procurement in the coming years. Much of the literature being generated through industry interactions is now busily being directed by this clarity, and the stated intended universal application of the Construction Playbook across all of government and public sector.

Within the examination that follows are recurring themes. There is a lack of clarity on the how. Or how to prioritise the what. Some what necessarily contradictory or conflicting with others. The visibility of such prioritisation is therefore assumed to only exist at more localised level. How such priority is to be translated and assessed between local and central expectations remains unclear as a result.

With this reduced visibility, the interpretative space may be opportunity for some. From a risk perspective however, this suggests future scope for split motivations, localised confusion, and possibility of agenda manipulation by those best placed to influence and conflate. These are precisely the interface risks I deem to be the source of much of the risk we introduce into projects, simply because of goal creep, goal division, and the grey space it encourages.

v | behaviour | t

The majority of my analysis sits within these behavioural intentions or implications. Ordering of this more detailed examination follows the ordering of the Construction Playbook itself.

Behavioural changes by Public Sector are offered from the outset

Introduction – “Right at the start” (pp2-3) prepared by Gareth Rhys Williams – Government Chief Commercial Officer; and Nick Smallwood – Chief Executive, Infrastructure and Projects Authority.  I have reordered these key sentiments into what I believe to be three main categories of interest:

Thinking in new ways: thinking of risk, sustainability, and programmes systemically; sector health; productivity and addressing skills shortages in the long term. Advocating front loading of effort, longer lead times for quicker finishes.

Key benefits desired: Outcome based; long-term partners; standardising designs, components, and interfaces; innovation and MMC; win-win contracting for better outcomes; better financial awareness and preparations; better end to end delivery.

Reform via buying actions; safety, cost, speed, and quality; data sharing; investment in training.  All parts of the playbook to be passed down into the supply chain.  Meeting everyday needs of users and VfM for taxpayer.

Beginning from page 14, the five phases are examined in order:

  • Preparation and planning;
  • Publication;
  • Selection;
  • Evaluation and Award;
  • Contract Implementation.

Stage one: Preparation and planning

Stage 1 : Preparation and planning

Pipelines, portfolios and longer term contracts

pp16 – the conflicting desire for longer term contracts but more involvement of the acknowledge higher likelihood of innovative SMEs is left with contracting authorities to reconcile.  Indicating that contractual performance metrics should include this on a VfM basis.  Early market engagement deemed an essential means to do this.  As is feedback being sought directly from the supply chain.

Playbook indicates the solution to SME capacity constraints is using JVs and consortia with SME involvements.  This is not consistent with aims of platform solutions or the procurement options posed on pp34

This also conflicts with the cross-referenced GovS008 Commercial Functional Standard and National Infrastructure and Construction Procurement Pipeline 2020/21

Stage 1 : Preparation and planning

Modern methods of construction

pp18 – contracting authorities are left to determine how to assess MMC wider value to project and programme outcomes.

Harmonise, digitise, and rationalise demand.

pp18 Collaboration between contracting authorities is encouraged.  Aiming at standardised interoperable components across a spectrum of suppliers.  pp19 – achieved by “standardising and digitising specifications; shared design content and approaches across portfolios” supporting wider government priorities. 

Quality Planning | Platform approaches | Targets for MMC

Product platforms are encouraged to standardised assemblies, and cross-sector collaborations of standardised purchasing.  Procurement encouraged to steer markets and suppliers toward these platform approaches.

pp20  Offsite construction to be treated as favourable.  This is now an expectation of departments.

Targets for MMC .  IPA and Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) are developing a common set of metrics to better understand and support performance, which will include metrics to demonstrate supply chain engagement.

Further embed digital technologies

Seeking to collate and improve quality of data using the UK BIM Framework.  Standardised information requirements, exchange, and security.  A common framework of standards and protocols.  Digital twin goals also associated with future performance and asset management.

Stage 1 : Preparation and planning

Early Engagement and clear specifications

Early engagement – earlier identification of delivery and risk challenge; options; relationship building across the whole supply chain.  pp22-23 tested at first business case stage but note the complications anticipated in fair marketplace and transparency.  [This seems to conflict with drive for innovation.  How can innovation and open market discussion be accommodated together?]

Innovation – pp23 – open to new ways of thinking; revisiting processes and continuous improvement.  [This seems to conflict with standardisation (and collaborations across sectors and platforms).]

Social value and SMEs – pp23 – early engagement suggested to engage with SMEs and to wider social value initiatives. [this is however left with the supply chain to manage amongst itself – see next]

Early supply-chain involvement (ESI)

Deemed to offer more effective design solutions and overall VfM.  Includes formal engagement of Tier 1 alongside Tier 2 and 3.

pp24 – ESI deemed to need good leadership, governance, commercial management, and wider strength in capability. Above all, building trust with open and collaborative process “in sharing ideas and innovative solutions”. [it remains unclear how commercial sensitivity can sit alongside incentive to share innovation. In this early stage any optioneering opportunity and early evaluation of risk alongside a public sector is lost. Instead reliant upon the supply chain to organise itself across competitive boundaries away from public sector stewardship or prioritisation.]

Outcome based approach

pp24 – Outcomes focused on whole life value, performance, and cost; to include social value model in informing procurement route.  Outcomes, not scope, to unlock innovation and continuous improvement.  Outcomes defined at outset.  Clear and measurable.  Definition of “whole life value” being developed with industry in 2021. [the key question will be how is short-term VfM and long-term asset value to be reconciled against short-termism politics and similarly short-term media and public attention – government and politics are the only influence able to redirect these messages by long-term planning of their own.]

pp25 – Design underpinned by stakeholder informed objectives which meet requirements and specifications.  Specification that are not too prescriptive to allow for innovative solutions.  [These goals seem contradictory.  How is it possible to define all stakeholder needs; develop design against clear specifications; allow for innovative solutions; support standardising solutions and cross-sector platforms across long-term strategic partnerships; and present all necessary information to promote fairness to bidder decision making. This is a wish list – not clear delineation of how to prioritise and why]

It is also envisaged that there will be several design and specification stages but no means to envisage how this will be supported by the necessary upfront stakeholder management, control, and clarity of priority that will not suit all.

See also:  Infrastructure Procurement RoadMap 2013; Collaborative models of construction procurement 2014

Stage 1 : Preparation and planning

People and Governance

Approvals follow Green Book and Orange Book requirements. 

Contracting authorities are required to have streamlined approval processes geared toward outcome success; consider strategic approach and by extension to focus upon additional means to identify portfolio potential; account for complexity, cost, and risk determining rigour of process; use “Should cost” benchmarking; involve accountable Senior Role Owners (SROs) who own the business case and cross-functional teams.

See page 73 matrix.  OKUA.  Owner (Joint-Owner); Knowledge experts; Understanding; Awareness.  [this seems to create difficulty when separating accountability and responsibility]

Stage 1 : Preparation and planning

Deliver Model Assessments (DMA)

Part of First Business Case stage.  Objectives and outcomes defined from the outset.  See pp33 for DMA and pp34 for five potential approaches.  Five potential approaches namely: Transactional – traditional standard competitive service delivery

Hands-on Leadership – complex and in need of close supervision and active stakeholder management more than cost focus.

Product Mindset – lessons learnt focused for optimisation via repeatable manufacturing type approach.

Hands-off design – outcome focused without specifications that influence solution.

Trusted Helper – client is focused upon core business and seeks a supplier who can work within the operating procedures or technical challenges better than the client.

[in the absents of early engagement and proactive public sector input – contractors are likely to develop assumed risk profiles based upon these five approaches – particularly if public sector simply return to contract only interest as the hands off means of project control]

Stage 1 : Preparation and planning 

Effective contracting

Project scorecards are being tested through 2021.  There are intended to be integrated into business case baseline post completion.  Reference is also made to them being part of the project contract and KPIs.  [Note: no specific reference to them forming part of project controls beyond contract]

Key performance indicators are deemed part of a  good contract – includes appropriate specifications and performance indicators; incentivising the priority outcomes; proportionate to project size and complexity; quantifiable and measurable metrics; and inline with wider government metrics; and top three metrics available to public scrutiny.

Commercialise the delivery model means being specific about intended benefit and value and chosen with these at the core of the decisions made.  “One of the most effective ways to deliver outcomes is to create contracting environments that promote collaboration and reduce waste.  Contracts should create positive relationships and processes designed to integrate and align multiple parties’ commercial objectives and incentives” pp40.  [Why focus on contract for positive relationships?  This is cooperation. To collaborate a closer relationship is necessary. Building a shared control environment seems much more collaborative if sharing is a key desire.]

Commercial approach “how much delivery responsibility are we willing, able, or need to take on?” pp41

Procurement strategy consider award method; design responsibility; coordination and integration responsibility. [this is where the lack of clear accountability statements in page 73 “OKUA” invites delegated ownership risk].

Contracting strategy pp42 this seeks early risk allocation; roles / responsibilities and rights / obligations being allocated directly into contract.  Contract deemed the place where key elements of project including specifications.  [Compare this to other guidance on acceptable contract forms and boilerplate clauses on pp43 and 44, which is prescriptive to three forms.  By this early commitment to contract form, this falls into the ‘risk transfer in preference to risk management and control’ trap].

Keeping bid costs down and use of frameworks. [this will be good news for long-term relationships but it is inevitably going to stifle competition.  The relationships with SME supply chain within JVs not with Government is inevitable.  Whilst this page acknowledges the SME barrier to entry of bid cost, all wider sentiment of engaging via JVs of tier one contractors’ conflicts with any means to accommodate SME directly and more efficiently.]

Stage two : Publication

Stage 2 : Publication

Going to tender

Setting the tone encourages upfront preparations prior to going to tender.  It also cross-references the Supplier Code of Conduct v.2 dated February 2019 which whilst not legally binding does offer direct access to the Central Commercial Teams in the Cabinet Office (and in extreme circumstances Gareth Rhys Williams as Government Chief Commercial Officer via pp5 of this CoC).  This code states, “risk is allocated to the party best able to manage it…share intelligence on supply chain risk…we will endeavour to create and maintain a culture that facilitates collaboration between all suppliers and government…” (pp7 ibid).  “we expect suppliers to avoid passing down unreasonable levels of risk to subcontractors who cannot reasonably be expected to manage or carry these risks” pp10 ibid).  https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk

Procurement timelines are to be supported with early market engagement and avoidance of inadequate timescales being set.

Risk Management is required to be collaborative but also across portfolios [does this mean government is best able to manage more risk?].  Internal control, and proactive approach is referenced pp47 [but this is in the context of contracts and commercial lifecycle].  Risk appetite is referenced in context of innovation but also references optimal outcomes [rigid contract forms do not support this sentiment]

Stage 2 : publication

Risk allocation

pp48 Risks owned or jointly owned by parties best able to manage them and supported by good risk management and be subjected to extensive scrutiny prior to going to market.  [it is not clear what this scrutiny would entail but reference to National Audit Office suggests the VfM trap.]

Risk allocation is to be considered against practical and financial means to absorb it.  A good approach is deemed to focus upon market testing and balance of risk; risk focus against objectives; use of a risk allocation matrix based upon means to manage; joint risk registers.  [there is no reference to early identification of critical controls best suited to manage risk identified]

Fair return is intent upon avoiding cost driven impacts upon project success, with a profitable outcome to supply chain deemed a sustainability objective.

Stage 2 : Publication

Payment mechanism and pricing approach

Output drivers should be central to payment and the level of risk around the scope and requirements.  pp50 Fixed pricing or scale based upon scope uncertainty are deemed appropriate [this indicates risk is to be treated as a tradeable commodity, not a threat to outcome].  Do’s focus on early warning and joint-decisions, outcomes focus, indexation, and data sharing.  Don’ts list lack of clarity in scope and evaluation; liability limits; avoiding risk pricing due to time constraints; and avoiding the transfer of information gap risk to supply chain.  [there is no consideration given to the control environment beyond contract and price]

Onerous contracts pp51 is a term used to trigger discussion with supplier on cause and options.

Further reading: Green Book; Orange Book; Outsourcing Playbook; Cabinet Office Two Stage Open Book; Construction Hub Value Toolkit.

Section three : Selection

Section 3 : Selection

Due diligence during selection

SQ Standard Selection Questionnaire to be used.  Payment systems to be assessed for all contracts over £5m p.a.

Section 3 : Selection

Assessing economic and financial standing of suppliers.

Key principles financial standing to perform work; be fair and transparent to not prejudice competition; use Contract Tiering Tool.

Stage four : Evaluation and award

Stage 4 : evaluation and award

Evaluating bids and contract award

Value over cost pp56, and social value pp57, low-cost bidding is defined as anything more than ten percent below average or the Should Cost estimates – and are referred to Cabinet Office pp58

Stage 4 : evaluation and award

Resolution Planning and ongoing financial monitoring

Assessment of impact of supplier failure, and upfront resolution planning.  Note it is the supplier who is required to provide Service Continuity Plans and exit plans; separate from contracting party’s contingent plans [no reference to shared project plans].  Financial mitigations include bonds, PCGs.  Project bank accounts to be used as standard.

Supplier Failure Contingency Planning template concludes with a resourcing and funding strategy; stakeholder and supply chain details; risk register.

Stage five : contract implementation

Stage 5 : contract implementation

Successful relationships

pp64 successful relationships deemed to be means for better VfM and advocates standard forms of contract.  Early engagement to include delivery teams and designers.  Management of contract deemed key early strategic decision.  pp66 principles of collaboration, openness, transparency, and flexibility referenced based upon contractual delivery; role allocations; and upfront agreement to dispute resolution. [no reference to decisions of critical controls only contract management].

Reference to one team “win together, fail together”, [but no expansion on what this approach means.]

Early workshops suggested to set expectations of standards, behaviours, and ways of working, success criteria, impact on wider goals [seems a little late to be considering behaviours as these are generally set into a project by the way it was set-up.  Perhaps this would be better as a KPI of the governing party…]

Stage 5 : contract implementation

Transition to Operation

pp68 Prepare from set-up.  Soft landings deemed to be smooth transition from construction to operations.

Exchanging data is included as a critical success factor, and referenced “golden thread” of intended purpose of building or infrastructure.

Pre-handover is focused upon pre-sign off and references as-builts; transfer of information to operator; end user orientation; CDM files; and aftercare plans.  Additional control is envisaged via contract and wrap up contracts in timely manner.  [the lack of ongoing project governance and shared controls makes this process highly contractual in nature and inherently less collaborative as a result.]

Lessons Learnt stated as ongoing process during a project and feedback presented via Cabinet Office email address [no project sharing beyond the public sector entity appears to be considered].

v | b | trust

The remainder of this article will focus upon relationships, cooperation or collaboration, and the sentiments of trust that result.

The distant observer further highlighted

This distant buyer sentiment that public sector becomes in construction is not a new phenomena. It is characteristic of public sector. My MSc dissertation revisit of PFI concluded the buying attitude of the authority party was hands-off in the extreme. Reliance on others to do the checking and the terms of contracts to offload the risk if all else failed. The distant public sector interest inevitably offering space for the ebb and flow of very different powers and influence to take hold over time. This Construction Playbook offers little to suggest anything beyond fire and forget contract control will remain.

Project Control

There is no focus on critical project controls per se. Internal control, and proactive approach to risk management is referenced pp47 but this is in the context of contracts and commercial lifecycle. KPIs and pay mechs geared towards outcomes; risk allocation; control; and reporting; is all driven through contract management. Frameworks, standardised contracts, boilerplate clauses, are all advocated. This seems completely at odds with efforts to develop collaborative one project ideas. Contracts should create positive relationships and processes designed to integrate and align multiple parties’ commercial objectives and incentives” pp40. Key performance indicators are deemed part of a good contract.

Deliver Model Assessments (DMA) offers five potential types but there is no guidance on how this will change control environment or wider governance.  See pp33 for DMA and pp34 for five potential approaches.

Flexible or fixed?  pp42 contract is required to allocate agreed risk allocations and specifications into contracts.  Managing relationships (pp66 referenced one team “win together, fail together” but no expansion on what this approach means.  Both these sentiments are at odds with the wider sentiment to commit to specific contract forms. Compare this to other guidance on acceptable contract forms and boilerplate clauses on pp43-44, which is prescriptive to three forms.

Role allocation is based upon the internal owner, adviser, and awareness needs.  No consideration is given to project roles therein, and no accountability vs responsibility considerations (cf. pp 73 matrix).  Contracting parties are encouraged to consider award method; design responsibility; coordination and integration responsibility.  However, this is where the lack of clear accountability statements in page 73 “OKUA” invites delegated ownership risk.

Pre-handover is focused upon pre-sign off and references as-builts; transfer of information to operator; end user orientation; CDM files; and aftercare plans.  Additional control is envisaged via contract and wrap up contracts in timely manner.  The lack of ongoing project governance and shared controls makes this process highly contractual in nature and inherently less collaborative as a result.

Lessons Learnt – No project sharing beyond the public sector entity appears to be considered.

Risk Management

There is reason to be nervous that deep pockets syndrome will continue. Party best able to manage doctrine is maintained.  Risks owned or jointly owned by parties best able to manage them pp48, “a good approach is deemed to focus upon market testing and balance of risk; risk focus against objectives; use of a risk allocation matrix based upon means to manage; joint risk registers”.  However, later statement clarifies that risk allocation is to be considered against practical and financial means to absorb it.

This document also cross-references the Supplier Code of Conduct.   This code states, “we expect suppliers to avoid passing down unreasonable levels of risk to subcontractors who cannot reasonably be expected to manage or carry these risks” pp10 Supplier Code of Conduct).

Risk allocation appears to be a tradeable commodity not a threat to success.  Outputs and the level of risk around the scope and requirements should be key to payment mechanisms.  Fixed pricing or scale based upon scope uncertainty are deemed appropriate (pp50).  Risk should be subjected to extensive scrutiny prior to going to market (pp48).  It is not clear what this scrutiny would entail but reference to National Audit Office suggests the VfM trap that plagued PFI.

Bigger picture required.  Risk Management is required to be collaborative but also across portfolios. How does this work between contracting parties? Procurement timelines are to be supported with early market engagement and avoidance of inadequate timescales being set. Supplier Failure Contingency Planning template concludes with a resourcing and funding strategy; stakeholder and supply chain details; risk register.

Conclusion : a step closer but not a bridge

There is reason to applaud this new engagement and initiative to present greater clarity of how construction is to be procured across the public sector. My concern remains that this guidance continues a long tradition of them and us contracting with the private sector. A buyer attempting to present a united front but not a uniting goal. As this country looks to build its way through the 21st Century I hope this is just the first step toward closer ties and smarter buys. But to collaborate is to take account of all sides. To lead is to be presenting clarity of vision, interest in control, and steps that build trust between parties, not better contracts for when one falls.

A step in the right direction. But plenty more to go…

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:

Personality or group?

Here is sneak peak at the introductory remarks in my social psychology discussions this week. Already putting what I thought I knew on shakier ground.

Behaviour first

The work of the Behaviourists. Pavlov may ring a bell but this moved into areas of positive reinforcements before becoming more integrated with less observable matters such as feelings and belief. Or the social learning theory which still feeds the perhaps exaggerated thinking that we imitate what we see e.g., TV violence makes us violent. None of these theories seem central to what I am being prepared to learn next.

Cognition first

Cognitive theories are still on trend. It is being taught as a separate subject this term in its own right. It is also dominant in social psychology where our cognitive processes may translate into attitudes, the modelling we initiate, and behaviours they influence.

Related perhaps is the neuroscience that gives markers and imagery of brain activity. And biochemical interactions within the brain or hormonal markers we can extract. All being considered against associated socialised thinking and behaviour.

Genes first

Evolutionary theories where perhaps particular traits or complex social behaviours offered advantage to some who became genetically dominant.

Group first

Or this final either/or reflection which really caught my attention tonight. Whether the individualistic traits or personality differences we all consider to be settled science are anything but. That perhaps it is not our personality that determines how we behave in socially constructed groups. But that it is the socially constructed groups that we then internalise and by which become behaviourally normalised to us. We all behave differently in situationally determined ways. That is current research and exploration at large in the evolving science of psychology.

Are we managing our projects, or our projects managing us?

Just as our project management world is beginning to embrace trait theory. Our red leaders in DISC, or our ENFJs in Myers Briggs. Our Big 5s and our psychometric tests. Just as our projects start adjusting our behaviours to account for our traits, is psychology going to turn us about? To tell us we need to adjust to our projects, as it is our social groupings that are determining how we behave? Not starting with how we behave, or the traits we think we own, but determining how the projects we inhabit influence how we behave.

Stay sceptical and look up

All I know for sure right now is my “mediator” traits, as both an Enneagram Type 9 and Myers Briggs INFJ, are both seeking to diplomatically find some middle ground. My DISC yellow is just enjoying the chance to talk it through. But just like Arthur C Clarke, we both draw the line at star-signs. Both being Sagittarius we are far too sceptical to fall for that…

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:

Mr Optimiser vs. Mr Sceptic

Is it always right to be demanding a committed decision in the interest of cost certainty?

A brief introduction to some old friends

This is an extract from the cutting-room floor of the dissertation from my first MSc, which I would have been preparing to present this time last year. You will find the full details of citations within the dissertation, available to download or review on-line from my homepage.

When I wrote these notes in early 2020, I was retracing the earliest academic PM arguments addressing how much to plan vs how much to adapt. The Public Private Partnership model of project delivery I was researching is up-front time and focus intensive. Whilst it is not immune to change, any change is administratively cumbersome because of the interacting contracts and hierarchy of approvals required. Post the Pathfinder or Vanguard projects therefore, optimisation (or at least certainty of cost, time, and scope), is characteristically fitting for PPP. This is very different to some of the research and development type project environments, post WWII, that reflects where much of the “fragmented adhocracy” of project management theory today begins. These particular notes, primarily the contemporary revisits of the work of Klein and Meckling from 1958, plus the original paper itself, offered an interesting comparison of these motivations.

———start———

Extracts of my unsubmitted summary notes as follows:-

In describing project management theory as a set of models and techniques for planning and control, Packendoff (1995) pp319 observes three shortcomings of preceding research and theorising. The notion that a general theory and field exists in its own right; a lack of empirical rigour; and treating projects as tools. He invites future research to consider expectations, actions and learning in project settings. Referencing a diversity of theoretical perspective, with more focus on middle-range rather than extremes in different types of project.

A second key question to answer will be how to determine whether early optimisation is the correct priority. The counter view is one of retained flexibility and agility. This has been a central debate from the earliest days of modern project management thinking from the 1950s. Brady et al (2012) reflected on the importance of pioneering thinking in mainstream project management in the early Cold War years of California’s Research and Development think tank RAND. The work of Klein et al (1958 pp 361) sought to better manage project environments typified with high levels of uncertainty at project start. Brady et al argue that initial flexibility in project management approach from this early time was quickly (by the 1960s) replaced by a focus on control (Brady 2012 pp719). Klein et al caricatured Mr Optimiser and Mr Sceptic and compared the approaches to project planning in R&D situations (where it was argued the greatest levels of uncertainty exist).

Mr Optimiser (UK spelling) makes key decisions early, plans thoroughly, and creates a clear and highly integrated path to conclude. Mr Sceptic (UK spelling) adopts a strategy of deliberate flexibility in the early stages, opting to take advantage of project learning, making later decisions on key elements and narrowing a range of alternatives as information is acquired to ultimately arrive at a single construction method.

Klein argues Mr Optimiser is cost certain at an earlier point, and will happen upon the optimum unique choices on occasion. Mr Sceptic will be making more informed decisions but incur more cost and waste on average, as a result of allowing several options to be explored deeper into a project. Mr Optimiser is however committed to these early decisions. If sub-optimal decisions are made, Mr Optimiser is either incurring additional time and cost to change, or accepts the sub-optimal outcome (Klein 1958, pp 355).

This comparison is still relevant today. Government procurement is permanently under pressure to show value for money. It is therefore counter-intuitive to expect a Mr Sceptic approach to project procurement. The early commitment to a project programme is a standard expectation of tendering response in traditional or privately funded government new build programmes therefore. In challenging 20th thinking on theory of the firm, Nightingale returns to Mr Optimiser and Mr Sceptic. Mr Optimiser representing determinism and reductionism, internally driven causations, rationally driving towards maximum utility (Nightingale 2008 pp539). Mr Sceptic’s view of the firm being driven by managerial decision making and Boardroom mediation of the external requirements of shareholders and stakeholders. (Nightingale 2008 pp544).

Turner et al (2014 pp44) and Brady et al (2012), return to Klein’s Optimiser and Sceptic analogy in considering the knowledge problem. Brady et al conclude “Mr Sceptics programme is designed in part to produce information…to be able to make more informed decisions” (pp 723). Brady et al pp719 refers to Shenhar and Dvir (2007) who point out project management is based on “predictable, relatively simple, and rational models”. Brady argued that “the role of uncertainty, learning and informal processes are underplayed in traditional models of project management, in favour of simplistic, rule-based models” pp720. Brady et al further refer to Lenfle and Loch (2010) who call for a reconsideration of the concepts of Klein and Meckling, arguing that “project management has come to emphasise control over flexibility and novelty, and that this has prevented the project management discipline from occupying a central position in organisations efforts to implement strategic change and innovation” pp728.

The notion of project management being an operational undertaking, and success being defined in the context of time, cost, and quality, is further challenged by Dvir et al 2011 pp21. They offer alternative key factors (pp20) with utilisation of existing knowledge and integrated project teams with fast problem-solving capability and the ability to adapt being two key elements. Muller (2012) highlights Dvir and Lechler who both examine relationships between three planning variables and project success (2004). Planning variables being planning quality, goal changes, and plan-changes. Planning is significantly a positive contributor to customer satisfaction and efficiency; goal changes having the highest negative direct effect on customer satisfaction (pp 10) and the combination of goal and plan changes were a stronger factor than quality of planning…pp29

———end———

Observations

Mr Optimiser vs Mr Sceptical had military research and development ideals in mind. 1958 had the cold war as its backdrop. The Sputnik shock was in 1957. The Polaris programme and PERT, military research and RAND and universities, ties to contractor becoming more project orientated. The history of PM sits deeply embedded here. What this paper specifically reflects is an innovation centric project motivation vs optimisation of cost. These two character analogies present a useful modern day sentiment when considering if cost or novelty is most desired.

These are perspectives I will be returning to as I introduce other contemporary subjects of the present day. This underlying need to clarify primary motivation, seemingly pertinent in any contemporary setting.

Essays and detailed notes these blogs are building toward include:

  • My views of the 2020 HM Government Construction Playbook. (status: available on request and forming a blog subject soon)
  • High Reliability Organisations (HROs) as a guide to contingent planning and training. (status: an essay plan from MSc exam preparations is being reviewed to share as a blog).
  • Accountability vs Responsibility – the confused position and a fix. (status: first draft completed but still under review).

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:

Earth as both project actor and frame

Project Actors

All projects include at least one actor, being the project initiator.  This as a human intervention, or a failure to do so.

A second actor is also always present. Passive or at least not consulted. This second actor is our environment. It is both a project actor, and the framework in which all of our projects reside. At least until we find the means to be independent of physical constraints, or the environment responds in ways in which we cannot manage or survive.

This is an extract from my page offering a definition of a project, as “time bound intended change“. This definition is presented as a way to compare projects from a wider sphere of thinking. This includes a necessary demand on any project initiator to have all project actors included within their core framework of control. Each actor’s wellbeing (meaning to have expectation to be better, not worse off at project end) each equally held in importance to any other. An extension of this concept is the well-being of the environment.

Given the urgency of the hour, this seems a timely moment to be trying to find project models that have our environment necessarily central to all decisions and control frameworks we demand.

If the whole human project is to be defined by these same parameters, it is the planet that becomes our framework housing our project – at least for now…

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:

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:

Case Study 1 – PPP and me

Truth:

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: