Project Perspectives – The Classical One
By Svein Minde
The classical perspective as to projects is based on the idea that principles and logic from classic scientific or mechanistic research can be used to analyze or manage a project. It means that the classical perspective makes rationality, objectivity, quantitative specifications and technical solutions a basis for the organizational arrangements of projects. A practitioner employing the classical approach typically describes projects as discretely and consciously designed and planned organizations. Project managers are therefore instructed to explicate and make operational the goals of the effort, to work out detailed and complete specifications concerning function and performance of the outcome, to define and analyze the work breakdown structure, to coordinate implementation by comprehensive planning and to supervise the work processes towards task accomplishments. Consequently, the management of projects by setting clear-cut and unambiguous goals, through designing efficient and strict project processes and adopting a hierarchical strategy for coping with accountability have become major issues in the classical and normative project literature. The classical project perspective is still in much use.
An example of an essential project process is the decision process. In the classical perspective, it is assumed to be driven and controlled by a single organizational actor, whether he is an individual, a group of people or an organization. Through a stepwise, systematic and rational process, the focal actor gets an overview of all available alternatives and their consequences in order to derive the means necessary and sufficient to achieve the pre-defined ends.
The classical rooted normative project management tools are best suited for the development phase because conventional rationality and linear logic seem to be more appropriate here. The classical project perspective can be less appropriate in other situations. Because the classical perspective views a project as a stepwise, systematic and rational process driven and controlled by a single organizational actor, it will hardly uncover, display and demonstrate the fuzzy, experimental, ad hoc, uncertain, ambiguous, and political characteristics of more complex projects in heterogeneous and dynamic settings.
For instance, classical rooted normative project management tools may not apply to front-end of projects since are processes of organizing, in which ends and means are continually redefined during the interaction. Typically, projects in their front-end phase are not properly specified, their scope has not been stabilized, the interested parties have typically not yet found a consensus, implementation methods have normally not yet been decided, and parts of the projects may even need further investigations.
Summing up, the classical or normative perspective let us know how projects ideally should develop instead of a proper insight in how the daily practice is working out or the way a project really develops. Analysis of projects and their management may, however, be done by using many other perspectives than the classical approach. Several other perspectives have been developed from and in addition to the classical perspective. An example is here the agile perspective.
Svein Minde holds a M.Sc in information technology and a PhD in technology management. He has mostly been working in the computer industry and the space industry. He works currently a consultant. You can read more from Svein on his blog.