I am a lover of great literature. One of the most fascinating theories about literature and story-telling is what David Leeming (influenced by Joseph Campbell) called the “Monomyth,” or the “Voyage of the Hero.” This theory suggests that all the stories ever told can be simplified into one single archetype – meaning, all stories have the same basic story, told in different ways with different characters, influences, and twists. Theoretically, every story’s “hero,” goes through the same basic stages of the hero journey.
The other day, I started thinking of projects in the context of a monomyth. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the life cycle of a project, which typically begins with the initiation of a project and ends with a post implementation review (and some projects, unfortunately, don’t even live to see that part). But, when I really think about it, I consider project life cycle story is missing (or lacks emphasis on) two vital pieces.
What I’m suggesting is not a mere life cycle where a project is born with initiation and dies at completion. Rather, I believe projects should be thought of in terms of a project management journey – a journey that begins with gathering and filtering through project requests and keeps cycling through as lessons are learned, templates are created, and projects become repeatable and more efficient. Let me explain.
Phase 1: Managing Project Request
This is the first phase that often lacks emphasis. Many project managers lead teams that receive several, maybe even hundreds, of project requests a year – especially if their teams provide any type of shared service (such as IT or marketing teams). Other project managers may receive fewer requests. In either case, most project managers are required to find some way to filter through all their requests and choose the projects that will provide the most value. Often, project teams get more requests than they will ever, realistically, be able to work on and if they don’t have a solid intake process in place for collecting and evaluating those requests, they run the risk of working on too many things at once, setting unrealistic timelines, and/or letting the most valuable projects pass them by. All this work is an important part of a project manager’s work and is the first stage of the project management journey.
Phase 2: Project Management
As project manager filters through project requests and is able to prioritize and select which projects to work on now, which to schedule for later, and which to reject, he/she can then begin converting requests into projects. This is where the typical project life cycle fits in – initiation, planning, resource management, capacity planning, Gantt charts, execution, collaboration, reporting, etc., all the way through project completion.
Phase 3: Learn, Template, Repeat
After project completion, projects enter another important, but often overlooked, phase. Good project managers understand the value of a post-mortem, where the team can review lessons learned, what went well and what can be improved. This is a great opportunity (especially for PMs on shared services teams) to increase efficiency. Here they can establish templates for projects that are repeatable and keep improving those processes until they have an automated system for completing like projects. For PMs that receive multiple project requests, anytime the process can be made repeatable and scalable, they can increase the number of projects they can work on a year as well as their team’s efficiency at completing those projects on time, on scope, and on budget.
I’m a big fan of being strategic while also being able to see the big picture. This strategy, or project journey, may not be what works best for every project team, but for those expected to turn out multiple projects a year, I think this is a journey worth taking.