The Handbook of Project Management
There is a plethora of project management frameworks devised to help organisations planning, structuring, and executing projects and programmes. Some have been developed with specific applications in mind, such as software development (PRINCE 2 for example ).
A project management framework should be chosen with purpose in mind. Not all frameworks work in all situations, and most importantly, a framework should not constrain the work, stifle the creativity and innovation that could lead to delivering a better project.
The framework I used is based on Trevor L Young The Handbook of Project Management which, in my experience, provides guidance, approaches, tools and techniques suitable for the management of global health projects. As Young writes about his handbook,
“This is not an academic textbook offering you complex theory to learn […]. It is a tool to be used frequently to help you, remind you and support what you do at each step along the road from start of an opportunity for a programme of a project through to successful completion.”
This is what project management is all about, a tool to facilitate the work, improve our ability to organise, structure and run projects as well as learn from them. It is a tool that I use within Systems Thinking and its associated methodologies.
Soft System Methodology
Soft Systems Methodology was created by Peter Checkland, a British management scientist, for the main purpose of dealing with “hard” Systems Thinking such as operations research technique that was not suitable for the complexity of large organisational issues.
Checkland defined SSM as follow:
“Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) is a cyclic learning system which uses models of human activity to explore with the actors in the real world problem situation, their perceptions of that situation and their readiness to decide upon purposeful action which accommodates different actor’s perceptions, judgments and values.”
SSM is a systemic methodology focussing on the whole, instead of the parts. It uses tools such as CATWOE and rich pictures to gain insight into situations and problems. These are used to build conceptual models that will help defining actions.
Viable System Model
Viable System Model was described by the British psychologist Stafford Beer in 1972 as a conceptual tool for understanding organisations, redesigning them (where appropriate) and supporting the management of change.
It is a Systems Thinking framework that can be very frustrating at first because it is not very intuitive. The best way to grasp it is to put it into practice. Beer created the VSM to mimic the structure of the human brain. VSM is built on recursive structures comprising of 5 functional systems and recognises the role of the environment in which a project takes place.
VSM grows out of a cybernetics approach and is a framework for gaining vital information on a system’s functioning while ensuring its viability through Ashby’s law of requisite variety.
It is a fascinating framework and there is a series of equally fascinating videos in which Beer himself explains and explores VSM.
- Beer, S. Brain of the Firm. Allen Lane, Penguin Press, London, Herder and Herder, USA, 1072.
- Beer, S. The viable system model: Its provenance, development, methodology and pathology. Journal of the operational research society, 35(1), 7-25, 1984.