Written by Jeff on January 5, 2017 in concepts

Project Design ensures the use of Good Practice

Project Design: an early project activity

Project Design is an activity which should take place early in a project, to address two key problems:

  1. how to ensure the use of Good Practice during the project
  2. the role of knowledge in the project (the use of knowledge, the discovery of knowledge)

Both are fundamental to 3rd Generation Project Management. Good Practice (its use, reuse and sharing) is a driver for continuous improvement. Knowledgeis at the heart of the difference between “traditional” and Agile methods. And the two are interconnected: notably, the more that the project will discover knowledge, the more Agile practices it needs.

How Project Design ensures the use of Good Practice

Good Practice is fundamental in the Project Factory. The use of Good Practice (its use, reuse and sharing) is a driver for continuous improvement.

Project Design starts with a Project Scenario, a proven high-level project template. A Project Scenario is high-level best practice, composed of bricks of Good Practice.

Project Design produces two interdependent outputs:

  • a Project Routing, based on the Project Scenario.
  • a Macro-plan, an early, high-level project plan
These are interdependent because the Macro-plan starts to define the work or deliverables for the project; once this is clear, the routing will change (different practices will be necessary).

A Macro-plan

A Macro-plan may take various forms. There are some existing Good Practices, such as:

  • an Agile team may have a release plan
  • a Prince2 team may have a product flow diagram showing stage boundaries
  • a waterfall team may have a high-level v-model plan

The Macro-plan is a design document. A well-designed Macro-plan helps to:

  • lower risk by introducing discovery and feedback loops
  • impose management control at appropriate points in the project
The Macro-plan gives an early and highly valuable overview of the project. It can be used for control and assurance in the critical first weeks of a project.

How Project Design addresses knowledge

The Macro-plan can address the role of knowledge in the project.

In broad terms there are two approaches. Traditional Project Management assumes that knowledge is available, and a solution can be specified; whereas Agile assumes that the project starts with insufficient knowledge, and the solution will be discovered.

In many projects, this is not a binary choice between “waterfall” and “Agile. A mixed approach is necessary. For some parts of the project, discovery is necessary; for other parts, specification.

Specification driven design

If knowledge is available, then Project Design favours detailed analysis and design practices

  • The solution is specified before work begins.
  • Change control procedures are necessary (the customer may ask for changes to specification).
  • The solution is tested against the specification (quality means “compliance to specification”).
Example of analysis and design practices are architecture design, database modelling, product specification.

Discovery driven design

If knowledge must be discovered, then Project Design introduces discovery and feedback practices. As knowledge is discovered, the project must react.

  • Work can start early, based on a high-level expression of needs
  • There is high interactivity with the customer or user (feedback loops)
  • Knowledge increases as the project advances
  • Quality means “fit for purpose” or “responds to needs” (rather than “compliance to specifications”)
Examples of discovery practices are workshops, feasibility studies, early prototyping, pilots, iterative development, frequent releases, etc.

Start with Project Design

Project Design should be an early activity in any project. Project Design should precede planning. It may even precede the project: a PMO could use the outputs from Project Design for sizing or scoping.

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