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Second Order Project Management by Michael Cavanagh was difficult for me to grasp. Even though I don’t know what he is talking about, it seems like a new way to describe techniques that I think we should all be using.
Cavanagh describes second-order project management as this:
First order tools and techniques, such as Earned Valu Management, PRINCE2r, CMM-I, and others, are vital. However, second order tools are designed to apply process discipline. Second order methods are geared towards achieving the deliverable purpose.
Forget about all the misplaced colons. Second order project management seems like it is about being more flexible as a project manager. It involves bending the rules and processes a little when necessary, and using other approaches when necessary in complex projects.
The components of project management second order
Cavanagh lists these components as the second order of project management:
Systems thinking: A system approach is systems thinking. that all elements of the project/programme/portfolio/business are connected.
Experiential learning is learning by doing. It allows for learning through experience and the better capture and use of lessons.
Appropriate Contracting: Sharing risk with vendors.
Improvisational leadership is having the courage to manage in uncertain situations.
Outcome management is a project that focuses on delivering the best outcomes for stakeholders.
These are all great concepts for project managers and align with my way of thinking. We expect programme managers to lead in areas like systems thinking, leadership, and outcomes. We must stop believing that project managers are only responsible for delivering the deliverables requested. Project managers should do more to align their projects with strategic objectives. This book will help you realize that.
Improving lessons learned
The book focuses on how project teams and businesses can learn from lessons learned. Cavanagh’s idea to have stories by the fireside is a great idea. He said that management courses often teach more from delegates than the structured classroom sessions. He suggests using a similar approach when sharing lessons learned from projects. He said:
[Set] a scene where stories can be told and lessons, relevancies and extrapoloations discussed. It is far from the task-oriented, high-pressure course syndicate exercises and is the complete antithesis of the power breakfast ‘…. After a warm welcome and possibly a buffet, the group retires into a casually laid-out area with some comfortable chairs and a pot of coffee. The perfect setting is created by a real fireside.
Cavanagh suggests inviting guest speakers to share their expertise. She says that it should be viewed as a great honor, not a tedious chore, and recommends inviting them along. This informal feedback session can also help improve project communication, as it brings people together.
Although the book is filled with stories and examples, it is easy to read and doesn’t offer any new ideas. This book is for you if you are a firm believer in project management and fear of straying from it. It will leave you feeling like you know why branching out can lead to more options and better outcomes.
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