Good to Great and Project Management Parallels

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Good to Great and Project Management Parallels

Like This Blog 1 Steve Fullmer
Added by August 6, 2014

Good to Great by Jim Collins (Harper Business, 2001) provides a statistical analysis of the characteristics that enable a good company to shift or change toward sustained greatness.  Several of the characteristics might be directly correlated to some of the concepts and tools of project management as promoted by the Project Management Institute.  PMI espouses an over-arching concept of strategic portfolios, program management that oversees best practices, and projects that address temporary and unique needs.  The total concept is more likely a better overlay for concepts addressed in the book, nevertheless there is a direct relationship between book revelations and the foundational structure and tools of project management as documented in A guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, 5th Edition.

The following table highlights some of the parallels as introductions to further analysis or discussion.

Good to GreatProject Management
Level 5 LeadersLeadership as vision versus management as task; 

Motivational theory – Self Actualization, Theory Y

Who is on the Bus?Projectized teams and approaches 

Team selection

Confront the Brutal FactsQuality:  metrics, cost of quality
Hedgehog Concept –
Three Circles
Needs vs. wants, Triple Constraint; Procurement; Metrics
The CouncilThe Core Team; project governance
The FlywheelProcess groups; Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle of continuous improvement


Offering a few preliminary comparisons:

Level Five leadership consists of a paradoxical blend of leadership humility and professional will.   In other words a clear and driven vision that sets the course and example rather than dictating efforts. Current project management philosophy suggests that project managers become leaders and coaches rather than merely managing the completion of tasks.  The concept of monitoring and controlling recognizes that optimal guidance occurs in monitoring mode.  Control efforts occur above the work package level, and are most effective when they assure the proper distribution of resources toward the people contributing the work.  Truest leadership is “above” the work only in so far as it attempts to maintain a big picture of the aggregate effort.  One analogy might that of a forest ranger who climbs the tower to survey the landscape, returning to ground level to affect day-to-day guidance through interaction with both the environment and the customer.

‘Who is on the bus?’ emphasizes the importance of incorporating people with the best possible skill sets (and only the best, letting others off the bus). Project teams focus on putting together an efficient, focused team with the best skill sets to address a specific, targeted effort.  The best estimating is performed by identifying subject matter experts, and the best experts are always the work package owners themselves.  Work package estimation is both the most accurate and gains commitment toward achievement of the goal.

Confronting the brutal facts includes leading with questions rather than answers, engaging in dialog and debate rather than coercion, conducting autopsies without blame, and creating red flag indicators.  The Quality management knowledge area lies at the core of the triple constraint, with related tools spreading out across all the other knowledge areas.   Quality is not only about measurement, but also about selecting the most appropriate metrics (measurement systems) to assure customer needs are satisfied.  Cost of quality reminds project managers of the critical value of full and detailed analysis – understanding all the requirements and selecting those most important to complete a properly constrained scope.  The cost of quality proposes applying analysis before, during and after execution.  The cost of conformance is always higher during and after execution.

The Hedgehog concept, at the core of Good to Great, includes the concept of discovering the correct denominator.  At the core of the triple constraint we place Quality, the most important element of which is identifying the appropriate metrics by which to measure satisfaction of the customer’s needs.  When the triple constraint is too large, quality drifts toward one or another of the sides of the triangle (scope, time, or cost) causing focus, profitability, or delivery to miss the mark.  When the triple constraint is not carefully planned – through care inspection and introspection, it might be too small and the opportunity to deliver the best quality is lost.  Another element of the Hedgehog concept is taking the time to understand and to plan how to best advantage the lessons learned from the planning.  Effectively project management is helping the customer to clearly define needs, rather than merely addressing transitive wants.

A project approach applies the use of tools that provide organization within an environment of chaos (entropy and constant change).    Decomposition allows project teams to break the work into efforts (called work packages) assigned to specific individuals, while retaining the relationship between the deliverables.  Progress is accomplished by a series of related efforts.  The critical path enables the project manager to focus efforts on the most essential sequence of activities.  Project management is about the tools.  Leadership style guides their application.

Not all members of the project affect project plans and oversight.  The PMBOK® promotes the use of a core team, consisting of no more than six to eight members.  The core team works with the project manager, helping to govern both the vision and direction of the project.  The project core team and the Council concept are direct parallels.

Regardless of whether a project is longer term (predictive), iterative or incremental, or totally adaptive (e.g. Agile methodology) the tools are the same.  Project success is predicated upon the concept of planning and executing, overseen by monitoring and controlling to affect continuous improvement (Deming’s plan-do-check-act).  The goal is constant, small course corrections toward a carefully planned, fixed goal.  This appears to be a direct correlation to the concept of the flywheel guiding through Buildup to Breakthrough.

A common dismissal of the findings that Jim Collin’s shares in Good to Great is the lack implementation methodology.   The established tools of project management may serve to fill some of that need.

Hope to see you in the classroom or online.


Steven Fullmer
Interface Technical Training Staff Instructor

Steve teaches PMP: Project Management Fundamentals and Professional CertificationWindows 7Windows 8.1 and CompTIA classes in Phoenix, Arizona.

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