Preview Rather than Review – Project Management Requires Anticipation and Understanding of the End Product and User Application from the Outset

According to Henk Bellinga, who sparred on the Amsterdam metro project, a good project manager is like a movie director, who decides when a scene will be filmed, the action involved, who will be included, and how the dialog will fit in with the overall script.

Tiia Lappalainen, 24.10.2018

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When construction began on the Amsterdam metro line 52 in 2003, those involved in the project could hardly have foreseen that it would take 15 years to complete. Project management challenges have occurred along the way, as well as bad luck and challenging building conditions.

Instructor and consultant Henk Bellinga joined the metro project in 2015, to provide sparring and consultation on project management and system integration – i.e. integrating various systems into a harmonious whole.

One of the first changes involved reopening and rethinking the agreements made with various contractors.

– A range of agreements had been concluded with contractors based on the old model. We amended the agreements so that all actors had a common goal – for which a separate bonus could be earned – rather than individual goals, says Bellinga.

In other words an alliance-type model, in which the various actors were united under a common goal and system, was launched for the project.

Changing mindset also requires that the owner takes more responsibility and risks on board"

In this improved setup – A project leader is like a movie director who decides when each actor’s scene will be filmed and what dialogue will be spoken, but also explains the whole story to make the scene’s place in the entire script clear, Bellinga says.

When everyone involved can see and understand the big picture, it is easier to understand how your own work fits in with the other parts of the project.

Changing mindset also requires that the owner takes more responsibility and risks on board.

– By assuming more risk, an owner can actually lower the overall risk of a project, Bellinga says.

Problem solving before problems appear

While the agreements and overall project management of the metro project were being reorganized, the conceptual approach was transformed into the kind of testing culture familiar from the IT sector in particular.

– We improved user involvement and turned the project into a series of ‘releases’. Rather than waiting for the last brick to fall into place, we broke the project up into small pieces and began testing when the various sub-projects were sufficiently ready in terms of safety and functionality, says Bellinga.

In large and complex processes, it is essential that testing begins as early as possible so that problems can be grappled with while they are still easily solvable.

Bellinga recommends listening to weak signals throughout a project – get to grips with an issue as soon as you have the gut feeling that a process may not work. It is best to seek out problems and solve them before they become tangible.

– Your options are still open as long as there are only signals of developing problems, says Bellinga.

He also highlights a simple issue that is often forgotten in the early stages of projects: that planning should start from the end of the project.

This means giving thought to how the finished product will be used and function in various situations, and from the perspectives of different users.

– The emphasis should be on previews rather than reviews: plan, anticipate and look ahead. Start the project with the end in mind, Bellinga says.

Henk Bellinga is one of the instructors in Aalto PRO's Diploma in Project Management program.

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