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Cover Story! The tale behind the book’s striking image

Many readers have commented on the striking cover design of my book ‘Project Management for Supplier Organizations’ and have asked why this image of a tree reflected in a lake was selected.

Apart from the intrinsic beauty of the picture, there are a number of themes that provide metaphors or other links to the material in the book and which are almost all connected.

Firstly, the shape of a tree is a fractal. Fractals are patterns that repeat on every scale and are a both a fascinating and convenient way of explaining in a simple way some of the very complex shapes found in nature. River valleys, ice crystals, seashells like tress are all fractals. As explained in the book, both projects and project management are fractals and this provides a useful way to explain and explore the various approaches to managing projects.

Secondly, I like the idea that the two tree images represent the two different types of project explored within the book, namely those managed by Owner Organizations (the upper image) and those managed by Supplier Organizations (the lower image). A number of analogies can be derived from this, the most obvious being that the second initially appears to be an exact copy of the former. It is only a closer and more detailed inspection which reveals that there are some subtle differences, shown in the image by the distortions created by the ripples in the pond.

Further, the two tree images are astride a boundary, that is the horizon, and are connected across this divide by the solid, regular, strong, reliable and predictable shape of the tree trunks. This is a useful metaphor for the contract that forms the firm and obvious connection between the realms of the two organizations – the Owner and the Supplier- and their different projects.

However, moving downwards and inwards from the top of the image we see that the starting point of the upper tree (and hence the Owner’s project) is the small vulnerable and diaphanous twigs at the extremities of the tree that come together, gradually becoming more solid and dependable as they change from twigs to branches to boughs, before the trunk is formed. This journey is similar to that of an Owner and the passage of their project from initial fragile and only partially formed ideas into firm plans and ultimately into bold commercial investments. A similar journey take place within the lower tree image (the Supplier’s project) but this time from the solid and compact to the expansive. In the same way an incoming contract is a tightly packed document but within the Suppliers realm it expands, ultimately giving rise to the very many small but connected fragments of work. In this respect the resemblance to a project’s work breakdown structure is inescapable.

The final link is a personal one. Here in my home office I have spent more hours than I dare count writing this book. It has been quite an experience, often frustrating, sometimes very satisfying and when contemplating either of these imposters I have slightly shifted my gaze upwards, away from the screen and out of the window and towards the south west. You’ll not be surprised to learn that right in front of me, in the middle distance is a beautiful and symmetrical tree and in those long winter months in the afternoon the naked skeleton would be partially back lit by the setting sun. It bears an uncanny similarity to a tree that you may have seen.

Satisfied? Well Perhaps You Should Be!

When your KPI’s go kaput, again, and when your Business Case becomes a “basket case”, again, and when you are forced to reclassify your delivery schedule under “Great works of Fiction”, again, it is easy to conclude that a Project Manager’s lot is not a happy one. (more…)

Fractals and What They May Offer Project Management

For many, a simple mention of the word “fractal” is sufficient to induce dread; a hideous throwback to all the worst feelings of inadequacy that high level mathematics that can induce. (more…)

The Challenge of Projects

Oh how simple the question sounds.

“What is a project?”

Straightforward, innocuous, harmless? Well maybe, but personally, I would advise caution.


Space Rockets and Kinky Boots

“Kinky Boots” is not an expression one uses very often in the context of project management. In fact, I would be surprised if this article isn’t the first in the history of Project Management to use it at all, let alone offer it as an example that brightly illuminates the fundamental reason for the cultural difference that exists between organisations delivering projects, and those that do not.