A knowledge area is a set of processes that are focussed on solving a problem belonging the similar subject. In PMBOK® 4th edition, there are nine knowledge areas – Integration, Scope, Time, Cost, Quality, Human Resource, Communications, Risk and Procurement Management. While comparing The Art of War with PMBOK®, I could find that thousands years old book contains lessons that can be applied to all the knowledge areas.
Let’s now see, the excerpts from the Project Management Battlefield about Knowledge Areas and The Art of War.
The overall integration management process is actually a collection of five distinct processes that have an impact, influence on each other, and are related to specific phases of the project management life cycle. The sequence starts with the project charter development that defines the start of the project, then the project plan relates to all the phases in the project life cycle. The process in ‘direct and manage project execution’ and ‘monitor and control project’ work together to define how the ongoing work will be managed and monitored. Closing of the project or the current phase is about managing the project or phase closure. During all these phases, the integrated change management plan is the tool to manage changes systematically. Being so interlinked, any changes in one have consequential changes in the other processes. These changes need to be tracked, and the project manager must handle them carefully.
The Art of War emphasizes a concept similar to the project charter: the sovereign selects a general with all the necessary qualities; good fighting skills, the ability to handle superior and inferior forces, etc.; Then trusts him to win the war without any interference from the sovereign. There is a lot of emphasis on the development of a good plan or strategy prior to entering the battle. The Art of War emphasizes that a general must ensure proper execution of plans and continue to review progress to pick up any indication that suggests modifications to the current strategy/plan. There are plenty of references in The Art of War that indicates the importance of integrated management of projects and programs. Closure is not directly referenced and The Art of War does not discussed about disbanding the army, however it does reference the learning from the past experience for the benefit in the war.
The processes in scope management helps a project manager in doing exactly what must be done in order to deliver the project. The the scope refers to either a product scope and/or a project scope. To manage the project scope, it is necessary to manage several contributing processes that help a PM complete scope management-related activities. These include collecting requirements, defining scope, creating a work breakdown structure, verifying scope, and controlling scope. These activities will have to be undertaken at least once during the life cycle of the project. Project charter and stakeholder-related information are critical to this process.
The Art of War talks about ensuring adequate resources and being prepared before going into battle. It talks about measurements, estimations, and calculations for improving chances of victory. There are references about collecting the requirements, defining the scope, creating a WBS, scope verification and scope control. For example, on changes, it says “Whether to concentrate or to divide your troops must be decided by circumstances“, which means, that the changes must be analysed thoroughly before taking decisions related to changes to the project’s plans are taken. Having a change control board helps in analysing the impact on the project baselines.
The process in project time management knowledge are helps a project manager to define the project tasks and activities, identify the relationships and sequence the activities, identify the internal and external dependencies, estimate durations and resources needed and then develop the schedule. Essentially a plan is like a map that shows how we reach the destination—a completed project—as each individual task is completed. Schedule control helps in determining the status of the project schedule, schedule changes if changes have occurred, and influences and manages scheduling changes.
Sun Tzu also comments on the time management aspects of the project in The Art of War. There are a number of statements that can be applied to the processes in the time management knowledge area. There is emphasizes on defining activities, sequencing them, estimating the resources needed to perform the activities, developing a schedule, and, finally, controlling the schedule from the perspective of going to war. There is also a lot of emphasis on sequencing of activities and the development of the schedule.
The processes in cost management knowledge area consists of estimating, budgeting, and controlling costs. The first major activity of cost management is to estimate the cost, clearly. Once the cost is determined, the budget is determined, and the cost must be maintained within the budget. The scope definition is very critical to the cost management knowledge area to make the project outcome as deterministic as possible. A cost management plan establishes the formats to be used and the criteria for planning, structuring, estimating, budgeting, and controlling costs. Estimation of the cost is an approximation, and accuracy and confidence levels depend on how well we understand the process that accomplishes the activity.
Due to the very nature of war, there were bound to be references to the costs. There are statements that refers to the obvious; costs should be estimated for all resources that will be required to complete the project. This should cover all direct and indirect costs. There is another interesting quote about the resources – “Bring war material with you from home, but forage on the enemy. Thus, the army will have food enough for its needs”, which means – “Develop an approximation of the monetary resources needed to complete the project activities. While estimating resources, analyse trade-offs and alternatives; use appropriate make versus buy, buy versus lease, or sharing of resources to achieve optimal costs for the project”.
To any service or a product, quality is fundamental. Quality is always a three pronged process - Firstly, quality must be planned-in, then there is quality assurance and the third prong of quality management is quality control. In quality planning we look at the scope baseline and the stakeholder register. Cost performance and schedule baselines, risks, environmental factors, and organizational process assets are referred to create the quality management plan, metrics and check lists, quality improvement plan, and project document updates. And then there are tools like, specific benchmarks, design of experiments, control charts, statistical sampling techniques, and anything unique to the organization.
I didn’t expect to find anything related to the quality management as The Art of War was never about the production and delivering. But again a war is mission critical, hence, Sun Tzu has said some things that try to bring out the necessity of performing steps that bear similarities with quality management as defined in PMBOK®. For example, Sun Tzu says, “Carefully compare the opposing army with your own, so that you may know where strength is superabundant and where it is deficient“, indicating that a project manager must use quality tools, perform quality audits to understand the team’s strengths and weaknesses and use benchmarking to compare against industry standards for identifying areas for improvement.
The processes in this knowledge area help in assembling, building and managing a team on an ongoing basis. Identifying and locating resources, coupled with a recruitment plan are constituents of the team acquisition process. The assembled team goes through the process of forming, storming, and norming before it starts to perform as a team. That process takes time and careful nurturing. With not-so-perfect people availability, there may be training and development needs to be fulfilled.
Sun Tzu, in The Art of War, places emphasis on teams rather than on individuals. The emphasis is on developing teams, keeping spirits up and keeping soldiers motivated. The role of the general in the creation of a strong, united army is stressed. The Art of War discusses rewards and recognition, and other incentives to motivate the army. Building the army into a single fighting unit and emphasizing teamwork rather than the individual is stressed many times.
The processes in this knowledge area help a project manager to analyse the business owners, team, sponsors and other stakeholder’s communication needs and meet the identified needs. It starts with the stakeholder identification, then who will need what information, how often and formats, languages, content and level of details. Then come information distribution, which essentially means that the raw data is organized in such a way that the information is relevant for the stakeholders. The most exhaustive of all is managing stakeholder’s expectation which calls to work with stakeholders to ensure their needs are met. The importance of communication is so obvious that we can find many examples, in our own experience, where many disasters can be attributed to it.
Poor communication usual result in disaster in wars. The Art of War emphasizes the need for communications, identifying and planning the information needs and methods of information distribution, and making these available to all generals, and soldiers. There are references to how information distribution happens and the various ways of reporting performance. Such references are similar to PMBOK® processes in communications management. Sun Tzu’s quote, ”Gongs and drums, banners and flags are means whereby the ears and eyes of the host may be focused on one particular point” is an example of importance of communication information needs of stakeholders. There are lots of references where it is emphasised that right information must be available to the decision makers.
In an entirely predictable system, there are no risks involved because the “unknowns” do not exist. Theoretically at least, if the project planning process can enumerate and take care of all the potential threats, there are no risks. However, its impossible to foresee all the unknowns and devise a predictable plan. The processes in this knowledge are helps a project manager to identify the risks, perform risk analysis both qualitative and quantitative, plan for the risks responses, prepare a risk management plan and monitor and control the risks.
War being mission critical, The Art of War puts great emphasis on the need to identify risks. Identifying risks and determining the risks that can affect the outcome of the battle is the major responsibility of the general. Discussions around risk analysis and planning the risk responses can also be found. Sun Tzu lays great emphasis on various risk mitigation strategies and planning appropriate risk responses to deal with all the identified risks. There is also emphasis on monitoring and controlling risks throughout the course of the battle, very similar to how risk is addressed in PMBOK®.
The processes in this knowledge area help a project manager to prepared a procurement plan, collect requirements for procurements, supplier identification, preparing a selection criteria, liaising with them, obtaining responses from potential sellers, selecting one out of the responding vendors and maybe awarding a contract to the selected supplier. Planning and control activities that are are involved making sure that the contracted supplies are procured efficiently and verifying whether the contract is being performed the right way. Getting a closure on the procurement activities forms the fourth and the last step of the full procurement management process. The most important aspect to keep in mind about procurement is that, we essentially look for the suppliers to supply us the products or services that either we do not produce or it is not the core of our business.
I did not expect much in The Art of War about procurement. Sun Tzu has discussed briefly abound the procurement management, primarily due the fact that modern projects are about creating services or products. Though suppliers might have existed even during the time when Sun Tzu lived, they are more likely to be under the control of kings and kingdoms; therefore no mention about them can be found in The Art of War. Given the fact that a supplier exists to complement some skills or products that our organization does not own, a supplier is necessarily an extension of the project team and, a supplier’s activity could be planned and managed based on the project needs. The Art of War does state that “We cannot enter into alliances until we are acquainted with the designs of our neighbours“. Which means we must establish partnerships and alliances, with suppliers whose business complement that of ours.