GPM First
Chapter 2 of Images of Projects (978-0-5660-8716-5) by Mark Winter and Tony Szczepanek

Images of Projects: A Pragmatic Framework

Chapter Two


Having explained the importance of the image-action connection, we turn now to this book’s central idea, namely that of consciously working with multiple images to help deal with the complex realities of projects. Imagine a scenario in which the Equipment Direct Project used in the previous chapter has just been approved and the task now is to identify the action needed for moving the project forward; how might this be done? One could argue this is a difficult question to answer, since it depends on the actual situation and the people involved. This is largely true of course, but the question can still be posed at a general level: How, in principle, might the action be identified? In working with multiple images, a pragmatic approach could be to explore the insights and implications from a number of relevant perspectives, and then from these, craft a feasible set of actions to help move the project forward. And this is what we do in the next section with a worked example to illustrate the first part of this process, before introducing the images framework as a whole, and how it can be used in practice. Also, in doing this, we invite the reader to consider the following set of images in relation to their own perspectives, and how this way of thinking compares with the reader’s own approach to thinking about projects.

Illustrative Example

From what PERSPECTIVES might we view this project?

Social perspective

To begin the process, we would probably start by seeing the Equipment Direct Project as a social process involving various individuals, groups and organizations. This would then lead us to consider aspects such as the events, decisions and actions leading up to the current situation (that is, the social history of the project so far), how the various people and organizations have interacted up to now (for example, the meetings held to date) and what they perceive to be the main issues with the project. Other aspects that might also be considered would be the language used in project documentation and the informal social networks that seem to be operating in and around the project.

Political perspective

Linked to the social process image, we would also look at the Equipment Direct Project as a political process, by which we mean the individuals, groups and organizations all pursuing their own interests and agenda in the unfolding process. Seeing it from this perspective would lead us to ask questions such as: Whose interests are being served by this project? And, since not all interests and agenda are stated publicly, another question to ask could be: What might be the agenda behind this? Also, another important aspect of the Equipment Direct Project would be the power and influence of the people involved and how this might affect things from this stage on.

Intervention perspective

Given the nature of the project, we would also probably see it as an intervention process aimed ultimately at improving the daily living experience of disabled people. And a key consideration here could be the current framing of the project: Is it the right project to be doing? From an intervention point of view, is it just about improving access to equipment services, or is it also about improving the services themselves? In other words, has the current situation been sufficiently understood before deciding on what project(s) need to be carried out? In short, those involved might well agree that an intervention is needed, but what to do could still be unclear.

Value perspective

Another way of seeing the project is to also think of it as a value creation process where the concept at present (we would say) is about creating value for disabled people, that is, improved access to equipment services and greater choice of equipment. Adopting this perspective might also lead us to consider other desired outcomes which could be reduced operating costs and the development of a blueprint for use in other areas. Further considerations might then flow from these such as the criteria needed for measuring these outcomes and the mechanisms needed for tracking their delivery.

Development perspective

Another image that clearly applies to the Equipment Direct Project is the development process image, which would lead us to consider aspects such as what needs to be developed and by what date and within what budget? For example, those involved could decide to organize the project as a set of linked workstreams aimed at developing the service operation, the website and the people who will provide the new service; and hence, some possible deliverables could be new procedures, trained staff, a new Internet-based system, supplier contracts and service level agreements and so on. Other important aspects from this perspective could be service operation KPIs, system performance requirements, development risks and the use of relevant tools.

Organizational perspective

In applying this perspective, the sorts of aspects that would be considered here are roles and responsibilities, team structure, governance arrangements and so on. But this is not all, for in taking this perspective, the image used in this book is that of projects as temporary organizations, which means deliberately seeing a project as being like a conventional organization, only it is temporary rather than semi-permanent. This might be another useful image to apply to the Equipment Direct Project and might lead us to consider aspects such as financial and commercial aspects, support functions and marketing/communications. Also, the organizational entity itself might be better viewed as a programme rather than a project, in which case the ‘operations’ part could be organized as a set of linked workstreams rather than a set of projects for instance.

Change perspective

Finally, another important way of seeing the Equipment Direct Project is to think of it also as a change process, which for this project would be a very important perspective. For example, this would lead us to consider aspects such as the rationale for change, the scope of the planned change and the perceived readiness for change amongst the various people and organizations involved, notably the disabled people and those involved in delivering the new service. Also, what will the changes mean for other related services? Is there a need to link this project to other relevant projects? Such questions clearly have important implications for the project.

To engage with complexity, we need perspectives which admit the possibility that more than one thing can be true at once.

Arthur Battram

Images of Projects Framework

Underlying the example just provided is a framework of seven images for engaging with the complex realities of projects and it is this framework that we now focus on. As already mentioned, the inspiration for Images of Projects is Gareth Morgan’s book Images of Organization which is why we begin with a brief introduction to the Images concept and how it can be applied to projects in the same way that it can be applied to organizations. The main assumption here is that the social reality of projects is fundamentally no different to the social reality of organizations, and hence the Images concept is just as applicable to projects. Also, a number of key principles for applying the Images concept are covered here, together with how the framework of images can be used with other frameworks and models. Later in the chapter, we introduce three distinct ways of using the framework in real situations, but first it is important to explain the Images concept itself.

Introduction to the IMAGES concept

The Images concept is based on the view that ‘organizations and organizational problems can be seen and understood in many different ways’1[21] which Morgan illustrates using the picture shown in Figure 2.1. Underlying this view and the Images concept are various ideas from social theory, philosophy and psychology, but these ideas are beyond the scope of this book. Suffice to say there is a serious philosophy behind the Images concept about the nature of the social world and how it differs to the natural world, and hence why it needs to be approached differently by seeing and thinking differently. Interested readers are encouraged to explore the intellectual foundations of the Images concept by consulting Gareth Morgan’s two books Images of Organization and Imaginization.

Figure 2.1 Different ways of seeing organizations


For our purposes, this section is just a brief introduction to the Images concept and how it can be applied to projects. So, returning to Figure 2.1, just as Gareth Morgan offers a set of images for engaging with the complex realities of organizations – based on the view that organizations and organizational problems can be seen and understood in many different ways – this book offers its own set of images for engaging with the complex realities of projects, based on the view that projects can also be seen and understood in many different ways. As Gareth Morgan states and we state in square brackets:


As we stated in the Overview, Gareth Morgan has written extensively in the field of organizations and management and has consulted widely with many organizations across the world. His Images concept is neatly summarized by Derek Pugh and David Hickson in their book Writers on Organizations:

everyone in an organization has in mind an implicit picture of that organization, a mental image of what it is like. Morgan contends not only that an organization is seen differently by different people, but that it can be seen in different ways by any one person. If multiple images of an organization are used, much greater understanding is gained, for organizations are many things at once, so multiple images envisage more of what is going on. They can reveal new ways of managing and designing organizations that were not apparent before.3[23]


In essence, this is the Images concept, and to operationalize the concept Morgan offers eight metaphorical images (for example, organizations as machines and organizations as brains and so on) for seeing and thinking about different aspects of organizations. And each image is a certain way of seeing with its own strengths and limitations. Some of the images may complement others in situations, some might be extremely insightful and others may prove less helpful, or not be relevant at all. However, the important point is not what images are used (although this is clearly important), but rather the principle of consciously working with multiple perspectives, as Morgan points out below:

there can be no single theory or [perspective] that gives an all-purpose point of view. There can be no “correct theory” for structuring everything we do. The challenge facing modern managers is to become accomplished in the art of using [multiple perspectives]: to find appropriate ways of seeing, understanding, and shaping the situations with which they have to deal.4[24]


In applying the Images concept to the world of projects, the contention of Images of Projects is the same as Images of Organization, and the easiest way to express this is by simply adapting the extract used on the previous page:

everyone involved in a project has in mind an implicit picture of that project, a mental image of what it is like. We contend not only that a project is seen differently by different people, but that it can be seen in different ways by any one person.

If multiple images of a project are used, much greater understanding is gained, for projects are many things at once, so multiple images envisage more of what is going on. They can also help in managing projects in conjunction with one’s own knowledge and experience.


In summary, the contention of Images of Projects is that just like organizations there is no one ‘best way’ to view projects (despite what proponents of the latest methods or tools might claim), and hence a key challenge for practitioners is to become skilled in the art of using multiple images for dealing with the complexity of projects in real situations. A practitioner can either interpret everything from a fixed standpoint, or they can become skilled (or more skilled) in the craft of seeing, understanding and shaping projects from multiple perspectives. The purpose of the Images of Projects framework shown opposite is to help you develop (or enrich) this crucial skill. And to help with this, we need to elaborate more now on the Images concept rather than the seven images shown opposite, which are covered in Part 2.

Key principles in working with multiple images

To elaborate more on the Images concept, listed below are some principles to keep in mind when applying the images in practice and the next few pages explain these principles in more detail.

Table 2.1 Key principles in working with multiple images

  • BOTH/AND rather than EITHER/OR

  • Seen AS rather than IS or ARE

  • No RIGHT set of images or perspectives to use in situations

  • Choose perspectives RELEVANT to the perceived situation

  • PROMPTS for thinking rather than prescriptions for action

  • Not the RIGHT image (eg. social) but a RELEVANT image

  • Think PERSPECTIVE rather than discipline or subject area


Table 2.2 Images of projects framework


1. BOTH/AND rather than EITHER/OR

Very importantly, the different images listed on the previous page are not alternatives between which a choice has to be made. Applying this principle to the example of the Equipment Direct Project, means the project can be viewed both as an intervention process and as a temporary organization, and not that it should be seen either as an intervention or as a temporary organization. Moreover, the same project can also be seen as both a value creation process, and as a development process, and so on and so forth. In other words, projects and programmes are many things at once and it is this reality that means the principle is always both/and rather than either/or. As Arthur Battram says in his book Navigating Complexity, to engage with complexity ‘we need perspectives which admit the possibility that more than one thing can be true at once’.5[25]

2. Seen AS rather than IS or ARE

Some PM books assert that ‘a project IS a temporary production process’ whilst others assert that ‘all projects ARE change processes’, or that ‘all projects ARE change projects’ (capitals added). Whilst these ideas might be helpful, they are simultaneously unhelpful in that they suggest or imply this is THE way to think about projects. The problem with these sorts of statements stems from the words IS and ARE which have the effect of ‘closing off’ other ways of thinking and other potentially useful insights which can only flow from taking other perspectives. A more pragmatic approach (and more defensible philosophically) is to think in terms of AS rather than IS or ARE, in the sense that different projects and programmes can be seen AS temporary production processes, but can also be seen AS change processes, and AS value creation processes, and AS temporary organizations and so on. Adopting this approach is much less prescriptive and can also have a profound effect on the subsequent work of a project or programme.

3. No RIGHT set of images or perspectives to use in situations

Two further points to make about working with the images is that there is no ‘right’ set of images to use in practice and nor is our list of seven images an exhaustive list. Like Morgan’s eight images of organization, the seven images of projects represent seven pragmatic perspectives for engaging with the complex realties of projects; however, we make no assumption that they are the only images that can be applied in real situations. Experientially, the seven core images are known to be useful, but this does not preclude the use of other images and concepts, including Morgan’s own framework for engaging with the organizational aspects of projects.

4. Choose perspectives RELEVANT to the perceived situation

If one accepts the idea that there is no ‘right’ set of images or perspectives, then a key implication of working with multiple perspectives is the need to make choices about which perspectives to use in particular situations. How might this be done? In practice, a useful principle to adopt here is to select perspectives which are thought to be relevant to the particular situation under consideration, as opposed to looking for the ‘right’ perspectives or the ‘right’ approach. Just like the difference between ‘as’ and ‘is’, the difference between ‘relevant’ and ‘right’ is a crucial distinction, mainly because the concept of ‘relevance’ invites the question of “relevant to what exactly?” By this we mean the choice of perspectives should always depend on the perceived situation and hence a useful question to ask is: What could be some relevant perspectives to look at it from? In short, one of the key characteristics of this book’s pragmatic approach to projects is its emphasis on being situation-driven rather than method-driven.

5. PROMPTS for thinking rather than prescriptions for action

Another key point to make about the seven core images is that they are not models or frameworks to be applied prescriptively, as in ‘following’ a method for example; they are simply prompts for seeing, thinking and talking about projects in real situations. To use a distinction from Against the Grain by Sue Pearce and Sheila Cameron, they are prompts for thinking rather than prescriptions for action, which is a crucial distinction when it comes to using the images in real situations.6[26] In other words, they are devices for making sense of projects, for reflecting on various aspects, for conceptualizing action possibilities, and for generally prompting group discussions in the everyday flux of events. In essence, they are devices for ‘first-stage thinking’.

6. Not the RIGHT image but a RELEVANT image

Associated with each perspective is a particular core image that we have developed, but there is no assumption here that each of the images in Part 2 is the ‘right’ image to use for that perspective. In this book, they are seen as relevant images because experience has shown them to be useful in various situations. However, this is not to say that additional or alternative images could not be used to inform or guide a particular perspective. For example, this book’s social image of projects is based on the idea of seeing projects as an ever-changing flux of events, but this is not the only social process perspective that could be taken. And similarly with the change perspective, the image used in this book is that of planned change because of its relevance to organizational change projects, but there are many other models of change that could be used.

7. Think PERSPECTIVE rather than discipline or specialism

The final principle to keep in mind when applying the different images is the need to think ‘perspective’ rather than ‘discipline’ or ‘specialism’. Consider the following examples: change management, quality management, benefits management, risk management and so on; whilst such phrases are useful for certain purposes, they also create the impression that the world is divided into lots of separate disciplines, specialisms, and processes all operating ‘out there’ in the world. In this book, we argue that the actuality of a project or programme is just one process, a social and political process, rather than lots of processes, which seems to be the image in most of the mainstream literature on project management. Clearly, the idea of doing change management one day, risk management another and benefits management on another day, is just plain nonsense. A more useful approach is to think perspective rather than process or discipline, for example ‘change perspective’ rather than ‘change management’, just as we did for the Equipment Direct Project. In that example, we asked not what should the change management plan be for that project, but what are the main considerations from a change perspective? And also how should these considerations be integrated with the insights and implications from the other perspectives? To illustrate this further, consider the two contrasting images in Figure 2.2.

Figure 2.2 Two contrasting images of reality


In summary, most people accept without question that the world is not divided into disciplines and yet the language of management tends to suggest that it is. As Figure 2.2 shows, a key assumption of the Images concept is that the real world is inherently complex, paradoxical, ambiguous, multifaceted, interconnected and so on, which is why the concept is that of using multiple images to help engage with this complex reality. And not only this, each image has its own strengths and limitations, or as Morgan cleverly puts it, each image is both a way of seeing and a way of not seeing, in the sense that all images not only illuminate and reveal, they also conceal and hide.

[Each image] can create powerful insights that also become distortions, as the way of seeing … becomes a way of not seeing … There are no right or wrong theories in management in an absolute sense, for every theory illuminates and hides.7[27]

Gareth Morgan

Links with other frameworks and tools

So far we have introduced seven core images and seven principles for engaging with the complex realities of projects. In some situations, only one or two of these images or perspectives might be ‘called upon’, say in a discussion or conversation perhaps, whilst in other situations, most or all of the images could be used to help carry out a structured review for example. An example here could be a stage review, the aim of which could be to carry out a review of a project or programme before allowing it to proceed to the next stage; such a review would clearly need to draw on a number of different perspectives and those involved might also use a number of frameworks and tools to help carry out the task, as we now show.

By frameworks and tools, we mean any of the frameworks, models and techniques in areas such as project management, change management, operations management, strategic management, organizational development and so on, any number of which can be used with the images in this book. In short, it is useful to think of this in what-how terms: for example, if what someone needs to do is review project X from various perspectives, then how they might do this is by using some relevant frameworks from elsewhere; the perspectives direct attention to what needs to be reviewed and the frameworks provide help with how this might be done. This can be shown using the example again of the Equipment Direct Project: as our earlier section showed, we have already answered the question of what perspectives we might look at the project from to help identify the action needed, and the question now is how might we support these perspectives with some other relevant tools? Rather than list examples for each perspective, we can show this quite easily by using one example tool called the Change Process Model shown in Figure 2.3. Applying this model to the Equipment Direct Project might prompt the following questions:

Figure 2.3 A change management model


  • Re: the wake-up call – do those involved recognize the need for change?

  • Re: phase I – who will lead the change and do they have the leadership capability?

  • Re: phase II – is there a case for change and has this been adequately made?

  • Re: phase III – has the current situation been sufficiently understood?

  • Re: phase IV – has the desired state been defined beyond the IT requirements?

  • Re: phase V – how should the users of the service (disabled people) be involved?

  • Re: phase VI – is there a need to pilot the new service before implementation?


As our example shows, we have listed only seven questions and we have could have listed more, noting as well that these questions arise from using just one model from one perspective. Generally, not only is it important to consider using such models, because of the potential insights they can yield, it is also important to consider how they will be used in real situations. Also, this is an aspect we touched on earlier and it is important to emphasize it again here: although not usually expressed this way, management models and frameworks are more usefully seen as prompts for thinking rather than prescriptions for action, which is why we chose the Change Process Model as our example model. For example, here is what Dean and Linda Anderson say about their model in their book Beyond Change Management:

the detail, logic and structure of the Change Process Model might create the impression that it is a cookbook for how to succeed at transformation. … There is no cookbook for transformational change. Anyone using [it] must remember that it is a thinking discipline, not a prescription for action. … Remember, the Change Process Model, in all its comprehensiveness, is simply designed to support you as you consciously ask which of its many activities are critical for your transformation’s success. … In any given transformation effort, we suggest that you consider all of what is offered in the model and then select only the work that is appropriate to your change effort.8[28]


In other words, the role of the Change Process Model is not to prescribe what should be done for all projects and programmes, but to prompt various questions about what might be done within particular projects and programmes, for which the answers will always be dependent on the particular situation under consideration. Understanding this point, that all such models and frameworks are more usefully seen and used as prompts rather than prescriptions, is hugely important. As a guiding principle, it represents a totally different mindset to the conventional mindset of seeing a model or framework as a prescription for action, or something that has to be followed step by step as if it were a method or technique. To use a toolkit analogy, models such as the Change Process Model and other management frameworks are seen here as tools for thinking essentially, and when seen and used this way, they can play a helpful role as Sue Pearce and Sheila Cameron point out in their book Against the Grain:

[management models] may offer few advantages over models based on experience … [however], if used as prompt rather than prescription, some of them at least can broaden your perspective and help you to cope with the complexities around you.9[29]

Sue Pearce and Sheila Cameron


Link with the Mainstream Image of Projects

Before we look at the different ways in which the Images of Projects framework can be used in real situations, it is important to briefly consider how the ideas in this book relate to the mainstream image of projects. By mainstream we mean the traditional concept of a ‘project’ in mainstream project management publications such as college textbooks, practitioner books, body of knowledge guides, methodology manuals and so on. Consider the following four definitions for instance:

A project involves a group of people working to complete a particular end product, or to achieve a specific result, by a specified date, within a specified budget and to meet a specified standard of performance (quality).10[30]

[A project is] an endeavour in which human, material and financial resources are organized in a novel way, to undertake a unique scope of work, of given specification, within constraints of cost and time, so as to achieve beneficial change.11[31]

A project is an endeavour to accomplish a specific objective … [it] has a well-defined objective – an expected result or product. The objective of a project is usually defined in terms of scope, schedule and cost.12[32]

[A project is] a unique process, consisting of a set of coordinated and controlled activities with start and finish dates, undertaken to achieve an objective conforming to specific requirements, including the constraints of time, cost and resources.13[33]


All four definitions clearly embody the same basic concept of a ‘project’, namely that of a temporary endeavour to accomplish an objective relating to a particular end product, system or facility, which needs to be created, engineered or improved. The goal or objective may only be expressed in broad terms, but nonetheless this is known or given at the start. All four definitions also use the same three performance criteria of specification (quality), cost and time, against which all real-world projects should be measured. Similar definitions can be found elsewhere, all of which point to the same basic image in most of the mainstream literature on project management. So, how does this mainstream image relate to the Images of Projects framework?

In our view, the mainstream view of projects represents a particular image of projects rather than an all-encompassing model as many of the college textbooks and other publications seem to imply. In Images terminology, it represents a particular way of seeing projects, but also, a way of not seeing, in that it illuminates and obscures certain aspects of projects and not others. With its origins in engineering and construction projects, the image itself and all its associated techniques is essentially a production view of projects, which focuses on a particular end product to be created, engineered or improved. Of course, this does not mean it is the ‘wrong’ perspective to adopt, only that it represents a particular image of projects, rather than an all-encompassing theory. As Gareth Morgan points out in Images of Organization, no single theory can provide an all-purpose point of view, and there can be no one ‘correct’ theory or framework for structuring everything we do.

This leads to one other important point about the mainstream image of projects and indeed all the images in this book, and that is they represent ways of thinking about reality, rather than descriptions of reality itself. In cartography, it is well known that the map is never the territory, and yet within the project management literature, the mainstream view of projects is often presented as if it were the territory. Not only is it a particular view of projects, it is also just that, a view of projects, and not a map of the actual reality. In other words, because of the complexity of the social world, it is important to distinguish between the intellectual world of ideas and images, and the actuality of events and actions; and maintaining awareness of this distinction is very important in the complex world of projects – see Figure 2.4.

Figure 2.4 Intellectual world/real world distinction


Notice also on the left-hand side of Figure 2.4 the idea of temporary purposeful action as a more generic starting point for thinking about projects than the mainstream image of producing something to specification, cost and time. This subsumes the mainstream view as just one particular image of temporary purposeful action. As stated in the Overview, this more generic concept can be applied to any project or programme, including those not normally thought of as projects and programmes in the conventional sense, including university degree programmes.

There is no ‘one best map’ of a particular terrain. For any terrain there will be an indefinite number of useful maps, a function of the indefinite levels and kinds of description of the terrain itself.14[34]

Brian Fay

Applying the Images in Practice

Now that we have introduced the Images concept and the seven images, we turn now to how they can be used in real situations, albeit briefly, since this is the main focus of Part 3. The first thing to say is that there is no ‘right’ way of using the images, for it all depends on the person’s role in relation to a project or programme. For example, a programme sponsor might draw heavily on the social, political and value images, whereas a team leader might draw heavily on the development, organizational and change images. Different images will be more relevant to some roles than others, and it also depends of course on the person’s interests and how they see their main role. Irrespective of these aspects, however, there are three quite distinct ways of using the images that are open to all practitioners.

Three types of use: selective, structured and shared use

Starting from the simple fact that people have to think and act in different situations, experience has shown that the Images of Projects framework can be usefully applied in at least three different ways, as shown in the following three independent examples:

“It seems to me the project is much more about developing the internal service operation than about implementing a new IT system, and if we were to adopt this view of the project, then the whole approach would be very different, including how the staff could be involved.”

“Given the complexity of the situation, a structured review is needed to find an acceptable way forward for the project. And in carrying out this review, we need to look at the situation from various perspectives in order to reach an accommodation about the action needed.”

[Person A] “From a development perspective, here are two possible concepts …” [Person B] “It seems to me, from a change angle, the first one is more achievable …” [Person C] “I agree, but politically, it might still be necessary to do the second …”


Although these examples might seem similar, they illustrate three different types of use: the first illustrates the selective use of the images, by which we mean the use of certain images in particular situations; the second is an example of structured use, by which we mean a more systematic use of the images in a formal review for example; and the third is an illustration of shared use, where the images framework can be used as a sort of common language with which to think and talk about projects. (Note that by ‘images’ here, we mean either images or perspectives.) Moreover, the first one shows how the images can be used purely in the ‘background’ as it were, without the other people in the situation knowing that a framework is being used; in this case, the practitioner is simply using the development image to offer a different perspective on the project. And in other situations, like the third example, the images framework can be used much more openly as a way of prompting and steering discussions. For a summary of the three types, see Table 2.3.

Table 2.3 Three Types of Use


Applicable across all phases of the lifecycle

Another aspect to mention is that all three types are applicable throughout the life of a project or programme, for the simple reason that practitioners have to deal with situations at all phases of the lifecycle, as shown in Figure 2.5. Also, the reason we use the three-phase model in Figure 2.5 is because it can be applied to any type of project or programme and also because it links directly to the images in Part 2. For example, depending on which images are being used and for what purpose, the three phases take on different meaning; for instance, if the intervention image is being used as a guide to action, then the three phases in Figure 2.5 could be a review phase, an execution phase and an evaluation phase; whereas if the change image is being used, the three phases could be seen as the upstream, midstream and downstream phases. In other words, the three generic phases in Figure 2.5 represent a generic lifecycle model that can be framed and reframed in different situations according to the type of project or programme being carried out and other relevant situational factors. Also, as any experienced practitioner knows, these situations arise and evolve through all phases of a project or programme, which is why the three types of use are applicable throughout the lifecycle, as shown by some further examples in Table 2.4.

Figure 2.5 The occurence of situations at all phases of a project


Table 2.4 Example uses during the different phases of a project


Why complex situations in particular?

Whilst the images can be applied in any situation, they are particularly appropriate in complex situations, which we define as those situations in which action is needed but what to do is unclear, like those shown or implied in Table 2.4. The reason for this is that in these situations practitioners have to engage in ‘a certain kind of work’ as the late Donald Schön describes it in the extract below:

in real-world practice, problems do not present themselves to the practitioner as givens. They must be constructed from the materials of problematic situations which are puzzling, troubling, and uncertain. In order to convert a problematic situation to a problem, a practitioner must do a certain kind of work. He [or she] must make sense of an uncertain situation that initially makes no sense. When professionals consider what road to build, for example, they deal usually with a complex and ill-defined situation in which geographic, topological, financial, economic and political issues are all mixed up … Once they have somehow decided what road to build and go on to consider how best to build it, they may have a problem they can solve by the application of available techniques; but when the road they have built leads unexpectedly to the destruction of a neighbourhood, they may find themselves again in a situation of uncertainty.15[35]


In writing about this in his seminal book The Reflective Practitioner (1983), Schön calls this process problem setting, to distinguish it from the more familiar process of problem solving, and he describes this process more generally in the extract below:

it is this sort of situation [the road example] that professionals are coming increasingly to see as central to their practice. They are coming to recognize that although problem setting is a necessary condition for technical problem solving, it is not itself a technical problem. When we set the problem, we select what we will treat as the “things” of the situation, we set the boundaries of our attention to it, and we impose upon it a coherence which allows us to say what is wrong and in what directions the situation needs to be changed. Problem setting is a process in which, interactively, we name the things to which we will attend and frame the context in which we will attend to them.16[36]


Experience shows that most people do this subconsciously based on tacit knowledge and experience, which is generally sufficient in everyday situations. However, in messy situations, the process of problem setting becomes much more important and most people are often unaware of this, as Edward de Bono points out below:

[first-stage thinking] is taken for granted and often assumed not to be there at all. … [problem solving techniques] are never applied directly to a situation. They can only be applied when that situation has been divided into concepts, features, factors, effects, and other perceptual parcels. … These perceptual parcels are not themselves created by the application of any special techniques, but by the natural patterning processes of mind with all their limitations … We assume that these starting concepts are correct … In other words, we assume that thinking only starts at the second stage.17[37]


To answer the question, then, the reason first-stage thinking is particularly important in complex situations is because the ‘things’ that are named and framed in a situation, or the ‘perceptual parcels’ as de Bono calls them, always reflect a particular worldview, and different worldviews always lead to different ‘things’ being seen and attended to. In other words, experience leads us to ‘notice’ certain things in situations and not others, and if one’s ‘outlook’ is particularly narrow in seeing the situation, then no amount of subsequent effort will make up for this, as de Bono points out below:

no amount of excellence in [second-stage thinking] can … make up for deficiencies in the first stage. … Choice of attention area, choice of entry point, choice of factors, these are all part of the first stage of thinking. And such choices will predetermine the final result of the thinking process.18[38]


This, then, is why the Images concept is so relevant to the world of projects, because the ‘choices’ made at this first ‘stage’ of thinking predetermine not only the final result of the thinking process, they also predetermine the final results of projects and programmes. As we showed in Chapter 1, if one’s ‘first-stage thinking’ is deficient (for example, the project concept is flawed), then no amount of detailed planning or risk analysis can ever make up for this. So, what is the essential difference in using the images?

How is this different to what people already do?

Before moving on to Part 2, we end this chapter with an important question that is sometimes asked about the Images concept: “How is this different to what I already do?” Some readers, for instance, might say they already think about projects from different perspectives, based on experience and intuition, and no doubt this is true. But consider once again the three examples on page 37: the people in those situations are consciously thinking from multiple perspectives, rather than just relying on experience and intuition; in other words, as well as experience, they are deliberately using different images and frameworks to help think and talk about their particular projects. And it is this that can make an important difference in real situations: in short, the deliberate use of images and frameworks can direct attention to aspects of projects and programmes that might not otherwise be thought about, and hence can influence the action that follows, and the eventual results that might be achieved.

In summary, the Images concept is simply an invitation to practitioners to do what they already do, but to do so more consciously, with the aid of some images and frameworks, as and when required.

Submit your own content for publication

Submit content