Legacy: who delivers it and are there always benefits?

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Whenever I used to hear legacies I used to think of Victorian novels with gifts, endowments or inheritances being misplaced or misunderstood.

Nowadays I do try to think of legacies as a central direct outcome or product of an enterprise but usually benefits sounds better.

So for me, that places legacies in a secondary situation on the lines of unexpected outcomes by-products or spin-offs.

Of course legacies can be positive or negative, similar to risk with its positive opportunities and negative threats.

Negative legacies can include: residual problems, contamination, additional cost, difficulties in life cycle and disappointment in performance.

Hopefully these are not what are being thought of when discussing the London 2012 Olympic legacies or for any other modern enterprise. Such negative features need to be identified and dealt with near the beginning.

Often people expect the positive legacies to be financially quantifiable to balance the books. That can be difficult to estimate in comparable units and quantities.

Sometimes on my projects we found hidden, unexpected benefits or legacies for certain unexpecting stakeholders which we would keep quiet about. That is until some other benefits or legacies might be under pressure or being reduced. Then we would put the new ones on the table. Is that naughty? Or is it managing expectations?

I think some of this might be happening with London 2012 Olympics.

Clearly we were and are all expecting and hoping for buildings and installations to have secondary uses by clever, viable refurbishment, relocations, up-grades and changes of use.

Also we were hoping for universal exemplar standards in construction health and safety we got them the zero tolerance health and safety approach and zero deaths remain most impressive.

Also, somewhat unexpectedly, the effects of the Games Makers on volunteering has been very positive, adding an extra dimensions to on-going corporate social responsibilities.

Another unexpected plus was seeing the army on the streets contributing to a successful security project. It was reassuring; whereas in many countries it would be distinctly un-reassuring to see a real army on the streets.

There has also been the feel good factor and appreciation of a public transport system that succeeded and did not fail. And 2013 is the 150 anniversary of London Underground a real legacy.

This brings me to my final observations. In our fast moving, disposable society are we searching too much for new legacies when in fact we should be appreciating, nurturing and retaining past positive legacies as intended or unintended by-products of ancient and recent projects and programmes?

At our parochial level is this happening with project management knowledge?

Furthermore I believe balanced legacies, like benefits and sustainability, are most appropriately defined and delivered at programme level rather than project level.

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Posted by Tom Taylor on 21st Aug 2013

About the Author

Tom Taylor is a vice-president of APM, joint founder of Buro Four, principal at dashdot.

Previously a Certificated Project Manager he is currently a RPP.

He is an Honorary Member or Fellow of International Project Management Association (IPMA), PMAN (Nepal), PRY (Finland), APOGEP (Portugal), AIEPRO (Spain) and APM (UK).

He is a reciprient of the  Sir Monty Finneston 2009 and the APM President's Medal.

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