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Within our grasp

David Waboso’s inaugural message as APM President gave the project management community a lot to think about, namely that project management is increasingly about more than the rusty iron triangle of time, cost and quality. As a profession, we need to expand this paradigm to deal with the growth of complexity and pace. 

Productive collaboration across organisations, countries and cultures is a ‘must have’ requirement, and digital technology will need to be harnessed more effectively to help project managers succeed in harsh economic environments. Underpinning everything, said Waboso, is people. 

For this London Underground director, a man with a solid engineering background, to ask practitioners to focus on the so-called ‘soft’ side of project management reinforces a movement that is making waves across the infrastructure and IT project community, and helping to push the UK to the forefront of project management thought leadership. 

Simply put: without the careful consideration of multiple stakeholder perspectives, your project is unlikely to be successful. With my 20 years of experience in complex programme delivery, I am pleased to see this emphasis, and welcome the discussions on diversity that support this thinking. 

Despite the growth in the number of large projects being commissioned, the research shows that our historic focus on time, cost and quality has not produced significant performance improvement. 

It is time to accept that projects exist to satisfy human desires and needs, and we have to better understand these drivers before we can hope to improve our success statistics. Unfortunately, to date there has been little by way of practical tools and models to assist the project manager in this journey. The standard techniques of stakeholder categorisation and prioritisation are well known and certainly necessary, but where are the methodologies to help with the practicalities of decision-making and intervention? 

The publishing arm of the Institution of Civil Engineers has recently produced a book that just may be what project managers are crying out for to help them with this murky world of human relationship management. 

Going by the catchy title of ‘Global Risk Assessment and Strategic Planning (GRASP)’, this newly-documented methodology captures the thinking of a hugely experienced team of practitioners and academics and provides step-by-step instructions for managing multi-stakeholder perspectives in an effective and clear way. 

The fact that the HS2 project has incorporated it into its processes is an indication of GRASP’s provenance. Although the book is newly published, the practice has been developed over a number of decades by consultants working on real projects.

The methodology has systems thinking as a backdrop, but brings it to life via a six-step approach that is easy to understand. By combining multi-stakeholder perspectives, the GRASP methodology enhances both the management team’s knowledge base and its awareness of a project’s situation. It facilitates not only the identification of potential risks to projects, but also provides an effective process for managing such risks.

Plus, in keeping with project management tradition, there is even a ‘GRASP triangle’, although I am pleased to say that this triangle is less prescriptive and more thought provoking than its iron cousin. It’s about people.

There are a number of interactive ways of engaging with this methodology. A number of events have been organised, which will allow the methodology to be presented and discussed across the project management community. This initiative as a significant step forward for the ‘soft’ project movement and anyone interested in improving the way that projects are delivered ought to sign up and take part.


This blog first appeared in the Summer edition of  Project Journal.

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  1. Merv Wyeth
    Merv Wyeth 02 August 2016, 08:15 AM

    Hi Ben,Great article - you had me on the hook with your call to action.I was about to respond but then I couldn't find any links to the events you mention and/or further info. PS. I would have loved to have seen a diagram too.Thanks, Merv.  

  2. Fran Bodley-Scott
    Fran Bodley-Scott 10 August 2016, 03:00 PM

    On June 16th the authors of the GRASP model gave a mini introduction to GRASP by considering some of the causes of project failure that could be addressed through greater attention to the people-factor. For more information about GRASP itself, details about the book mentioned by Ben are on the ICE website. If you want to buy it, the ICE bookshop is a bit unhelpful but you'll find it here.Send me a message if 'Stakeholders' and/or GRASP are topics that would be of interest to your SIG or branch - the Stakeholder Engagement Focus Group may be able to help with an event.