Skip to content

The 7 boundaries of project management

Added to your CPD log

View or edit this activity in your CPD log.

Go to My CPD
Only APM members have access to CPD features Become a member Already added to CPD log

View or edit this activity in your CPD log.

Go to My CPD
Added to your Saved Content Go to my Saved Content

What’s it all about?
David Shannon held an interactive event about identifying and removing distractions from the management of projects with APM members in Birmingham on November 7th 2019, which was also, fittingly, International Project Management Day.

The workshop
To start the evening David asked the groups to write-down a high-level Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) for a project they’ve worked on and then share with the rest of the attendees. The tip here was to put Project Management at the top!

A case study at IBM showed that project management productivity reduces as the workload (number of projects) increases, but peaks at 2 or 3 projects.

To use a model of productivity for project management, the elements required are (at least):

  • Project categorisation
  • Resource definition and valuing
  • Manager competence
  • True data collection
  • Analysis including benchmarking
  • Continual improvement 

David introduced the Project Management Box, showing the 6 boundaries of Project Management.  

The 6 limits of project management are shown across three different axes:

  • Hierarchical – 1. Upwards to Directing 2. Downwards to Administration
  • Expertise additional to managing the project, provided either – 3. Externally or 4. Internally to the owning organisation
  • Focus – 5. Socioeconomic factors and 6. Tasks within the project

David then introduced the 7th unpredictable boundary. This limit combines the concepts of complexity theory and quantum mechanics to reflect the irrationality that many project managers experience.

The event used the same 1-2-4 minutes structure all evening, David introduced the element, hand-outs were distributed to each table (of six attendees), each person noted their own experience, this was shared and then discussed with the table. Finally table conclusions were read-out for the whole room to engage in further discussion.

This summary doesn’t scratch the surface of the detail covered, hand-outs provided, exercises completed and discussions held!

If you only read one thing read this
The 7 boundaries of project management are:

1. Upwards to Direction
2. Downwards to Administration
3. Outwards to External skills or
4. Inwards to Internal skills,
5. External focus on Socioeconomic factors,
6. Internal focus on project Tasks,
7. Irrational Complexity and Quantum Management

Opinion – influencer
John Williams, Managing Director of ProjExc PM Consulting said “David stimulated significant thought into the limits or boundaries of project management in a variety of contexts.”

Summary – three take outs
1. There are at least 7 boundaries to Project Management that you should be aware of.
2. Put project management at the very top of your high-level WBS.
3. "If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics." – Richard Feynman

Further reading
APM BoK 6th Ed:
1.1.7 Success Factors & Maturity, 1.2.1 Environment, 2.1.1 Communication, 2.1.3 Delegation, 2.1.4 Influencing, 2.1.6 Negotiation, 3.1.6 Stakeholder Management


  • The Psychology of Personal Constructs - G Kelly 1955
  • Life on the Edge – Jim Al-Khalili and Johnjoe McFadden
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman
  • Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell
  • Obliquity – John Kay
  • Alex Through the Looking Glass - Alex Bellos
  • Organizational Theory – Gareth R Jones

 Adrian Turner, Midlands branch Volunteer.


Join the conversation!

Log in to post a comment, or create an account if you don't have one already.