Welcome to my permaculture "explorer's notebook," so to speak. Some of these entries may be quite raw, as they may literally be my notes from watching a YouTube video or a thought captured as it was dancing through my head. Other posts might be more elaborate as I take an idea and explore it in more detail or transcribe or polish a lengthy observation from my field book. Either way, I hope to capture some permaculture ideas and methods here as a recollection for myself and a resource for others. Thank you for stopping by. - Karla

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Project Management for Permaculture Practioners - Part 2 - Project Life Cycle

<< Part 1 - Intro | Next >>

"A project life cycle is the series of phases that a project passes through from its initiation to its closure." - Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBoK) (Fifth Ed.)

There are generally four main phases for any given project:
  • Starting
  • Organizing & Preparing
  • Doing the Work
  • Closing 
The curve should be smoother in the graphic below; however, I'm not so good with the drawing tool, and it's late.  Still, one can clearly see that starting and finishing are cheap, and "doing work" is expensive and labor intensive.

Based on a table in the PMBoK 5th Ed.

Let's see how this might play out with our two examples.

Example 1 - Creation of a Design
  • In the beginning, there's just an idea; a twinkle in the eye.  Maybe a phone call, a meeting with the land owners, a walk around the property.  Not much time.  Not too many person hours logged.  Lots of thinking, not so much doing.  You might do this for free.  You might not even log these hours as "billable."
  • Then a period of organizing and prepping.  Not a whole lot of people involved in numbers here, but your time spent on the project starts going up as you find maps, research climate, return to the property one or more times to observe & take notes & photos, think about what elements you might use in your design, choose (and maybe purchase) what tools you will use - pens, pencils, rulers, paper, fancy software, modeling clay, etc.  Costs and time are rising.  If you aren't logging these as "billable hours," you might not really be profitable, or you may end up with an overall pay rate of coins per hour.
  • And then, the time approaches to actually create the design.  A draft? or two? Double checking details.  Re-reading notes.  Putting pen to paper or mouse to mouse pad - the work is getting done.  Maybe you are inspired or driven, but for sure there is a deadline and you are working like crazy.  Confer with client - show them drafts, discuss the element, create the final Thing. This is the meat and potatoes of Design Time.  And then, suddenly, you're done.  Well, maybe there's still a few small touches to add, but, yes, your done.
  • Winding down time.  Meet with the client one last time. Put the finishing touches.  Write the invoice.  Deliver the design documents.  Get paid.  Write a Thank You note.  Take a break.
Example 2 - Implementing a Design
  • Meet the client. Walk the property. Review the client's design.  Not much time.  Not too many person hours logged.  Lots of thinking, not so much doing.  You might do this for free.  You might not even log these hours as "billable."
  • Then a period of organizing and prepping. On a project that includes the addition of many elements - swales and their trees, chicken tractors, roof water catchment, zone one garden, etc. - there will be an extra long organizing and prepping.  Do items have time dependencies or sequences that have to be followed.  When will money be available? Is it the busy season for heavy equipment? When is a good time to plant trees? Is August too late to put in a garden - or has winter just ended, and the weather looks lovely?  What could happen that could throw our plans off?  What if there is sand under the ground where we are planning the pong? Redoing the schedule and what has to happen to make each element appear is cheap and easy on paper.  Use a lot of paper.
  • And the work goes on.  And in large projects, this is where unexpected things create the horrid thing called "going over budget."  The equipment operator is legitimately ill, and you scramble to find another one a your backhoe is being delivered.  Equipment rental company is going to charge you, even if the equipment just sits.  Swale placement perfect, right there - except, bedrock, right there. But, move the swale to a different contour line, and it's beautiful! And, saved some money because found some great materials for a chicken tractor at the local swap meet for way under budget.  Life is crazy.  The money is draining.  People are working, working, working - and the land is transforming, and what could be is becoming.
  • In a large project, "shutting down" may also come in phases.  Equipment operator finishes up and gets paid.  Chicken tractor team finishes up.  One by one, the elements are completed.  And then one day all the accounts are settled, including your own, and it's time to let the land stewards begin to really get to know and nurture the land for the long haul.
Super simplified, of course.  And this is just the "doing" cycle.  There is also a "risk" cycle.  And the "cost of change."  We'll touch on that another day... or night.

Thanks for hanging in there.  Hope this is helpful.  Feedback appreciated!

Karla Upton is a PMP® Certified Project Manager. Certification number 2310531.


  1. Karla, I've observed that many projects tend to go asymptotic as the end nears and everyone works overtime to get finished. One of my project management goals is to try to keep this from happening by setting interim deadlines along the way. For example, make a cutoff time for doing research and prepping. You stop at the cutoff time and move on to the next phase, even though you may not feel ready. Otherwise, you spend too much time in the initial phases and end up running out of time as the project deadline nears.

  2. Ah, End of Project Crazies... it doesn't have to be! Often times it is better to go long in the planning phase and do a thorough job - one then runs into fewer "gotchas" during the execution phase. The unplanned for things, the unexpected changes - those tend to be the things that side-tract or derail a project. Poor planning, lack of sufficiently defined requirements, and missing key requirements have been the causes of most of the poorly executed projects that I have been a part of. Interim deadlines and a good schedule helps; however, dates are meaningless if they were not based on a realistic estimate or if they did not include all of the requirements (i.e. there were lots of unknown critical requirements that then caused the time line to expand so that it could include them). I have been part of several year long projects that did not require "excessive craziness" at the end. It takes a certain amount of organizational maturity to get there. I've run several large projects that came in early, on budget, and with with high quality. I've also run some that from the beginning never had a chance because we did not have the correct planning and/or resources, and management insisted that we keep pushing through the phases - over budget, late by years, and burnt out team members (some of whom left the company before the project was completed). Most projects probably come in somewhere in between.

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