OPO An Ontology for Project Management with Ontologies ....doc
OPO An Ontology for Project Management with Ontologies
Dipl. Heinrich Unger, MBA
The main focus of OPO research is the transition process from doing some activities
during daily work and doing the same as a part of a project. In almost every project
management system (PMS) the so called pre phase of a project ends with some
formal paper (project charter, project order, project assignment. etc). In the past
project managers often were the best technicians of a project team. Today they tend
to be knowledge workers. So there is the need of a technique and a process to help
project managers in this uncertain state. The science of knowledge management is
the theoretical background. Building and using ontologies seems to be the adequate
technique to improve the chance of doing projects successfully. There is no generally
accepted definition for the project start process so far. The different project
management methods define their own start process.
The latest Standish Group CHAOS Report shows a significant improvement of
project success rate to 34% of all projects - improvement because 1994 the rate was
16%. But this means that 66% of all projects fail, have cost or time overrun or miss
required features and functions to the project product. The average time overrun is
82% and only 52% of planned product functions are delivered. US IT projects had a
waste of $140 billion.
Project management is an interdisciplinary process. Knowledge of the project
manager, project members and project stake holders is at least partially very
indifferent (experience, education, social background etc) at the start of a project. So
the definitions of the project goals must be done in a common language. Every
involved person should be able to understand what is necessary to produce planned
products. This is an impossible request.
So the assumption is, building a project Ontology for common understanding within
the group of all project stake holders at the project pre phase will improve the
definitions of goals and finally the rate of successful projects.
This paper describes the OPO research. The aim of the research is to prove that the
use of Ontologies will bring a significant improvement, so that project success will be
the general rule.
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Problem – Project success should be the rule:
A lot of new methods like Extreme Project Management or Agile Project
Management have risen in the last years. Some standardization took place, e.g. PMI
developed the PMBOK (Project Management Book of Knowledge). IPMA
(International Project Management Association) designs different levels of project
management certifications .
So a lot of new education materials, techniques and tools are available now.. This
leads to the improvements (Standish Group 16% to 34% successful projects). The
principle of improvement until now was “Do More Better” which means in fact to go
in deeper details.
In theory project management can’t fail.
If you have defined the project goals properly and estimated the duration, working
hours and cost of each necessary work package of the project everything is clear.
Most methods suggest defining work packages (WP) in combination with resources
and necessary processing logic.
Project success is to be in time (means duration), scope and budget (means cost and
sometimes project revenues). So a team has only to do one working package after
the other, the project manager controls the progress and the efficiency of resource
usage. At the end the project owner gets what he has ordered. – Theoretically there
is no problem.
But the majority of projects fail. Why? Not every project fails. The latest Standish
group CHAOS study shows that one third is working well. Why?
Let us see project management systems like simple I – O boxes. In theory you know
the correct input to get the planned output. If this mechanism fails there are two
a) Looking in the box
Every new method arisen in the last years that I know opens the box and changes
the techniques and processes in the box. Afterwards some types of projects get a
better chance for success. Other projects, which succeeded before, do not have a
chance. And some are failing like they failed before.
b) The use of the box is wrong
So the input must be wrong. At least we do not understand the correct criteria for the
input. But in theory we know all the ingredients for projects. And in fact some projects
So the interface to the box is the key. Roughly the input to the box is the description
of goals. Reaching these goals means solving the problems of the project owner.
The interface to the box is the knowledge and experience of the project manager and
the team. The interface of the surrounding system is the project initiator.
So the project initiator’s statement is: “If the project manager understands what I
want, I will get a solution to my problems.”
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And the project manager’s assumption is: “If my project client hands out a description
that I am able to understand, I will solve the problem”
In IT terms, the interface must be compatible. In daily language they have to
understand each other, which means, that they must have at least partly common
knowledge and experiences.
In IT it is simple - we build a new interface which works for both systems. In project
management we must have a technique and/or a process and/or a tool to evolve a
common base between all participants of the project and the project owner.
Knowledge is the key.
Today’s Solutions Approaches:
There are mainly two approaches
Improving the Project Management Systems:
All project management systems (including tools, techniques and methods), that I
have seen until now do not care for the interface. In fact what is to read or hear of
tool and method experts is “If you put in all variables (e.g. descriptions of resources,
working packages etc) correctly then it will work”.
The tools are very mighty in terms of algorithms for estimating, determining and using
logical and time dependences of work packages. Yes, even the use of resources is
done very well (Resource Levelling). So in theory it works. With the correct input you
get the planned output. In short describing the goals adequately will lead to a project
in time, budget and scope. But it is not possible do describe the project owners
expectations in all facets.
Every method evolution, every new tool I have seen does what Leach calls “Do more
better” , But doing the wrong more often and more efficient leads to more wrong
results made with less costs.
Improving the systems surrounding the project management systems
Let us have a look on one of the modern initiatives - “IT Governance”, which means
in project management terms Project Portfolio Management (PPM). This method and
these tools have mainly two directions. First they focus on the multi project
management point, second they focus on the business in terms of assets, costs and
strategic plans. A part of these is a classic project management system.
From the point of the manager of a single project PPM means in fact, that the project
initiator is communicating with him over a new IT system. This is the GIGO effect - if
you put garbage in you will get garbage out. The evolving of a common
understanding is much harder. So this will not improve the rate of project success.
The OPO research approach is none of the two before mentioned. OPO
concentrates on the interface. The input to projects must be sufficient.
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Solution – OPO research
“A specification of representational vocabulary for a shared domain of discourse is
called an ontology.” At first sight this may be the new interface mentioned in a prior
chapter (see: )
The OPO research hypothesis is “The building of a shared knowledge base between
project initiator at the one side and project manager and his team on the other side is
the key to success for projects”
OPO (Ontology for project management with Ontologies) research will prove the
To do this OPO focuses on four main questions:
First – Is it yet a project or just daily work? And is the transition from daily work to
project start the weakest link in project management systems?
My research until now has not brought to light a common definition of project start
(although almost every method suggests some formal project start paper) or project
As an example some enterprises do feasibility studies before starting projects. With
these studies they do the decision of starting a project. Some enterprises define
feasibility studies as part of a project. So the research will do an analysis of existing
process definition, discussions with project management experts and interviews with
project share holders to determine the border line
Second - What is the status quo of project management, the use of Ontologies and
the process from daily work to project?
To finally do a proof of improvement the necessity of analysing the status quo seems
to be clear. This must be done for project management, use of Ontologies and for the
transition process. In order to derive a technique for starting projects in later stages
of the research there must be a definition of the basic project management method.
The assumption today, without proof, is that Critical Chain Project Management fits
best because of the handling of time buffers .
Third – Is the project manager’s ability to share knowledge the key to success?
The skills of project managers are widely spread and hard to describe. But almost in
every description of project managers’ skills there is the word communication (which
means knowledge transfer). So the definition of a project manager is not that he is
the best technical expert of the project but he is the responsible person for project
So during the research there must be an evaluation of
• the existence of a significant relation between technical and/or economic
expertise of the project manager and the project success.
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• the importance of transferring knowledge between different people as main
skill of project managers. (Proof of existence of a relation of project success
and the project managers ability of transferring knowledge)
Fourth – Is the use of Ontologies the appropriate tool?
The proof that the suggested use of Ontologies is the solution:
The results of 1 – 3 are the foundation for building a new technique/process using
Ontologies in the project initiation phase. Before writing a project charter, the project
owner, the project stakeholders, the project manager and key project team members
should evolve a common knowledge base by using Ontology.
So during the research the following steps must be taken
• Determine necessary activities to evolve an Ontology for a special project.
• Determine the common information and rules in such an Ontology.
Analyse the impacts of using an Ontology on project success. (Is there a measurable
Generally: To describe the new technology in relation to the selected project
management methods an ontology should be used. This ontology will be called OPO
Ontology. So in the future project managers will learn the use of this project
management method through understanding the OPO Ontology.
The main outcomes of the research are:
a) Master Ontology: Deriving the necessary Ontology (OPO – Ontology)
b) Template of Project Ontology: The Ontology used for the special project (SPO)
c) Transition Process Definition: A process definition of how to get from a generic
project master Ontology to a special project Ontology. (TPD)
d) Analyse/Proof: Through experiments and case studies I will prove the hypothesis
of successful project management with the developed processes and Ontologies
Conditions and assumptions
The OPO research is a challenging project. In the first stage there is the need of
input from experts. So interviews, discussions and workshops will be held. There
must be a lot of volunteers, sometimes with very special skills, to deliver quality. In
the second stage the evolving of the Ontologies (OPO. SPO) and the new transition
process depend on the help of experienced people in the field of building Ontologies
and designing business processes. This is a very wide spread band of people which
must be contacted.
OPO is an approach where two interdisciplinary techniques (project management,
knowledge management – Ontologies), are brought together. In theory it is a win-win
situation. If the hypothesis of improvement is correct, then Ontologies will be used in
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many projects which will bring Artificial Intelligence to a new hype. On the other hand,
if project management as a management discipline delivers better results then it will
be broadly accepted.
At the end of the research, with a proven hypothesis, it will lead to a completely new
technique in project management. In business terms, increasing the project success
rate to 66% (today at 34%) means to gain half of the 140$ billion dollars wasted in
projects in the United States of America.
 Critical Chain Project Management, 1990 , Leach, Lawrence P, p13
 Gruber http://www.cs.umbc.edu/kse/ontology
 PMI http://www.pmi.org/info/default.asp
 IPMA http://www.ipma.ch/asp/
 Standish Group Chaos Report, Press Release, March 25,
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