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Service Management

Project Management in 3 envelopes

I presented to the students of UniSA on project management, yesterday (2nd November 2011). The students were from library, gaming, programming, business analysis, computer science who are executing a project.

I divided my talk into two topics. First I talked about “Project Management in 3 envelopes”. Then I covered how a project fits into IT Service Management Lifecycle. I will summarise my presentation in this blog.

I chose the title “Project Management in 3 envelopes” because of a popular joke about Project Management.

The joke goes like this:


A new PM takes over a troubled project. The out-going PM hands over 3 envelopes and asks the new-PM to open whenever the project gets into trouble.

After 3 months, the first trouble comes. The new-PM nervously opens the first envelope. The note inside the envelope reads “Blame your predecessor” . The new-PM starts blaming the previous-PM and project goes on.

After 6 months, the second trouble comes. Now the new-PM is slightly comfortable with his predecessor’s wisdom and opens the second envelope. It directs him to “blame the environment“. New-PM blames external market, GFC etc and project still goes on.

After 9 months the third trouble comes. This time the new-PM is fairly confident. Without any hesitation he opens the third envelope. It states “time to prepare 3 envelopes“.
 My presentation outlined the first three things a Project Manager need to focus on when taking over a project. To add some flavor, I prepared three envelops and asked the participants to open each of them. This technique went very well with the students. My three envelopes were:



Assessment of a project:

 The first thing a new Project Manager need to do is assess the status of the project. They have to balance the soft and hard issues. The three things they need to perform while assessing are:

  • Assess perceptions
  • Assess financials
  • Assess risks

I emphasized that assessing perceptions is equally important. If every stakeholder of the project feels the project is not in good shape, the new PM need to manage the expectations irrespective of the financial status of the project. Similarly, even if everyone perceives the project is going Ok, but the financials are not good, the PM needs to understand the implications.

The obvious but often overlooked step in the assessment phase is to perform risk assessment. The new-PM needs to have a clear understanding of the risks.

 The second envelope deals with communication. After the assessment, the new-PM need to clearly articulate his/her own assessment of the project. The communications should cover

  • Senior management/project sponsor/board
  • Customers
  • Other stakeholders

 It is important that the new-PM does not over-promise. He/she need to set clear expectations. The new-PM needs to convey a sense of control to the stakeholders.

 The last but not the least, the new-Project Manager needs to understand the team. As the project is troubled, the new-PM can expect the morale of the team to be low. It is the new-PM’s job to lift the morale. The PM need to understand that the project’s success will depend upon the team work. In the team building “envelope” I discussed about

  • Reassurance
  • Restructure
  • Reward



In the second part of my talk, I explained how a project fits in the IT Service Management life cycle – strategy, design, transition, operation and continual improvement.

I was surprised that not a single one knew about ITIL – the de-facto standard for IT Service Management. ITIL is a widely used framework among the industry. It is high time the students are exposed to this framework when they do their Masters degree.

According to me one of the indicators of a talk’s success is the amount of interactive discussions. I was impressed with the way the students asked very relevant and interesting questions. An evening well spent!


About Murali Ramakrishnan

Murali is the Managing Director of the boutique consulting firm "Process-Symphony". Process-Symphony specializes in IT enabled business process orchestration. http://www.process-symphony.com.au http://www.kloudax.net.au


2 thoughts on “Project Management in 3 envelopes

  1. Hi Murali,
    This is a unique, well written article on project management and I would like to republish it on PM Hut ( http://www.pmhut.com ) where many project managers will be able to read it and benefit from it.

    Please either email me or contact me through the “Contact Us” form on the PM Hut website in case you’re OK with this.

    Posted by PM Hut | November 3, 2011, 6:14 pm
  2. Mursali great points on project management. I too am focused on drawing out the diffrences and similarities across ITIL and PM. When you get a chance check out my blog and let me know your thoughts.



    Posted by petertarhanidis | December 4, 2011, 5:16 am

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