The Project Diamond

Some of my readers will know that I am a huge fan of models: models that help explain, predict or optimise performance. I recently came across a new model (to me) developed by Dr Aaron Shenhar, formerly of The Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey and Rutgers Business School.

In a rich and thought-provoking paper (that you can download from the website Dr Shenhar’s business, SPL) called ‘What is Strategic Project Leadership?’, is a summary of The Diamond Model for Project Adaptation. This is, I assume, at the heart of a book I have not yet read: ‘Reinventing Project Management: The Diamond Approach to Successful Growth & Innovation’ by Shenhar and Dov Dvir.

Shenhar and Dvir’s model identifies four dimensions against which we can assess a project. The pattern it creates (hence the name of the model) indicates the approach we should take to managing the project. They suggest a four point scale for each dimension, giving, in principle, 16 possible project fingerprints. In practice, it is the patterns and extremes that should driving our choices of how to configure a project. The dimensions are:

  1. Novelty – ranging from ‘derivative’ to ‘new-to-the-world
  2. Technology – ranging from ‘low-tech’ to ‘super-high-tech
  3. Complexity – ranging from ‘component level’ to ‘system of systems
  4. Pace – ranging from ‘ regular’ to ‘blitz

Assessing your project on these four scales allows you to create a diamond plot, which should guide you to thinking about the priorities for the style of project management.

This accords nicely with my thinking that a big part of a project manager’s role is to diagnose what are the two or three big levers that they need to be concentrating on in controlling each project. For some, it could be governance, risk, delivery schedule, quality, reporting, resource utilisation… All of them are important, but on each project, some will dominate.

What the Project Diamond gives you is a way to start thinking about your priorities and how to manage them, based on a systematic understanding of four vital characteristics. The authors also use it nicely to highlight the gap between how a project is being managed (‘actual style’) and how it ought to be managed (‘required style’). This makes it a powerful diagnostic tool for troubled projects. I have reproduced the example from Shenhar’s article, ‘What is SPL?’, below.

Shenhar & Dvir - Project Diamond illustration

The ‘so what?’

This is a model all project managers can benefit from and the paper is also a compelling read, whether you are managing large or small projects. You will also find some other interesting articles on the SPL website; do take a look.

One thought on “The Project Diamond

  1. Mike Clayton Post author

    There is an interesting dialogue forming on LinkedIn about this post:

    David Weller ( Doesn’t the fact that the 787 project was over-budget, late and suffered post-implementation quality issues (batteries from memory) suggest that the model is a bit of a distraction and doesn’t help with the most critical project/programme dimensions (time, cost, quality)?

    Allan E. Dean ( It’s simply another lens. May help uncover conflicting perceptions or assessments, and lead to re-prioritization or adaptation.

    Mike Clayton (): I think that what Shenhar and Dvir would argue about the Dreamliner project is that it was managed as if the level of complexity and technical sophistication were lower than they actually were, resulting in inappropriate attention to thee factors and therefore inadequate project processes and controls.

    For me, the difference between the T-C-Q dimensions and the Diamond dimensions, is that T-C-Q focuses us on which of these to prioritise – and therefore which to compromise on, in the face of shift – while the diamond is a diagnostic tool to assess what level of project infrastructure we need, what style of management and leadership we need and how big the challenge of delivering to time, budget and spec will be. If you like, T-C-Q is an output model, whilst Diamond is an input model.


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