What is legacy?

In a broad sense, ‘legacy’ represents the impact one leaves behind. This can be either positive or negative, tangible or intangible, deliberate or unintentional, permanent or temporary, real or perceived, visible in a physical product, such as a built venue, or an emotion produced, such as the feeling of national pride for the success of the latest Olympic Games.

Much like value, legacy is a subjective idea and, therefore, hard to express and measure.

What is legacy in the context of project management?

From a project management perspective, legacy is intrinsic to projects, given that it is one of the first things we must address to create a unique output. The project’s legacy is its raison d’être, aka the answer to “why” the project exists, making it an issue of strategic importance.

Having said that, however, unless you are part of a high-profile project such as the Olympic Games, the project legacy is likely seldom addressed or planned for in project management (its theory or practice).

Why is project legacy not considered in projects?

The technical – and dominant – view of project managers as mere ‘executors’ whose job is to ‘get the job done’ doesn’t make things easier for project legacy to be properly considered since it leads to a situation where the afterlife of the project bears no interest or accountability directly to the Project Manager, who perceives it to be outside of the remit of their role and span of control.

Lots of projects start life with the attitude of ‘we want it here, and we want it now’, giving little to no time to think about legacy, identify key considerations surrounding the future, or plan today for a legacy that is in the distant future.

In conjunction, research demonstrates that the most significant operational issue for organisations and PMO teams is trying to do too much. This inevitably means that the (perceived) lower-value aspects of the project management discipline, such as the why, get left behind.

Is it possible to think about legacy early in the project life?

Thinking long term can be difficult because it has new implications for managing the project lifecycle and challenges the understanding of projects as temporary organisations.

While organisations are meant to last, it is essential to remember that projects are delivered by temporary teams brought together to provide an output, sometimes an outcome, but only indirectly, the legacy. They are meant to end.

Therefore, project temporality leads to a dilemma for project organising bodies because a way needs to be found to combine delivery and legacy.

The answer is in effective project legacy management and in establishing the relationship between the legacy lifecycle and the project lifecycle, something like the below:

The Project Legacy Lifecycle

Figure 1 – The Project Legacy Lifecycle

Responsibilities for project legacy

Project managers are in a privileged position to determine what the project will deliver and to assist in preparing to manage its legacy once the project is completed. This is a fantastic opportunity because the responsibility is to build the legacy the project (read: you) wants to leave behind. Your projects are your legacy.

Project professionals need to look ahead and start building a legacy today.

The PMO perspective

The PMO is uniquely responsible for enabling delivery teams to focus on legacy in their projects. They can encourage these conversations from the very start and at the end and share successes.

They also need to consider their legacy. Sometimes, it is possible to see PMO teams disbanded (for whatever reason, but usually the perception of value), and the structures, processes, and communities disintegrate when they are no longer there.

As a PMO, it is key to create a structure that becomes as self-sufficient as is feasible. This ensures strength, depth, and breadth to your structures, supported by an active community of practice (internal and external) that allows individuals to learn, share, and grow.

The #FuturePMO ensures that the maturity journey is about what enables them to deliver services and what they potentially leave behind.

In conclusion

We don’t have to look only at the big infrastructure projects around us to discuss and consider legacy.

Even small changes bring lasting change, so it is imperative that we discuss, identify, and consider the nature of it from the start of the project, at the same time as we consider benefits, strategic alignment, and change management.

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On This Page

Monthly Newsletter

By: Emma Arnaz-Pemberton

Emma Arnaz-Pemberton
Consulting Director FAPM, MCMI, MPMI, MIoD PMO-CC, MoR, MSP, PRINCE2

Published: 16 July 2024

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