City Management as a Project


By Owen Podger

Bali, Indonesia



This paper is prepared as part of a process of writing a book on ways of understanding city management. Cities are not projects as their work is never done. But an elected mayor can certainly see her period in office as a project, perceiving that she has a unique venture in which she has set goals to achieve by the end of her tenure. The proposed book is intended to help her organise her learning for her job. And this paper is prepared in the hope of initiating some dialogue with project managers around the world on how we could adapt and sell project management skills to the political leaders of our cities. After an introduction, a summary of PMBOK is provided (as few mayors know about project management), then the author suggests an Urban Management Body of Knowledge, based on PMBOK with some variations due the nature of cities and political office. The most significant change is of order rather than substance. Stakeholder Engagement Management is placed first. The author also suggests some knowledge areas of older versions of PMBOK would be of value to her. The paper concludes with an invitation for readers to respond to get the proposed dialogue going.


While management theory applies mostly to ongoing businesses, the younger discipline of project management applies to situations of constant change towards an end. It may be defined like this:

Project management is the art of leading a unique venture, from a beginning when specific goals are set, to an end when those goals have been achieved.i

Clearly the city is not a project as its work is never done. But an elected leader can certainly see her period in office as a project, perceiving that she has a unique venture in which she has set goals to achieve by the end of her tenure. The mayor and her senior officers do not manage things; they leave mere management to lower echelons. Their job is to make the city better, by leading the improvement of services the city provides to the public. This is done through portfolio management of investments and reforms.

A characteristic of projects is as follows:

A project is led by someone who has responsibility that exceeds her authority to lead it. Whether or not the people or techniques or materials needed for a project are under her command at the start, she must build her authority to achieve the project goals.

This indeed applies also to the mayor. We can say:

A mayor has greater responsibility for leading her city than her authority to lead it. Whether or not the people or techniques or materials she needs are under her command when she is elected, she must build her authority to achieve the goals to which she is politically committed.

Another characteristic of projects is that they have limited repetitive work, and conditions are constantly changing. Even where actions are repeated, they are mostly repeated in a new location in a different way. Almost every day on a project there is a variation in the way of doing things, in organisational structure, in job descriptions, and procedures.

The good mayor leaves the standardised work to her administration. She focusses on managing the change.

The Project Management Institute describes the processes of project management in their Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK). Let us look at how these processes might help a mayor to lead the city for her term of office.

PMBOK phases and process groups in projects

From initiation to completion, projects progress through phases. This progress is often called the “Project Cycle”, even though it is not a cycle as projects come to a stop. Earlier versions of defined phases of projects: initiation, planning, implementing and commissioning. This implied that projects are executed in distinct steps, whereas in reality initiation blurs into planning, planning goes on all the time, everything is implemented. Each of those so-called phases ebbs and flows as work progresses. The latest edition of PMBOK replaces “phases” with “Process Groups” for the equivalent things.

The first process group in PMBOK is the Initiating Process Group in which the initial scope of a proposed project is defined, initial financial resources are committed, and someone is put in charge.

The second process group in PMBOK is the Planning Process Group. Once a manager is put in charge, she will normally plan strategies for achieving the project’s goals, plan potential environmental impacts and means of dealing with them, cost estimates and potential sources of funding, often accompanied by plans for marketing concepts, and finally a detailed definition of the scope of work to be done and plan of action to do it…


To read entire paper, click here


About the Author

Owen Podger

Bali, Indonesia


Owen Podger
began his career as an architect at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, studied urban design at UCLA and construction management at UNSW. After a career on multi-year contracts in urban development in Australia and Indonesia, and in academia in Singapore and Papua New Guinea, the downfall of Soeharto in 1998 opened up a new career of gigs advising the Indonesian government on reforms, inter alia helping introduce “big-bang” decentralisation, advising the Aceh and Nias Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency (BRR), supporting the Aceh Government in establishing its special autonomy, advising the Indonesian Senate on drafting laws on local government, leading a governance assistance team in the office of the Vice President, and advising the national planning agency on urban development policy and programs. He authored a paper for PMWJ in 2013 entitled “Adapting Professional Practices for Post-Disaster Reconstruction”.

Owen is still an independent consultant, living in Jimbaran, Bali. He can be contacted at mailto:[email protected] and [email protected]