Project Management: A Malady

Contrary to popular myth, Project Management is not a job, a profession or a career path. It is an illness, a disorder characterized by delusion, specifically a desire to control people and outcomes, and a belief that the future can be predicted accurately if only everyone did what they were supposed to do. Sufferers in the advanced stages of this illness resort to resentment, blame, and fear, and can often be seen pouring over spreadsheets and charts, pulling their hair out in dismay, or pounding their desk. Many resort to techniques such as The 1st Law of Bad Management, which states: If something isn’t working, do more of it. And they do. They add more people to projects, take more up-front planning time to mitigate all risk, encourage microscopic detail in requirements and create ever-bigger and more complicated charts and graphs to track every detail, frequently presenting their predictions and plans in PowerPoint presentations to their superiors.

Persons suffering from Project Management sometimes run meetings known as post-mortems, where they seek to find others on which to place the blame for project failure, and the fact the future turned out differently to their expectations. “Heads will roll” they say, grimly, while carefully lining up an array of excuses, explanations, justifications, and lies to shield themselves from blame. In this advanced stage the sufferer’s voice will become louder, his posture more defensive and his stride more purposeful as he marches along cubicle corridors brandishing schedules and other documents, and basking in self-righteous indignation at any sign of non-compliance.

Just as the alcoholic frequents bars and other drinking holes, seeking validation of his or her resentments towards the world, so the Project Manager attends PMI and other certification courses to be reminded, I am right!

History

It is commonly thought that this disorder only came to be recognized with the advent of the software industry, circa 1960. It was identified by Fred Brookes in his 1975 paper The Mythical Man Month, where he tries (in vain as it turns out) to argue that adding more people to a late project will make the project later. Project Management sufferers, with characteristic denial wouldn’t hear of this, and resorting again to The 1st Law of Bad Management figured Brooks just hadn’t added enough people, and using logic, data and metrics as their tools of justification, attempt to undermine the law, with the common result being bloated organizations, frustrated, oppressed workers and ever-later projects.

But it turns out that Brooks wasn’t the first to identify the problem. In the re-publication of Ambrose Bierce’s 1911 work, The Devils Dictionary, we find this entry:

"Logic: The art of thinking and reasoning in strict accordance with the limitations and incapacities of the human misunderstanding. The basic of logic is the syllogism, consisting of a major and a minor premise and a conclusion — thus:
Major premise: Sixty men can do a piece of work sixty times as quickly as one man.
Minor premise: One man can dig a post hole in sixty seconds: therefore — Conclusion: Sixty men can dig a post hole in one second.
This may be called the syllogism arithmetical, in which, by combining logic and mathematics, we obtain a double certainty and are twice blessed.”

There is a Solution

Project Management is not hereditary. It is an acquired illness, often contracted on MBA programs, or in the conference rooms of one of the aforementioned (and oh, so many) bloated organizations, ironically created by this very illness. Having multiple sufferers in the same organization exponentially increases the delusion each individual Project Manager suffers.

Happily, there is a cure. It is a program of recovery called Agile, but because the nature of the program is a complete reassessment of one’s life and career, few are able to engage, seeking, as always a quick-fix solution. Those that do embark on the Agile program of recovery are challenged by its radical notions of release, rather than control, self-organization, rather than command and management, and trust rather than suspicion. Sufferers are asked to embrace failure—anathema to the Project Management mindset. The recovery process is slow, and many, getting frustrated along the way, will revert to old behaviors. Recovered Project Managers—who come to be known as Agilsts—have great patience for their fellow sufferer and will always be there to support and guide them through these relapses.

If you identify yourself as a person suffering from Project Management, and can admit the debilitating and progressive nature of your illness, you have taken the first step. Seek out a local Agile group, or join an online Agile forum. Meet fellow sufferers in different stages of recovery and find out what they did to overcome their illness. There is a collective Agile conscience that will help you. No sufferer is too advanced to benefit from the Agile program. All you need is Honesty, Open-mindedness and Willingness. With these you are well on your way. Good luck!

To help you get started, here is one woman’s story of how she recovered from Project Management, and went on to lead a full and happy life.

The Road from Project Manager to Agile Coach by Lyssa Adkins.

Related Content

1. Are Project Managers Living A Lie? —Peter Saddington
2. Sh*t Project Managers Say —YouTube video
3. And now you are just a Project Manager —David Bland
4. Scrum is not Project Management — Tobias Mayer


2 Comments

Ines A wrote: I myself came from project management to agile a few years ago and learned that it’s not only the most sensible way to get things done but it’s also the most healthy way for everyone involved. i don’t want my team to be stressed out, fearful of mistakes and shy of transparency. we are a team of 60 developers, POs, Scrum Masters and designers and love working together using Scrum & Kanban to identify problems and we solve them together without yelling or threatening. Thank you for this post! 

Tobias replied: Hi Ines. Thanks for the note. It’s good to hear you have found benefits to this approach. ‘Healthy’ is a key word here. When people are treated with respect and compassion everyone benefits. Organizations embracing Agile almost always report a more engaged workforce.

communityrocks reblogged, and wrote: Tobias Mayer has posted this excellent blog on the pitfalls of traditional Project Management.  Tobias has the most clear vision of what an engaged and productive workplace looks like, where teams work well together, maintain their dignity and freedom, and self-development flourishes.  Communities naturally form that eliminate the need for classic organizational hierarchies, but it requires a solid foundation of trust from all sides.