Preparing For The PM Apocalypse

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Modelling Business Decisions and their Consequences

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Earlier this month, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists advanced the hands of their “Doomsday Clock” to two minutes to midnight, or 23:58 (time zone not specified), citing several factors from around the world – mostly political – for the bringing nearer of The Apocalypse. I find the whole Doomsday Clock concept rather interesting as a vehicle for communications, over and above the actual content it’s attempting to pass along. This “clock” doesn’t relay usable information about time that any other clock would – the longest ever doomsday interval on this clock has been seventeen minutes to midnight (23:43), and the clock “started” in 1947. That means that, even if we assume the longest ever interval throughout, there have been over one hundred million opportunities for the predicted Apocalypse to come about (131,932,800, to be precise) since this “measurement” began. So, when these people say “two minutes,” they mean, well, something other than two minutes (not very scientific, is it?).

They’re somewhat inchoate in what they mean by “apocalypse,” as well. Although it initially served as an analogy for the threat of nuclear war, this clock has since expanded to include other global catastrophes, such as those supposedly caused by global warming, or developments in life sciences or technology they believe could invoke irrevocable harm to humanity[i]. Interestingly, attempting to alert the world to the dangers of technology believed to cause irrevocable harm to humanity was also the driving force behind the Luddites.

Finally, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (I was previously unaware that the word “bulletin” could refer to a collection of people) isn’t actually comprised of all scientists. Some members did not include any reference to a hard science degree in their bibliographies at all. One appears to be an anti-nuclear activist, and another is a writer for that bastion of even-handed reporting, the New Yorker magazine.[ii]

But, other than a group claiming to be scientists who are not, in fact, all scientists, using the logic behind the Luddite movement in 19th Century England, proclaiming with great fanfare an event that’s very bad, but not much more specific than that, occurring sometime in the future, but at a time other than the time units they publish, this whole announcement thing should probably be taken seriously.

Not.

Meanwhile, Back In The Project Management World…

It can’t be denied these people get a lot of press, so I was thinking about doing something similar. Just so we’re clear: my benefactor, the Project Management Institute®, has nothing to worry about as I set up my team alerting the world to the threat of Project Management Armageddon. I’m going to take the same “scientific” approach to my new mission as the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists have, which is to say, not very scientific at all. But, hey, they set the rules, and I’m just mimicking them.

First, I’ll have to come up with a catchy name, and its accuracy is not a concern. I think I’ll use “Bulletin of Management Scientists” (again, I was unaware that “bulletin” was a term referring to a group of people, but I’m not making the rules here). Since being an actual “management scientist” isn’t a prerequisite to being a member, I nominate myself, my Collie Gabriel, and my two cats, Kula and Dart. To those who think I’m being flighty here, I would counter that I’ve witnessed more managerial-like behaviors (especially the cunning variety) from these cats than from many executives I’ve worked for, and in a greater quantity than the number of hard scientific insights typically provided by New Yorker writers.

Next, we’ll have to define what the Project Management Apocalypse looks like. If it’s large projects, impacting thousands of lives and risking millions upon millions of dollars, going south in a big way, then The Big Dig project in Boston (among others) has established that the PM apocalypse has already occurred. That’s the thing about the PM Apocalypse: when specific projects crash and burn, it doesn’t mean the end of the world. But if we are to discuss a Project Management day of reckoning, then it can’t be localized, no siree. It has to be massive in scale, impacting projects all over the world. So, similar to that scene from the movie 2012 where a gigantic tidal wave dropped a super-carrier on top of the White House, I’m thinking our PM cataclysm involves dropping said super-carrier on PMI’s headquarters (unoccupied, of course) in Newtown Square, PA (which is 88 miles from the ocean).

Finally, we will have to tap into our friends, the risk managers, to calculate the odds of a cataclysmic tidal wave dropping an aircraft carrier on top of a specific facility in Newtown Square, so as to add a veneer of quantification to our warnings. They will probably (get it?) say that it’s not very likely. It’s then that we would alert them to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, and their “work” on the justification for advancing the hands of their doomsday clock, and request a re-compute. I mean, if we’re literally 120 seconds from a thermonuclear exchange, global warming-induced climate catastrophe, or some other movie-worthy disaster, doesn’t that increase the odds of such an occurrence? Additionally, we could broaden the parameters by, say, requesting a mere 2% confidence interval, and loosening the ship-to-be-dropped particulars, as in “We’re 2% confident that, given an apocalyptic event, there’s at least a 1% chance some ocean-going craft will be dropped somewhere in the township of Newtown Square.” Cutting to the chase, this means that if at least one RM could assert that there’s a one in 200,000 chance of that ever happening, we have all the “experts agree!” references we need, and can begin issuing dire warnings to the management world.

And here’s what verifies our press release: the members of the Bulletin of Management Scientists team have indicated (by nodding their heads) that they agree with this entire document. And it had nothing at all to do with my waving pet treats up-and-down in front of their faces.

 


[i] Doomsday Clock. (2018, January 27). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 02:27, January 28, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Doomsday_Clock&oldid=822550768

[ii] Retrieved from https://thebulletin.org/2018-doomsday-clock-statement at 19:36 MST on 27 January 2018.

Posted on: January 29, 2018 10:39 PM | Permalink

Comments (5)

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The climate has been stable for thousands of years, and yet the doomsday scientists are at two minutes to midnight? I think very shortly they will revert to seconds to midnight. At least that will give them 120 more doomsday announcements instead of just two.

Good article, Michael and thanks for sharing.

I wouldn't constrain scientist to someone with a science degree. Neither does a bulletin of dictionaries.

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