I was casually watching a Star Wars movie marathon a while back, and was struck by how often the practitioners of the Dark Side of The Force (“Sith”) would articulate a desire to complete the training of the young Jedis, Anakin and Luke Skywalker. What was so obviously missing in their nominal Jedi training? It became clear that they weren’t really interested in conveying advanced techniques, but instead wanted that training to go in a dramatically different, sinister direction.[i]
Meanwhile, Back In The Project Management World…
And now, on a completely different subject, in last week’s blog I discussed a potential paradigm shift in Project Management along the lines of moving away from predictive models and towards adaptive ones. I conceded that a complete abandonment of predictive models was highly unlikely, due to the fact that government-issued contracts tend to rely heavily on projects rarely overrunning their original baselines, and government-funded projects represent a significant part of the PM community that expects, or even demands, advanced proficiency in Project Management.
With this caveat in mind, I began to reminisce about the kind of project controls analyst I was when I could be considered a
young Padawan learner “new practitioner” (ProjectManagement.com’s theme for January). When I showed some aptitude for Project Management in the company I worked for straight out of college, I was sent to a couple of week-long courses in Cost/Schedule Control System Criterion (C/SCSC). I absorbed all I was taught with enthusiasm. It was all brand-new to me, and, it appeared, fairly new to the management community at large.
After a while, though, I encountered significant issues that weren’t even hinted-at in the PM codex as-presented. After being effectively stiff-armed by every accountant I encountered while trying to do nothing more than set up a simple project cost performance measurement system, I began to wonder exactly what they thought they knew that I didn’t, and went back to school to get my MBA. A few semesters in, and I had my answer – their whole management philosophy, “maximize shareholder wealth,” was utterly at odds with the PM approach, of meeting the scope, cost, and schedule expectations of the customer. I had never seen this dichotomy articulated in any of the PM literature I had consumed, but I was also fairly certain that I wasn’t the only analyst in the world that had come to this realization. Clearly my indoctrination as a new PM practitioner had been incomplete (“Ben! Why didn’t you tell me?”[ii])
Fast forward to my more experienced years, after I had quite a few paper presentations, keynote speeches, and training track designs under my belt. I began to realize that those whom I considered my peers were becoming frustrated at the propensity of new practitioners to eschew process, only to re-encounter the entirely avoidable pitfalls that they themselves had had to overcome. It seemed to me that a large and growing percentage of the papers presented at major conferences were little more than eat-your-peas-style hectoring, on how everybody needed to acknowledge or accept the virtues of setting up a tightly-regulated cost and schedule baseline, fully integrated, don’t you know, complete with rigorous change control protocols, risk analysis, and reporting formats.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that many of the seasoned paper-presenters were trending strongly towards the
dark predictive model side of things, and that it was the Agile/Scrum crowd that represented a departure from that approach. Indeed, if it weren’t for the well-written structure of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development[iii], I seriously doubt that any if its basic assertions would be accepted today. With this as the backdrop, what can be said of the advantages and disadvantages of new PM practitioners?
Well, for starters, the newer practitioners have the advantage of not having been involved with projects during the era where United States government projects were more likely to be compelled to adopt a specific set of criteria governing how their projects would be run. With the decline of the Cost/Schedule Control System Criterion as management system absolutes, the use of the two main methodologies behind PM – Earned Value and Critical Path – had to stand on their own as information streams critical to improved project performance. New practitioners, then, have the advantage of the perspective that allows better PM information system integration than those who have been convinced that a rigorous, predictive model PM approach is a condition of doing business.
Another advantage that the
whippersnappers newer practitioners have is that they naturally trend toward the adaptive models, owing to the underlying causes of the Project Manager role being nicknamed “the accidental profession.” After having successfully conquered some piece of scope that has led to more, similar work, the succeeding technician/engineer/programmer will often attract a request from their organizations to assemble a team and do more of that kind of work. At this point the newly-minted PM will rarely have a concept of the reasons behind rigorous change control procedures, or risk management approaches. They simply want to get the job done, and, I would speculate, will perceive these vestiges of the predictive model to be bureaucratic impediments to that goal, making the new practitioner more inclined to question their need at the very least, if not abandon them altogether.
One distinct sign, though, that the new practitioner is being trained in the wrong direction is if they develop a predilection for within-duel taunts, such as “Your powers have become weak, old man.”[iv] But at least the older masters don’t have to wear their hair in that weird rat-tail fashion.
[i] Lucasfilm Ltd. ; 20th Century Fox. (2013). Star wars original trilogy. [San Francisco] : Beverly Hills, Calif. :Lucasfilm ; Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment,
[iii] Kent Beck; James Grenning; Robert C. Martin; Mike Beedle; Jim Highsmith; Steve Mellor; Arie van Bennekum; Andrew Hunt; Ken Schwaber; Alistair Cockburn; Ron Jeffries; Jeff Sutherland; Ward Cunningham; Jon Kern; Dave Thomas; Martin Fowler; Brian Marick (2001). "Manifesto for Agile Software Development". https://agilemanifesto.org/. Retrieved 6 January 2019.
[iv] Lucasfilm Ltd. ; 20th Century Fox. (2013). Star wars original trilogy. [San Francisco] : Beverly Hills, Calif. :Lucasfilm ; Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment,