ProjectManagement.com’s January theme of PM Technical Skills got me to thinking about the sheer number of movies and science fiction novels predicated on the notion that mankind will develop technology that ends up destroying us, or reducing us to near-slavery conditions. A brief list includes:
- “HAL” from 2001, A Space Odyssey
- The entire Terminator franchise (6 movies, a television series, among others)
- Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970 movie)
- I, Robot (both the Asimov series and the movie)
- Omega Man
- I Am Legend
- Too many Star Trek franchise episodes to count
… among many others. Except for the bio-technology-wiping-us-out stories, almost all of them include computers and advancements in artificial intelligence (AI). As I pointed out in last week’s blog, advancements in PM software, while profound, are often given to pursuing irrelevant information streams, meaning we PM-types have a little more time before PM technology either wipes us out, or reduces us to near-slavery conditions (probably).
Consider: ENIAC, the world’s first electronic general-purpose computer, was put into service in December 1945[i]. By 1995 its entire capacity could be replaced by a single chip, slightly larger than a dime, even though the original device required 1,800 square feet.[ii] So, within fifty years the original had been overtaken by advances in technology to an extent almost inconceivable to its developers, and that dramatic difference was 25 years ago. Why is this relevant, you ask? PMI® was founded 50 years ago (well, technically, in 1969), and its growth has also been rather impressive. And yet, nobody seems to be concerned, or even aware, of the possibility that PMI®’s growth represents a threat to the dominant narrative in the business schools. So, as usual, it’s up to me to ask the question, and explore the possibilities.
If PMI® were to take over the business world, what would that look like? I would imagine that would depend on its “hook,” or that attribute which made it attractive to the business world writ large from its inception. I would argue that PMI®’s hook has been to make available the techniques and information streams that enable organizations to execute project work better, cheaper, and faster. This reminds me of the old joke, where two friends camping in the woods together have their camp invaded by a grizzly bear. One of the friends begins putting on his running shoes when the other admonishes “Why are you bothering to do that? You can’t outrun that bear!” To which the friend replies, “I don’t have to outrun him, I only have to outrun you!”
Meanwhile, Back In The Project Management World…
Similarly, those organizations who initially subscribed to the nascent PMI®’s worldview didn’t have to “do” PM perfectly – they only needed to do it better than the other organizations in the field in order to gain a competitive advantage, increasing the odds that said competition would fare more poorly in those projects that they executed. Now here’s where PMI® taking over the world becomes a possibility: by the laws of survival of the fittest, those organizations performing project work who eschewed the technical skills made available by PMI® were more likely to fail, meaning they would drop out of their specific market. Unless such organizations were absurdly lucky, such a winnowing process probably didn’t take much time – almost certainly less than, say, fifty years. Which implies that, as PMI®’s particular blend of academic research and real-world testing continues to push the frontiers of best practice identification (I’m excluding that part of the codex premised on a priori assertions: check my previous blog “When Did A Priori Become A Priority?”), those organizations and PMs failing to keep up risk finding themselves at a competitive disadvantage, soon to be identified and devoured by the aforementioned laws of survival of the fittest. Make no mistake – such laws are as cold-hearted and indiscriminate as the most fearsome take-over-the-world movie monster; and, like the “Colossus” computer, they’re invisible to the vast majority of those whose lives they disrupt.
Of course, I’m not predicting the exact future, where a failure to read The Project Management Journal cover-to-cover will automatically lead to economic disaster for you and your company, any more than the most extreme alarmists predict that the next advancement in artificial intelligence or microprocessor technology will automatically lead to all mankind becoming servants to the computers that run our refrigerators.
Still, I’m not letting my PMNetwork subscription lapse…
[i] Wikipedia contributors. (2019, December 17). ENIAC. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 04:46, January 4, 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=ENIAC&oldid=931194208