Project Management

Maybe The PMP® Logo Should Be A Longship

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Modelling Business Decisions and their Consequences

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The construction of the Antonine Wall, begun in 142 A.D., marked the farthest northward extent of the Roman Empire into Britannia. From around 165[i] on, the Roman military’s ability to secure those territories was uneven, at best, and by the mid-6th century Rome had no controlling interest in England at all.  In the aftermath, Jutes, Saxons, and Vikings would raid, or invade, or settle, or …

It all boils down to arriving, and either leaving with all the stuff they could carry, or not leaving at all. But even this overly-simplified version of the span between the Romans leaving and the Normans arriving is fuzzy, since the aforementioned Jutes, Saxons, and Vikings were all peoples from Northern Europe and Scandinavia, each of whom had spent considerable time raiding, invading, and settling in each other’s “territory,” as much as such areas could be defined by the present-day concept of borders. Indeed, immediately prior to the Battle of Hastings in 1066, English king Harold Godwinson had just defeated a Viking army at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, leading an army of Anglo-Saxons against their distant cousins.

Meanwhile, Back In The Project Management World…

As GTIM Nation well knows, I have oft complained of the prevalence of the Asset Managers’ business model, especially when it conflicts with Project Management's version. But there’s simply no denying that that approach to business was in place from the dawn of the Industrial Revolution up to the present day, albeit in an ever-lessening capacity. The reliance on this model is never going away, since it is almost universally the basis for governments levying taxes. Sure, there are other ways for governments to raise revenue, but the major portion has been and almost assuredly always will be the information gleaned from companies’ general ledgers. So, as more and more organizations replace their business models with the demonstrably successful and aggressively effective PM versions, leading the industrialized world to move towards a Project Economy (ProjectManagement.com’s theme for July), those organizations with a overarching management schema more closely aligned with the Asset Managers can be expected to continue to lose business opportunity territory to their more PM-centric competitors. As this effect becomes more widespread, what other vestiges of the traditional, Asset Management-predicated business models can we expect to see slip by the wayside?

When discussing a shift from a focus on Asset Management towards Project Management may sound anodyne in the abstract, one concrete example is the movement away from defined-benefit pensions and to defined contribution plans. According to Investopedia,

Up until the 1980s, defined-benefit pensions were the most popular retirement plan offered by employers. Today, only 17% of private-sector workers have access to one, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2018 National Compensation Survey.[ii]

Actually, this trend makes sense in an increasingly projectized macro economy. As labor and expertise become more aligned, however subtly, with a commodity-like supply and demand curve, it makes less sense for organizations pursuing project work (which is, by definition, a series of unique undertakings) to sign up for long-term asset care, which is what defined benefit pension plans are at their core. Another sign that the projectized economy warriors are knocking at the fortified gates of the business college faculty redoubts can be found in none other than the Harvard Business Review. This is from an HBR article from five years ago:

A better way to frame the debate? We should be talking about “good work” not about “good jobs.” Replacing the idea of “good jobs” with the idea of “good work” doesn’t diminish the value and importance of regular full-time employment, but it places it in a context that acknowledges emerging work options — and it holds those new options to a higher standard, rather than simply dismissing them in favor of regular full-time employment.[iii]

Since “work” is synonymous with “scope,” and “job” is equal to “function,” I’m interpreting this passage by Mr. Boudreau as a full-throated endorsement of the need to more completely recognize a change that has already taken place, a move towards a Project Economy. Any large-scale shift in the prevailing business model is going to be difficult, and more so to those still enmired in the non-PM approaches to management.

To summarize, while the Project Management incursion towards a more dominant role in executive-level business decisions won’t, of course, come close to representing the type of violent upheaval documented in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles referring to Viking raids, it will signify a kind of slow-motion large-scale paradigm shift. And, for you Chief Financial Officers, if the head of your organization’s PMO has everybody else at the board room table talking about Work Breakdown Structures instead of the profit and loss statement, you may be witnessing the modern-day business equivalent of seeing a longship sail up the river past your village.

 


[i] Retrieved from https://www.antoninewall.org/ on July 27, 2020, 18:44 MDT.

[ii] Retrieved from https://www.investopedia.com/articles/retirement/06/demiseofdbplan.asp on July 26, 2020, 18:27 MDT.

[iii] Boudreau, John, ”We Need To Move Beyond The Employee vs. Contractor Debate,” Harvard Business Review, July 8, 2015, retrieved from https://hbr.org/2015/07/we-need-to-move-beyond-the-employee-vs-contractor-debate on July 26, 2020, 18:41 MDT.

Posted on: July 27, 2020 10:15 PM | Permalink

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