Project Management

Are We Finally Done With PM Pseudo-Science?

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There’s an axiom among experienced writers that asserts you’re not really a pro at this until you make the transition away from writing something that you want get off of your chest, and towards producing something that your readers would actually want to read. I like to keep this axiom in mind when I’m attending conferences on the management sciences. It serves as a valuable litmus test when I’m reviewing the syllabus, to determine which of the sessions is worth my time, and which should be avoided. In those instances where all of the slots in a given time frame are clearly presenters attempting to show off, boast, or re-address intellectual ground that’s been covered so many times it’s taking on the epistemologically equivalent appearance of centuries-old roads used by the Roman Legions, I use that time to check out the exhibit hall, or to get in line early for lunch.

I kind of get a kick out of speculating what would happen if all of the attendees at these conferences were to employ a similar test when choosing which sessions to attend. The boasters and re-treaders would speak to empty chairs, while the ones who have put real effort into assessing a rational approach to problems or issues encountered by many would see their rooms filled to overflowing, thereby sending (one would hope) a clear message to the seminars’ sponsors in general, and their paper-selecting committees in particular: stop with the common knowledge re-iterations, cease the a priori­-predicated yawn-fests, and let your valuable time and space allocations to those who have positioned themselves to provide actual value to potential attendees.

But in order for this message to arrive in the in-boxes of seminar sponsors, we as a PM community need to do something about the supply and demand curves involved. Since it’s pretty clear that there will always be a large supply of potential paper presenters who are there to boast about some wonderful project involving them, and point to some unique aspect of the PM codex as a distinguishing factor that all other analogous projects should adopt, my mission is probably best accomplished by flattening the demand curve. I believe this could be accomplished by employing a few tactics, such as:

  • The aforementioned pre-attendance screening, performed by seminar attendees. Maybe we could get a rating system – we’ll call it the GTIM Nation Relevance Score – that would show a numeric value of the subject presentation’s basis in management science techniques.
    • 10 – 7 would be heavily based on either existing, hard-evidence-based scholarship, or original research that includes verifiably objective data, with a minimum of subjectivity, or correlation masquerading as causation.
    • 6 – 4 means that we’re going back over already-established techniques and protocols, with a heavy dose of eat-your-peas-style hectoring about why it’s important to perform them.
    • 3 – 2 score indicates subjective data is being used to draw conclusions (polls and surveys are a dead giveaway), or else objective data is being process through an invalid logical method to assert a pre-determined conclusion. Unless I’m mistaken, this would be the automatic scoring range of every risk management (no initial caps) session I’ve ever attended.
    • 1 – 0 is for straight-up silliness, like the Communications experts who want Project Teams to share all project information with anyone who can be considered to be a “stakeholder.”
  • I suppose it’s possible that the review committees will have some sort of epiphany (perhaps their members will be sent links to this blog), and begin evaluating paper/presentation proposals on the basis of the actual validity of the papers’ premise, and supporting evidence as the sole basis for awarding slots.
  • I believe that there’s a role in all of this that the people actually sponsoring the events can play, but it’s not a popular idea. I had attended a PM-related seminar, where I gave a keynote address (this was back when I was doing the PMNetwork column gig), and was invited to a post-conference meeting with the sponsors and other presenters. The purpose of the meeting was to generate some sort of lessons-learned memorandum, to help improve the same get-together the next year. When they opened the floor to suggestions, I raised my hand, was recognized, and blurted out “If you really want to improve this thing, remove all attendance fees from paper presenters.” At the time those who had submitted presentation proposals that were approved would have their attendance fees reduced, but not eliminated. I went on to point out that ideas were the coin of the realm in these venues, and, in order to attract better ones, all barriers needed to be eliminated. Like I said, this was not a popular idea.

As much as I would love to believe that a simple blogger railing against the intellectually vacuous underpinnings of what all-too-often passes for legitimate Project Management science could tip the common acceptance scales against them, that’s not gonna happen. On the other hand, if we as PM technique consumers simply stop signing up for what these people are selling, now that would turn the tide. The only question remaining is: have we had enough?


Posted on: December 21, 2020 09:59 PM | Permalink

Comments (4)

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Jean-Claude Greco Sierre, Valais, Switzerland
Thanks for sharing

Abolfazl Yousefi Darestani Manager, Quality and Continuous Improvement| Hörmann-TNR Industrial Doors Newmarket, Ontario, Canada
Thanks for sharing

Mohammad Riyadh Alam Sr. Project Manager Dhaka, Bangladesh
Thank you.

Kwiyuh Michael Wepngong Financial Management Specialist | US Peace Corps / Cameroon Yaounde, Centre, Cameroon
Thanks Michael,
Thanks for sharing

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