Does your project management methodology lets you free think?

Its not about the project management methodology anymore. Frankly, it never was, even though it has triggered off some of the most senseless wars in the history of project management. Starting with Frederick Winslow Taylor‘s Scientific Management to Henry Ford‘s assembly-line based mass production system and eventually landing in a flavor-of-the-day methodology (CMM, ISO, Agile, XP, Scrum, Lean, Kanban…and add your favorite one here), project management community, especially in software field, has seen it all…and still counting! All these project management methodologies have been eulogized as silver bullets in their heydays (and some still continue to be worshipped as we speak), and have subsequently been improved upon by the next wave of innovation driven by ever-evolving business needs, state of technology and the sociological changes at the workplace. However, each predecessor has been uncharitably rejected and unceremoniously relegated to trash by every successive methodology champs. However, that doesn’t seem to have stopped project woes, certainly not – going by the claims made in their marketing brochures :). So, whom are we to trust – the overzealous champs or their ever-evolving methodologies ?

For most practitioners, novices and experienced folks alike, project management methodology became this one large target to shoot at, the advertisement to get the project deal, the crutches to hold the project on to, the lame excuse against change in project specs, the insurance against failures, perhaps the raison d’tre for project managers ? “Sorry, the manual says do it this way, we can’t change that”.The process handbook says we can’t take any changes anymore – tell customers to wait until the next release which is just six months away”. “You are not approved to prototype, so stop that effort”. “Our company’s org structure doesn’t allow an engineer to manage the project – the risks are too high”. “Our metrics are within the control limits, so I don’t understand why engineers fear a project delay”. Goes without saying, they come in all hues.

Little did we realize that the “problem” was a moving target. We continued to evolve our solution blissfully unaware that the problem was also upgrading itself. Every new fix has led to a newer generation of problem that seems to have outpaced the development of solutions so far, and I see no good reason why we will ever have a perfect solution for every type of problem. So, it doesn’t amuse me when people on Agile / Scrum discussion boards try to indiscriminately apply those principles to just about every type of problem under the sun, and then when, predictably, things don’t work, they blame that Agile / Scrum is not being applied in its spirit. Have you ever seen a project manager so baptized that he won’t think beyond the book ? I think those blind preachers are just living like a frog in a well.

Try to imagine this scene pictorially in your mind: You are walking down the road with a map in hand. You see a puddle of water that’s not on the map. What do you do ? Agilists will have you believe that waterfallists will merrily walk through (or drown through, depending on depth of the puddle) whereas Agilists will “inspect and adapt” a sophisticated term for “trial and error” (which is, by no means, a bad term). So, they will step into the puddle a little every time, and based on the results of that, determine if they want to go ahead or change the course. I will ask you something: forget the books (its actually much better if you burn them literally), what will you do if no one told you anything. You will simply avoid it. I think humans are infinitely more capable of acting on their own, especially in matters of their own interest, that they don’t require anyone to tell them what to do. So, let’s not try to be their parents. Right? Or wrong?

In my small world, we are all grown-ups who have a right to view the problem with our own private lenses without owing anyone an iota of apology about the unique problems we alone face and struggle with, whether we understand or not. And we are free to blend any major or minor, known or unknown, new or old, and right or wrong methdologies to solve our own problems. As real-life practitioners solving non-glamorous, project management template-agnostic problems, we don’t need to display our camarederie and unflinching loyalty to some obscure methodology whatever anyone says. After all, they don’t sign your paychecks, but your customers do! Your solutions should only be aligned to what your customer wants – and not what a methodology wants!

So, it is simply not about methodology. If anything, its all about:

  • Refusing to get ringfenced by a process document, howsoever great that might be
  • Outrightly rejecting the idea that things can’t be improved any further
  • Optimizing things that can be done better than in the past when a given process was written
  • Eliminating deadwood from a process simply becuase something makes no sense
  • Embracing change because your problems were not designed keeping your process in mindIn fact, it is not even about a project anymore. If anything, it is about your fundamental right to free thinking. But then, my view should not come in your way of your free thinking :).

So, think again….does your project management methodology lets you free think?

10 thoughts on “Does your project management methodology lets you free think?

  1. Titanium Consulting

    Hi,

    I always think that methodolgies aren’t like an over-arching, all encompassing “philisophy”. They are tools.

    A good Project Manager will blend tools to fit the needs and requirements of the project, clients, stakeholders and onlookers…

    1. TV Post author

      @Titanium Consulting: Quite right. A good manager will surely step out of the psychological boundaries imposed by a methodology. However, many project managers might not be that enterprising to try out new ideas. I just wrote another blog, “Our methodology is 100% pure, our result is another thing”, that might have some interesting answers to why not everyone might be willing or keen to break free.

  2. TV Post author

    @PM Hut: I like the way you put it – the water puddle example makes methodologies look stupid! IMNSHO, methodologies serve a great purpose kickstarting something only either when you have novices on the job, or you want bare-minimum consistency among hundreds of project – both are effectively derisking the project to ensure a minimum chance of success. To that end, no disagreement. However, the real fun begins with you have experienced folks who ‘have been there, done that’ and don’t really have to be told every small thing, especially in prescriptions. I think that is the real test of the strength for a methodology. The real issue is being able to adapt a methodology to needs of higher level practitioners. That is the essence of ‘Shu-Ha-Ri’ or even Situational Leadership Unfortunately, Scrum refuses to grow up and evolve to such ‘higher-level’ needs (my nick name for Scrum is ‘Peter Pan’), and so are most of the the modern-day methodologies. In a way, they are no any different from the old waterfall days.

    Again, we all need to be reminded that methodologies exist for us – not the other way round!

  3. PM Hut

    The paragraph about the puddle of water is interesting, but the example does do justice to any of the methodologies. In fact, it does make them look stupid. Nevertheless, I do agree that the whole point of Project Management is getting things done, regardless of the methodology.

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    1. TV Post author

      Thanks Jesse, your post is well-timed. Process tailoring is the ultimate application of ‘inspect and adapt’ paradigm that shouldn’t be restricted to products alone – processes need to be continually improved upon, and a specific deployment of a given process needs to be rightsized to best suit the given problem, given circumstances.

      I left a feedback at your blog too.

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