My Philosophy

by | Feb 1, 2016

Welcome to the world of “Principle-based Project Leadership”

The conditions for project success are surprisingly simple and well-understood, but most teams ignore them, despite high levels of project failure and/or impairment.

Impairment can be anything from severely late or expensive outcomes, failure to deliver key components or requirements, or just having a project that is not so nice to work in.

Executives, managers and project teams alike can easily get caught up in other directions, focusing on processes, methodologies, tools, new and old technology and miss the simple fundamentals. When you get multiple strong viewpoints on any of those topics it can be a very unsatisfying and difficult environment in which to work.

Surprisingly, there are always logical and rational reasons for these distractions, and it’s usually in the absence of something strong and simple to focus on instead. In order to find this direction, we use a principle-based approach that simplifies and de-clutters the project context and provides strong and clear areas for the team to focus on to get work done.

Perspective often drives behavior and having the perspective only of one’s own discipline can cause dissonance among stakeholders, or, much worse, unexposed divergence underneath apparent agreement.  This divergence all to frequently only appears late in the project, say at the point of system testing or integration when apparently spec-compliance components do not work as expected.

There are very well-known ways to avoid these types of problems, but they are not taught in most courses, or not taught well, and often seen as too hard, or requiring too much change, to be introduced to any given project.  The Agile movement has apparently thrown all discipline out the window, such that it is regarded as antiquated and a sign of being tainted by old ways of thinking.  Those “old ways of thinking” have many areas that were either never really useful, or have now gone past their use-by date.  But not everything that is associated with past practice and thinking is an automatic candidate for abandonment.  A relatively cursory review of the literature going back 50 years will show you that thought leaders as far back as Fred Brooks were arguing for flexibility and mindful analysis, rather than quick-fix fad mentality.

The point is that no method is a silver-bullet and no method has universal applicability.  The real skill for project managers and technology practitioners such as engineers and software developers is to objectively pick the right set of techniques for each project, and to spend as little time as possible arguing about ideological viewpoints or alternatives.    Sadly, the field of project management has been as guilty as anyone for focusing on particular tools, processes and techniques, often using them in the face of total resistance and failure of the stakeholders to accept.

And it’s not that we are working with unintelligent or creative people: software development brings some of the best and brightest to its fold, and no-one survives for long as a developer without having very special cognitive abilities.  In the main, the people involved with software development or systems engineering are highly trained and cognitively developed people, and yet our work practices and organisational policies treat them as lowest-common denominator drones, who cannot be trusted with doing their jobs unaided, or endowed with the kinds of special resources that their work requires.  Among many other things, such as office space and furniture policies, the endless need to argue the case for specialised development devices (such as mac’s or large screens) instead of SOE mandated windows laptops, belies the organizations need for their unadulterated services.

Imagine buying a Maclaren or Ferrari car and being forced to only drive it on local roads at 50 km/h.  It doesn’t have to be driven at 250 km/h but such restrictions mean that you may as well not buy it in the first place.  Project Managers are often in the same position, jumping through job selection criteria and interview hoops only to find that local views of the JD are far, for lower in actuality.  Talk about frustrating!

Such dissonance abounds within this industry, and wastes countless hours and consumes mountains of goodwill and engagement.

So, what we need is mindful and objective selection of tools, and leverage of people’s brains is the real way in which we make progress.

What works, works.  And what works quickly, works best.


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Each week Adam writes about interesting and varied topics for Project Managers everywhere and curates useful articles, books and papers from other sources.