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The Dangers of Tribalism with Project Methods

The project management industry has spent gazillions¹ on methods, frameworks, standards, training courses, certifications, degrees etc., and despite this there is a perception that our overall competency, capacity and success as a discipline is marginally successful at best. After spending over twenty five years studying, being certified on, and employing a multitude of project, programme, portfolio, risk, benefit, value and business case management methods, frameworks, standards and best practices (over 45ish) it occurred to me that the siloed / stove piped / tribal methods focus is dangerously constraining.  If not in fact damaging.

Not only do we want to belong to tribes, but we will defend our tribes passionately.

Within the world of projects, the notion of tribes is prevalent. We often talk about organizational groups being stove-piped or siloed, but I believe a better descriptor is tribal. Tribes fighting other tribes within organizations for resources and recognition as opposed to working together for the common objectives. Apparently, this drive for belonging to tribes is ancient:

For millions of years, our ancestors’ survival depended upon their ability to get small groups to include them and trust them, so if there is any innate drive here, it should be a drive to get others to think well of us. Based on his review of the research, Leary suggested that self-esteem is more like an internal gauge, a “sociometer” that continuously measures your value as a relationship partner. Whenever the sociometer needle drops, it triggers an alarm and changes our behavior.²

“We deploy our reasoning skills to support our team, and to demonstrate commitment to our team.”³

“People care about their groups… asking themselves not ‘What’s in it for me?’ but rather ‘What’s in it for my group?’ ”4

Project Management Methods

So… what does this have to do with project management methods? Before I start, I will ask for a little leniency here and ask your forgiveness to include standards, methods, frameworks etc. within the methods moniker.

I have observed on social media (read LinkedIn and various blogs) impassioned arguments for certain methods and against other ones. Often times these arguments are not only logically flawed but also just downright incorrect. I suspect that in a number of cases this is based on experience. There are many project management method tribes, but for argument’s sake lets consider the following: PRINCE2, PMBOK, Earned Value Management, PRiSM and Agile.

If your first introduction to project management is from PMI’s PMBOK, and especially if you are working in the Americas where it is most popular, then for you that is the only required perspective of project management. I started that way in the 1990s. Then I learned about another “amazing” method called PRINCE2.

Observations

I learned about PRINCE2 in the late 1990s. Technically it was PRINCE we used because it was a systems development programme for a fortune 100 corporation in NYC and we thought the original method would be best for this environment (I switched to PRINCE2 in the mid-2000s). It had all sorts of fun things like benefits, business cases, excellent governance, interesting roles, and responsibilities. This overhauled my project management perspectives (as MSP overhauled my programme management world) significantly. I then transitioned to the International Project Management Associations (IPMA) model and realized that it was not an either-or situation.

IPMA is methods agnostic and advocates for the tools, techniques, processes (or methods) as part of a tool kit. What I liked with IPMA was the multidimensional competency approach to the change delivery disciplines. It was there that I learned about Agile. Technically I follow the Eurasian perspective that agile is for team management and is included within projects, as opposed to the America’s perspective that it is actually a project management method / approach / philosophy / software development paradigm. Again though, I can see both perspectives… more importantly though, it is part of the toolkit. Every one of my project team leads gets the DSDM Atern little blue book, and I have scrums every day. It was also during this time that I learned about Earned Value Management (EVM).

I originally studied EVM because I wanted the engineering economic theories to improve my value management, benefits management, and business case acumen. That said, again I added a lot of EVM tools and techniques to my tool kit. One interesting observation was that there are a surprising number of similarities between EVM and Agile. What I learned is that for oil & gas, mining, construction type engineering engagements EVM might be best due to its structured approach. Whereas I found PRINCE2 exceptional for IT and transformational engagements due to how it handled continuous change and its focus on benefits and definition of project success.

I had a fun engineering project awareness in the late 2000s. My change initiatives have traditionally been IT (hardware and software), government regulatory reporting systems and organizational transformations based. Not “engineering” based. I had the privilege of being part of an IPMA Project Excellence assessment for a city within a city project in Guatemala. I was the process lead. What I discovered, to my horror, was that they used no method (that I recognized) and it was one of the best projects that I had ever assessed. I mentioned this observation to a team mate, who was an engineer, and she effectively laughed at me saying that this project used the standard engineering project approach like every other engineering project for the past several thousand years. More to add to the toolkit. Also, was the realization that different methods were best for certain types of projects.

My favourite experience though was with GPM’s PRiSM. What I came to recognize was that my investments in learning value, benefits, risk, project, programme, portfolio, governance, business case, sponsorship etc. had sustainability as the perfect catalyst for all of these disciplines. So I added GPM’s sustainable project tools, techniques and process to my toolkit.

Conclusion

The following quotes over the years have struck a chord with me:

  • All models are wrong… some models are useful. (George Box, Industrial Statistician)
  • Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien / The better/best is the enemy of the good. (Voltaire)
  • Strive for progress, not perfection.
  • Colouring by numbers does not guarantee success.

I think one of the advantages that I have been fortunate to experience is the number of methods and best practices in integrated disciplines.  The interesting realization was that each of the methods, frameworks, standards and best practices provided different perspectives and tools and techniques to add to the tool box.  Projects and programmes by their very definition are unique, and every instance requires a tailored response to the context and unique landscape.  The following is one of my favourite quotes:

Exhibit 1.0 – Challenges with the Required Breadth and Depth for Change Delivery

The lesson learned is to try not to just drink the kool-aid from one project management method’s tribe or one industry project management method’s tribe. Learn and experience other perspectives to improve your toolkit.

As opposed to the individual disciplines the enterprise capacity and capability to consistently and predictably deliver successful change should be the focus.  The management systems, culture and leadership that supports organizational change is key.  The disciplines associated with change delivery are outlined below and form the basis of the support structure:

Exhibit 2: Sustainable Disciplines of Change Delivery

As a final thought, though a little tongue in cheek, in the end the objective is not to obsessively follow a method, but to tailor your experience, training, tools and techniques to get the job done.

Exhibit 3: Challenges of Best Practice Methods

Appendix: Then the following represent some of the change delivery “methods”:

 

REFERENCES

1 Rowlett, Russ. (2001). Names for Large Numbers. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved February 15, 2017, from https://www.unc.edu/~rowlett/units/large.html

I am not aware of any empirical evidence of how much but it is a monstrous sum of money.

2 Haidt, Jonathan. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. Page 90.

3 Haidt, Jonathan. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. Page 107.

4 Kinder, D. E. 1998. “Opinion and Action in the Realm of Politics.” In Handbook of Social Psychology, 4th ed., ed. D. Gilbert, S. Fiske, and G. Lindzey, 778–867. New York: McGraw-Hill. Page 808.

 

Carboni, J., Gonzalez, M., & Hodgkinson, J. (2013) The GPM reference guide to sustainability in Project Management. Fort Wayne: GPM Global.

Carboni, Joel (2014). The GPM P5™ Standard for Sustainability In Project Management. 1st ed. Fort Wayne: GPM Global.

GPM. (2012). PRISM PRojects Integrating Sustainable Methods. Green Project Management Association.

Shweder, R. A., and E. Bourne. 1984. “Does the Concept of the Person Vary Cross-Culturally?” In Cultural Theory, ed. R. Shweder and R. LeVine, 158–99. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Turner, J.R., Huemann, M., Anbari, F. and Bredillet, C. (2010), Perspectives on Projects. Routledge, London. Retrieved January 10, 2017, from http://www.amazon.com/Perspectives-Projects-Rodney-J-Turner/dp/0415993741/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1442816523&sr=8-2

 

 

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Peter Milsom

Peter Milsom is an entrepreneurial advocate for sensible, sustainable change delivery practice. Peter has come to realize that sustainability is the perfect catalyst for Project / Programme / Portfolio / Risk / Value / Business Case and Benefits Management improvement. As an entrepreneurial methodologist Peter's unique value proposition is the vast array of tools and techniques that he brings to every engagement using the most cost effective and efficient methods based on the situation and tailored to meet your needs. This is based on his unique combination of experience and extensive training / certifications in change delivery, value / risk / benefits management business case, and business architecture.

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