The Mythical Project Manager: Part 1

Our project management “Education System” has created and still perpetuates the “Mythical Project Manager”. You know the one with the superpowers to control every aspect of the project and deliver every project successfully on budget, on scope, and on time every time. He (or she) is creative yet risk-averse, visionary yet operational, flexible yet structured. He thinks strategically but acts tactically. He achieves long term goals, yet keeps a focus the short term ones. He holds a high level view of the company’s strategic direction yet remains detail-oriented.  She is effective in all situations and delivers on results not just because of circumstances but despite of them.

Only the “Mythical Project Manager” can achieve all this and more. We can admire this “Mythical” creature but we should remember that it is only a figment of our imagination.

At the core of the Mythical Project Manager’s belief system is the doctrine that the project manager must control the project. Much of what we are taught about project management, at least in our initial formative years, is rooted in this doctrine.

According this Mythical Project Manager’s doctrine, once we plan the project, our #1 job is to protect the plan. To protect the plan, the project manager must control scope, budget, schedule, and therefore our stakeholders. Our tools such as scope management, change management, and risk management are all control mechanisms the keep the project on track. Any deviation from the plan is considered an error; a threat. No effort must be spared until the error is corrected.

In my view, cost, schedule, scope, and even risks are all negotiated agreements. They are not standalone abstract concepts, nor are they absolute or constant. As agreements, each of these requires conversations among people to share perspectives resolve differences, and arrive at a common understanding. An agreement is a result of a conversation.

Some of these conversations can and should be ongoing throughout the life of the project. Therefore, these factors are expected to, and should, change as they are not set in stone. They are living and breathing elements throughout the course of the project, as circumstances change and people (surprisingly) change their perceptions.

Furthermore, a decision on one factor impacts one or more of the other factors. Trying to control them or the natural flow of the conversations is interfering with the “laws of natural selection” of ideas. It stifles creativity and innovation. It is the #1 idea-killer and what often gets our projects in trouble.

Unfortunately, our entire project management “Education System” is still stuck in an old model that does not recognize the diversity of today’s projects. It still maintains a view of control that is increasingly becoming outdated, as it does not recognize that we are no longer just doing project FOR stakeholders but rather we are doing projects WITH stakeholders.

Today, our stakeholders don’t just have interests and input or only exist outside the project. Rather, they make project decisions, solve project problems and live inside the project.  They determine schedules, budgets, and scope. These stakeholders are humans with thoughts, emotions, and behavior that direct not just influence the course of our projects. In this new world order, following traditional notions of control becomes an exercise in futility and frustration.

And so today we find ourselves at a crossroad. Our organizations are demanding agility yet our traditional project management education is deeply rooted in the doctrine of “control”. Our traditional notions of “control” must be refreshed or completely discarded, if project management is to remain relevant in today’s changing environment.

In my next post, I will dive further into exactly how our notions of “control” must change to adapt to our changing project environment. Agile in the software development projects has made great strides in this regard. But we must go further.

In the meantime, what’s your take on this topic? What’s your opinion, experience, or philosophy? I welcome your thoughts and input.

If you like this post, you might like to read the series:

The Mythical Project Manager: Part 2

3 Responses to The Mythical Project Manager: Part 1
  1. [...] Part 1 of the “Mythical Project Manager” series, we discussed how today we find ourselves at a crossroad. Our organizations are demanding agility [...]

  2. [...] “Ideal” Project Manager September 11, 2012By Don KimI read this insightful post on “The Mythical Project Manager” by Samad Aidane from his site Guerilla Project [...]

  3. Roshan P Vani
    October 31, 2012 | 9:04 am

    Great post and very thoughtful. Every Friday we try to link to articles from around the web we think our readers may enjoy. I usually inform the authors via twitter but I cannot seem to find GPM on twitter, hence this comment.

    Check our site this Friday 2 Nov 2012 (www.haironfirepm.com).

    Keep up the good work.

    Roshan

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