9 Project management “meta-problems” that block discussion and analysis

Summary

  1. The narrow vision of standardised techniques
  2. Fragmented and conflicted views
  3. The sheer size and scope of project management capability
  4. Project manager competency (or lack thereof)
  5. The fundamental concepts of project management are obsolete
  6. Project management as a disabling profession
  7. Can’t help with the “quick fix” syndrome (even when it’s needed)
  8. Cannot clean up the “no trust” mess
  9. Using linear tools to solve non-linear problems.

Overview of the eight “meta-problems”

1. A narrow vision of standardised techniques

The practice and theory of project management derive from a narrow set of concepts. The conceptual basis is to follow “natural” rules that define the right way to run a project. These rules flow into practice using a small set of standardised techniques.

2. Fragmented and conflicted views

The narrative of project management is fragmented and conflicted.

3. The sheer size and scope of required project manager capabilities

On the one hand, we have narrow and conflicted viewpoints of project management. On the other hand, there is the sheer size and scope of the knowledge, skills, and behaviours demanded of a project manager.

4. Project manager competency (or lack of it)

Given the first three meta-problems, it is not surprising that there is a low level of competence in project management practice.

5. The fundamental concepts of project management are obsolete

Management theories from the late 19th and early 20th centuries pervade project management practice. Henri Fayol still drives both management and project management foundations. Taylor’s concepts still propagate through both management philosophy and individual execution.

6. Project management as a disabling Profession

The PMI, APM and other project management professional societies started long ago. They do an excellent job for their members and stimulate discussion and analysis of project management. To a degree. These associations worked hard to get entrenched in the spheres of regulation. They follow a centuries-old path for professional societies, for example, guilds and unions. This strategy establishes its BOKs and frameworks as the standard for “permitted practice”.

7. Can’t help with the “quick fix” syndrome (even when it’s needed)

The concept of a “quick fix” is pervasive amongst project stakeholders. We often see this at the “messy front end” of projects during conception. At this stage of the project, future difficulties are easy to avoid or discount. But it also can occur at any stage in the project.

8. Project management cannot clean up the “no trust” mess

Let’s look at four reasons that a lack of trust extends up and down most organisations:

  1. Loss of confidence in institutions globally
  2. Outdated management models
  3. The dissonance between an organisation’s stated values and perceived behaviour
  4. Poor relationships between supervisory personnel and individual contributors

9. Project management uses linear tools to solve non-linear problems

We plan and execute projects linearly, but we experience our project tasks non-linearly. This paradox exists in every project and causes endless conflict amongst the stakeholders.

  1. Human cognition and emotion.
  2. Human social and communication processes.
  3. Technology instability

Conclusion

Even to begin the process of improving project management, we must resolve these nine meta-problems. At least resolve them at a conceptual level. The good news is that many of these problems have self-inflicted causes. But that’s also the bad news.

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Adam On Projects

Adam On Projects

I want to change the way you think about and do project management. http://www.adamonprojects.com