Roland Dürre
Tuesday September 16th, 2014

Beyond (Project) Management

In his blog “führung-erfahren”, Marcus Raitner officially invites everybody to participate in a blog parade on “Beyond Project Management”.

The orga team of the Dornbirn PM Camp made “Beyond Project Management” their motto for the 2014 Dornbirn PM Camp. Incidentally, the orga team of the Dornbirn PM Camp is identical with the PM camp core team that started the entire PM Camp movement. We in the team thought it was a good idea to initiate such a blog parade, quasi as a preparation for the PM Camp. And thanks to Marcus, someone did all the work involved.

First and foremost, I wish to point out that our motto is not meant to be some catch phrase and consequently it is not supposed to have advertising value. A grass root movement such as PM Camp does not need advertising. After all, it is supported by persons who come voluntarily.

And the typical “PM Camp attendant” is an autonomous person who will not easily let himself or herself be influenced by buzzwords and marketing promises.

Consequently, we ask all the “participants” to view the three words “beyond project management” in a very objective and matter-of-fact way. They are supposed to remind us that we can and must look beyond our own horizons and to invite us to also “take a look at the insides of the brains of others” once in a while. As a general rule, this is something I would find more than desirable. In fact, I feel it might help to develop a little more tolerance, thus counteracting the intolerance as it is lived in our society and, as I see it, in all social systems due to collective constructs.

{Before I start with my actual article on the blog parade, here comes my first deviation from the topic}

I rather liked this motto. After all, it reminded me of a very big event organized by the very big US ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) in March of 1997. At the time, the association celebrated its fiftieth birthday, which means it was founded in 1947.

Said birthday was celebrated with a gigantic event. The motto was:

Beyond Calculation:

The Next Fifty Years of Computing

Here is what it says in the book with the same, which contains the presentations of the conference:

In March 1997, the Association for Computing Machinery celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the electronic computer. To understand what an extraordinary fifty years the computer has had, you need only look around you–probably no farther than your desk. Computers are everywhere: in our cars, our homes, our supermarkets, at the phone company office, and at your local hospital. But as the contributors to this volume make clear, the scientific, social and economic impact of computers is only beginning to be felt. These sixteen invited essays on the future of computing take on a dazzling variety of topics, with opinions from such experts as Gordon Bell, Sherry Turkle, Edsger W. Dijkstra, Paul Abraham, Donald Norman, Franz Alt, and David Gelernter. This brilliantly eclectic collection, commissioned to celebrate a major milestone in an ongoing technological revolution, and now in its second printing, will fascinate anybody with an interest in computers and where they’re taking us.

Remarkable:

Among the invited speakers of the ACM event were the “most elevated and famous computer scientists alive tody”. But along with the computer scientists, they also had invited famous authors from the science fiction genre!

For me, this calls for a mental extension of our #pmcampdor motto by following the ACM and saying:

Beyond Project Managing:

The Next Fifty Years of Managing

{End of the first deviation from the topic and beginning of the second deviation, this time about terminology}

Before contemplating “Beyond Project Management”, I want to take a closer look at the term itself. As to the words Project and Management, you will know that I already wrote several articles about those in the IF Blog Entrepreneur’s Diary (Unternehmertagebuch).

Consequently, it is about time for us to look at the word “beyond”. Let me just insert a copy from “dict.cc” at this place:


beyond
{adv} {prep}
2626

jenseits [+Gen.]

beyond {prep} [outside]
933

außerhalb [+Gen.]

beyond {adv}
529

drüben

beyond {adv}
436

weiterhin

beyond {prep} [above]
223

oberhalb [+Gen.]

beyond {adv} darüber hinaus
beyond {adv} in Übersee
beyond {adv} auf der anderen Seite
beyond {prep} [in addition to] zusätzlich zu
beyond sth. über etw. hinaus

As you can see, translating these kinds of words from German into English gives you a wide range of potential meanings and associations.

{End of second deviation from the topic and start of the actual article about the blog parade. Now we are really into it!}

Beyond Project Managing:
The Next Fifty Years of Managing

I choose the meaning of “beyond” as in “on the other side of today”. So my article is meant to be a contribution to the discussion about what the future may look like – for instance in fifty years.

And looking at our suffering and tormented planet, it seems like fifty years might be a very long time, indeed. Much has to happen, because fifty years from now, matters might look rather bad, both here on this planet and for all of us individually.

For instance, I have a clear opinion about the collective and individual future of projects and the people involved therein:

The future of our society (collectively)!

First and foremost:

I no longer believe in projects that follow the “old” rules of the industrial era.

Just name me one non-trivial project anywhere on the world during the last few years which actually finished within the given time and cost limits. This goes for both the technological and social sectors. Even if you find “successful” projects by this definition, you will soon discover that they only were a success due to a huge amount of coincidence and/or due to a development that could not have been predicted in the way it happened and that led to the surprising success. They were simply lucky. Except that you cannot organize (and plan) good luck in a project.

When I say failed projects, I do not just mean the often mentioned big ones such as the Berlin Airport, the European Galileo or S21. No: I see so many small projects that are not doing any better either.

And I conclude that the ancient concepts and methods our fathers (and grandfathers) used will no longer work. They fail on a small scale and, of course, also on a huge scale.The challenges, however, which we are confronted with on this planet increase all the time.

How are we supposed to minimize the increased carbon dioxide production? 
How are we supposed to reduce plastic waste or even to get it out of our oceans?

How are we supposed to create peace in this world?


All these are examples for challenges which cannot be solved by a project approach – which means they cannot be solved by project management.

How is a system and a “team” born from the system, such as for instance the EU commissars, supposed to even find an approximation for the “right project goals”? Can we expect prudent “management” as early as when the initial questions start to be asked?

Do not forget that, in the old project world, there are always also just a few persons (or often only one person with a “rod”) who determine the projects and give the orders.

Both collectively and in our social systems (enterprises, too, are social systems – they have the economic purpose of producing goods or offering service), projects defined from “above” and then controlled by project technocrats will not help us through the next few years. Consequently, we will need other solution strategies for the future – beyond the world of projects.

And, of course, it would be untruthful for me to write down the solution here and now. After all, I cannot know it, can I? Today, nobody can probably know how it might work and how it will be. All I seem to see is how it will definitely not work – which is why I dare to predict:

In the future, the classic project concept will no longer be a promising model for successfully realizing important enterprises. Relevant and constructive change will only work through evolution based on the “inter-connected wisdom of many” (and it probably already does so today):

For instance, how can you establish a consensus about where you all together want to and have to go in a large group? How can you come to a mutual decision about what you want to achieve in a widespread group? How to manage lived and intended unity? How can you make all “participants” willingly contribute towards the “shared goal” in a concentrated way or/and how can you make them do without things they thought were important in the past?

Perhaps our PM Camp can show a way towards finding first answers for an “about face”?

In the future, classic project management, both on a huge and a small scale, will be more and more about initiating legislation, proclaiming regulations, state sanctions and perhaps re-distribute resources. We cannot expect it to do more than that.

Yet we “passively” need to change our lifestyles and “actively” our shared activities in collaboration with many.

It is about time that we threw the idea (which was conceived during the industrial revolution, then established during the last century and is no longer justifiable) that the future is predictable and can be controlled over board as fast as possible. And hence we should do the same with projects in the classical sense.
The alternative to a common “about face” is probably some sort of (world) government which assigns us all to its huge projects (welcome NSA) reasoning that this is how they are saving us. Such a system would probably become independent of its own original purpose and develop fascist tendencies while the system agents would justify this development with “honourable” motives (saving the environment) or necessity (human survival or whatever).

This is not a scenario we – and in particular I – would be in favour of. Consequently, we have to solve the problems of the future in a new way – and project studies are probably the least appropriate of all possible means towards that end.

Incidentally, we are no longer even capable of defining the necessary “projects”. How to define social projects? How should a project look if it is meant to create social consensus? How to realize social consensus in a classic project?

And what is worse: even the structures and coordinates which are the requirements of the project concept disappear more and more often. And I am not just talking the big wide world, but also enterprises and social systems of all dimensions.
Consequently, we have to find something new. And we have to try it out both on a small and a large scale. And we have to improve on it all the time – by practice and learning. And maybe, for starters, we should think beyond the fringe of our own hat of collective system constructs!

The future of a person (individually)!

Let us assume that we and our descendants will continue to live in a developed society as it is today assumed to be a matter of course (although that is not what it is). But as of now (?), this is still the case, at least in Central Europe. Let us assume that our descendants, too, along with us, will remain untouched by the threats of hunger, thirst, poverty and, above all, that we can continue to live in peace.
Let us also assume that we will manage to support the lives of our children and grandchildren by an enlightened, violence-free and understanding education, “upbringing” and supervision in the future.

Then it might and should just be possible that most of the people in the next generation are willing and capable of leading their own lives as autonomous persons and thus can act self-responsibly and in ethic responsibility for their neighbours and their social systems.

Then these persons will be fed up with living and working in a Taylorist, deterministically controlled and hierarchically organized world. They will also refuse to single-handedly take responsibility for others and then be responsible (!). Also, they will not feel like working in a hierarchical team of “project leaders” (project functionaries).

Instead, it will be very important for them to have all important decisions originate with the aforementioned “wisdom of many” and thus also in the responsibility of and supported by all parties concerned.

Especially with young people, I witness this more and more often. Even today, respect, honour, appreciation, trust, symmetry and eye-level are extremely important for them. They no longer feel like spending their precious time (the currency of the future in developed societies) outside such worlds. And consequently, they will no longer be prepared to enter into the classical project world. Because they will prefer to work self-determinedly and at eye-level with other persons – for a goal they mutually agreed upon to be important and right.
As you can see, the “future of projects” depends on which concept of humanity we base it on for future generations.

It is my personal concept of humanity that our descendants wish to be “free” in the sense of self-responsibility.

Projects would only have a future if people were to reject this kind of freedom. And that is something I would find fatal.

RMD
(Translated by EG)

5 Kommentare zu “Beyond (Project) Management”

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  3. Beyond Project Management: Faszinierend und rätselhaft zugleich… « visual braindump (Friday September 19th, 2014)

    […] geben, die nicht mit einfachen Plänen und bekannten Herangehensweisen zu lösen sind (vgl. Roland Dürres Blogeintrag) und von aktuellen – zumeist hierarchischen – Strukturen nicht mehr zu bewältigen […]

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