I know coaches who spend seventeen hours planning the perfect game only to lose because the shape of the football isn’t round and they can’t control the bounce.
– BUD GRANT, COACH
Got project management pain?
To understand the limitations of project management practices, we must examine the concepts and assumptions that support them.
Contemporary project management is based on these assumptions – which cause project management pain:
- The natural world functions like a machine – the world is mechanistic. This is the idea of ‘the clockwork universe’.
- We can observe and rely on predictable cause-and-effect relationships – the world is deterministic. In this vein, project managers develop the project plan and know that executing it will bring about the end product. They apply this understanding to a PM Tool where the outcome of an action is predictable and repeatable and outcomes (outputs) scale in proportion to inputs (ie more effort results in a larger or quicker output). The most obvious manifestation of this idea is the‘ critical path schedule’ one key assumption in traditional CPM is that task durations change predictably based on the level of resources applied to the task.
- The future is controllable. Traditional project management material operates under the principle that all human systems are inherently mechanical in nature. Traditional thinking believes that all systems have predictable outputs based upon controlled inputs. This thinking is so embedded in Western thought that the project manager often forgets that there are significant uncontrollable factors in any given system. Project managers tend to ignore this material because it is considered either an aberration to the norm or simply a possibility so remote that it can be discounted as unimportant.
- Anything that is complex can be dissected into smaller parts and understood – the world is reductionist (i.e. the whole is equal to the sum of its parts). (WBS) The idea of ‘reductionism’; the characteristics (and behaviors) of a complicated entity can be understood by studying the characteristics of it parts. The underlying assumption being complex things can always be reduced or explained by understanding the simpler more fundamental elements from which they are assembled. Consequently, it is generally assumed the project’s goals and objectives can be decomposed and fully understood using techniques such as the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS).
- And finally, the world is rationalistic (as opposed to an empirical approach in which knowledge is gained through experience). Project management is a series of learnable processes and skills that could be applied to any new project regardless of the industry, enterprise, or society.
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