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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Project Management: Words Matter

     We’ve all had a lot of fun considering whether Project Management is an art or a science. Or both. Or a business. A profession? Maybe it’s just a craft, or a trade. Or have we just gussied up plain garden-variety management to get attention?
     Well, words matter. So do vague and generalized perceptions.
     The current popularity of project management in the business community is a boon to those of us working in the field.
     The opportunity door has swung wide open because many executives and managers have come to believe that bringing in a project manager is the solution to functional and process tangles in their organizations.
     The boon part can deflate instantly, though, when the enthusiastic prospects hear about the specifics. Clear words dissipate illusions. Too often, project management runs sharp treads right across favorite habits and processes. One in particular, the perceived inviolability of executive/management authority, can take a serious hit.

     What do you mean, I have to let them make all those decisions? Decisions are my job. Their job is to do what I tell them to do. I just want it to start coming out right. Project management is all on them, not me.”
    I once heard an executive nearly say some of that. The sentiment rarely is voiced, but it can be perfectly clear in behavior.  
     And it’s pretty much the stream going through the boss’s head. “Decisions are my job.” That’s an affirmation, a statement to oneself that controls and drives day-to-day and moment-to-moment thoughts and actions.
     Affirmations were a major tool of the New Thought and New Age movements that were big in the 1970s and 1980s, and still linger.
     Wikipedia attributes this definition to the concept: “An affirmation is a carefully formatted statement that should be repeated to one's self and written down frequently. For an affirmation to be effective, it needs to be present tense, positive, personal and specific.”

     You must really work at it.
     It requires filling file cards with affirmations, reciting them frequently and reinforcing them with vivid perceptions. Those were practices in my preparation for a consulting/training career. The mindset lasts a lifetime.
     Another thing. Word people are sensitive to meaning.
     When business people get frustrated with democratic government, they tell us, “Government should be run like a business.”
     Well, government is not a business. Besides, no two businesses are operated the same way, so what’s the comparison? Lots of businesses fail every year, but we can’t allow that much attrition among the institutions that provide streets, schools, water and public safety.
     If the two things are so different, how sensible is it to demand that they be operated the same way? That kind of thinking mixes impatience and ignorance in a recipe for disaster.
     Some business people make good public servants, and vice versa. They do it by understanding the nature of the work and conforming their thinking and behavior to its requirements.

     This understanding and conforming matter is central to the discussion about terminology. If someone describes Project Management as both an art and a science, I want to watch that person do the Project Manager job. Could be interesting, and it might astound team members and stakeholders.
     Sigmund Freud created an instant cliché when he said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”
     A Project is never “just a Project,” but it is a Project.  Defining its purpose and establishing its parameters -- as a project -- are essential affirmations.
     Borrowing the New Age terms, project goals and requirements are “carefully formatted statements that should be repeated to one's self and written down frequently. To be effective, they need to be positive, personal and specific.”
     We don’t necessarily want to do the file card/recitation thing, but the more positive and specific the project remains in the minds of its stakeholders, the more successful it’s going to be.
     The art, science and business will take care of themselves.

See Also:
Project Communication: Not Quick, Not Easy







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