An Open Letter to the Project Management Community

An Open Letter to the Project Management Community

Occasioned by this discussion on LinkedIn, I wanted to write to Project Managers everywhere…

Dear All

Dear Project Managers everywhere,

I hear you have mixed views about the recent, er, “developments”, in the field of Software Development, commonly referred-to as “Agile Software Development practices”. I won’t call them “advances” as we may not be able to agree that they have, in fact, advanced anything. Incidentally, I share some of your likely skepticism on that front.

I am writing to you today to share some opinions and observations about the changes in train in the software development field, globally. Whilst patchy in their uptake, changes are afoot. I can relate to your professional concerns that we retain the best of what we have learned from decades of successful project management (this also, we have to admit, being very patchy, too).

Many who look to advance the field of software development also have concerns. Concerns that some of the received wisdom of project management professionals has been rendered redundant or even dysfunctional by recent advances in fields such as psychology, neuroscience, sociology and evidence-based management.

These bilateral concerns have lead to understandable, yet vexing, tensions and misunderstandings between the various communities. Nowhere have these been more evident, perhaps, than between ‘traditional’ project managers and the Agile crowd.

I find it helpful to characterise this conflict as a clash of world-views. In a nutshell, a clash between what McGregor has called “Theory X” and “Theory Y”.

I hope I’m right in thinking that we all share a common objective – a desire to see better outcomes for our customers, delivered within timescales and at a cost that delights everyone involved. Oh, and maybe improving effectiveness of the organisations within which we work, too.

Whilst it may appear the arguments and contentions arise from our different ways and means for achieving this objective, I’d like to suggest that the conflict – as a product of conflicting world-views – is more deep-seated, and all the more pernicious for that. We can hardly expect folks, of any persuasion, to change their world-views overnight, if at all. Nor blame them for that aspect of their humanity.

And given the fundamental differences between these world-views, it seems overly optimistic to expect these world-views even to coexist peacefully and productively.

All we might hope for is a little more understanding, a little less fractiousness, and a future where we can all at least agree to disagree.

More optimistically, we might also realise that everyone has much to learn – and unlearn – from each other. That, perhaps, is something we can all work on together.

Thanks for listening,

– Bob

Further Reading

Power And Love ~ Adam Kahane
Power and Love – RSA video

4 comments
  1. Jeff Campbell said:

    Hello Bob!
    New to your blog, and really enjoying it.

    I find your statement here very interesting, and agree with you whole heartedly.

    Let me preface with saying, I am an Agile coach, but more then that, I am a true believer in the agile movement. I think where the issue is, a lot of people (especially those who are new to agile) tend to take a very militant approach, because they think that a fundamental shift is required in peoples way of thinking.

    Those of us who have some success with agile, and more importantly some failure, realize that they are correct, a fundamental shift in thinking is required but it is not possible to make that happen overnight. This is where most agile implementations fail, when the reach the point of militantism, “we need to get rid of the project manager” and the like thinking.

    True success requires that we collaborate so we can use the great and valuable experience of these people, while at the same time using the enthusiasm of the new to evolve in a new direction. Basically getting the best of out these different world views. As was mentioned in the video you posted “Dare to disagree”.

    What do you think?
    Jeff

  2. PM Hut said:

    I like the “unlearn” part – there are many things even in traditional project management that are wrong and people need to unlearn them.

    I have to say that I think the main reason of why so many are still reluctant to adopt Agile is that Waterfall is already working for them. Why fix what isn’t broken?

  3. zebra003 said:

    I agree 100% if something is working well for you, there is very little reason to change… However, I would say I have rarely if ever encountered waterfall implementation that are working well… Almost always, quality is low, and deliveries are late… But that is my own experience…

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