Individualism, Collectivism and Project Management

In every area of endeavor and enterprise in the global arena we always hear about World Leaders, Corporate Leaders, Political Leaders and even Religious Leaders. We never hear of them being referred to as Managers in their respective fields. That only seems to happen in Project Management.

Today’s project managers are enslaved by life cycles, methodologies, frameworks and the latest in demagoguery perpetrated by so-called leading exponents of management theory. If you have a good understanding of the role of “men”, money, material, time and space, you can manage any project, a very false notion. It’s a reactive role, sometimes played to the hilt by would-be project managers who are totally clueless about what it is that truly makes a project tick. “People Skills” is a mandatory requirement in the eyes of those “project managers”, which is supposed to be a substitute for their lack of industry knowledge and technical chutzpah and who finally end up playing the role of social directors, just to speed a project downhill faster than its maker intended. A project manager’s role can quickly turn into that of a social director or worse a “functional project manager”; the latter entails updating the project plan, with “percent complete”, scheduling meetings and documenting meeting minutes. And to add insult to injury the boss tells him or her to “drive the project”, which in other words means “keep an eye out for trouble and apply damage control”. How the hell can they drive the project when they have given over control to the Technical Lead or worse a Business Lead?

And then there’s the “project manager” who tries desperately to prove his/her talent and skills, or lack thereof, to his superiors by giving the impression of “getting things done”, the “mover and shaker”, the knight in tarnished armor! This brand of project manager is totally clueless as to what it really takes to develop a software system, the discipline of thought, the application of logic and integrated development of complex code. It’s not for him to reason why. He follows the calling of all second-handers, which is, to give the impression of doing something, anything as long as his superiors are convinced. His job is to “get it done” -- by others. His job is to ride the developers without any concern for the 16 hour days that are nowhere to be seen in his project plan. The project plan is abandoned and pragmatism takes hold. His/her job is to ride the team and get it done. Fate is a fickle bitch. It, for some reason, chooses these clowns to “lead” multi-multi-million dollar projects. Let’s look at the results. The FBI’s failed Trilogy and VCF projects, failed projects at the IRS, FAA, Denver International Airport, Bank of America, K-Mart, London Stock Exchange, Nike and the list goes on. Perhaps, the project managers adopted Nike’s battle cry “Just Do It”, yes? There were losers all around and to this day they haven’t figured out that it will always take a central idea for a project to succeed and that they are not to abandon standard practices in the face of adversity. Their hysterical anxiety commands them to throw aside the necessity of gathering detailed Requirements, creating Functional Specifications and then the Design at different levels of complexity, for a project to succeed.

One important way for the project manager to make his presence felt on a project is to be intimately close to the technical aspects of analyzing, developing, testing and deploying a software system. And the pre-requisite for that is a technical background. Just as you would not let someone who has never nailed two 2x4 studs together manage a home building project, so would you not allow an individual who does not know the difference between a bit and a byte anywhere near a software project. And I don’t care if the individual is a qualified professional in project management from a known (or unknown) institute. Ironically, it’s these same individuals who, in my estimate, are responsible for failed projects.

A project, like any other endeavor, is to be driven by a central idea. And a central idea always emanates from an individual. It never occurs in a team or any other group setting. Teams have been known to generate ideas and such projects are run on the basis of “general consensus”. On a much grander scale this approach has been known to flourish in countries governed by the premises of socialism. And look at the results. Socialism has failed everywhere and every time it has been practiced.

A central idea presupposes a leader, an individual. A person with a vision, someone who knows why he or she wants to see things done a certain way and not any other. They are driven by that vision, driven by an overwhelming desire to shape reality in their own image. There is always the possibility that the vision may not come to fruition and that possibility is hastened or even perpetrated by interference from second-handers who want to cash in on someone else’s ideas. A person, who has a clear vision and is willing to take a calculated risk and has a risk management and mitigation plan in place, is a true Project Leader, an Entrepreneur. He is guided by the principles of Freedom, Individualism and yes, Capitalism.

Projects today are failing from a dearth of Individualism, replaced by the Team Player concept and driven not by ambition but greed. Little does American industry realize that a Team Player will always be an “also ran”. He/she will always come in second, will always be a crowd pleaser, and will always live inside others. A true second-hander. American industry and group endeavors are seen to be heading in that direction at breakneck speed, with a vengeance.

We need Project Leaders and we need them fast; the kind of individuals who were uncooperative when they were kids and never did “learn to play well with other kids”.