Tame the Haters

Don't Ignore Calls to Cast Project Management Aside; Push Back with Constructive Proposals



Don't ignore calls to cast project management aside. Push back with constructive counterproposals.

By Jesse Fewell, CST, PMI-ACP, PMP, contributing editor

“We want to be controversial for a moment and propose an end to projects and project management.”

So goes the opening chapter of #Noprojects: A Culture of Continuous Value, a book published this year by two agile acolytes. But the concept is nothing new. For years, I've heard speeches and read blog posts declaring project management irrelevant in today's fast-paced world of frequent deliverables. It's one thing to challenge the use of plan-driven approaches for dynamic projects; it's quite another to declare the death of project management as a concept.

I've generally dismissed these notions, but recent conversations with senior executives make clear this is a trend we in the project management community need to take seriously.


At first glance, the idea that projects (and project management) are needless sounds ridiculous. We will always have bridges and products to build. In fact, much of what we call “agile” is a more humanized version of what project managers have been doing for a while. For example, a retrospective formalizes the kaizen mindset of continuous improvement. A release train dependency board is just a more collaborative version of the critical path method.

So if it's not about the techniques, what is it about? In reality, project management gets blamed for a lot of the side effects caused by organizational project traditions. Moreover, frustrated executives have told me things like, “Why do I have a project management office of project managers? We need to operate like startups do, with less money and faster results.”

Here's a change agenda that would address their common pain points without “ending” projects:

▪ Value Metrics: Use the innovation accounting technique to differentiate leading and lagging indicators, as startups do.

▪ Earned Funding: Replace annual funding cycles with regular funding review boards. Projects showing positive leading value indicators get more funding, while others get killed.

▪ Stable Staffing: Many organizations staff projects in ways that create skill dependencies and confuse capacity data. Why not simplify accountability with cross-departmental teams that own both the building and maintenance of a suite of related products?

The next time an executive tells you that projects are old-fashioned, surprise the person by saying you agree. Then propose incremental funding of product teams, with leaders held accountable for measured value, like startup CEOs. They'll likely be impressed—and you can nip a push for #noprojects in the bud. PM

img Jesse Fewell, CST, PMI-ACP, PMP, has served on the core team of the Agile Practice Guide and the Steering Committee for the PMI-ACP® certification. He can be reached at [email protected].
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