So, I’m grouchy today. Since I’ve been out on my own I’ve made a real effort to learn more about my profession. Working for big companies is isolating…you lose touch with your industry because you’re spending so much time focusing on your day-to-day work. Out on my own I have more time to read and study and learn.
And while all this self-learning is proving to be a great thing, I’m discovering things that aren’t so great. One point in particular that’s really eating at me at the moment is, we seem to be living in an age where we define ourselves by our excuses. And I think we’re deliberately arming ourselves to make that easier.
That sounds so harsh when I say that. Perhaps it is harsh. I’m supposed to be the “touchy-feely-emotional-intelligence” guy. But more and more I see this phenomenon. Even when I worked full time I saw some pretty appalling behaviour, generally driven by either greed or self-preservation. The justifications that accompanied such behaviour were some fabulous colours of smoke, let me tell you. But I’m starting to think, as we produce more and more literature and analyze our behaviour, that we’re creating an underground arsenal of weapons to perpetuate bad behaviour, rather than diminish it.
I recently came across a book called eXtreme Project Management by Doug DeCarlo. At its core, it’s quite a brilliant read. It suggests reality and theory are two entirely different things, and that the shock of discovery can create some very unwelcome project behaviour. I couldn’t agree more. Sometimes, the best laid plans get derailed, and it’s a serious challenge to keep things moving. Doug’s book addresses stress, guilt, burnout, and a host of other very real things that happen to people on projects. And it’s all true! But because it’s tagged with the “xPM” label, now it’s a “method” that can be followed or not, at the project manager’s discretion.
“Oh I guess I should’ve gone with ‘xPM’…my bad”
I don’t believe the author intended this. But I am starting to see xPM as an acronym in job postings, on required skill sets, and in literature. The notion of xPM as something special or optional is gaining traction. The second a project manager “chooses” to use xPM, they are suggesting that other approaches that don’t acknowledge that reality breeds chaos, are valid. It suggests:
- leadership through adversity is only required under exceptionally tough conditions.
- there could be valid conditions where it’s okay to solution before fully understanding the problem.
- some project managers don’t need to be flexible, or prepared to throw out a process if it’s not working.
- project managers don’t always need to consider setting a realistic pace for their people.
News Flash: Reality. Is. Not. Theory. Any project manager who claims his project plan from day one didn’t change a lick by the last day of the project either had such a tiny project to manage, or is delusional. There is no valid project management approach that should be blind to the vagaries of reality! And reality sucks! Things break, and fail; people bruise and get upset; contingency plans are only as good as their content; and these are things a project manager has to deal with every day. Not under certain special conditions, but all the time!
Here’s the thing. I fully agree with pretty much everything in DeCarlo’s book. I think it’s brilliantly written, and is one of the first books I’ve seen to explicitly call out some serious, common and fundamental problems with project environments. He’s got some great ideas, and I would even recommend it as an excellent read. Where I have a really big problem is that the book is filled with “eXtreme Project Management (xPM)” as if it’s something that should be different or unusual. By making it something special, Doug (I’m sure inadvertently) sends the message there are cases where it’s okay to abandon those principles for something less “eXtreme”.
And let me tell you, we don’t need any more of that kind of thinking. I have watched vendors and project teams hide behind their processes as if they were shields, and seen more cases of irrelevant blame be flung across boardroom tables as if they were monkey poo. I have heard every excuse in the book why a project could not be delivered and have watched stakeholders actually accept it as they cut another cheque!
Please, do me a favour. Expunge the notion of “xPM” from collective consciousness as if it were never coined. Do buy and read Doug’s book. Do believe his principles, and apply them. But don’t…please don’t…give people another three-letter acronym (TLA) they can hold up to justify why they can’t get work done.
“xPM”? I think it should just be “PM”. But maybe that’s just my own personal pipe dream.
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