project management

Sapiens, Revolution, and Empty Maps

In his book entitled 'Sapiens', which explores the nature of the 4 defining revolutions in the history of homo sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari argues that the Scientific Revolution was based in people succumbing to the understanding that they didn’t know the answers to important questions.  He writes:

"The Scientific Revolution has not been a revolution of knowledge. It has been above all a revolution of ignorance. The great discovery that launched the Scientific Revolution was the discovery that humans do not know the answers to their most important questions."

Until this revelation, those questions were answered only by religious leaders and elders or the questions were deemed unimportant.  

One of the first indications of the shift toward a scientific mindset in Europe was the creation of world maps containing ample empty space - a clear admission of ignorance of parts of the world. That started to change in 1492.

I believe we are in the midst of a revolution in business and project management.  For decades, practitioners in these fields have asserted that we have all the answers if only we could execute on them.  More and more, the business world is understanding and accepting that increasing complexity is forcing us to face our ignorance.  We need to be comfortable WITHOUT fully populated schedules and plans. We need to have more empty spaces in our maps. The increasing complexity of our work provides us the opportunity to discover things we thought were not possible instead of relying on what we think is predictable.  It is perhaps counter-intuitive to see wisdom in acknowledging our ignorance but it is exactly this wisdom that will separate those companies that will thrive from those that will become extinct.

Just as in the Scientific Revolution, it will be empiricism (the core of agility) that will guide us to discover answers to existing questions and new questions rather than the audacity of thinking we know all the questions, let alone the answers.

Vive la revolucion!!

Project grammar

I sometimes wonder if the field of Project Management spends too much time emphasizing management of the noun vs management of the verb.

PROject (n)
A temporary group endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result.

proJECT (v)
To thrust forward.
To estimate or predict based on present data or trends.
To direct one's voice so as to be heard clearly at a distance.
To cause an image to appear on a surface.

Isn't project management really about managing the actions/decisions necessary to achieve a desired outcome?  Focusing on projections of the desired outcome, based on present data or trends, is how we truly manage risk on a project; the risk of shipping the wrong product, the risk of shipping a low quality product, and the risk of shipping late or not at all.  The first key to mitigating these risks, of course, is to ensure that the present data and trends used to make the projections are both valid and valuable.  The second key is to update the present data regularly, accordingly update the projections, and then make decisions.  These concepts describe two of the primary elements of iterative/incremental development.  Successful proJECT management is much more akin to causing an image to appear or hearing clearly at a distance than it is to simply endeavouring to achieve a result.