Letter 2: Do not expect it from someone else

This is the English translation of my Dutch newsletter on my LinkedIn profile.

My previous letter was obviously not what you were waiting for, it was an announcement for a series in which I share with you my thoughts on why project management is still not working.

The thought I want to elaborate now is related to an experience I had years ago when I was in Egypt telling a group of project managers about PRINCE2. There was a time when I considered giving training in it and, to my ‘shame’, I have to admit that I once memorised all the processes. Something that is of no use, of course, but does say something about how this kind of certification tempts people to memorise pointless things. I have my own thoughts on this, which I will undoubtedly explain in one of the next letters. But lets return to my experience in Cairo.

I explained to my Egyptian friends what the role of the principal should be according to this method. They looked at me in amazement and said: “But that is exactly what the project manager should do!” That was spot on and they were absolutely right. It is, of course, important to make tasks and responsibilities clear and understandable; nobody can be against that. But that is project specific. The problem with PRINCE2 is that the responsibilities consist of a long list of ‘bullets’. Do you think a principal is going to read the role description in the manual? I am sure they will not. After a one-day course for clients, they have forgotten about it after a few days. What were you trying to achieve?

What has happened in the past decades? Masses of junior project managers and students from business schools have heard from trainers, who often never managed a decent project themselves, what the responsibilities of the various roles on a project are. They take it for granted because they have insufficient experience to judge its value. Then, when they enter the day-to-day practice, they expect others to take their roles according to the manual. As a result, an entire generation of professionals has grown up waiting for someone else to do it.

That my dear reader is one of the reasons why project management does not work. Tasks and responsibilities are renegotiated time and again. Sometimes very explicitly, but most of the time we negotiate our way out. What does this mean for project managers? The answer is simple, although not easy: when something needs to be arranged, you arrange it. Do not point the finger or wait for someone else, but take up the gauntlet yourself. Do not complain about poor principalship or inadequate management support, but arrange things yourself.

Is that everything? No, it is not all, because if it were all I would have written a book or a white paper about it. What I haven’ttalked about at all is the maturity of an industry, an even bigger cause of why project management still doesn’twork. I also have yet to talk about the destructive triads, the short-sighted self-interest, the institutionalised polder and much more. But these are cliff-hangers for future editions.

For now, the central message I give you is that you should not wait for someone else. On the contrary: arrange what needs to be arranged, because that is project management!