Classical project management versus non-classical

Classical and non-classical project management

18 and 19 February 2016 I was one of the speakers at the IPMA Expert Seminar in Zurich. One of the streams, in which I delivered a lecture and facilitated a workshop, was about classical project management versus non-classical. It was one of these seminars that I will cherish as a learning experience and has inspired me to write a series of blogs to extend the message that I tried to communicate. I hope that it will inspire you to think out of your ‘project management box’.

Does classical project management exist?

You need to know that I’m a radical skeptic. This does not mean that I don’t believe in something, but that I doubt all that I believe. I can never be sure that my ideas are true. This enables me to step out of the mental models that I have built up during my lifetime. This sceptic attitude results also in that when someone mentions the distinction between classical and non-classical, I wonder whether there is something as ‘classical’ project management.

It is commonly believed that project management is invented in the 20th century, as a kind of late offshoot of the scientific management movement. With the Gantt chart as a popular technique. I do not agree with this. For me that is too easy and just copying what everyone is telling. From the start of civilization, the human kind has built solid structures like temples, places to gather, theaters, irrigation canals, and so on. It has fought its wars, build kingdoms, sailed the oceans, and explored the unknown. Now you tell me, if those weren’t projects? And if they were, there should have been someone that managed the work to be done.

Project management of something that is new

When we think of projects we always think about sets of activities that are non-routine. We have to deliver something that has a number of new elements, and therefore it needs a different kind of management attention.  Now think about the pyramids in Egypt, this was something new, or what about the temple structures in Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the Chinese wall and the Alhambra in Granada Spain. There always have been leaders that were responsible for ‘managing the project’. When project management is managing the new, it is by definition non-classical. Therefore, we don’t need this distinction. To take it one step further …

We have never been classical

This awareness opens a new set of opportunities for me. Because I can adapt techniques from the past as well as techniques from the present. Without being afraid that I’m doing something old fashioned that isn’t professional anymore. Are you aware that ‘classical’ often is used with a negative connotation? It is used by consultants in an almost fanatic manner to promote a certain (often agile) method. The tremendous effect of the Agile Manifesto combined with the commercial efforts of training agencies to sell Scrum trainings, Kanban boards and others, make you feel that you are missing the boat. But saying that project managers need to become more Agile in order not to lose their jobs is denying the history of projects.

We have always been Agile

The distinction between Agile and non-Agile is one that, although proposed by many, is highly ambiguous, and more a mental construct or even just an ordinary sales argument. When we define project management as the management of something new, with a unique combination of different people, with different disciplines and personalities, within a certain time frame, that delivers value to others, then it can never be non-agile. So just as classical versus non-classical, I strongly doubt the difference between agile and non-agile in project management. When something is not agile it stops to be project management. There is no non-agility in project management!

What can you expect, from this blog on?

The stage is set, the distinctions disappeared, there is a clean slate, let’s build up our thinking about project management from scratch. Let’s step out of the project management thinking box. From now on I will try to upload a new blog more frequently, lets aim for one each week. Allow me to be your guide in this experiment to stretch our thinking about project management. These are the topics you can

  • Another holy grail than Agile.
  • D0 projects exist?
  • The disciplinary matrix of project management.
  • Goal setting, feedback and other project management hazards.
  • The problem with language.
  • The zone of proximate development.
  • Cultural Historical Action Theory for project managers.
  • The automated project manager.

These are some ideas I want to investigate, but I will subject myself to the associative process of the (my) human brain and will follow were this leads me. If you like this, notify the people in your network to my blog, and let’s build a network of professionals that will step out of the current project management thinking box.