If project management were a person, I’d say…

by Joshua Ramirez
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If the project management discipline were a person, I would sit them down and have a very serious conversation with them. All across project management social platforms, feeds, training, and certifications, we are stuck in a huge rut with no concept of the hole we are in. We are regurgitating the same knowledge over and over, hoping for different results. The technical discipline of managing projects is valuable, but there is only so much value that can be added by hammering a nail with a screwdriver.  

Yes, we get it! “Do not allow scope creep,” “Use a critical path schedule,” “Lead effectively,” “Have a good PMO,” Agile, big data, and the list goes on. Moreover certification prep for the PMP? Yep: been there, done that.

Also, where are projects today? The 2018 PMI Pulse of the Profession report continues to show pretty much a flat line of performance metrics over the last seven years. Projects completed within the original budget: a three-point improvement to around 58 percent. Projects completed on time: a three-point deterioration to around 52 percent.

If the project management discipline were a person


I have seen similar results in projects I have been a part of. After running some descriptive statistics over an 18 month period of monthly forecasting, the average forecast was 40 percent optimistic when looking one month out. Measuring over a period of about four months, the average forecast was about 80 percent optimistic when looking three months ahead. The interesting thing is that we continue to expect tools to somehow fix this problem. The tools get fancier, the reports get more colorful, and the excuses get longer. We implement more rigid earned value to measure what is going on, and then stare at the report while the PM stumbles over his words telling the boss how “next month we will recover the schedule.” Next month comes and the project falls short.

If only project management discipline were a person…

If it was, I would ask why after implementing all these tools, methods, and upgrades that performance continues to flat-line [Josh knocks on his head as though knocking on a door, points to project management who is sitting across the table, and says “what is going on in there?” as though to imply that project management just is not getting it].

So what is going on in there? There seems to be a lot of data out there to help fix this, but we do not seem to have the timeto fix it, or sometimes even the time to figure out that we have a problem. Well, let us assume that we woke up from our time-constrained, habituated state long enough to see what is going on around us… (Schoemaker, & Tetlock, 2016).

  • Dr. Tetlock has shown that forecasting is not just guesswork. The best predictors are well trained in decision sciences and are 80 percent more accurate than their untrained counterparts (Schoemaker, & Tetlock, 2016).
  • People increased their savings rate from 3.5 percent to 13.6 percent (Gino, 2017).
  • Littering reduced by 46 percent (The Economist, 2012).

While these are just a few examples of some major improvements, they show how the behavioral sciences can have a huge impact on outcomes. So why aren’t we using these methods to improve project outcomes?

If project management were a person, I would tell them to STOP and think for a moment. Look at the world around you, note that there is a whole new set of skills waiting to be explored, you are about 20 years behind the curve, and projects have the opportunity to improve by orders of magnitude.

The greatest human endeavors deserve much more than mediocrity, but human factors are getting in the way of achievement. A 50 percent success rate should no longer be acceptable. The discipline has to undergo a major paradigm shift and fundamental transformation, from the ground up. The key is what is between the ears; because it is from there where projects are born, but also there is where projects fail.

In comes neuro-behavioral project management. They’re figuring it out with Behavioral Economics, neuroeconomics, behavioral finance, and behavioral supply chain management (Gino, 2017). But project management has had its head buried in project tasks so long we have barely come up for air to see the world is changing. It is time for the project management discipline to get with the program!

If only project management were a person…

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