This post has been superseded by a new version. The new version can be found here:
The Future of Project Management
What sort of image comes to your mind when you think of the words “project management”? Does it have any relationship to Agile? My guess is that many people have a very well-ingrained image of what “project management” is and many people wouldn’t associate “project management” with Agile at all. To see things differently, we have to broaden our thinking about what “project management” is and get past many of the well-established stereotypes of what “project management” is.
Long-lasting companies have learned to “reinvent” themselves from time-to-time to keep up with changes in technology and the business environment they operate in. Here’s an excerpt from Harvard Business Review on that topic:
“Sooner or later, all businesses, even the most successful, run out of room to grow. Faced with this unpleasant reality, they are compelled to reinvent themselves periodically. The ability to pull off this difficult feat—to jump from the maturity stage of one business to the growth stage of the next—is what separates high performers from those whose time at the top is all too brief.”
“The potential consequences are dire for any organization that fails to reinvent itself in time. As Matthew S. Olson and Derek van Bever demonstrate in their book Stall Points, once a company runs up against a major stall in its growth, it has less than a 10% chance of ever fully recovering. Those odds are certainly daunting, and they do much to explain why two-thirds of stalled companies are later acquired, taken private, or forced into bankruptcy.”
Source: “Reinvent Your Business Before It’s Too Late”, Harvard Business Review, January 2011,
Here’s another excellent article on that subject:
“A successful company is like a great white shark. In its prime, it chews up the competition, but if it dares to sit still for too long, it dies. Some of the world’s most profitable and enduring companies have achieved their long track record of success by constantly reinventing themselves.”
“Cell phone maker Nokia started off selling rubber boots. The oil giant Shell used to import and sell actual shells. But these companies and the eight others on our list adapted with the times, evolving their product lines and business strategies to stay one step ahead of their customers’ needs. In business, it’s better to be a chameleon than a great white.”
Source: How Stuff Works, “10 Companies That Completely Reinvented Themselves”
Check out the link above for some great examples of companies that have done that successfully. As the article points out, the trick is recognizing that you are at a “stall point” and taking action before you have stalled for very long and that can be a difficult thing to do.
Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) is a great example of a company that didn’t reinvent itself in time to keep pace with changes in the market. DEC was a great company to work for and it was one of the very hottest companies in the market during the 1970’s and 1980’s when mini-computers were really hot, but when personal computers took over most of that marketplace, DEC didn’t reinvent itself fast enough to adapt to that transition and died as a result.
I think the same principle applies to individuals, organizations, and professions. I know I have had to “reinvent” myself at several points in my career to continue growing professionally – I worked for DEC for a number of years, but like many others, I had to find other employment in the early 1990’s as DEC began to fall apart. DEC was a great company to work for but getting laid off from DEC is probably one of the best things that has ever happened to me in my career because it forced me to reinvent myself and grow in new directions that I had never even dreamed of while I worked for DEC.
I’ve seen the same thing happen with professions – I worked in the Quality Management profession for a while after leaving DEC. For a long time, the quality management profession was based on the idea of quality control and inspection. In those days, you would typically find a lot of people in the role of “Quality Manager” who were responsible for managing the quality of products and services that the company produced; however, in the 1980’s and 1990’s the methodology for doing quality management changed rapidly.
- Instead of relying heavily on inspection of products before they shipped, we learned that it was much more effective to go upstream in the process and build quality into the design of the products well before the products were ready to ship to the customer. That turned out to be a much more proactive and much more effective approach to managing quality
- We also learned that it was much more effective to engage everyone throughout the organization who had any involvement in designing and building the products to make the quality of the products their responsibility rather than having it controlled by a “quality management” function
That had a significant impact on the quality management profession…the role of a “quality manager” became more of a consultative role of helping others design quality into the products and services rather than being a “gate-keeper” to control the quality of those products and services. I can remember when I worked in the quality management field at Motorola in the early 1990’s, my manager told me that our responsibility was to “teach coach, and audit in that order“. “Quality Management” was everyone’s responsibility and was no longer solely associated with someone who had the title of “Quality Manager”.
I published my first book in 2003 entitled “From Quality to Business Excellence” to help people in the quality management profession understand that transition and adapt to it. When that book was published, I gave a number of presentations to local ASQ (American Society for Quality) chapters and I can remember that there were a lot of people in all of those local ASQ chapters who had a hard time adapting to that change and were out of work.
What is happening with the project management profession today as a result of Agile is very similar to that transition I saw in the quality management profession a long time ago. There’s actually a lot of “project management” going on in an agile project but many people don’t think of it as “project management” at all, because its a very different style of project management that doesn’t fit with the typical stereotypes we have of what “project management” is and you may not find anyone at the team level in an Agile project with the title of “Project Manager”.
I am very passionate about the project management profession and I’ve been doing it for a long time, but we have to face up to the fact that there is a very fundamental transformation going on in the project management profession at this time and we’re beginning to reach a “stall point” whether you realize it or not. The growth in traditional project management roles is definitely slowing down and newer agile roles are rapidly developing, but we are in the very early stages of that transformation and the scope and magnitude of that transformation is not very obvious to many people. Many people don’t seem to realize it is happening at all, and when I talk to project managers in local PMI chapters I see a lot of people who are in “denial” and think that the way we’ve been doing project management for a long time will just go on forever. What needs to happen is that the project management profession needs to “reinvent” itself and rethink many things that have been taken for granted about what project management is for a long time before the profession gets too far into one of those “stall points” that is much more difficult to recover from.
For more detail on this, take a look at my blog post on “The Next Generation of Project Management”. I have also developed an online training course called “Agile Project Management Overview for Project Managers” to help project managers understand and adapt to this transformation.