Thoughts on Words: Project
Thinking is shaped by the words we use. Management thinking is shaped by the words managers use and are used to. If we want people to change their mindset, we must stop to use words that carry a history of bad meaning with them. Let’s start to create a new language to talk about development that explicitly avoids mistakes made in the past.
Project as a concept was devised in a time when management still thought they could execute an endeavor according to a detailed plan. This worked in the times of Henry Ford, when employees were glad to be paid, and customers accepted that their cars were black. Both is not true anymore. Employees seek mastery and purpose, and request autonomy instead of detailed plans. Customer value today is rather discovered than simply produced. Uncertainty is the only thing you can be certain of.
A project is a temporary organisation formed by people working on a sufficiently identified goal. As long as projects were few, changes infrequent, this paradigm had its use. Now, changes are the norm, and every enterprise runs multiple projects. These don’t function as temporary organisations anymore when each member is belonging to multiple organisations at once. I don’t see the concept adding any value anymore, yet it brings this whole history of misconceptions to the table…
- The idea that costs and benefits of development work could (or should) be calculated in advance.
- The notion of an end date when a product will (or should) be finished.
- The early commitment on scope, decoupling demand from delivery.
- The idea that one could calculate the resource usage of people, summarise the data for some resource management, and even do that for multiple projects…
- This list is not complete.
To briefly sketch an alternative:
- Instead of costs, we should talk about incremental investments. Instead of benefits, we should identify our real optionsand adapt these continuously to our learning.
- Product versions are released, no product is finished anymore. We need to ship fast, and often. The best way to gain knowledge is frequent feedback.
- Instead of pre-defined scope, we need incremental, deliberate discovery of value, and rigorously validated learning to deal with the unknowns.
- We need to balance demand and throughput instead of resource management.
We need to watch the baton, not the runners..