Rendered Fat Content


Artemisia Gentileschi: Danae (c. 1612)

"It's infinite engagement or its meaningless …"

With a scant week left in my scheduled Authoring investigation, I stumble upon an understanding that might have better served me at the beginning. It's really no great tragedy if I prove myself to be too late smart again, but then I wonder how this inquiry might have proven different had I achieved this small enlightenment nearer the beginning of this effort. Looking back, I realize that I might have frittered away quite a lot of time failing to winnow whatever I was up to into a finite form, as project management theory and practice have always counseled. The job of the proper project manager was always said to involve building baffles and defining edges such that the 'process' as well as the product might be thoroughly described in definite language, without hyperbole or abstraction, for the tools and techniques of 'proper' project management each utterly depend upon thorough grounding. No Utopian notions allowed. No notions allowed at all, only tangibles.

I long ago wrote a piece about solving the world hunger problem, which I characterized as an aspiration, not a realizable objective.
In order to realize that objective, I conscripted the spirit of Betty Crocker, an acknowledged expert as resolving hunger, and she prescribed her fresh cherry cake recipe as the medium. A careful measuring of the volume of hunger in the world quickly produced a ballpark estimate of the pounds of cherry cake required to satisfy initial demand. Logistics for the raw materials, baking, and distribution, proved mind-boggling, but nonetheless finite as well. The whole machine, once put into motion, quickly overwhelmed itself. The lesson, I see now from this great distance, might be different than I imagined it then. Then, I concluded that one could not address InfiniteObjectives like world hunger with project management methods, and that the attempt to do so generally resolves into absurdity. Now, though, after almost three months imbedded within what I now see as an InfiniteObjectives inquiry, I might insist that though woefully inadequate, project management always, always, always engages attempting to manage infinites, whether objectives, aspirations, or otherwise.

One nibbles away at infinites. One might not actually achieve the totality of anything, but one can nonetheless manage to make a dent. After considerable effort, one might come to realize that they've changed the world if not completely achieved their initial objective, which proved both illusive and infinite again, regardless of how much consideration went into the original framing and the interim managing. The scope always explodes beyond anticipated limits. The resources available always, always, always prove somehow impossible to muster. A negotiated settlement results where enough gets accepted as probably enough and success or failure's formally declared to free up resources to focus upon imagining other InfiniteObjectives. The machine is always moving, never at rest. Never fully achieving and always at least somewhat a mess, yet learning. The world's always changed as a result though the changes usually remain frustratingly subtle. You probably had to be there to make the distinction.

Authoring, too, easily fits into the template for describing InfiniteObjectives. It was not really just about submitting a book manuscript, but I sense it was more about bringing some practices into sharper focus. There seem to be stations of the cross for Authoring, like there are certain sequences built into every practice, ones which might seem very much the same each time, but which prove remarkably fresh and different with every repetition. It might be that Authoring turns an Author into a rookie each time through the procession. The editing the same but different. The material, too, might have come from the same writer's hand and imagination, but it, too, proves unique to each repetition. The same Fundamentally Unanswerable Questions remain unanswerable no matter how many times encountered. There might not ever be any mastery involved in Authoring or project management, just disturbing novelty each time through. Or so do I conclude about project management, with which I have about a half century of experience, thanks to my latest swart through the Authoring process, with which I'm not nearly as experienced.

The challenge, then, seems to be different from what the project management scholars insisted. Rather than reduce every damned n-dimensional anything into two or at most three dimensions, the challenge, the purpose of project management might well be to maintain interest in abstractions so obtuse that they could never be so reduced. What motivates pursuit if arrival's very likely off the table? What encourages engagement when responding to Fundamentally Unanswerable Questions? The old risk/reward matrices reduce themselves into absurdities. A proper project manager might ultimately master making excuses, good and proper ones, juicy and compelling ones, and eventually outgrowing the poisonous notion that there would somehow ever be a definite end to their labors. It's infinite engagement or its meaningless, which seems exactly the opposite of what my mentors insisted when I started learning how to manage projects.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

blog comments powered by Disqus

Made in RapidWeaver