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Albrecht Dürer: St. Christopher Facing to the Right (1521)

" … the impossible nature of the questions asked …"

The holy grail of project management has always been the ability to determine whether an effort is on track to Succeed. It's damnedably difficult to determine, so a raft of artificial methods have sprung up to service this essentially insatiable need. When a method fails, that event merely fuels demand for a newer and improved means, even though there's really no way to determine beforehand whether each newer and supposedly improved means will deliver on its promise. I've sometimes speculated that the whole enterprise, project management as a practice, survives on the promise of delivering on its promises, rather than on actually delivering on them, but then that's the price of living in the future. It's never present.

The present's all we have, even though it's bound to be different than the future.
I've been wondering what my leading indicators have been, how I've determined whether I've been on track to achieve some Success, or more likely, to miss my target. This might be an impossible question, one which might seem perfectly rational to ask yet crazy-making to ever attempt to answer. I might produce a schedule and judge my progress against my published dates, and while this practice might leave me feeling well-oriented, I'm employing a fictional horizon to gauge my actual progress. This practice can lend an air of discipline to the effort, even though it generally sums to fiddlesticks.

My skeptical inner child suggested that nothing better suggests progress than some prominent failure, in the vernacular, PlantingFace. A fall, a stumble, an obvious error in execution serves to verify that good old somebody's paying attention. That attention's more likely to contribute to correcting the course if it's needed, and it's usually needed given the source of the course in the first place. So, the road to Success might be best described as one littered with failures, little and large, followed by impromptu roadside repairs. Probably better to presume that you'll arrive with grease stains on your cuffs. That's how Success usually seems to manifest.

Only Druids hold more myths than the modern project manager. Both practice rituals repeated since time immemorial without much evidence that they deliver what they're purported to provide. Both practices require faith in their traditions and tolerance uncommon for any practicing religion. If one's a druid, one eventually gets over standing out in crowds, and might even choose to become a hermit. The typical project manager might pine after such freedom, for s/he's destined to always be somebody's center of attention and always expected to crisply respond to impossible questions. Both druid and PM come to understand not to take the feedback they receive very personally. They will not very often satisfy others' expectations, though I suppose that both sometimes wonder why they can't. They both believe in unpopular notions, ones which might very well better explain pressing questions but which could only satisfy someone who already understands the fundamentally impossible nature of the questions asked of them.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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