Requiem for International Project Managers' Day

Two years ago, I celebrated International Project Managers' Day by publishing a rant entitled Why Project Managers Can't Manage Projects. Last year, I celebrated by preparing for a workshop, and posting a small prayer. This year, I'm not celebrating.

News yesterday from a Silicon Valley correspondent reports that PMI meetings there have swelled with attendants. Why? Lots and lots of PMs looking for work. It's been several years since I attended any PM-related conference where the out-of-work PMs and PM consultant wanna-bes didn't greatly outnumber those who were there to share information.

Just yesterday, I reviewed yet another job description claiming to want someone capable of bringing projects in consistently on-time, on-budget, and on-spec.

Contracting for government work these days requires the applicant to engage in the most absurd fantasizing, as if, before work began, one could with some precision, spreadsheet hours by major task, then sign some dotted line validation of the bid's accuracy.

I thought we might have learned better by now. We have not. What passes for professional practice in the Project Management "Profession" today wouldn't quite qualify as prostitution in most professions, and would be indictable, even convict-able in several. What went wrong?

I think the aspiration that focused upon making project management a profession on par with dentistry or occupational therapy turned it into its opposite. Rather than attract strategic risk-takers, it has encouraged compliance and supplication, trading in trivial bromides to address extraordinarily non-trivial conditions. The result? Institutionalized ignorance. Conservative orthodoxy. Greater barriers to entry. Little progress.

If project management has become a profession in its own right, what has that achieved? What used to be attained by political cleverness and strategic side-stepping can now be mandated. Who retains the savvy to find their way through the dark woods, once the paths have been leveled and paved? More critically, where will we convince anyone chased away by all this foolishness to come back and risk doing some real discovering, some genuine skulduggery to accomplish something, anything never even imagined before?

In celebration of International Project Managers' Day, don't join in any celebration. Go get away with something instead. Get yourself fired for insubordination. Insult your customer's deepest sensibilities and walk away on your hind legs. What we used to have to earn with every engagement, the certification to actually guide the effort, could only be bestowed afterwards, and had little currency the next time. Hired with misgivings, misunderstood, sometimes reviled most of the way, the worthy ones walked away from the successful ones with a little less than a nod of appreciation, and needed not even that! Then, for us, it was the community that actually did anything. We were catalyst, the wax gratefully lost in lost-wax casting. Conveniently located, nearly invisible, dancing with the big professional egos to deliver something more than they could ever understand.

Amen.

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