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Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps, J.M.W. Turner, 1812.
"The project, like the fates, is always, always, always ultimately in charge …"

Our Administration Incapable of Administering seems to be simultaneously making every single classic project management error, just as if it wasn't standing on the shoulders of millennia of prior experience. This might not be completely their fault, though I wouldn't mind blaming it on them, for nobody's ever written anything like a definitive history of project management to at least outline how it came to be and what it actually entails. Instead, little self-serving fictions written by victors filled in, extolling one or another technique or one or another so-called brilliant man. The result might as well be sold as fiction and certainly provides no clear template for reliably succeeding when managing the achievement of any novel objective. Most certainly, the "profession's" deepest roots lie in military history, for the most ancient novel objectives always involved military campaigns. Several otherwise unremarkable generals have been credited with quipping that no plan ever survives contact with any enemy. They don't generally survive contact with friendlies, either.

Each generation has strived to improve upon each prior generation's so-called practices, always somehow managing to replicate what they first complained about, producing another method that succeeds a little less often than a fair coin toss, raised to religious necessity, filled with Thou Shalts enjoining someone else to be sure and do something those someone elses never have and never would actually do.
Popular now, mandates for executives to act as benevolent supporters of every effort they charter. In fact, throughout history, the general or executive in charge of the effort served more as ballast or sea anchor to the cause, conservatively defending tradition and their own privileged position above any novel, potentially more effective approach. Lord knows how Hannibal managed to muster his famous (perhaps mythical) crossing of the Alps. Even that effort seems to have been composed of unequal parts strategic genius and logistical SNAFU, pulled off by slaves and lowly conscripts who most likely had to undermine the plan for what remained of the original force to get through, for it's always TheProject'sManaging more than anyone successfully managing any project.

Why can't this administrator-less Administration muster adequate numbers of ventilators? Probably, most likely, because some acting administrator still sincerely believes he's in charge. Doubtless, he's screaming at subordinates twenty-four seven while His President tirelessly works to contradict and undermine his every directive. Systems quite naturally tie themselves up in knots under such crude supervision because those systems are always in charge. Those charged with making those systems dance might just as well acknowledge that they're essentially slaves to those systems, for systems are only ever capable of what they're capable of producing and could not ever care less about any directive for them to otherwise dance. I suspect that those fools think they're in charge, and they are in charge, but only to the extent that they can respect the nature of the systems they're supposedly driving. Hannibal might have initially expected his fabled elephants to dance across the Maritime Alps, but they most certainly trudged instead, like elephants have always trudged. Somebody down the line probably adapted the original plan to effectively utilize the resources at hand, submitting their will to the greater authority of the system surrounding them.

The project's always managing, whichever poor soul gets drafted to direct the damned thing. Armies limit the press corps' access to active fronts because it's always a clusterfuck there, hardly worth chronicling, especially by naive scribblers who might have innocently believed the battle plan was supposed to work as proposed. Nobody ever knows what's next, and the battle cry of every actively practicing project manager in the history of world so far has eventually become WhatNow?! Teeth skins finally find full utility for those deemed successful in these endeavors. Others triumphantly proclaim political spin to explain completely fictional causes and effects. The so-called grunts and perhaps a well-placed lieutenant colonel in the logistical corp, working far off the radar, cobbled together some approach that worked that one time. Heaven forbid that anyone might come along later trying to replicate their accidental, emergency configuration. It worked. Forgetaboutit and proceed.

The chief difficulty with assigning anyone to manage anything usually turns out to be length of their learning curve. They might initially engage as if they actually were in charge, a little over-full of their recently bestowed authority. Over time, their assignment diligently works to beat those naive notions out of them, though some never seem to catch on. The successful ones eventually relent to humble themselves before their superior opposing forces to humbly work with them instead, most often in spite of themselves and their systems. They hook up with a maverick thinker or two and rework the plan to exclude the dancing elephants and rely more heavily upon unwanted but inevitably eternal features of the situation at hand. Those efforts attempted beneath klieg lights, to highlight mastery or dominion, might make for the very most entertaining, but they tend toward the truly tragic and nobody emerges a star on the other end of the performance. Rest assured that while there have been a few commanders clever enough to utterly undermine their forces, most have not, and a humble supply sergeant somewhere figures how to tickle the elephants just right for the initiative to ultimately prevail. Just don't too closely count the carnage on either side. These performances strain even the strongest stomach. They're hardly entertainment, after all, just life and death ineptly dancing. The project, like the fates, is always, always, always ultimately in charge; TheProject'sManaging.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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