Do Project Managers have a future?

Look at pretty much any job specification for a project manager and you will see (in the UK at least) a requirement that candidates are PRINCE2 certified.

For those not familiar with it, PRINCE2  is a UK government endorsed, project management methodology. It stands for PRojects IN Controlled Environments (see what they did there!) and is built around the idea that there is a central point of control (i.e. a project manager! ) for each project . It’s been around since 1996 and has become the de-facto way of managing projects.

However there is a fundamental problem with the type of project management that PRINCE2 encourages….

Centralised control does not work anymore.

If you look back at the history of projects in your organisation I bet you’d see something like…

Ancient History: “Fly the company from A to B”

It used to be that most projects were of the “Fly the company from A to B” type. You knew where you were starting from, you knew where you wanted to get to, you knew how you were going to get there and you could calculate how much fuel (cash) you needed to get there.

In Living Memory: “Fly the company from A to B while upgrading the engine of the plane”

The world outside your organisation was changing faster than before. That meant that there were often changes to the thing you were changing. Cue memories of BIG government IT projects where the computers initially specified were obsolete before the implementation was finished.

Recently: “Fly the company from A to B and upgrade the engine and change the navigation system”

More change, on more fronts. As the number of interacting changes increased the complexity, the chances of making anything happen at all diminished.

Now: “Take off from A, realise B isn’t where you need to be, so work out where C is… while upgrading the engine and changing the navigation system”

Admit it – this pretty much describes what work is like for you right now.

Does this feel like a controlled environment? Look at the trajectory. I’d argue that as the speed of change increases it gets disproportionately harder to maintain centralised control. To maintain central control you need to route all communication about the project through a central point – as the pace of change increases this becomes a bottleneck. If you’re not careful, the need for centralised control actually impedes progress. Thats why traditional methodologies like PRINCE2 are creaking at the seams.

We founded SocialOptic on our belief that the businesses that will thrive in our increasingly changing world are the ones that work differently. The companies that will survive are the ones who organise themselves along the lines of a network, not a command and control hierarchy. We build software that helps those companies.

More and more we see examples of distributed control replacing centralised control. With smart software taking on some of the traditional project managers role of tracking progress and communicating changes and a move away from centralised control where does that leave methodologies like PRINCE2?

In our view, PRINCE2 and similar methodologies will become increasingly irrelevant. That’s not to say all project management skills are redundant – far from it – but smart organisations are distributing Project Management skills across their organisations and smart Project Managers are getting to grips with how to work within a network of people rather than sit in their command and control bunkers.

Hey, who knows, maybe in the future we’ll see job adverts that are asking for certification in PRINUE – PRojects IN Uncontrolled Environments.

3 Responses to “Do Project Managers have a future?”

  1. April 20, 2012 at 9:55 am, Rich Boakes said:

    PRINCE could stay if we replace controlled with chaotic.

    Reply

    • May 21, 2012 at 8:21 am, Jim said:

      True, I think Chaos is probably a much more acurate description of the environment that many projects take place in!!

      Reply

  2. October 01, 2013 at 7:21 am, Kieran said:

    Just stumbled across this post after workshopping the constraints of PRINCE2 on a whiteboard and arriving at the PRINUE acronym. Your militaryesque analogy of command and control bunkers is interesting however, because the best military’s in the world these days are those which are proficient at operating in uncontrolled environments, and these military’s employ the adage of “centralised control, decentralised execution”. That is, giving ‘project managers’ the authority to change the plan when the situation changes in order to meet the centralised intent of the commander. In this approach, the brief is never to ‘fly from A to B’ (a method), but rather to ‘arrive at the correct destination’ (an effect). I think a lot can be learnt from this approach…

    Reply

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