Not Project Management

On more than one occasion, I’ve had my work identified as part of “Project Management”. And I can tell you that every single time, this stings.

I would never call what I do “Project Management” and there are many reasons for this but the most important are these two:

  1. I’m not bound by projects. Projects have a beginning, middle and end. They are defined and measured carefully by people who don’t do the work. Projects have Gantt Charts, and road maps and expensive tools that require a lot of care and feeding to tell you how the project is progressing. This is in exact contradiction to what I aim to do when I engage with a team. Together we experiment, we learn, we apply our learning. We do this quickly and respectfully of the people who trust us to deliver. If you want to know how work is progressing, you have actual working software to take a look at. If you want to know how things are going, you need go no further than ask the people doing the work.
  2. I don’t manage anything. And I mean this. Your plan is only as good as the team who can deliver on the work. If your focus isn’t around enablement, support and engagement of those team members – then I wouldn’t put much money on your ability to deliver. Project management will never, ever resolve issues around capability and capacity – at *best* they will only identify them. Resolving these problems doesn’t require project management. It requires something else entirely. It requires listening to the people doing the work. Engaging them in making shifts towards their own and the team’s improvement.

Now, some people out there may call projects iterative and management supportive, and wash their hands of the whole thing. For my own part, I feel it’s time for a whole new language around this work. I call this role “Engagement Leadership” … and (with mixed feelings) I’ve been called by some people “the best damn Project Manager that they have ever met” –  though I would never use these words to describe myself.