Why doesn’t project management make people’s heart sing?
One of my favorite publications that I read every week from cover to cover is The Economist and chance would have it that I ran into this obituary from the famous Babbage technology and science blog about the late Steve Jobs back on October 2011. Like anyone else who works in the IT/technology industry it was a shocking loss of a great innovator and business leader.
But what particularly struck me was some of his famous quotes that were discussed in the article that resonate with me deeply and are insights that go far beyond technology product development:
“A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences,” he once said. “So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions.” Bill Gates, he suggested, would be “a broader guy if he had dropped acid once or gone off to an ashram when he was younger”…
“Technology alone is not enough,” said Mr Jobs at the end of his speech introducing the iPad 2, in March 2011. “It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing.”
Of course what struck me were the parallels that these statements have with respect to what I wrote about back in February about the need for a more interdisciplinary approach to learning, teaching and implementing project management techniques and practices. Furthermore, despite big advances to the field in such areas like Agile where more emphasis is placed on collaboration, people and working deliverables as opposed to process, tools and documentation, these techniques are still linear in their approach and do not take more advantage of incorporating other disciplines into their methods.
In fact, if there’s one thing common among all these project management approaches are that they were originated and conceived by people in the highly technical fields construction, engineering and IT. This was the problem Steve Jobs encountered in his pursuit of creating the first consumer oriented personal computer. Everything from the design (most important to him), user manuals, error messages and user-centric experiences from the software were done from the perspective of highly technical people with very little to no considerations for aesthetics and usability. So it took this college drop out who majored in philosophy who spent his free time taking classes in Chinese calligraphy to understand the importance of design and the need for what many considered at the time a benign topic such as computer fonts and the aesthetic that was needed to take this mass of silicon and plastic for mass appeal.
Likewise, I think in order for management and process oriented frameworks, methodologies and tools that are prevalent in project management and other similar management fields to realize their full potential is to start taking seriously the need to look at the whole of human intellectual and even spiritual (I’m speaking here from non-secular perspective and one that addresses the overall well being of humanity) endeavors.
With that being said, to me the root cause of this gap lies within one big area: education. From the very first class a child takes all the way to what their learn throughout primary school to college and advanced degrees is knowledge that is very analytic, sequential and linear that’s overly compartmentalized with very little to no discussions or learning to view the integration and synergies between disciplines. I strongly believe this carriers over to the workplace and accounts for the prevalent bifurcation of departmental functions and silos that get created between departments and even people within the same department. Then you add in management frameworks and methodologies that were developed by the same individuals who were educated or rather indoctrinated within the same compartmentalized and bifurcated educational and work environments, it is no wonder you see a constant problem where human realities and experiences don’t map well to the nice clean analytical and linear processes where everyone’s role is clearly and cleanly segmented, categorized and delineated for their specific functional role.
So what does this entail? What are the solutions? In future posts I will try to answer these questions and hope to receive feedback from readers on this very important topic. One specific area that I see a big need for is to take project management methods and practices as we know them now that gets “married with humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing.”