Why tools, techniques and processes are the drug of choice for project managers
The provocativeness of my title is influenced by one of Karl Marx’s most famous paraphrase that “religion… is the opium of the masses.” But it is his other well-known idea of commodity fetishism that I want to talk about because it leads to a form of addiction, not at all unlike the addiction one sees to drugs. But in my examples they will not be of the extreme form like the addiction to heroin or cocaine, but rather the more benign kind (or considered benign) like nicotine or caffeine that is in some ways more dangerous. The reason for this is that you get hooked and often times don’t think you are because you can function normally, but the addiction over time kills you slowly and before you are ready to make a change it may be too late.
And this particular affliction in terms of project managers is their “fetishizing” of their favorite tools, techniques and processes. Before I elaborate more on that, I wish to explain a bit what it means to fetishize something and one of the best descriptions is from Karl Marx in his tome “Das Kapital”, Volume One:
As against this, the commodity-form, and the value-relation of the products of labor within which it appears, have absolutely no connection with the physical nature of the commodity and the material relations arising out of this. It is nothing but the definite social relation between men themselves which assumes here, for them, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In order, therefore, to find an analogy we must take flight into the misty realm of religion. There the products of the human brain appear as autonomous figures endowed with a life of their own, which enter into relations both with each other and with the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men’s hands. I call this the fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labor as soon as they are produced as commodities, and is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities.
I have noted both in my own fetishizing of the tools, techniques and processes to other people in the trade both in and out of project management, that we similarly fetishize these things. With the rise and ubiquity of technologies, these artificially created concepts and contraptions (and I say this since without people’s creation and use of them, they would serve no purpose in the natural world) get “endowed with a life of their own” that the nature of their existence, which is that they are artificially created mechanisms built for a specific purpose, is often forgotten.
As the tools, techniques and processes become more sophisticated and automated and the environment we work in get more complex and faster paced, we need to remember that though we may think we are the “measure of all things”, that we need to resist the urge to fetishize these things excessively as they become like drugs we can no longer do without (which in many ways they already are), and to remind ourselves that these things are there to help foster our capabilities to work together and enhance, not replace our abilities.
This will be harder and harder to do, but we must resist and try to remain as sober as possible, but as anyone who has gone through addiction will tell you, it is when you are first aware of and admit to being an addict that soberness is made possible.