Guiding Quote

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” Einstein

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Project Managers and the Goldfish Syndrome

There is an analogy that uses the supposed fact that Goldfish have such a limited short-term memory that for them every trip around their bowl is a new experience. Nothing from the previous short trip is remembered. This analogy can be used for certain sectors of the project management profession: where many projects are a trip around the fish bowl.

This doesn’t apply to projects in the construction and manufacturing industries where they are using known methods and technologies. Most skyscrapers and bridges follow known techniques and industry standards are widely accepted. Only when they start using new technologies are the benefits of the familiar reduced. The vast majority of construction projects are finished, not always on time or budget but they are completed. Our cities are not riddled with partially built structures. Only the collapse of the developer’s finances, as in 2008/9, stops the work once it is started.

Not so in the software world where the analogy is very apposite. Many projects are launched on the expectation of fair winds and favorable tides and with shifting requirements. They are always the children of the victory of hope over experience. The result is a computer landscape littered with abandoned projects. The largest consultancy companies all have multiple failed mega projects on their resumes. But does it stop them and their clients from repeating the same mistakes again? No it doesn’t. The UK Health Service has had a number of mega projects aimed at consolidation patient records, all failed with huge amounts of sunk costs written off. In fact the only thing that has improved on these projects is the size of the losses.

No management discipline can consider itself to be professional when, in significant sectors, the Goldfish syndrome afflicts its practitioners.

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