World, I am not a project manager

I’m invariably surprised how often I get contacted by project management organizations, who want to guest post on my blog, or engage me in some other way to help promote their tools and techniques. Even after twenty years of Scrum in our industry, where the project manager role is noticeably missing, there is somehow a perception that a scrum master and a project manager are the same role. Or that there is still a place for project managers in an agile process. There isn’t. Here, verbatim, is a recent exchange with a tool vendor. Names have been changed to protect the misguided:

Dear Tobias,

My name is John Smith and I represent a team of devs called PM Tool Makers. We build advanced project management software for people with skill and expertise—like your audience. [That’s you, dear reader]

I’m currently preparing a Slideshare presentation on Project Management with 25 – 50 quotes from top influencers in the industry. As you may know, online presentations are currently one of the biggest (and fastest) means to reach great deals of people and Slideshare is no exception here.

I’d really appreciate if you could provide us with one quote of yours that people interested in Project Management could benefit from.

The presentation will be branded and you can see it below the link and you also see it in attachment

Looking forward to hearing from you – we’d love to have you included.

I appreciate being noticed, of course, but I usually get the sense that these guys are crawling the agile blogs and hitting on agilists indiscriminately. Kind of like the lonely guy at a night club who thinks maybe he’ll just get lucky tonight. Anyway, I responded:

Hi John.

Thanks for writing. It’s no secret that I don’t have much respect for the discipline of project management—in fact I’ve often written in opposition to it. I believe projects need to be guided, not managed, and that guidance best comes from the teams building the software and the users who use it. I find the role of project manager to be somewhat unnecessary overhead—at best a plug for a hole that people are not effectively stepping up to fill for themselves, usually due to autonomy and empowerment issues with the organizational system in which they work.

Management (of all kinds) is a twentieth century invention. Prior to that we had mentors, master craftsman, visionaries to guide us. I’d like to see a revival of that model.

So, I’m not really the best person to offer you a quote. But here’s something, anyway:

Don’t manage projects. Instead guide teams to manage their own work, and to collaborate with their users. Let go of control. Listen to the voices of the people doing the work. Embrace uncertainty. Ultimately, create an environment where your job becomes superfluous.

Probably not the kind of thing you are seeking 🙂

Best of luck with your presentation, and your product.

Tobias

I rather liked the quote. John Smith did not.

Hi Tobias,

Thank you for your quote, but necessarily—yes, is not the kind of I am seeking.

Thanks for your message and good luck!

My job, as I see it, is not to perpetuate the myth that project management is a useful discipline, but rather to challenge that old assumption. At the same time I believe I have a responsibility to socialize a different way of working to those good folk who find themselves in a dying profession. Others have different ideas.

[comments removed]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s