Progress Abstraction

Methodologies can be great – they can provide a framework for progress and success, but they are not guarantees. PRINCE2, MSP, PMP, APM are all frameworks that provide the disciplines to manage projects and programmes effectively through definition (scope, plans), logs (risks, issues, dependencies), and governance (meetings, reports, and so on).
At the water cooler you sometimes hear ‘X has done PRINCE2, so they should know how to manage a project’ in discussing a recent failure, but this is not so just because they’ve got the PRINCE2 badge – X probably knows the disciplines of managing projects. They broadly know what a business case should contain, or the difference between a risk and an issue, but it’s what X does that defines how successful he is at managing projects, not how good he is at maintaining his logs.

In his seminal (and fabulously titled) The Fetish of Technique: methodology as a social defence, Professor D Wastell tells us that sometimes ‘Methodology becomes a fetish… it insulates the practitioner from risks and uncertainties or real engagement with people and problems’.

Progress is achieved through action, not through documents, logs, or ‘products’. Success is achieved through constantly listening to people who need to be involved, especially the people who are going to try and make use of whatever your project is delivering, agreeing things with as much effort at shared understanding as possible, evolving the project in a reasonably controlled way as the world around it changes, and getting stuff done.
Project Managers seem to like car analogies (‘I don’t want a Rolls Royce, I want a Ford Focus’, etc) – the methodology fetishist has the cleanest car on the street, the tyres are at the correct pressure, the log book is up to date in the glove compartment, the car has the most comprehensive insurance cover possible, but it only travels in the daytime, when it isn’t raining, rarely carries any passengers, and never goes anywhere interesting.
The rest of us will take the car that’s a little scratched and dented, with balding tyres, needing a wash, a boot full of useful stuff, full of people on a journey together, doing interesting things, getting somewhere, making progress.