What came first the project, the project manager or PMI?

Our friend and colleague Dr. Jon Whitty’s latest paper builds on his thoughts on the evolution of project management based on the survival of the most popular or widely distributed ideas (memes) to embrace the existential concept that that meaning flows from existence (which may answer the question above).

The existential approach considers the creation of meaning and describes how meanings are derived, selected and then utilized by power entities such as governments, corporations, professional institutions, etc, to manipulate the behaviours of individuals for their own political advantage.

The evolutionary approach (discussed in Jon’s earlier work) considers how various concepts change under selection pressures driven by the preferences expressed by people in the social, cultural, and physical environment so that those that have a selection advantage, usually features that appear to provide benefits, prevail.

However, does treating or seeing projects as real things that have defined meaning help us understand what is involved in managing work as a project? To find out see Jon’s presentation at the recent IPMA congress in Brisbane on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/DrJonathanWhitty

Jon is also a Chapter Author in my latest book, Advising Upwards; as always Jon’s approach is thought provoking and challenges conventional assumptions.

One response to “What came first the project, the project manager or PMI?

  1. Beautifully summarised, I had to respond. I like the title too because obviously underpinning it is the time-old conundrum “which came first, the chicken or the egg”. Of course, from an evolutionary point of view there is a clear answer to this, and that is “the egg came first”, as eggs (egg laying species) pre-date chickens.

    Taking on your question, it is possibly the project (the concept or idea of it) that came first. Then people take on the title of manager or project manager, then in an attempt to unify their actions or predicament, these individuals form a collective group, the institutions. Then the loop reinforces itself as the institutions need a clear definition for what they represent, so they work hard on defining what a project is, which gives credibility (through a nice story to tell) to the role of the project managers, which further supports the function and validity of the professional institution.

    This may have happened only a few years ago with the PMI etc, but we can see this process in action with the complex project, the complex project manager, and the professional institution that has emerged to protect the interests of the latter. You’ll notice that whenever you read a piece on complex projects they always start with a definition of a complex project because they need that for credibility. However, in my opinion, the more explanations I hear about what a complex project is or is not, the less tenable the definitions are becoming.

    Your friend Jon Whitty

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