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For decades, management experts have been fussing over which methodology is best. Champions from the various camps decry others as lazy and undisciplined, and explain their own methodology to be a silver bullet for every project. Why do we see such heated discussions around the virtues and vices of a given set of policies and procedures?


The wars are rooted in ‘professional pain.’



If you’ve worked on a project where you hated going to work in the morning, where the best of your efforts somehow always led to clunky deliverables, where customers and executives demanded that you squeeze juice from a dead rock…then you’ve experienced ‘professional pain.’ I know; I’ve been there. It’s what motivated me to become a project manager in the first place. After spending three years on a death march government contract, I vowed never to stand by and let my future projects end up in that kind of misery again. When project management experts label each other as self-serving or ignorant, they miss the emotional source of issue. This is not metaphor or simile; this is about creating the humane working conditions that deliver real business results.


The wars are between compliance and customization.


If the passion in today’s project management debates comes from professional pain, then the substance of the debate boils down to whether it is better to run projects with more focus on process compliance or process customization. It goes something like this:


“If only we had more compliant processes…we’d have fewer mistakes…we’d have the predictability needed for planning our risks and resources…we’d know what is expected of us…we’d be more successful.”


Or


“If only we had more custom processes…we’d be able to deliver real value instead of wasting time on administrative overhead…we’d be able to own more of our work…we’d be able to adapt to new information…we’d be more successful.”


Don’t pay attention to the arguments of which methodology is better; that is not what people are usually fighting for. The real passion comes from how much compliance is best versus how much customization is best. This is the debate.


The war rages across all camps.


Today’s project management thought leaders have generalized the compliance advocates as ‘traditionalists’ and the customization advocates as ‘modernists.’ However, the methodology wars are not limited to whether you consider yourself a traditionalist or a modernist. Some of the most heated discussions arise in the midst of those camps.


Within the PMI community, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) is strongly characterized as the ‘Guide to Project Management,’ allowing for whatever customized approach is needed to deliver a project. However, other project managers remind us that the same Guide contains an official standard for exactly what goes into risk management or quality assurance. Depending on who you talk to, you’ll get a different story on whether more compliance or more customization is the way to implement the PMBOK® Guide practices.


Within Agile circles, Kanban practitioners decry several practices of the Scrum method as wasteful ceremony, driven by compliance rather than by value. Meanwhile, Scrum is also considered too loose and easy by the eXtreme Programming community, who advocate compliance to specific engineering practices.


But who’s right? Which of the two is the better focus? Of course, there is no general answer to that; it is always specific to a situation. However, it is certainly helpful to know what’s really happening the next time you come upon a project management flame war on some discussion board: Having suffered professional pain, managers believe strongly that either more compliance or more customization is the path to success, and will defend that belief even against those in their own camp.

 

 
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