Improve Project Management In 2008: Wear A Suit

snapshot_539a43aa_539a63d5.jpgTo be a successful Project Manager in 2008, wear a suit, print a Gantt chart and get PMP certified. It is what everybody outside our profession seems to expect from us. We, Project Managers, radiate to the outside world our icons like Gantt Charts, two-digits precise risk assessments, large documents that seems to cover every little aspect imaginable. If you are a member of our group, you ooze “control”. I once told my wife that I was “unable to comply to her request”. She smacked me on the head telling me that she was not my customer. So, I assume that we also have a specific language that sets us apart from other mortals. By adopting our symbols, our rituals and speak newbie PMs try to affiliate themselves with the group called “Professional Project Managers”.

It is a sad sight. But it seems to work. For me personally, the most remarkable exponent of these mechanisms has been the use of a suit within Project Management. Most companies still today have a policy that people in management functions wear “representative clothing”, being suits. Even to the point where wearing a filthy, non-ironed, to small suit is preferred above a very neat polo shirt with properly ironed Dockers pants. “He wears a suit. He must be a good manager than.”

The same holds for the three letters that are considered the badge of honor within Project Management. The PMP certification. There seems to be a need for this marketing trick, there seems to be a need to clearly distinguish a “real” Project Manager from the rest of the crowd. The stereotype beauty queen is blond and dumb, so if your hair is light and you think “Chicken From The Sea” is real chicken, you must be one heck of a beauty queen. In the contest for selecting the perfect Project Manager we have our own “What is your deepest wish”-question; it is “are you certified” and the right answer is not “world peace”.

I fully understand that it has come this far. Every day we need more and more Project Managers. Every single day more and more people stand up that call themselves Project Manager. If you need 700 gallons of PMs, you don’t have the time to be thoughtful. “Just do me a truckload of those PMP ones. Everyone is talking about them, so they can’t be bad.” And it is not bad. It is not good either. It is not green or red for that matter. It has nothing to do with quality. Or color for that matter.

Sometimes we do our best to belong to a group, and it is also encouraged by the outside world. In life you can go through all kinds of weird ways to get into groups you want to belong to. I remember a typical 80s movie (can’t think of the name, but about jocks, cheerleaders and nerds) where the smart girl had a set a glasses (of course), and become a complete vamp, and cheerleader (of course) just by removing here glasses. It was comforting to see the stereotype be confirmed, the glasses as one of the major attributes of a geek.

Those were the eighties. Fast forward to this millennium where nerds are millionaires, where the words “nerds” and “success” go together. The increasing importance of technology gives nerds and geeks the upper hand, being fluent in everything tech. It is considered cool to have knowledge, to be smart, be the opposite of the shallowness of appearances. It’s hip to be a nerd. Bill Gates, being the ultimate successful geek, paved the way to let “nerd-ism” be something you want to belong to. You don’t have to hide in a cellar if you dwell over software quality; you don’t have to be locked away if you get sexually aroused from the elegance of structured code. It’s fine, it’s OK. There are more like you.

Affiliation with a social group by choice is also an expression of “things you are not”. Developers that worked (or still work) with traditional software companies may be horrified by internal control procedures, politics and concessions done to make money, concessions e.g. to the quality of the code. This triggers counter conformity, and draws one to the counter-group. So, Bill’s Microsoft feeds the open source community of new members by, well, just being everything the open source is not.

But sometimes we get a smack on the head, giving us our sense back if we start to believe in our own garbage. I remember one particular situation from my early days. I spent 3 days creating this Monster Gantt Chart that I had to plot on A2 to get it printed. I rolled up the paper and went to my client. This client was an elder sales person just before his retirement. He was old school, but one heck of a salesman. I rolled out my wallpaper-size plan, and guided the customer through the steps. All the time he was silent, he didn’t say one word. After a while he took the plan and threw it in the garbage bin. While taking his pen and paper he looked up and asked me: “What is it that you want me to do?” Point taken, Gantt is a Project Management icon, and not every one is a PM.

Bas de Baar

Project Shrink 


1 thought on “Improve Project Management In 2008: Wear A Suit”

  1. Nice post on the value of the project manager. We tend to over-value the importance of strategic thinking, and have enough attention to tactical execution.

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