06 October 2009

Rethinking the Principles of Program Management

Some interesting concepts that come out of asymmetrical warfare strategy talk to the importance of taking advantage of opportunity and agility in maneuvering against an enemy. Often, these principles are linked to the conduct of war as an art form. As an art form, principles devised to guide conduct are not considered immutable or inviolable. One author even states,

The crucial element of its artistic application is recognizing unique contexts, the contingent factors, and the opportunities to create advantage purposely by violating principles or rules when needed. [A]rt accepts the existence of principles and rules, but only as guides. Each case has its own features - which modify the application of the rule, and may even make it at times wholly inapplicable.

- Frank Hoffman, Chap 17, Rethinking the principles of War, Naval institute Press, Oct 2005

If this applies to the messy work of warfare, why not program management? Isn't program management as much an art form as warfare? I think so. Yet too often (if not exclusively), the same defense department that conducts war treats the business of weapons technology development as a precise science to be quantified, measured, predicted and proven. This behavior is as if the human factor of "business" doesn't exist. But it does and with it comes the art of business. A craft that can't be accounted for by implementing rigid processes or precise controls. The artistic practice of business allows for unknowns and flexes to let humans use their ingenuity to solve problems rather than forcing them to stick strictly to the script. The artistic practice of business is attuned to serendipity.

Removing an over reliance on process and procedure is one step toward practicing the craft. Increasing tolerance of failure and allowing deviant practices as a matter of course are others. Anything that puts people back into the drivers seat of business - that's how to practice the art of business.

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