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It's all about the brand

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As a self-confessed ‘project management geek’, I keep an eye on how project management is portrayed on social media. A common subject for on-line discussion is the way various guides should be implemented or how they compare. By ‘guides’, I mean things like the APM’s Body of Knowledge, PRINCE2® and the PMI’s PMBoK® Guide.

One particularly heated debate recently revolved around whether a project run in accordance with the PMBoK® Guide could have more than one Project Charter. My first reaction was ‘why not?’ – if you need more than one, go for it. You decide what works for your project.

But the protagonists in this debate were quoting chapters and verses from the guide with almost religious zeal. I was beginning to believe that somewhere the words “Thou shall not have more than one Project Charter” (note the importance of the capitalisations – I’ll come back to this later) appeared in the good book. Clearly, in the eyes of some, anyone with the temerity to have a second charter for a sub-project would be condemned to burn in project hell for evermore.

Another common mantra is “PRINCE2® is a methodology and the PMBoK® Guide is a framework”. This gets debated ad nauseam and used as the basis of arguments on whether you should use one or the other – or which is better than the other. Whenever I have cautiously tiptoed into these debates, no-one has actually been able to tell me how ‘a methodology’ and ‘a framework’ are defined or why it is better to have one rather than the other.

My point is that the underlying messages in all these guides are the same. If you read what the APM Body of Knowledge, PRINCE2® and the PMBoK® Guide say about risk management (for example) – it’s really not that different. The basic principles are well established – they are just repeated with different terminology and placed in a different context.

Adherence to one flavour or the other with such religious zeal is misguided. If you do this, you are not advocating a fundamentally different approach to risk management (or any other function of project management) you are simply proclaiming your allegiance to one brand or the other. It’s all about style rather than substance.

In this blog I have carefully included the recommended trademarks and capitalisation (commonly applied to process names and documents to make them look more important). This is exactly the kind of nonsense that reinforces the “Thou shalt…” culture.

Project management is not rocket science – it’s predominantly common sense. No one should hype it up with trademarks, ‘commandments’ and self-important terminology (none of which, I’m pleased to say, the APM Body of Knowledge has succumbed to).

So let’s keep a sense of perspective and be rational about all of this. These guides are informative not prescriptive. No one brand is any better than any other when it comes to getting results. If you’re the kind of person that thinks the labels on your clothes are more important than whether they keep you warm and dry – then good luck to you.

Adrian Dooley is author of the Praxis Framework published by APM. He has also written the Praxis Framework comparative glossary of project, programme and portfolio terminology which is available for free here.


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  1. Colin Tweddle
    Colin Tweddle 09 September 2015, 06:54 PM

    A helpful counter blast to the overly fervent, Adrian. I like to draw the contrast between reflexive and reflective practice. Hopefully as aspiring reflective practitioners, we read, study and experience our profession, and mediate all that in forming a view. Sadly, that's harder work than being reflexive and simply knowing that you've abdicated all decision making to the brand and accepted that whatever the book/guide/guru/website says is uniquely and ubiquitously true...