Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Management skeptic (post #2)

In my last post, I raised the question: what advantage do "management models" such as PRINCE2 convey to the practitioner? Are they really worth the expensive training courses?

I've discussed this with many people, and they all seem to think the answer is "yes". In fact, it's almost unquestioned in management circles that applying management models can improve your management ability. In particular, implementation of quality management models like EFQM is in many cases required before people will entrust you with business. And you have to pass an exam on the Actuarial Control Loop (a variant of the management control loop I mentioned last time) before you can become an actuary.

If management models really are effective then that's fair enough. But I'm not sure the question has been answered.

In this and future posts I'll look at the various arguments provided for management models, with a description of why each gets my skeptical spider-sense tingling.

Argument #1: Management models look good on your CV

This one is actually true: if you've taken PRINCE2 (for example), it's generally assumed that you're a more competent project manager than a similar candidate who hasn't. This contrast is amplified by the number of managers who have taken PRINCE2 and therefore have an incentive to emphasise its coolness.

However, this effect isn't directly due to PRINCE2 itself, but rather to the packaging, marketing and community that surrounds it. Consider an imaginary qualification, which I'll call VISCOUNT4. This qualification is completely useless, but the VISCOUNT4 company has excellent advertising skills and soon manages to convince everyone that what their CV really needs is a VISCOUNT4 certificate.

As a result of this, VISCOUNT4 becomes immensely popular, and is subject to the positive feedback loop I mentioned above where managers with VISCOUNT4 tend to hire other managers with VISCOUNT4. The course quickly becomes a prerequisite for project management. But it still sucks.

In short, the popularity of PRINCE2 is not an argument for the effectiveness of PRINCE2, because the VISCOUNT4 scenario demonstrates another way that this popularity can arise. The PRINCE2 model cannot be said to have value simply because the PRINCE2 marketing is superb.

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