When considering the challenges which organizations face with the implementation of project management methodologies, the analogy to organized religion is apropos.
When practitioners embrace the basic principles of good project management but don’t follow the same set of specific procedures while managing different projects, they can be thought of as being spiritual. On the other hand, if there is a set of procedures which they are explicitly following regardless of the project context, one could consider them as following a particular project management “religion”.
There are different degrees to which someone follows the customs or ceremonies of a given religion, and the same holds true for project management. Some project managers will slavishly follow each and every step of their organization’s methodology, whereas others will treat the methodology as a set of guidelines which should be applied as appropriate.
Beyond an individual’s adherence to a specific set of practices, there is also the organizational context. A small, isolated village may have significant influence over the religious behavior of its citizens, but the only way such compliance can be achieved at the larger, national scale is through strict or even brutal enforcement. Similarly, an organization can elect to impose very explicit project management practices on its practitioners, but the larger the organization, the harder it is to ensure uniform consistency.
All major religions comes in multiple flavors and the same holds true for project management methodologies. Just as the custodians of each “implementation” of a religion have a strong, vested interest in maintaining its purity and preserving its mind & market share, the specific associations which publish and control the rights to specific project management methodologies are equally aggressive in their promotion and turf protection efforts.
Spiritual principles are evergreen and uniformly applicable, project management principles are ageless and apply regardless of the context of a specific project or organizations. On the other hand, specific religions and project management methodologies need to evolve to stay relevant.
One only has to observe the interactions between followers of specific agile methodologies with those that have embraced more traditional, waterfall-style practices to see the same rhetoric and emotion that is witnessed when fanatics are debating the absolute correctness of their chosen religion.
It is important to recognize the rationale and context behind project management methodologies and then adapt them to suit the context and culture of your organization. It is also vital that practices be flexible and scalable so that they can best fit the needs of a given project. Finally, there needs to be a feedback loop to ensure that practices evolve and improve over time. Otherwise, you risk incurring the same fate as missionaries who learn the hard way that rigid prescription & coercion are not the safest methods of converting the masses in a strange, new land.
Here endeth the lesson!