Is there any “science” in project management?

“Project management as profession” remains a fraught subject (initial post here, survey here, survey results here).  I doubt it ever will, at least not fully like law, medicine, or academia.   Furthermore, I believe that because project management is essentially a social science — i.e., a discipline about human action — we will have persistent trouble in trying to settle debates with evidence and experimentation.

To that end, Jim Manzi provides a useful summary of the epistemic challenge faced by social sciences — what they do, don’t, and could (eventually) know.   He sets up the problem in this excerpt below:

[W]e have no reliable way to measure counterfactuals—that is, to know what would have happened had we not executed some policy—because so many other factors influence the outcome. This seemingly narrow problem is central to our continuing inability to transform social sciences into actual sciences. Unlike physics or biology, the social sciences have not demonstrated the capacity to produce a substantial body of useful, nonobvious, and reliable predictive rules about what they study—that is, human social behavior….

As they say, read the whole thing.

A few points re: elite consulting firms

Do you select, work with, or want to join the ranks of elite management consultants?Jim Manzi’s post on elite business recruiting at the American Scene gives first-hand insight on how those folks got there.  Three quick points of my own:

  1. Gut courses can come back to haunt you.  Ever tempted to dial back on your effort… say, take a B.A. in Economics rather than a B.S.?  After all, who would notice one little letter?  Well, recruiters do, and they’ll know that a B.A. Econ avoided econometrics and modeling classes, the “hard” stuff Jim highlights.
  2. There is no “tail” at elite universities.  Did you ever look around in class and wonder how some of your classmates ever got into college, B-school, etc.?  From my experience — recruiting, not attending — there aren’t obvious weak reeds at elite schools.  Top firms can’t risk a hire who stood out simply because he/she was the pick of a litter of runts.
  3. It really is a competitive marketplace.  As Manzi notes, “it is very rare that the COO of a Fortune 500 company hires your case team to do a six month project at $375K per month so that you can sit around and reminisce….”  

Of course, the competition isn’t always about the “best” answers.  Sometimes it is about “selling” that your firm has the best answers.  But that delves into territory Steve Hsu covers more deeply in his post on credentials and elite performance.

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