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.

Is forensic science isn’t a science, can PM be a profession?

I enjoyed this Popular Mechanics piece on the problematic foundations that underpin forensic science — CSI Myths: The Shaky Science Behind Forensics.   Per the piece’s header:

Forensic science was not developed by scientists. It was mostly created by cops, who were guided by little more than common sense.

In fact, I was reminded of the debate that we’ve had about project management as a profession (here, survey here, survey results here).  The article reinforced just how far we have to go to true professionalization.

While we have many common sense PM practices, how many of them are demonstrably linked to project success?  Which are the most important and why?  The Value of PM is still pretty fuzzy

Closing up the PM “professional” survey

I’m trying to tie up some loose ends, especially follow-ups promised in earlier blog posts (here).  In particular, here are the top two answers from the “Is Project Management a Profession Yet?” survey (survey here):

  • 38 percent: Yes, but second-tier — like engineering or non-university teaching (33 of 86 answers)
  • 26 percent: No, not yet — could reach at least second-tier profession (22 of 86 answers)

I’m with the “No, not yet” crowd.  I can see project management achieving some of professional attributes, but I see few in place now.   For example, certifications are all well and good — and the PMP is becoming more universal — but they are a long way from licensure.  Take a look at the some of the requirements, benefits, and documentation for the Professional Engineer license (here).

Effects of professionalization… in marathon racing

We’ve had a lively debate about whether project management is a profession, though only one or two people questioned whether professionalization would be good for project management itself.  The competition-limiting character and intent of many professional frameworks — which limit entry by imposing license, education, or membership requirements — often leads to poor quality service or products.

One can see these effects even in competitive running.  If you hadn’t seen this story about Arien O’Connell’s performance at the 2008 Nike Women’s Marathon, you would believe that:

It doesn’t get much simpler than a footrace.  All it takes is a starting line, a finish line and a clock. You fire the gun and the first person to the end of the course is the winner.

But the woman with fastest time — by 11 minutes!!! — didn’t win because she wasn’t an “elite” runner.  And, of course, the professional standard setting body — USA Track and Field — insisted that “the rules are the rules are the rules.” 

Who knows why the “elites” ran so slowly that day?  Perhaps they all had a bad day… or perhaps they thought they didn’t have to run so hard because they were, well, a professional elite.  The latter seemed to be the conclusion drawn by Jon Hendershott of Track and Field News.

“What’s she supposed to do, lay back because she’s not an elite runner?” he asked. “If the elites are going to lay back, that’s their fault.”

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