« Oops - MS Project Server 2003 Service Pack 2 Recalled | Main | Aphorisms for the Day »

PM Aphorisms and a house built of straw

I've written before that project management types like aphorisms and numbered lists. It continues to be true. Part of the appeal is that aphorisms come with an assumption that they are universally true. As W. H. Auden stated:

"The aphorist does not argue or explain, he asserts; and implicit in his assertion is a conviction that he is wiser or more intelligent than his readers"

Thus, implicit in the form (and in the repetition and citing of others) is a false confidence that what is stated in aphoristic form is true. Being concise and compact, aphorisms leave few openings for attack. Politicians have perfected this in the modern "soundbite". As an aside, I'm somewhat annoyed that project management aphorisms are rather boring. We don't see things like:

"Man is an exception, whatever else he is. If it is not true that a divine being fell, then we can only say that one of the animals went entirely off its head" - Gilbert Chesterton

Of course not everyone is entirely pleased with sort of overstatement and oversimplification. There are a few out there who like to skewer some of the claims. For example, here Glen Alleman burns down Ron Jeffries strawman of "waterfall" planning wherein he draws a fuzzy drawing and complains it is fuzzy

As much as I agree with Ron about the benefits of agile planning, a fuzzy drawing is very nearly an attempt at a visual aphorism but is missing the the foundation. He draws the effect but does not draw the cause, leaving us to leap to the assumption that waterfall planning is the universal and sole cause for such miserable and demoralizing execution. Likewise, David Anderson claims he is "doing science" but is missing nearly half of what real science is. Here is what he says::

"What does it mean - "Management science for software engineering"? Why do I say that on this site? I'm not making it up. What are we saying when we say we are doing science? Science is the idea that we can predict the outcome of events given our understanding of how things work. Our understanding is typically expressed using a model. Sometimes those models are expressed as mathematical equations but often times they are simple models or sets of rules or abstractions that appear to be true for a given problem domain."

Of course this is not particularly true. What I'd pose as the "classical" definition of "doing science" is the coupling of experimental observation WITH Rene Descartes' "Systematic Doubt" wherein everything is presumed false until proven true. What is missing from David's "science" is the controlled experiment. The attempt to prove his idea false. Until then it is still built on a foundation of straw and until there is the attempt to disprove he won't have the feelings that Descartes did when he wrote:

"Doubt is thus carried to its extreme form. But notwithstanding this fact, doubt causes to rise in me the most luminous and indisputable certainty"

Science is hard. Science can be expensive. Wrapping yourself in the flag of science is cheap and easy but it does not result in the same sublime reward as doing it the hard way.

  • Swanson's uh... W.L King's Unwritten Rules
  • More about Project Management Aphorisms
  • More Sweetness and Simplification
  • Project Management Aphorisms
  • PM Web #001 - Glen B. Alleman's Herding Cats
  • Books to Consider – Decision Making
  • Ideas about Ideas
  • Taking and Passing the PMP Exam - Part 15 - PMBOK version 4
  • Seeing Other Scheduling Software
  • Project Management Office and the Monorail

  • About

    The previous article is Oops - MS Project Server 2003 Service Pack 2 Recalled.

    The next article is Aphorisms for the Day.

    Current articles are in the main index page and you can find a complete list of articles in the archives.

    Creative Commons License
    This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
    Powered by
    Movable Type 3.34