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Peter Drucker once stated that “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all”.

That is one of the guiding principles in my professional role as strategist, leader and coach.

I work in business and IT.

With engineers, administrators, managers and executives.

I occasionally read blogs and forum posts related to my areas of interests.

A question appeared on a popular forum for Project Managers.

It asked, when it comes to successful Project Management, “what is more important, the right people or the right process?”

You get a lot of questions like that in IT.

It’s probably the same for other jobs.

A lot of the replies to the question were terse, mind-numbing and vacuous.

Other replies read like concatenations of fortune cookie quotes based on someone’s idealistic and flawed notion of management.

There were answers in favour of people over process, process over people and others that put “right process” and “right people” on an equal footing.

I didn’t get the impression that people were addressing the question from a position of knowledge and experience.

No one asked any questions.

No even the hint of one.

Though the obvious questions were there, staring at them in the face.

But no one asked.

  • What do you mean by “right”?
  • What do you mean by “right process”?
  • What do you mean be “right people”?
  • Why are you asking this question?
  • What do you hope to get out of this?

Everyone assumed that there was a common understanding about what “right”, “right people” and “right process” mean in a project context.

Because people didn’t ask the obvious questions, they couldn’t move on to the more subtle and substantial questions.

They couldn’t move upstream or downstream.

Wherever they stood their position was untenable.

They didn’t have the social skills, the creativity or the intelligence to step back from the question.

They were stuck in the trivial, the hackneyed and the simplistic.

They answered with clichés, vagaries and baloney.

So what we had, was a long-life thread of ill-informed responses to a vague question.

It was if you’d asked a group of unthinking patriots what was better for the country, “the right people” or “the right political system”.

But it goes deeper than that.

Politicians who are reduced to talking about rights and wrongs, without being able to pony up any rational explanations, are quite rightly derided for being shallow and removed.

In IT we think it’s a sign of considered professionalism.

But regurgitating motivational slogans that are well passed their use by date is not professionalism.

The unquestioning subservience to trite, populist and unrealistic management dogma is not professionalism.

Acting as if project management were some bizarre super-hero Hollweird invention is not professionalism.

Needing to break everything down into right and wrong, good and bad, black or white, etc. is the height of arrogant superciliousness.

What is worse than arrogance or ignorance, is when they go hand in hand.

It’s just not on.

If IT was an army, it wouldn’t be the professional modern army of today. But an army lead by well-meaning, socially inept and multiply-challenged incompetents. The sort of army that would march a battalion of the “right people” to their certain death, or the sort of people who would see instrumental reason as being the “right process”.

“Lions lead by donkeys”.

Students of European history – say from 1934 to 1945 – might make the connections.

If you can’t define what you mean by “right”, you may as well be discussing the sex of angels.

If some people can’t even ask the obvious questions, then what the feck are they doing managing projects?

Never mind, life is too short to fret the inadequacies and excesses of IT.

As Lucius Seneca was want to say “A physician is not angry at the intemperance of a mad patient, nor does he take it ill to be railed at by a man in fever. Just so should a wise man treat all mankind, as a physician does his patient, and look upon them only as sick and extravagant”.