Photography by The Gold Guys.
New Project Managers are eager to make the right impression from the start. I must have been the same. It is too long ago to remember. If you see how the young members of our profession go about playing Project Manager” it makes you wonder how the outside world views us. I have seen newbies spending days behind MS Project to create a proper Gantt Chart. I have witnessed adults getting all excited when they could inform me that their project “had risk of 18%”. I smelled the sweat of humans trying to fill every box in a project plan template, relevant or not, just because it is in the template.
Fair enough, I do remember one particular situation from my early days. I spent 3 days creating this Monster Gantt Chart that I had to plot on A2 to get it printed. I rolled up the paper and went to my client. This client was an elder sales person just before his retirement. He was old school, but one heck of a salesman. I rolled out my wallpaper-size plan, and guided the customer through the steps. All the time he was silent, he didn’t say one word. After a while he took the plan and threw it in the garbage bin. While taking his pen and paper he looked up and asked me: “What is it that you want me to do?” Point taken, Gantt is a Project Management icon, and not every one seems to be a PM.
We radiate to the outside world our icons like Gantt Charts, two-digits precise risk assessments, large documents that seems to cover every little aspect imaginable. If you are a member of our group, you ooze control. I once told my wife that I was “unable to comply to her request”. She smacked me on the head telling me that she was not my customer. So, I assume that we also have a specific language that sets us apart from other mortals. By adopting our symbols, our rituals and speak newbie PMs try to affiliate themselves with the group called Professional Project Managers.
Group affiliation is what it is all about in our lives. During your life you are a member of a lot of social groups, by default, by choice or by force. I am a Dutch white male, member of a child-less double income household, Project Manager, author and web aficionado, to name just a few of my own treats. The Dutch white male is something that I am by birth, by default (not going into the topic of sex-transformations). All other affiliations are more or less done by choice, even though I can debate if for all I was totally aware of the choice made. The group memberships determine how we see ourselves in the whole of society, it determines our identity. Actually, we have more than one identity. We can choose, we can switch depending on the situation. I like to see myself as an author. With the risk of sounding like an moron: I like the worldly sophisticated aura that is associated with it, even though I now every freak can publish a book these days. Within the professional world I emphasize the software project manager affiliation. You have been dealt a lot of memberships, you can emphasize or down play each affiliation to create your identity.
As an identity is how we see ourselves within the ultimate large group of humans, it not something that is to be seen an an individual level, it is a group thing. Without groups, the whole concept of identity wouldn’t make sense. We are shaping identities by combining three mechanisms: categorization, identification and comparison . Although broadminded people like to think they do not put everyone in boxes, everyone does. We always put people in categories, we label them. This is done by looking for signs that we associate with a certain group. These signs are the mentioned use of icons, rituals or speak. To be able to associate yourself with a group, we first have to divide society into groups. Identification is the part where you affiliate yourself with a group.
In the example of the first paragraph in this section, new PMs are desperately creating Gantt Charts to become a member of the PM group. The affiliation is done by taken on the social groups norms and other aspects which are used by humans to label an individual to a category. With the identification you label yourself to the group. To be able to do this, you take on the marks that cause the label. Comparison is looking for differences between groups. With the group affiliation you create your identity, your place in society. For this to work you are also indicating where you are not standing. It is always a comparison between groups. Being an agile project manager is actually saying you are not a plan-driven project manager.
For me personally, the most remarkable exponent of these mechanisms has been the use of a suit within Project Management. Most companies still today have a policy that people in management functions wear representative clothing, being suits. Even to the point where wearing a filthy, non-ironed, to small suit is preferred above a very neat polo shirt with properly ironed Dockers pants. He wears a suit. He must be a good manager than.