Has PMI thrown the baby out with the bathwater?

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I can’t help feel that PMI has backed way off the founding principles of the organization in recent years.  For example, the term “project leader” is now a recognized position that could replace a project manager.  I’m sorry, but project leadership is NOT project management.  We had project leaders many decades ago, before PMI was founded and before companies started to recognize the importance of project management.
The general trend within PMI, especially with the PMBOK® Guide 7th Ed., seems to be a greater focus on agile, self-organizing teams, emotional intelligence and other soft people skills.  Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that these soft skills are bad or useless, but they do seem to water down the effectiveness of project management.
Let me explore what we used to understand as project management. The project manager was the lead individual on a project tem, appointed with the authority to make decisions and commit organization’s resources, including funds. That meant the project manager could make the decisions needed to guide the project team towards achieving the objectives of the project. Needless to say, that individual required the appropriate skills to make it happen. And, if his or her leadership style was not in sync with the corporate culture and the team’s expectations, there would be challenges to the success of the project.
Now, I’m not saying that the soft skills referred to above don’t help, but in “the old days”, if your feelings were hurt because your project manager was a tough guy and demanded performance or else, had no clue what emotional intelligence was, you either got over it or found another job.  The objective of a project was NOT to make everybody feel good, but rather to get the project done on time, within budget and to the expected quality.
In the Team Performance Domain in the PMBOK® Guide, a distinction is made between centralized and distributed management and leadership.  While both may co-exist, without the overall project management responsibility square on a project manager’s shoulder, there simply is no project management.  The distributed management and leadership is what we used to call delegation.  The project manager’s job is to empower the team to achieve their objectives and responsibilities and then get the hell out of the way.  In that environment, the distributed management and leadership will take place naturally.
In my view, a project requires a project manager, just as a ship requires one captain.  A project has very specific objectives, even if the development approach is adaptive and the details are to be worked out.  Meeting those objectives requires that there is one individual that has the responsibility and accountability to get it done.
In another blog, I address the frenzy over adaptive and agile project deliveries, which, in my opinion, is vastly misunderstood. Just for the record, I worked on what was probably the very first agile project in 1969, more about that in the “agile” blog.

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