Home > management > Respect From The Top, Disdain From The Bottom

Respect From The Top, Disdain From The Bottom


In Scott Berkun‘s blog post, “Why Project Managers (PM) get no respect, he gets to the heart of his assertion of why “output producers” don’t harbor much professional respect for “output managers“:

The core problem is perspective. Our culture does not think of movie directors, executive chefs, astronauts, brain surgeons, or rock stars as project managers, despite the fact that much of what these cool, high profile occupations do is manage projects. Everything is a project. The difference is these individuals would never describe themselves primarily as project managers. They’d describe themselves as directors, architects or rock stars first, and as a projects manager or team leaders second. They are committed first to the output, not the process. And the perspective many PMs have is the opposite: they are committed first to the process, and their status in the process, not the output.

If one doesn’t understand the “project output” to some degree, especially what makes for a high quality output, there is no choice but to focus on process over output. And as one goes higher up in the corpo status chain, the preference for concentrating on process and its artifacts (spreadsheets, specifications, presentations, status reports) over output tends to increase because meta-managers have much in common with lesser “output managers” and not much in common with “output producers“. It is what it is, and unless so-called process champions are continuously educated on the specific types of “outputs” their institutions produce, it will remain what it is.

  1. May 17, 2012 at 2:35 am

    I could do with that book right now!
    Lorraine :-)

    • May 17, 2012 at 5:53 am

      lol. Did you try any free online project management sites? Try googling “open source project management software”.

  2. May 19, 2012 at 9:33 am

    Hi Bulldozer, this is an interesting point to make, but I believe that it is somewhat simplistic and in fact does more harm than good to characterize this “producers and managers” situation as one of mere process vs. output specifics.

    I believe that this use of the word “process” really hides the typical abstractions, averaging and aggregations that are carried out as one goes “higher up” in the organization. And this leads us again to Ashby’s law of Requisite Variety. Effective process understanding should be embedded at all levels of the organization in an appropriate manner.

    It is not that making such abstractions and aggregations is intrinsically wrong in summarizing broad brush aspects of an organization’s performance. It is that in a top-down fashion, such abstractions are used to direct operational management (the producers). This error is almost universal because of the support it gets from the financial reporting side.

    Decisions and performance metrics based upon these averages divorces the details of the operational realities that need to coordinate together in order to provide quality and effective output. It is the unreality of these average-based decisions that creates resentment and is so often seen as “stupid” from the operational standpoint. And it is the simplistic expectation that if everyone would just follow such aggregation-based decisions, along with top management’s judgments that resistance to such decisions is “the problem”, that prevents ongoing improvements to take hold. Unfortunately, the 19th century systems understandings embedded in financial reporting further exacerbates the problem.

    This simplistic pushing down of average-based decisions is where Ashby’s Law is contravened. The solution lies in a more holistic understanding of how the parts of the organization work together to produce overall output performance and to use decision data and expectations which encourage this implicit collaboration that supports its effectiveness. This involves avoiding averaging, aggregation and unnecessary abstraction for operational decisions.

    • May 19, 2012 at 11:28 am

      Thanks for stopping by and weighing in with your beefy comments. As you’ve noted, I’m a simplistic kinda guy. Some would say, a simpleton.

  1. June 13, 2012 at 7:53 am

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