How to deal with the blockers of project management knowledge?

In this post, I am taking a small section from Chapter 1 of my upcoming book, Leading Megaprojects, A Tailored Approach to deal with what I call blockers of project management knowledge. The type of people who think that everything we need to know has been invented and no room for new knowledge or another perspective. I guess we need to ask universities to shut down; cancel their project management programs; or refer to some of these blockers to adopt their version of project management that they treat as the only “truth” or what I call narrow thinking or arrogance at the highest level. Is there a term for this level of arrogance? Back to the Blockers from Chapter 1.

We realize that this post is triggered by two stories from specific people and I would assume that those people could read this post. So I am anxious to hear their responses and to debate these points. Although, it is likely that we would hear the same arguments, which is fine. Everyone has an opinion, we shared ours here and others can agree, disagree, or think that we are full of xyz. All of that would be part of learning.

Agile Project Management, Agile Project Manager, Project Leader
How to deal with the blockers of project management knowledge

The Blockers of Project Management Knowledge

In this book, I offer a logical framework, in a simplified and practical language, and with a positive and optimistic message about serving the project management community. However, in this first chapter, I decided to include this part about some of the adverse blockers to progress: those who might accept the status quo or who do not understand the complexity of megaprojects. I will do this via two stories that could be representative of various scenarios across many organizations.[1]

The first story is in the text box, in which this senior professional is arguing that the management of a megaproject is like any other project.

Story No 1: Project Management Is the Same

When I started working on this book, I shared the outline on my LinkedIn page. Here is one of the responses I received:

I don’t get it. You can build a backyard shed or a world-class data center or dam a river with the same PM approach. The biggest problem with project management is trying to reinvent the wheel by renaming the same basic logical approach and calling it a “new” method.” [Name withheld for privacy]

This person “has” decades of project management experience.

Back to the first blocker of project management knowledge

We all know that the basic principles of project management include concepts like the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle, which are well known in the quality world.[1] Most would agree that the basics of management do evolve—partially—around processes or process groups that are generic. We understand that some will argue that project management is common sense. However, to believe that the generic guides or processes are all we need to manage capital projects would be uninformed, to say the least. Think about this brain teaser, it is common sense not to use common sense on non-common-sense projects. In other words, megaprojects are a different breed. I like a phrase by Professor Bent Flyvbjerg that says, “Conventional project managers should not lead megaprojects” (Flyvbjerg, 2017).[2] Merrow calls megaprojects “fragile” (Merrow, 2011).

It is common sense not to use common sense on non-common sense projects

Another Blocker of Project Management Knowledge

The second story is of another senior professional saying,

Organizational systems, project life cycles, stage-gate process are already established, so, Mounir, what value can you add?

I am not sure if this person is questioning my personal abilities, or if he is challenging the thinking that we could not improve performance.

How to deal with these blockers

My public answer to these two individuals is this: megaprojects are highly complex, their development and execution are the killers or makers of reputations, their successes and failures could make or break companies and countries. In other words, we need a new way of thinking, a cultural mindset that may require shifting paradigm to tackle these projects. Concerning our abilities to make a change, absolutely, we had made an impact in the past, and we will continue to do so, despite the blockers and naysayers.

Human Progress and the Giants

Human progress is not limited to inventions and inventors; it is about the human capability to grow and build on each other’s inventions and contributions.

I am not sure what percent of what we present in this reference is our invention. I am willing to accept and admit that we are not reinventing the wheel—there is no need to do so. We believe that the components of what exists are good, but we might need a fresh practitioner’s look.[1]

We are proud to say that we aim to build on what came before us, which would empower us to offer a great solution. As Sir Isaac Newton once said,

If I have seen a little further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” (The Phrases Finder, n.d.). 

We must accept that we, all of us, can make a difference, and we need the collective knowledge and experience to deal with an essential and massive topic such as megaprojects. Therefore, we know we have learned from others, and we will share our learnings with the proper credits. We know that some of what we present include a few modifications from the source, and I think the reader can judge whether we are offering something new to the professional community.

[1] I personally have had direct exposure to numerous megaprojects and have seen success and failure. I will be sharing a few case studies later.


[2] Oxford Handbook of Megaproject Management, p. 2

[1] I share these stories because I know the readers will face these types of people and you need to learn how to listen to them, then move on.

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About Mounir Ajam

A Project Management thought leader, who believes that project management touches all people, in all aspects of life; personal and professional.Initiated and led the formation of SUKAD Corp to develop the Uruk PPM Platform.An advocate of real-world, practical and applied project management.Champion of adaptive project management, tailored methods, and organizational project management.Available anywhere in the world to advise executives and organizations on the strategic value of project management. Ready to help organizations build and sustain the Project Management Function and the capacity to lead projects successfully.