L’enfer, Jean-Paul Sartre tells us, c’est les autres. This is so commonly and simplistically mistranslated as “hell is other people” that it’s become something of a fallacy. Hell for Sartre is not other people; it’s others. It’s about our faulty relationship with others and most particularly our psychological other, our id: the basic, instinctual drives that motivate us to seek out pleasure or avoid pain.
Those instinctual drives are very much at the heart of every project. A desire to move the organisation forward, to mitigate against business risks and seize profitable opportunities. And this desire underpins the project team, gives it a sense of togetherness, a common purpose. FTW! WOOT!
But this also means the team can just pile into a project without thinking it through, particularly if it’s being driven by someone with seniority in the organisation. The JFDI mentality prevails in these projects. Let’s just do it, get it over with and watch the cash roll in. Then, as complexity increases and mistakes are made, other emotional responses take over: blame-storming (particularly for teams who aren’t there: third-party suppliers or off-shore), hindsight, and the eventual withdrawal of project budgets. Suddenly you’ve gone from projected heaven to project hell.
Project management can of course help to control these urges. It provides the rational ego to counteract the emotional id. By introducing formal methodologies, you can moderate the project team’s urges and lead them to a more successful outcome. Theoretically, you could take any project and use ego-based techniques to deliver it. But that doesn’t mean you’d actually be delivering the right thing…
For that, you need a superego, a conscientious faculty to ensure you do the right thing. For projects, this means a governance process that ensures you have a reliable business case and that you continue to measure the business value of features that you implement, so you’re asking whether they’re valuable, rather than just whether they work or not.
- Super-ego-driven, conscientious projects will ask “is this worth doing?”
- Ego-driven projects will ask “is this working?”
- Id-driven projects will ask “why don’t I have this stuff?”
That’s an instinctive question, but the wrong question. It’s a question that’s asked by others and the question that will lead you to project hell.