On project management and famine

A reader at Blue Meanie commented on my Amartya Sen quote, and it made me think.

I looked again at the quote.

No substantial famine has ever occurred in any independent and democratic country with a relatively free press.

And I began to wonder. Is there an equivalent for project management? Could I say something like:

No substantial project failure has ever occurred in any “independent” and “democratic” organisation with a relatively free “press”.

I am sure there is something here. I will think more about it. If any of you comes up with better paraphrases please comment away; in the meantime I will seek to replace the three words in quotation marks with more appropriate ones.

3 thoughts on “On project management and famine”

  1. I think we’re getting a bit utopian and academic here. India has, ostensibly, a free press, and while “substantial” famines have not been seen, there continue to be any number of failures in the poverty area — even when highlighted by media. Government projects fail often, there are time and cost overruns, corruption is probably on the rise rather than on the wane.
    The definition probably will hold if the democracy is pure and the judiciary is truly independent and the press is truly free.
    Perhaps there is a case in the private sector, where “governments” as in management are accountable to “voters” as in the employees, shareholders and other stakeholders — and private sector success in India doesn’t really have a “free press”in the equation.

  2. I think this is about communication and being not afraid to communicate the bad as well as the good. Wherever there are issues be it of a human or project kind then openness in communication followed by healthy debate has a better chance of action being taken. Projects are certainly less likey to fail if there is continuous open communication within a blameless culture.

  3. I think the quote becomes even more suspect when applied to project management. Academic research shows that 80% of IT projects fail on at least one of four standards: to provide an agreed set of deliverables(1) on time(2), in budget(3), and according to an agreed process(4). We all know that in order for most projects to be reported as a “success” the participants move the goalposts on one or more of the criteria of objective measurement. (They change the scope, the budget, delay go-live, etc).

    I think there’s something to be said for the way an open and democratic culture, society or political process tends to be more responsive in preventing failure. I just don’t think we should over-state it, as if there aren’t many other factors at play…

    If there wasn’t, how do we explain that democratic USA could be so unresponsive to the needs of its poor citizens when it comes to mobilising against the disaster that was Hurricane Katrina and yet undemocratic Cuba (with less available resources) prioritised this?

Let me know what you think

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