Rendered Fat Content


"To idealize is also a form of suffering." Julian Hubbard

I spent in the Library of Congress some of my happiest hours in Washington DC, reading hundred year old religious tracts. I’d kind of backed into the literature by studying the Industrial Revolution, which led me into the fascinating world of efficiency. A hundred years ago, the Western World turned efficiency crazy, the literature resembling nothing so much as fervent evangelical pamphlets. What began as a set of engineering principles quite quickly consumed nearly every aspect of American life. It exported into Germany where it spread like dandelions, even eventually infecting the newly-hatching Soviet state, where it emerged as absurdly-detailed and ludicrously-premised Five Year Plans, which brought industrial and agricultural inefficiencies that quite nearly destroyed that fledgling economy.

The insistence that the highest, even the best purpose of every profession involves instructing others in the proper application of the religion of austerity remains a burgeoning industry even today.
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Around the middle of the week following creation, day ten or eleven, God created grease. He was by then bored with the whole idea of creating anything even remotely resembling his image, having already finished a freak book full of variations on that theme, so he went all radical on himself and produced something volatile and certain to goad even the pious into taking his name in vain.

Great big gobs of greasy, grimy gopher guts resulted. Schmaltz traces its heritage to that latter day variation, too. So does my kitchen. So does yours. Imagine a substance that repels water, the freaking liquid of life. Oh, it also attracts lint and odd bits of cat fur, and dirt, and the odd bug carcass. Clearly, grease ain’t looking for an invite to my table, or should not be. He doesn’t need to beg or plead for an invitation, though, because I voluntarily escort him into my kitchen, shake him up a martini, then let him have his way with me.
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Why Project Community?

I’ve been considering the work I’ve done, the work I understand. This piece might best explain what my workshop entails.

The Industrial Revolution brought with it some unintended consequences. We learned to structure work around teams, but alienated our broader communities. We learned to manage work by decomposing objectives into tasks and processes, but trivialized the very craftspeople we need to actually accomplish anything. We learned how to control execution, but at the cost of a deeper sense of discernible value. We could deduce one right, most efficient way, but lost sight of our purpose.

The Industrial Revolution also brought with it what Peter Drucker claimed was the single most profound innovation of the twentieth century, the professional manager. As organizations have flattened, the fiefdoms which justified the manager's role are disappearing, replaced by social networks more agile than formal departments and divisions. Most of the work accomplished by modern organizations is accomplished cross-functionally, by individuals mustered for the duration of an individual effort and endlessly reconfigured until people identify much more strongly with their current assignment's community than with any permanent manager, department, division, or company.
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I admit that when I first heard about the Project Management Institute’s initiative to turn project management into a profession, milk snorted out of my nose. I knew, without possessing an ounce of prescience, where their effort would lead. I wish I could have been surprised, but I’m not.

Professionalism seems more religion than guarantee. The Golden Lie insists “increasing professionalism will improve quality,” but there’s little evidence of that. Twenty years after PMI began its professionalism push, projects succeed and fail at about the same rate they always have and always will. There seems to be little correlation between knowing about how project work is supposed to be done and improving the quality of that work. Slip over here for more ...



I read the financial press with increasing interest because I might be the only one to notice this pattern behind sure-fire prosperity. Yes, I have a degree in business administration, but nobody even hinted at this golden goose egg when I attended university. (I admit it, my university days probably occurred well before the emergence of the modern goose.)

Used to be that a company succeeded by producing some product or service which they sold for a ‘price’, generating ‘revenues’, which through careful ‘cost management’ would distill into ‘profits’, thereby attracting ‘investors,’ who’d front cash without any explicit agreement to return even a penny of it. Yes, I admit that this sounds silly nowadays; backward. Byzantine, and perhaps it was. Slip over here for more ...


Expert Tease

Pity the expert. He seems able to already know how the play will turn out, to have out-run his own past, and to confidently hold his presence. Novices crowd around after his keynote, hoping, I suppose, that some of that goody might slough off on ‘em.

Expertise seems to come in at least two flavors: information and definition, savory and sweet, but these apparent flavors might not qualify as flavors at all. Perhaps they arise from completely different classes of experience; one sensual, the other notional; imagined.

None of this perspective rises to even the lowliest threat level unless the novice or the expert mistakes the one for the other: information for definition or definition for information. Each seems easily misplaced. Slip over here for more ...


Carless-Day Two -Recalibrating


I've been reflecting on this ... liberating carless experience. I'm noticing my brain working differently. Amy has noticed hers shifting, too. With a car, we seem to take space and time for granted, as if we were the masters of both simply because we have a few hundred pounds of metal swathed around us. We imagine that we could get anywhere, anytime; we head out deluded with an easy as-if, which rarely turns out as imagined. We are, however, not the master of traffic flows and parking contingencies. We’re really just another encumbrance in an over-full cascade of them. What makes our errand so special? Slip over here for more ...

Small Decencies

Years ago, John Cowan wrote a sweet little book. In it, he described a subtle but important element of consulting, Small Decencies. He describes a prospective client who asks him to meet the following morning at his office, which is a three hour drive away from Cowan's home. Cowan agrees, since the prospect is a friend of a satisfied client, and gets up at 3am to make the drive and the early meeting.

Arriving, he finds the only parking lot several blocks from the prospect's building. Once at the building, he takes the elevator to the designated floor, only to find no receptionist and no cue where to go from there.

He sits.

And waits.

Some time after the appointed hour, the prospect appears, running late, and quickly sets about explaining his difficulty, which he hopes Cowan will agree to help resolve.

Cowan feigns regret, but just can’t fit this engagement into his schedule.

He explains to his readers, but not to the faux-prospective client, that this client failed his dedication test; he neglected to attend to the small decencies. Slip over here for more ...




Another Competence: Restating (the) Obvious (to) Normally Yawning Management (A.C.R.O.N.Y.M.)

No project, program, or initiative can be considered real until it’s chosen its acronym, or had one chosen for it. X-TRM effort gets expended creating every proposal, to mint what will seem the perfect coin; pocket change intended to buy everything the effort aspires to be (EEA2B), while avoiding anything inadvertently embarrassing (AAIE); a plugged nickel.

A newcomer to one program noticed that their Master Yearly Program Plan (which she humorously pronounced My Pee Pee) was, in fact, quite a bit larger than other programs’ annual master program plans. No old-timer on that team had noticed their joke until the new kid showed up.

The acronymization of project work is not a new phenomenon. It’s as old as project work itself. I suspect that even the ancient Egyptians, understandably eager to avoid chiseling into stone any more hieroglyphs than absolutely necessary, resorted to abbreviations whenever possible. But our age has taken the practice to new X-TRMZ creating wholly new dialects for every effort. Slip over here for more ...


The Invisible Hum

Piracy used to concern me deeply. Over a decade ago, I discovered than an ex-business partner had been passing off stuff I owned as his own, so I consulted with an intellectual property attorney. He determined that I did own the stuff, then sent a nasty gram to the offender, who simply denied the facts. “Well, you could sue him,” the attorney reported. “That will cost you over a hundred thousand dollars, and even if the court finds in your favor, they’ll be no way to force them to pay up or prevent them from just changing their company name and continuing the practice.”

This was humbling news. My copyright clearly designated ownership, but gave me no protection against unscrupulous operators. So, I called up my ex-partner and told him that I would make a point of telling prospective clients to watch out for him, as he was a pirate. “If you do that, I’ll sue!” he sputtered. “Great,” I thought, then my insurance will cover the cost of litigation, and I will most certainly win.”

Turns out that there’s a ton of law against unscrupulous operators, but exercising the rights granted under those laws gets problematic. Anything I create could be swiped at any time, and I’m unlikely to even know about it, let alone have actual recourse. Now, the monied segment of the content industry lobbies Congress to pass new stricter laws to ‘prevent intellectual property piracy.’ Might as well throw in a rider banning lustful thoughts while they’re at it. Slip over here for more ...


The Pleasing Paradox

The Pleasing Paradox

I recently worked with a group that was trying hard to make their customers happy. Their customers were, likewise, also focused upon making their customers happy. The whole place felt self-sacrificial, as if the key to success could be found in doing whatever it takes to please others. No one seemed terribly happy with the results.

They were playing into The Pleasing Paradox. Studies have shown that the most satisfied customers have had one or more disappointing experience with their service provider. Recovery creates more satisfied customers than flawless delivery ever does.

The challenge is to be of service without becoming servile. We shouldn’t elevate any customer to the role of superior being, but treat each with human respect. 

Human respect does not involve treating others as if they were superior or defining your self through their expectations just because they're paying the bill. Human respect means being responsible, not overly responsible— a curious form of irresponsibility. Don’t cut others' meat for them.

Human respect demands that I respect myself so that I can respect others. Whenever I take that humbling step down and backwards, I can lose my own self respect, and thereby forfeit my ability to really respect—or be of real service—to anyone else. When I can engage with my customer as a peer, we both seem more satisfied with the result. Slip over here for more ...


Speaking of Ethics

Bill Ballard and David Schmaltz will convene a conversation about the unspeakable: Ethics.

The Silver Spring PMI meeting pre-show, Wednesday, 11/9, 5:30pm, Blair Mansion Restaurant at 7711 Eastern Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20912

Act always so as to increase the number of choices.
The Ethical Imperative, Heintz von Foerster

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein claimed that one cannot speak of ethics. They are too personal, too situational, too fuzzy. Yet we are exhorted to perform ethically. What does that mean in practice?

In practice, we might not feel very much like philosophers, yet ethics has for centuries been the meat and potatoes of philosophy.

Ethics might best be thought of as choices that matter. How should one choose? Slip over here for more ...

Going There

I've been there and back again. Circumnavigated the block a few times. Repeatedly seen the plot play through to resolution. I'm not jaded, but I’m no longer surprised.

Before I'd been there and back again, I'm certain that no explanation, no matter how complicated or complete, could have taken me there. As if I didn't have language yet, only after I'd gone there was the concept of there a meaningful distinction. 

But then I catch myself doing what simply does not work. I explain, in varying levels of passion and patience, what I experienced going there. My stories do not fall on deaf ears. They find ears perfectly capable of hearing and comprehending every single, well-chosen word. Even so, they do not seem to understand what I intend.

It might be the case, as I've heard others say, that the difference between understanding going there and not lies in some personally transforming experience. Only this, some claim, can create the proper context for understanding. And, as K.D. Laing said over a generation ago, "Those who don't know what they don't know, think they know." Those who have not been there and back again, probably think they've already been there and back again when they've only read about it or heard about it or seen someone else's there-and-back-again experience in some movie.  Slip over here for more ...




[Drawing from the May 14, 1911 New York World, reporting on best-selling author and The Father of Scientific Management, Frederick W. Taylor’s after dinner speech at the American Bookseller’s Association convention.)

A hundred years ago, the world was in the middle of going crazy again. It’s not profound to notice that the world goes crazy sometimes, but this crazy was special. Usually, these insanities disappear quickly. This one did not. It managed to worm its way into our DNA and replicate until today, this crazy has become the accepted benchmark for sane.

What was this insanity? Efficiency. Slip over here for more ...


Projects As Reflexive Systems

The George Washington University

University Seminar on Reflexive Systems
Tuesday, January 18, 2011 from 10:00 am-12:00 pm
Funger Hall, Room 620
2201 G Street NW

David A. Schmaltz

What do you do when you don’t know what to do?

In our society and culture, we seem to start projects when we don’t know what else to do. Fewer than half of these ever finish. Of those that do finish, only a small percentage manage to satisfy anyone. Just last month, the OMB recommended that another raft of government-sponsored information technology projects be cancelled after expending tens of millions of dollars while producing nothing of discernible value. In private industry, no one reports just how sorry their project performance is. The truth would certainly panic the investing public.

The last fifty years has seen the greatest expansion in project management techniques in the history of the world, yet project performance is no better, and might well be worse. How could this be? This situation might reflect nothing but human nature; to pose a metaphor, then get trapped within it; to improve by insisting upon even more of the same perspectives that created the difficulty in the first place; to begin even more hopefully again, as if intention or will determined success. This seems to be what we’ve done when we didn’t know what to do. I believe we could we do better.

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Small Fraud

"Our search for precision carries a hidden cost. Honesty might be the best policy, but practice can compromise even our best intentions. When I don’t even feel the twinge anymore, I guess I’m in real trouble, though I won’t feel the trouble—or anything at all then. So I notice the small frauds coming, side-step them when I can, and try my best to feel the pain when I just can’t stand aside. Maybe noticing qualifies as good enough."

My latest article posted on Best Thinkers.


Splice of Life

How do you work?

One author reported that most people are more productive when working behind closed doors. Others insist upon pairing, sharing workspaces. Some cube just fine. Others, not. Some counsel focus, fuzzy or clear. The distracted praise procrastination. Heads-down, hands-on people insist that you really should just get 'er done. All exhort the elusive 'flow.' I doubt that we will ever see the end of well-intended, largely useless advice.

I find myself flourishing under each, and sometimes none of these schemes. Fortunately, I rarely have the luxury of getting to choose. When I plan a day in splendid isolation, the danged phone rings. When I'm suffering through an endless day of mind-numbing isolation, not only does the phone refuse to ring, nobody's there when I try to call my usual lifelines.

We work, it seems, in fits and starts. Some days more fit than others. Slip over here for more ...


Spare-Time Successful

It's International Project Management Day, and over the years I've celebrated this anniversary in different ways. One year, I declared project management dead. Another year, I announced the creation of a CCI, Certified Complete Idiot, designation. Mostly a little (or a lot) of whining. Or Why-ning.

This year, though, I'm reflecting on just how much progress the pre-mature profession of project management has managed to make. Today, more projects are managed by non-professional 'project managers' than are managed by professional ones. And I am grateful for this humbling fact. Slip over here for more ...


Taylorism Transcended

I believe that it's dangerous, and perhaps delusional, to insist upon the client changing as a precondition for encouraging change, especially paradigm change. All change seems to rest upon a more full, albeit temporary acceptance of the way things are. Taylor's concepts were (and in some ways still are) quite progressive. Like many 'improvements' before and since, Taylor's implementation might have fallen prey to an ancient principle which claims that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

His premise insisted that disciplined observation would yield improved understanding, an application of a basic scientific principle. He believed, as any progressive must, in the possibility for a vastly improved future. That he chose to 'drive' his method when he could not convince others (workers and executives) of its goodness, says more about his personal desperation than it does about the utility of his ideas. One could say that the manufacturing miracle Toyota claims arose from a deeper reading of Taylor rather than a shift further away. Slip over here for more ...


Simple Wisdom

Eventually, careful study will guide the reader to a simple conclusion, since all roads inevitably lead there. This results in no complicated tragedy, but rather simple wisdom. My searches for solutions to the complicated questions I've tried to answer have left me with little in the way of definitive answers. The inquiries were worth the effort anyway.

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Sweet Dreams

I'm prototyping a new media and I need your feedback, pushback, and loving advice. Please take a peek and comment below. Thanks!



Free Advice

It's been over a century now that otherwise bright consultants have been offering the same sage advice: Focus on the employees. Be of service and profits will follow. Be clear about your purpose. Given the choice between cutting head count and cutting the dividend, cut the dividend. You can't drive knowledge workers, and everyone who works for you is a knowledge worker.

Yesterday afternoon, I heard the latest rehash of these classics on NPR's Marketplace program, where Rosabeth Moss Kantor, herself a NY Times Best selling author and Harvard B-School professor, warmly remembered Peter Drucker's legacy. What would Drucker have to say about the current business climate? Same old, same old. Slip over here for more ...


Confessions of a Stunt Peddler

The second installment of my Confessions of a Stunt Peddler series has been posted on the Technology Management portal. (At last!)

This one was difficult to complete. Like drawing a self portrait from a fun house mirror image. Who IS that character in there? Is he the genuine article?

Like with any work of art, this construction finally forced my hand. I just had to choose. Wittgenstein once proclaimed that what he'd excluded from a manuscript was just as important as what he chose to include, and that to understand the work, both would necessarily need to be considered. And so it is here.

I believe I've identified some important considerations here, but I've doubtless excluded much more than I chose to include. What would you add if it was your hand etching the portrait of a stunt peddler, or a former one?


Paranoia Strikes Deep

I know only one sure sign that I'm doing my real work: paranoia. If I'm out there adequately far, or have just returned from one of those excursions, I might feel the elation of creating something brand new and worthy of me and the world, while underneath, a gnawing suspicion simmers. Am I stepping off the cliff instead of just close enough to it? Am I inadvertently bruising anyone? Is my ecstasy agonizing another? Am I standing on another's toes as I arch up onto mine?

I might have never yet touched the face of any God, but I've shaved my share of them; bare blade barely separating achievement from ideal. These experiences were at least as humbling as elating, and no one else, no matter how close the shave, could feel the turbulence this perennial test pilot always feels.

My best work always scares the Hell out of me, and should. Slip over here for more ...


Certified Complete Idiot

Project Management Institute Announces New Professional Designation

According to an official in a company closely related to the organization, the Project Management Institute will announce next week the creation of a totally new professional certification, CCI™, the Certified Complete Idiot designation. Slip over here for more ...


Industrial Scale

For the last hundred years or so, corporations feverishly prepared for a future few of them lived to experience. Business schools, knowing who butters their toast, have actively colluded in this pursuit. Individuals, faced with a future increasingly dominated by The Big Boys, have often chosen to join in the grand charade rather than suffer the consequences of bucking the apparently inexorable system. All suited up now with no place to go, the ranks of unemployed managers expand while ever more newly-minted masters of a moribund form of administration enter the fray.

What they're finding out there today is really no different than what their great grandfathers found: employers capable of insisting upon unconscionable irony. People struggling to hum along to tunes they do not really believe in. Slip over here for more ...



Woke this morning to an interview with John Kao on the BBC. Kao, author of Innovation Nation, is one of those acknowledged experts. His expertise: innovation.

He illustrates innovation by improvising on a piano. He plays the standard transcribed melody to an old standard and relates this to business process. The result sounds wooden and lifeless. Then he improvises around the transcription and the result is transforming.

He plays a random series of notes, explaining that while this 'melody' might well be creative, it's not satisfying. Satisfaction... in both innovation and music ... requires respect for a few basic rules of construction, principles of harmony, rhythm, and tone. The manager's job involves letting go, removing barriers, and helping people believe in the objective.



I've been reading a fascinating new book, The Science of Fear - Why We Fear the Things We Shouldn't—and Put Ourselves in Greater Danger by Daniel Gardner (Dutton, NY 2008). Gardner cites a study concluding that as a result of grounding airplanes following the 9/11 tragedy, fifteen hundred and ninety five additional people died in automobile accidents that otherwise wouldn't have been killed because airplane travel is much safer than automobile travel, even when the risk of hijacking is factored in. Doesn't hardly seem reasonable, does it? Slip over here for more ...

Unchained Melody

Interesting piece in a recent American Scientist on the critical importance of metaphor to the forward progress of science. While objective observation and rigorous measurement are important to science, narrative and metaphor are no less crucial. It is through translating discoveries into stories that real meaning and real understanding emerge for the author no less than for the reader.

Metaphors paint pictures we can see, and imagine ourselves stepping into. Arguably less real than the science bits, they unchain the door to deeper understanding. Even science depends upon myth-making and story-telling to make real progress.


Mangled Apple Pie

"When I ask a project manager to describe her ethics, I usually get a bit of mumbled motherhood and some mangled apple pie. Sometimes fife and drum music wafts in the distant background. I ask to encourage her mindfulness, not to test her knowledge of what’s wrong and right. I couldn’t possibly know for her, and neither of us are situated, in that moment, to choose exactly what either of us should do. I am genuinely curious, though, how she will go about choosing when that moment comes."

The final installment of my series considering The Ethical Responsibilities of Project Work appeared last week in Projects@Work. Slip over here for more ...


Tickle Point

We're all familiar with the concept of Tipping Point, that point in a progression where one trajectory turns into another, cannot help but turn. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a bestseller about it. He spoke of mavens and connectors and social networks and transformation. Where word of mouth transformed unknowns into unforgettables. This posting isn't about Tipping Points. Slip over here for more ...

Economies of Snail

A few years ago, I was invited to give a presentation to a very large financial services company's project managers. I spoke about maturity, which was a hot topic at that time there. Their definition of maturity included consistency, prescription, prediction, where big things proposed become big things achieved. I presented a different notion of maturity, one which more closely matches what I've experienced as I've matured. I am, for instance, no better at predicting outcomes than I ever was, unless I'm doing something I've done many, many, many times before. Of course, no one's ever done their latest project before, so project maturity might be about out-growing the naive notion that one could consistently achieve by prescribing and predicting. Slip over here for more ...


One Easter when I was a kid, my folks bought 'us kids' a baby chicken (dyed pink), a baby rabbit, and a baby duck. The rabbit bit the chicken, which died, and the rabbit escaped. The duckling survived, but having no mother duck to teach it how to properly duck, it took lessons from the family dog, who, being a dog, taught it to bark, chase kids, and loyally follow me around. We eventually had to fence this duck in because he'd chase bicycles and cars. Later, we bought a second duck to keep the first one company, but the original wouldn't have anything to do with the late-comer, who eventually moved into the duck community in the city park. Years later, the original duck was killed by a rampaging dog.

I mention this duck because I've been deeply considering what it is that I do, and as usual, this reflection leaves me feeling like an odd duck. Slip over here for more ...


In Praise Of Meaningless Work

“Meaningless work is the soul of being in the body of nothingness.”

For much of my working life, I have been a strong advocate for meaningful work. I've claimed that work quality improves whenever personal purpose gets involved. I've helped people imprint on the greater good and encouraged them to find their project within their project assignment. But today, I want to sing the praises of an under-appreciated kind of work, meaningless work. Slip over here for more ...


The Multitasking Myth

So, you think you are good at multitasking? No? You say you're lousy at it, it's just that your life demands it of you? Join the club.

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Standard-Eyes-ing Agile Practices

An excerpt from a recent posting I made on the AgileProjectManagement Yahoo! Discussion Group, in response to a query about standardizing Agile practices. A perfectly reasonable-seeming thing to do.

I'll refer you to a remarkable author of a stunning book: Claudio Ciborra-The Labyrinths of Information. Ciborra, a professor (now, unfortunately, dead) at the London School of Economics, spent his career studying how large, successful companies dealt with system development and method acquisition. He found nearly universal "implicit resistance to continuous improvement methodologies, if not open critique of their scientific foundations ... ." He went on to claim tactics like work standardization are "apparations" — "symptoms of a malaise in the current ways of understanding and approaching systems development and use." Slip over here for more ...

Black Swans

Author of best-selling Fooled By Randomness and Black Swans Nassim Nicholas Taleb was being a curmudgeon again recently in The Sunday Times. A little of him goes a long, long way. AND his skepticism about how financial markets and complex systems are commonly managed seems properly placed, skepticism being as necessary to clear perception and good eyesight. Slip over here for more ...

Cube Farm

I had no idea that cubicles were a Utopian statement, but I'm not really surprised that they are. More surprising is that someone out there is doing their PhD work on the cubicle as a statement of culture. Had to happen. Just had to happen.

"Those with moral aspirations for the cubicle—from countercultural Californians like Tom Peters to Midwestern Protestants like Max De Pree—sought to defend some idea of “humanity” against the inhumanity of bureaucracy. Yet, to say that bureaucracy is inhuman has not always been an objection to it. As defined by Max Weber a century ago, bureaucracy makes its great contribution to the world precisely by ignoring the human spirit. Operating according to fixed rules, policies, and positions, bureaucracy in its purest form functions, as Weber wrote, “without regard for persons.” As bureaucracy “develops more perfectly, the more the bureaucracy is ‘dehumanized,’ the more completely it succeeds in eliminating from official business love, hatred, and all purely personal, irrational, and emotional elements which escape calculation.” The central impulse of bureaucracy is to fashion a world in conformity to the impersonal abstraction and precise relationships of an organizational chart."

Here's the link


Nullius in Verba (Nobody's Word Is Final)

Physicist Freeman Dyson is writing again. This time about global warming and the secular religion of environmentalism.

What I found most interesting about this article, which is actually a review of two books, is the characterization of science and economics, echoing Mark Gray's notion of physics envy—that every social science is jealous of the mathematical precision and replicability of physics.

Link to article Slip over here for more ...


Play Ball!

The final installment of my Unlearning Project Management series was posted this morning on the Projects@Work Executive Briefing site. The posting also features links to the first five installments.

What did I unlearn in the process of writing this series? Two months ago, when I started writing this series, I was smoking about ten exquisite little cigars every day. Just after I finished the third installment, I stopped smoking. For unlearning, I highly recommend this strategy: First, start smoking. Smoke pretty steadily for five or six years, then decide to stop. Slip over here for more ...


The Lake Wobegone Effect

Romanticism has a dark side. It's one thing to look on the sunny side of life, but it's neither optimism nor evidence of positive self esteem to ALWAYS look on the bright side. Garrison Keilor speaks of the mythical home town where all the women and strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average. Commercial bluster promises unconditional superlatives, too. I remember an ad campaign that promised "For A Merry Christmas, Lay Linoleum!"

The problem is that we believe we have a problem. Slip over here for more ...


Breaking the Galilean Spell

"Even deeper than emergence and its challenge to reductionism in this new scientific worldview is what I call breaking the Galilean spell. Galileo rolled balls down incline planes and showed that the distance traveled varied as the square of the time elapsed. From this he obtained a universal law of motion. Newton followed with his Principia, setting the stage for all of modern science. With these triumphs, the Western world came to the view that all that happens in the universe is governed by natural law. Indeed, this is the heart of reductionism. Another Nobel laureate physicist, Murray Gell-Mann, has defined a natural law as a compressed description, available beforehand, of the regularities of a phenomenon. The Galilean spell that has driven so much science is the faith that all aspects of the natural world can be described by such laws. Perhaps my most radical scientific claim is that we can and must break the Galilean spell. Evolution of the biosphere, human economic life, and human history are partially indescribable by natural law. This claim flies in the face of our settled convictions since Galileo, Newton, and the Enlightenment."


Whatever else you're reading, you just gotta read this. It's gorgeous!!


Discovering Your Wisdom

This posting is the promised Part Two of What Everyone Should Understand About True North's Mastering Projects Workshop.

Read that posting before you read this one, to get the contiguous story!

... ...

Finally, we invite people to bring themselves to the workshop. Not the role you play or the title you display, but your shoes-off self. To arrive skeptical if you are skeptical. Optimistic if you are optimistic. Curious if you are curious.

We invite you to bring yourself to the workshop because I noticed, after attending many workshops, that I usually didn’t show up. I sent who I was supposed to be in my stead, and this surrogate postured and posed, and stayed in his head where no situated learning could really penetrate. If managing projects is a continuing act of self discovery, then bringing your self to the effort seems necessary, essential.

Slip over here for more ...


What Everyone Should Understand About True North’s Mastering Projects Workshop

This workshop is unique.

To claim uniqueness, however, does not explain much. This description might elicit many different negative comparisons, such as, “it is almost, but not entirely unlike this other workshop.”

How is this workshop unique? Most project workshops focus attention upon transferring explicit how-to skills: how to plan, how to track progress, how to control execution, and how to build a team. They focus upon the transfer and acquisition of explicit knowledge without ever considering how it is that one goes about acquiring and actually using that knowledge. Slip over here for more ...


Mapping Human Relationships2

There are several efforts underway to bring some rigor to the idea of mapping human relationships. Some analyze emailing patterns to derive relationship patterns. Others rely upon more subjective methods.

Slip over here for more ...


Mapping Human Relationships

Thanks, again, to each of you who commented on my Relational Work Manifesto. Since posting that, I have been thinking about how one creates maps of these relationships. Of course, trapped in the mechanical mindset, I started looking for physical amendments to the tired, potentially trueish PERT or GANTT representations before recalling that this different order of 'relating' might well demand a different typology for the mapping, too.

The challenge might be not to create coherent tacit maps, but to accept that they are creatable. We can and do create these, though not always deliberately and mindfully. Years ago, in a book entitled The Politics of Projects, an explicit mapping was proposed, rather like data mapping. I thought then that the relationship, political side of projects was mutli-faceted, encompassing too many dimensions to display in two or three dimensional space. But our minds are not bound to these few dimensions. How to employ this facility?

In our Mastering Projects Workshop, we've employed several different techniques for side-stepping the usual urge to jump right into task definition and requirements discovery, under the belief that projects are usually better served by understanding their present context first, before they start describing their future or the path there in any detail.

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Organizational Insurgency

How do new ideas get started in organizations? If you read the trades, you might be convinced that organizational change results from senior management aligning the organization around strategic initiatives. Nice fantasy. I suppose change could happen that way.

More often, a better idea confronts an entrenched one. Asking for permission to change typically results in permission being denied. What's a good soldier to do?

I've started gathering stories of Organizational Insurgents and their Insurgencies. Before you start calling me a terrorist or a supporter of terrorists, I'll point you to the dictionary, where insurgency is defined as:“Insurgency: the quality or state of being insurgent; specifically: a condition of revolt against a government that is less than an organized revolution and that is not recognized as belligerency. Latin insurgent- to rise up, from in- + surgere to rise.” (from Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary)

Following is a first story. I'm gathering more. If you have one you'd like to share, please contact me. I think there's a pattern of successful insurgencies. Could be useful to tease it out. Slip over here for more ...


Deming Died Disappointed

I've received a few comments, none of them completely positive, from my Relational Work Manifesto. I repost two of them, posted as comments here, on the following page---follow the slip over here link below---for those who (like me!) cannot always access the comments script following the original posting. Thank you Tim and Joel for caring enough to post really biting comments.

I'm with you. This idea upsets me greatly and doesn't, on the face of it, seem to describe how we produce output in companies today. Joel, you note that much of this already happens, and I agree with you. And if we closely investigated how Hoover Dam actually WAS built, we might be surprised at how much of what I tried to describe happened even there.

My invitation: Observe what you do for a week. Watch how much of what you do depends upon unplanned and unplannable exchanges.

Here's a little poem to guide the inquiry. Slip over here for more ...


Relational Work - A Manifesto

Following is a first attempt at a curious manifesto. I create this manifesto to reframe our interpretation of work.

We live in a time immersed in a culture focused upon processes. I believe this is a fundamental misinterpretation, one which causes many of its own shortcomings.

I warmly appreciate Gregory Howell and his colleagues for pointing out an obvious truth: the metaphor we unselfconsciously use to guide our work is faulty. We see work as a series of disembodied input-process-output processes, though much of the work we engage in these days cannot be effectively characterized in this way. How we think about work influences everything.

How would it be if we characterized work as primarily relational rather than primarily transformational. In this frame, work is the product of interacting relationships, not compliance with disembodied processes. Each is free, within ethical boundaries, to engage in offer-bid-accept trades intended to achieve results. How they engage, when they engage, and to a very large part how they produce results is in the individual trader’s hands, understanding that the future viability of the community depends upon sustaining relationships, not simply fulfilling a current need.

I invite you to join this consideration. I need your help, whether that comes as biting criticsm or encouragement. Consider how this frame of reference might change the work you do and we’ll talk.
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Replies: Monoculture, Corporate Culture, and Cultural Change

Finding Purpose

When efficiency become the purpose, purpose is gone

When low cost becomes the purpose, purpose is lost.

When conformity, consistency, and sameness become the first measure of goodness,

All goodness is gone.

Mistake the measure for the purpose, the process for the result, the glossy cover for the book,

and you’ll never find meaning in literature again.

Purpose lives beyond tomorrow, over the foreseeable horizon, in a dreamland banned from the bottom line.

Without it, every bottom line is meaningless.

With it, the bottom line today rarely matters.

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Monoculture, Corporate Culture, and Cultural Change

Today, I'm introducing a guest blogger to this page. Responding to my recent posting on corporate monoculture, Senior principle Software Engineer and Six Sigma Expert Maysa-Maria Peterson comments. Maysa says:

So what is corporate culture? According to Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., “Corporate culture is a broad term used to define the unique personality or character of a particular company or organization, and includes such elements as core values and beliefs, corporate ethics, and rules of behavior.” Corporate culture thus guides how we think, act, and feel in our work environments. So understanding corporate culture is important because it affects us in many ways, such as hours worked per day or week, how you dress, whether you polish your nails or not, training and professional development, how people interact and corporate expectations. Slip over here for more ...



I've been looking at the effects of what I'm labeling 'monoculture' in organizations. In agriculture, monoculture refers to the practice of planting a single crop within a defined space. In the short run, monoculture farming can produce dramatic increases in productivity. Longer run, repeatedly growing a single crop can deplete the soil and require ever greater supplemental fertilizer use. It can also create the conditions for catastrophic crop failure, such as the Irish Potato Famine. The wine industry in Europe was devastated by susceptibility to Phylloxera during the late 19th century. Slip over here for more ...

Innovative Minds DON'T Think Alike

"Elizabeth Newton, a psychologist, conducted an experiment on the curse of knowledge while working on her doctorate at Stanford in 1990. She gave one set of people, called “tappers,” a list of commonly known songs from which to choose. Their task was to rap their knuckles on a tabletop to the rhythm of the chosen tune as they thought about it in their heads. A second set of people, called “listeners,” were asked to name the songs. ... Slip over here for more ...

Dyslexia - Learning "disability" entrepreneurial ability?

Finally some evidence explaining why those exceptional entrepreneurial project managers, the ones who seem to do everything wrong and still create remarkable results, manage to succeed. Perhaps they don't do it right because they can't follow the schematic or pass the certification test, but they succeed because they develop compensating abilities that, in situations requiring rapid adaptation, more than compensate for their "disabilities."
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Letter from Europe

My business takes me to Europe every year or so, and things have changed a lot over there since my first visit nearly fifteen years ago. Most noticeable on this latest trip was the weak dollar. Four years ago, a euro was worth eighty five cents. This year, a euro costs me a buck and a half. While this devaluation makes our exports cheap for them, it makes everything expensive for this visiting American. From forty dollar breakfasts to dinners—and not fancy dinners—that set me back over a hundred diluted dollars. The price of oil has sky-rocketed in part because it’s valued in an unstable currency, the dollar. Slip over here for more ...

Dutch Masters

Amy and I are in the Netherlands, finishing advance work to deliver a Mastering Projects Workshop here in May. It's rainy and cold, appropriate context for the conception of a masterful engagement. We have been warmly welcomed, hospitably housed, and lavishly nourished in this forested former sea bed. Tomorrow, we will live a longest day in this season of early nightfall. Nine daylight hours from Amsterdam to Seattle. And another layover, then another twilight flight over the Cascade Range, back to the more ancient sea bed we call home.

We came here because someone read the Dutch translation of The Blind Men and the Elephant, and emailed to ask if we ever did workshops here. (We did conduct a workshop here last year, but not a Mastering Projects Workshop.) We're open to new experiences, and stopped on our way home from our latest presentation at an ISCT Conference in Vienna to see what we could do to start a community of interest here.

We found Dutch Masters, a term our Dutch friends were unfamiliar with, so I wrote a poem to explain what I meant.

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Stumbling Forward

Contrary to what most experts might say, real progress rarely involves smooth, upward curves. Real progress entails most every type of human experience, including stumbling, stopping, stalling, and even giving up.

Yes, even giving up. We're not nearly as clever as we might hope to be when it comes to designing our roadmaps into the future. Success stories are written ex post facto, after the success has been realized. Of course they might hope to explain what one should do beforehand to engineer success, but they would have to have been written beforehand, then result in success, to be credible testimony. Slip over here for more ...


Plegaria Ediciones (Prayer of the Student)

We're teaching a Mastering Projects Workshop next week in Portland, Oregon. It feels very good to anticipate facilitating another inquiry. Preparation for this includes very little "going over the material," because the most important material will appear about the same time we start the workshop. So, I'm considering my presence more than I am cramming for prescience. I usta cram. Now I calm, if calm is an action.

I'm learning to lean into these experiences.

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Falling Back

I caught myself this morning engaging in an annual ritual: denial. I hate regular time. Perhaps this proves that I'm a man of MY time, but I love daylight savings time. My least favorite day of the year has always been that morning when I'm supposed to set my clock back an hour.

I defer the act as long as possible. Slip over here for more ...


Think The Big Dig Was A Failure? Think Again!

Think Boston's Big Dig project was a failure? Think again.

Some might be under the mistaken impression that the Big Dig was just a large construction project. It wasn't. Sure, it featured a lot of construction work, much of it stuff that had quite literally never been tried before or never tried on such a scale. But as I've been saying for years and years, the greatest danger in projects, whether they be "construction" projects or "software" projects comes in the label we casually assign to the effort.

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Ask a project professional where they live, and the chances are a lot better than even that they won't tell you about their nifty manufactured home. Ask about their project methodology, though, and you'll hear a different story. What's that about?

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Informational Cascade

"We like to think that people improve their judgment by putting their minds together, and sometimes they do. The studio audience at “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” usually votes for the right answer. But suppose, instead of the audience members voting silently in unison, they voted out loud one after another. And suppose the first person gets it wrong."
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What Does Not Work

Let's say you want someone to change. What should you NOT do? Here are some ideas.

The approaches outlined below sometimes work. The trouble is that they work just enough to keep us hooked into believing that they work unconditionally. We might never conclude that when continually repeated, they not only don’t work, but most often intensify the very behaviors and attitudes we are trying to change. The following lists contain most of the comments you’ve heard frustrated parents pass to their unruly children. Maybe you’ve heard yourself say these, too?

These approaches fail because they just do not work long term, regardless of your presentation skills, your unassailable logic, or the purity of your motivation. It seems to be a law of human nature: Humans cannot cooperate in the face of continual Unsolicited Lectures, Taking The Moral Highly Ground, Self Sacrifice/Denial, and expectations that say, “You really ought to want to!” Slip over here for more ...


A Post-Modern Parable

Toyota and General Motors decided to have a concrete canoe race on the Missouri River . Both teams practiced long and hard to reach their peak performance before the race.

On the big day, Toyota won by a mile.

GM, very discouraged, decided to investigate the reason for their crushing defeat. A strategic management team, made up of senior management, was formed to investigate and recommend appropriate action. They concluded that Toyota had 8 non-union guest workers rowing on a twelve hour shift and 1 person steering, while the GM team had to include 4 pensioners who couldn’t row, 4 union employees who were restrained from rowing for more than four hours without a break (and had to comply with union rules limiting latitude for individual judgment), and 8 people steering: administering health plans, pension benefits, and compliance with union and government mandates, and maintaining narrowly-focused shareholder relationships.
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Today's New York Times features a fascinating article, which plays into recent postings about design. The article, entitled Army Enlists Anthropology in War Zones, describes how employing social scientists is increasing effectiveness and reducing violence in Afghanistan. Here's an excerpt:

The anthropology team here also played a major role in what the military called Operation Khyber. That was a 15-day drive late this summer in which 500 Afghan and 500 American soldiers tried to clear an estimated 200 to 250 Taliban insurgents out of much of Paktia Province, secure southeastern Afghanistan’s most important road and halt a string of suicide attacks on American troops and local governors.
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Self Organizing Teams

There's an old concept called Context Marker, that Gregory Bateson used to kick around. A context marker is a subtle environmental cue that pretty reliably informs people how to behave in a situation. Context markers mostly influence at a pre-conscious level. Paying attention to and deliberately setting context markers can influence self organization. 

An example: Set up a conference room into rows of chairs with a center aisle. Dim the lights. Place an open book, perhaps a candle, on a small table at the head of the room. Then invite people into that room and watch what they do. Conversation will hush as they enter. Some will fold their hands in front of them. Ask later why people sat where they sat and and you'll learn that quite a few chose a chair positioned where their family sat in church when they were kids. Were they aware that they were doing that? Most weren't until they reflected on it. Slip over here for more ...

Uncertainty and Dread

Yesterday, I read Seymour Hersh's latest: Shifting Targets The Administration's plan for Iran in the New Yorker. I found myself slipping into a cocoon of dread as I read. The piece examines the Administration's deliberations around how to justify attacking Iran. It tells a story of cynical certainty creating conditions before the fact that will justify the unthinkable after the fact.

Later, I was listening to a book called Dark Star, which tells the story of a Pravda journalist during the run-up to WWII. He, too, was surrounded by cynical certainty seeking to justify unthinkable actions. He lived in dread, too.
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I find every heuristic comparing preparation time to total work time unreliable.

Writing isn't always 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. For me, it's often 90% milling around trying to maintain some semblance of self esteem while waiting for inspiration, 1/2 of 1 percent inspiration, and the other 9 1/2 percent mildly pleasing exercise. No sweat at all. Other times it's 100% just doing it. Still other times it's 110% not accomplishing anything at all.
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Designing Projects

Give a team a project and what will they do? Chances are much better than even that they will focus upon building the product, not their project. Some will insist upon a method for construction, but few will carefully consider the design of their project. Project design will be lost in the rush to fulfillment which will include gathering requirements, laying out work steps, mustering team members, and controlling execution.
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Bring Yourself To Work Day!!

Almost twenty years ago, The Ms Foundation For Women initiated what has now become an annual workplace tradition: Take Your Daughter To Work Day®. The originating idea focused upon providing young women, aged eight to twelve, exposure to the real world of work. When I took my daughter to work with me, she got to experience the numbing boredom of meetings, the uneasy exchange of information as a client critiqued a draft status report, and the disorienting choices in a corporate cafeteria. Because I was then working as a traveling consultant, she also got to experience two ninety minute plane rides, complete with frantic drives to overcrowded airports.

See the
Bring Yourself To Work blog for more details
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New Dimensions Radio Broadcast

Here is a way you can hear my interview program with New Dimensions:

Listen to New Dimensions Internet Radio (NDIR).  Six hours of original programming including the current "flagship" program and gems of timeless wisdom from the extensive archives heard 24/7.  My Program #3074 will be airing on our new New Dimensions Internet Radio (NDIR) during the week of December 11, 2006.
www.newdimensions.org click on Listen to NDIR now!
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Why Project Managers Can't Manage Projects

Years ago, I worked on a project intending to build a financial management system using tiny message switching computers. One of the engineers assigned to reach this doomed destination confided to me that in theory the concept could work. “It’s like pulling a stagecoach with chickens, though,” he concluded. “You can do it, but the reins management will kill you.”
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Learning How

We've been learning how to repaint the house. 'Though we each had some experience with house painting before, this one's different. Really different.
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The Panhandler's Paradox

Well, I got my first rejection from my publisher this week. The next book I'd envisioned seems to focus upon an over-served topic (Change) and employs some culturally iffy messengers. Here's a taste. david Slip over here for more ...


Intricate choreography rarely succeeds. The impulses that encourage you to split resources between projects, tasks, and goals usually overlooks an individual’s true divisibility. Following two masters consumes more attention than following one. Slip over here for more ...

The Lake Webegone Syndrome

Today's Washington Post features an article about personality testing:

Link Here

The eternal desire to hire only the best person for the job results in what psychologists call The Lake Webegone Syndrome, after Garrison Keelor's mythical Midwestern town where "all the women and strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average." Of course, no population can be so skewed, yet the practice persists. The ldea being that if only one could successfully screen for traits, we'd have the best of all possible workforces. Slip over here for more ...


The Mean Side of "Lean"

... from the MasteringProjectWork Yahoo Discussion Group:

Reading through the management journal summaries in the Economist today, I came across mention of this piece, The Darker Side of Lean, written by an American who worked inside one of Toyota's divisions for three years. Smells interesting. Slip over here for more ...


Thinking Like A Computer

“The problem is not that computers might someday think like men, but that men will learn to think like computers.” Sidney J. Harris

In the early sixties, Heintz von Foerster founded the Biological Computing Laboratory at Champaign-Urbana. Over the following fifteen years, fueled by enthusiastic inquiry and heavy Defense Department funding, von Foerster attracted a remarkable collection of scientists to investigate how a computer might be engineered to think. It had been barely a generation since Turing had originally imagined how a machine might be enabled to reason, and this next step seemed, well, only reasonable at the time. Slip over here for more ...


What Gnomes Know

Until recently, I didn’t believe in gnomes. My garden was a serious place, one of toil and concomitant results. I took pride in my accomplishments there, and never noticed my pride elbowing aside my joy.

During this time, I catalogued gnomes under the heading of “lawn crap”, which includes anything needing moved before mowing the lawn. I naively included gnomes with such vulgarities as lawn butts, those annoying plywood cutouts that, from a distance, are supposed to look like the bending over backside of fat people. But gnomes add a bit of whimsey to a garden. And gardening, being such serious business, needs whimsey. Slip over here for more ...


Creating Currency

Part two of the planned six part series on Free Market Project Management showed up on the Projects@Work site late last week. Follow this link to see this piece.


I finished part four yesterday instead of watching the Superbowl. But then I've never watched a Superbowl. I don't think I've ever actually watched an entire football game. Doesn't hold my attention, doesn't have any currency for me.


WiFi Wars

Interesting piece I came across this week. Compares the battles raging over the right for a community to provide high speed wifi with the monopolists' trying to prevent communities from creating municipal electrical cooperatives a century ago. While the battles rage, of course, Japan is building a universal wifi netword 500 times faster than our fastest. How much longer will we be content to float along behind the technological revolution?

Link follows:



Postcard From the Wedge - London, England

∆ >br>London, England

We were supposed to have a quick lunch meeting with the CIO, but a man three seats in front of us on the plane from Vienna had what appeared to be a heart attack, so our flight made an emergency landing in Frankfurt. Then we had to reclaim our baggage and rebook onto a later flight out of Dusseldorf, so we made a frantic call. Slip over here for more ...


Postcard From The Wedge ∆ - Frankfurt, Germany

∆ >br>Frankfurt, Germany

I was sick. We’d carefully planned the workshop. I was the lead dog. Amy was playing backup.

So I had a responsibility to deliver on my commitment. But just before noon on the third day, feeling as though I had spent the morning trudging through chest-deep snow, I bailed out. Slip over here for more ...


∆ Postcard From The Wedge - Vienna, Austria

Invited to present at the Changing Change Management Conference, our plane arrived an hour late.

I found my driver waiting for me just outside baggage claim. He held a sign, “Dr. (they call me doctor there) David Schmaltz”, so I approached him and identified myself. The man standing next to him held a similar sign, “Dr. (they call Amy doctor, too) Amy Schwab,” and Amy tried to explain that she didn’t need a separate ride. But her driver spoke little English, clarified that she was, indeed, Amy Schwab, took her rollaway, and headed for the garage. My driver and I followed.

We took separate cabs to the same hotel. Amy felt kidnapped.
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Ready or Not

The latest Projects@Work has a piece I wrote on New Orleans' Emergency Preparedness Plan. Take a look here: (Slightly annoying registration required...) http://www.projectsatwork.com/content/Articles/227527.cfm


The Autistic Organization

Earlier this month, Amy and I took True North's Mastering Projects Workshop to Europe. One class, held at the London Chamber of Commerce facility, was booked into a training room next to a room where PRINCE2 certification training was happening. Amy, poking around before we started, came into our room to announce their presence, commenting that their sign said "SPOCE-Successful Projects Operating In Controlled Environments".

"Interesting," I noted, "We're doing a workshop focused upon creating successful projects in uncontrollable environments." We checked with the participants after they arrived to see if we had the right focus, and each said that they worked in an apparently uncontrollable environment. What possible utility, I wondered, would a workshop limiting creating successful projects to controlled environments have in the real world?
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