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Proof and the PMBOK?/STRONG>

The role of science in Project Management



What level of proof do you require in the PMBOK?guide to manage projects?


The PMBOK?guide 3rd Edition has 44 processes providing a framework or roadmap to tackle most projects. Each step of the roadmap is supported by Tools and Techniques (T&T) that require a mix of hard and soft skills for implementation.


Section 1.5.3 of the PMBOK?guide suggests the need for an understanding of the project environment and in particular Section 1.5.5 mentions the need for effective communication, influencing the organization, leadership, motivation, negotiation, conflict management and problem solving.


The measurement, teaching and coaching of these soft skill requirements are themselves based on various external, methods and theories. The basis for many of these theories was developed in the middle of the last century, often heavily influenced by Freudian (blank slate) or Skinner (Skinner box) psychology. It is important in the development of our profession that we continuously reevaluate these theories and methods in the light of the most recent knowledge available.


In 2003 the Human Genome Project finally managed to sequence the genes of a single human – all 30,000 of them.  This has led to a dam-burst of genetic discovery and reevaluation, highlighted in the move of these topics from the science pages to the main pages of the national papers. These discoveries include revelations on our understanding of our behaviour both as individuals and as team members.


It was Churchill (after the famous ‘we will fight them on the beaches’) who wrote ‘ I have no need of cheering dreams, I have facts’. He had developed the bureau of statistics too look behind the emotional newsgathering. Do we have a similar ‘bureau of facts’ to assist the soft skills.


Carl Sagan when asked to give his gut feeling replied ‘ I try not to think with my gut’. Many of us however still do soft skills work from the gut.


As PMP’s we need to be sure that the T&T’s that we rely on to support the PMBOK?guide framework are based on sound scientific principles or at least supported by scientific thinking. This brings to mind the story of the alternative proofs!


‘A physicist, a scientist and a mathematician were traveling in Scotland and saw a black sheep in the distance. “Ah” says the physicist “all sheep in Scotland are black”. “Oh I beg to differ,” said the scientist “some sheep in Scotland are black”. “Oh really”’ said the mathematician “to my observation, in Scotland, there is one sheep of which one side is black”.


This is the first in a series of papers to look into this matter as well as others that affect our performance including:

  • The interplay between Instinct, Belief and Science. (IBS)
  • A re-analysis of familiar management theories
  • The role of suspicion in the project environment
  • The role of empathy and systems in the PMBOK guide

  The papers will consider management theories including Belbin, Myers Briggs, McCelland and well as PMBOK T&T’s communications, motivation, conflict resolution and others. The papers are based on the writings of scientists like Dawkins, Dunbar, Winston, Ackerman, Ridley and others as well as management writers including Collins, Goleman, Brown and others.


Finally a counterbalance to this purely scientific approach from Graham Green, actually Scobie – in the ‘Heart of the Matter’ – “ The truth he thought has never been of any real value to any human being – it is a symbol for mathematicians and philosophers to pursue – in human relations kindness and ties are worth a thousand truths”


I will endeavor to balance the pursuit of scientific truth with the need for kindness and ties in this re – evaluation.



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