Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Subsidiarity Principle

What does the Catholic church have to do with project management? Well, do you remember the encyclical “Rerum Novarum” of 1891 by Pope Leo XIII? If not, then to make a quick point, among other things, it postulated the concept of subsidiary function, also called subsidiarity, to differentiate responsibilities between the Vatican and other units of the church. However, the idea has spread far and wide and is embraced in modern business thinking and progressive project management--like agile methods.

In a word, what it means is push things down: more importantly, don't interfere with subordinates. Have faith they know what they are doing, and more likely they will do the right thing.

There are rights and responsibilities that come with this principle. The central authority has a right to expect responsible behavior of its subordinate, but retains thea right to verify performance— – to trust, but with verification— – and intervene to impose corrective action.

The subordinate unit has a right to expect a degree of autonomy, with reasonable inspection and verification, so long as the subordinate acts responsibly. The subordinate has a responsibility to act in its own interests and in the interests of the central authority, taking care to not over- optimize at a low level.

When the principle of subsidiary function principle is extended to project planning, the first planning criteria is that plans should not be unnecessarily obtrusive; in particular, an agile plan should not direct, prescribe, or otherwise limit maneuverability and activity beyond the establishment of acceptable norms and conventions.

In other words, planning is to be done by the most competent and responsible decentralized project unit that is competent and responsible.

For progressives, it's not hard to buy into subsidiarity!

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1 comment:

  1. The key is here "as long as the subordinate acts responsibly". Unless you're managing a team of stars, this quite often isn't the case. Micromanagement is quite bad, but leaving them on their own, you'll end up with a team on Facebook or watching YouTube.

    The best way to manage a team IMO is something in between, which is the MBWA (I've published an excellent article about it recently: http://www.pmhut.com/management-by-wandering-around-mbwa ).

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