Thursday, April 26, 2012

A. Hamilton on project management

Alexander Hamilton, one of America's founders, could have been one of the original thought leaders behind the governance of project management if he had been born a century and a half or so later.

Hamilton's main governing philosophy can be summed up in this simple idea:

Translated to project governance, Hamilton would have been in favor of a strong program office to set the rules and limitations of behavior, and to set the goals and vision of the larger ideas of the project, but at the same time he would have embraced a vigorous community of "do'ers" competing for the opportunity.

As a governance principle, Hamilton would oppose oversubscribing the powers and limitations of the program office, in the same he objected to the first ten amendments to the US constitution.

Instead of  writing many of the Federalist Papers that interpreted the constitution and gave rationale for many of its provisions, he might have written many of the supporting papers for the PMBOK and other project management standards. Perhaps he would be a modern day blogger.

Philosophically, he would support a professional cadre for project management. He made a distinction between the "consent of the governed" and governed by representatives. He felt that a professional group of governors would be required to master the complexity of a republican government, even as James Madison, another Federalist Papers author was concerned for scale and scalability of such a governance paradigm to a truly geo-distributed team (the States and the federal union)

Indeed, scale was on the mind of many. How do you convey a common culture, a common appreciation for the rule of governance (law), and a coordination of  seemingly independent actions such that there there is synergistic coherence towards the common goals?

In the United States, the importance of scale and integration was first grasped by Lincoln and his treasury secretary Salmon P. Chase as they approached a great war in 1861: the first problem was project funding--there was none. There wasn't even a national currency. So Lincoln and Chase, ever inventive as program managers, invented their own funding: they invented paper money and promised it was backed up by gold (it wasn't by the end of the war).

They invented creditor financing by selling war bonds, and they invented the supply chain on a national scale. They brought in new technologies and applied them to project execution for the first time: railroads for project mobility, and the telegraph for communications, earned value reporting, and marketing.

So, perhaps a rereading of the Federalist Papers as we put the finishing touches on V5 of the PMBOK might do us all a bit of good.

Photo: painting by John Trumbull, 1806

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