What ever happened to #NoProjects? – post-projects

“I’m frankly amazed at how far the #NoProjects throwaway Twitter comment travelled. But even today, in the bank where I work, the same problems caused by project-oriented approach to software are manifest as the problems I saw at xxxx xxx years ago.” Joshua Arnold

Once upon a time, 2 or 3 years back, #NoProjects was a hot topic – so hot it was frequently in flames on Twitter. For many of the #NoProjects critics it was little different from #NoEstimates. It sometimes felt that to mention either on Twitter was like pulling the pin and tossing a hand grenade into a room.

I never blocked anyone but I did mentally tune out several of those critics and ignore their messages. However I should say thank you to them, in the early days they did help flesh out the argument. In the later days were a great source of publicity. If we wanted to publicise an event one only had to add #NoProjects to a tweet and stand back.

And now?

There are at least 3 books on the subject: #NoProjects by Evan Laybourn and Shane Hastie, Live happily ever after without Projects by Dimitri Favre and my own Project Myopia, plus the companion Continuous Digital. (You can get Project Myopia for free by signing up to the email version of this blog.)

The hashtag still gets used but far less often, the critics have fallen back and rarely give battle and as I’ve said before #NoProjects won. But, as a recent conversation on the old #NoProject Slack channel asked: why do we still have projects? why does nobody activity say they do #NoProjects?

In part that is because No doesn’t tell you what to do, it tells you what not to do, so what do you do?

In retrospect we didn’t have the language to express what we were trying to say, over time with the idea floating around we found that language: Outcome oriented, Teams over Projects, Products over projects, Product centric, Stable teams and similar expressions all convey the same idea: its not about doing a project, its not even about doing agile, it is about creating sustainable outcomes and business advantage.

The same thinking is embedded in AgendaShift, “The Spotify Model”, SAFe and other frameworks. These are continuity models rather than the stop-go project model. One might call all these ideas and models post-project thinking.

In many ways the hashtag died because we found better, and less confrontational, language to express ourselves.

There was a growing, if implicit, understanding that this is digital not IT, it is about digital business, and that means continuity. The project model of IT is dead.

Which begs the question: why aren’t these approaches more widespread?

The thinking is there, the argument has been made against projects and for alternative models, and you would be hard pressed to find a significant advocate of agile who would argue differently but companies are still, overwhelmingly, project oriented.

When I’m being cynical I’d say, like agile, it is a generational thing. The current generation of leaders – or at least those in positions of management authority – built their success on delivering IT projects. Only as this generation relinquishes leadership will things change.

Optimistically I remember what science fiction author William Gibson once said:

“The future is here, its just unevenly spread around”

For digital start-ups this isn’t an issue: they are born post-project, they create digital products, the business and technology are inseparable. The project model is counter to their DNA.

Some legacy companies have consciously gone post-project and are recognising the benefits: the capitalist model suggests these early movers and risk takers – will gain the most. Other legacy companies have adopted parts of the continuous model but cling to the project model too, some will make the full jump, some, most?, will fall back.

Unfortunately Covid, the hang over of bail-outs from the 2007-8 financial crash and failure to break up monopolies (Google, Facebook, Amazon specifically) mean capitalism is not exerting its usual Darwinian force.

Projects will exist for a long time yet, #NoProjects will continue small scale disruption but in the long term the post-project organizations will win out. Hopefully I’ll be alive to see it but I have no illusion, the rest of my career will be spent undoing the damage the project model does.

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