Dogmatism In Project Management

Dogmatism: the tendency to lay down principles as incontrovertibly true, without consideration of evidence or the opinions of others.

Dogmatism has been frequently criticized in software development, but I have noticed that project managers can be guilty of this thinking as well. Agencies or groups can have their own level of dogmatic thinking around tools, languages, processes or systems. However, I think it is unwise for project managers to only acknowledge their current group’s preferred processes or tools as the one gold standard. This thinking has a couple key limitations:

  1. Limits Client Solutions
    By only championing certain solutions or approaches, project managers are limited in their ability to best advise their clients on strategic decisions. It is better to help clients make the best decisions to achieve their goals, rather than have only promoting ideas that reduce your own team’s friction on a project.
  2. Limits Career Growth & Advancement
    Combining broad industry knowledge and experience with multiple project management methods will better serve career growth. Dogmatic approaches do not allow someone to build the valuable diversity of experience that can transfer to other roles or workplaces. I think the famous quote by philosopher John Stuart Mill perfectly sums up the limitations of dogmatic thinking: “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.”

Expanding Our Thinking

When I hear dogmatic recommendations, I often feel it reflects inexperience. Ryan Briones offers a thoughtful case for an appropriate time for dogmatism for beginners learning a new skill. With this lesson in mind, my challenge would be to go ahead and be dogmatic for a time – become an expert in the tools and processes of your current group uses. These methods and tools were likely chosen for good reason and may well represent the best solutions for most clients.

But, don’t stay there for too long.

Keep a flexible mind and learn different methods and tools so you can speak fluidly about the pros and cons of several solutions. Then, move beyond your immediate group and into broader knowledge so you can offer more valuable insights and continue to grow as a project manager.

A Lesson From Baseball

I learned my first lesson in avoiding dogmatism through junior high sports. My dad, a baseball coach, often tested his new ideas for coaching drills with his own kids first. His favorite drill was a specific hitting technique that we had to practice at baseball tees endlessly until it became muscle memory.

One year, my softball team had a new coach who taught his own hitting technique from his days as a minor league baseball player. I was completely resistant to learning this “inferior” method as well as pretty frustrated at the difficulty of changing up my usual method. After one practice, I complained to my dad about this unfair requirement and how this new method was corrupting the one correct way I had already learned. Thinking he would be as infuriated as me, I was quite surprised by his answer:

“Honey, there are lots of different right ways to hit a baseball. I taught you one method, but there are lots of different ones. Let’s go watch the swings of professional players on TV – I bet many of them use their own unique style or even swing “wrong” and still hit home runs. Those people are being paid millions because of their results, not because of following a method.”

 

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