This is a reprint of a post I wrote in 2009
As anyone who has read Howard Zinn’s Peoples History of the United States will tell you, there’s always a different way to view our history. For example, on a recent trip to Mount Vernon, I found out that George Washington died of a disease that slowly constricted his throat until he couldn’t breathe; in effect, he strangled to death.That still gives me the chills.
Anyway – since we are celebrating our national birthday on July 4, I thought it appropriate to think about how this country almost never came into being; through my rose colored Project Management glasses.
Ok so its 1787. Lets say that George Washington is the Project Manager for the ‘Create the United States’ project.In theory, George should be happy. After all, the project:
- Had a clear vision and deliverables (Just for fun I created a Project Charter based off the Declaration of Independence)
- Managed to mitigate some serious risk like losing the war and getting hanged.
- Achieved its key deliverable, free and Independent colonies with a centralized government
- Established ongoing change management process formalized in the Congress and the Articles of Confederation
And everyone was free to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Right?
Wrong. The reality on the ground was:
- The national legislature, wandered aimlessly about the country, with no permanent home.Didn’t matter, cause barely any representatives attended.
- States were bankrupt
- Trade was dwindling
- New England was thinking of forming its own country
- Revolutionary war vets were donning their old uniforms and threatening to take over the government of Massachusetts.
Clearly, something wasn’t right.The initial set of requirements for the ‘Create the United States’ project were called the Articles of Confederation. And the Articles were failing; what was built wasn’t meeting the mark.The utopia envisioned in the project charter was a distant possibility, not a daily reality.
I just finished watching Andre Augusto Choma’s most excellent presentation at the PMI EMEA conference in May of this year where he lays out the Top 10 Ways to Kill a Project. Number 1 is to Have a Vague Scope and number 2 is to Never Revisit the Scope.
I would argue that the Declaration of Independence was fairly vague when it came to how newly Free and Independent states would relate to each other. Of course, there was pressure to act quickly so I imagine that a modern day PMP would attempt to raise the issue at the signing, probably would have gotten shot down and therefore would add a risk to the risk register something like:
Create United States Project Risks
Structure of Government and Interrelationships Between Governments Has Not Been Determined.
Lack of Clarity Around Future State Executive Decisioning.
And in fact the Articles of Confederation tried to deal with these issues, but produced a set or rules, rather than a mechanism for creating rules.
Further, lost in the Articles was the clear vision of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, the protection of which is implied but not clearly spelled out in the Declaration of Independence.
Knowing this, Washington called for time out.The project scope needed to be revisited.And the whole change management board (CCB aka The Congress) had to decide and approve a change, unanimously and collaboratively. In effect, the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was a really one massive CCB in response to one massive scope change request.
Sometimes Project Managers have to force the conversation, to shed the light on a problem and keep it on until the problem is fixed. Project Managers need to have the courage to be the force for change, and sometimes, to be the whistleblower. I’ve advocated for vision keepers in another post on this blog, and I would say that George Washington’s courage and actions during 1787 is the physical manifestation and examplar of that vision.
Seriously, let’s think about the ‘what if’. What if Washington took the CYA route on this one.He would’ve sounded something like this:
“Hey, you know, I didn’t sign the Project Charter or the Requirements Document, so I’m off hook here. I’m going to catch some fish.”
I digress…Here’s how the CCB changed the scope:
- The United States would not be considered a ‘league of states’.Rather the United States would be considered a ‘Union.’
- Power would be centralized in a strong executive, a central Supreme Court, and a centralized legislature with a permanent home.
- The centralized power would be limited by a series of checks and balances.
In effect, the old requirements were scrapped and new set, called ‘The Constitution’, were written.The original intent about life, liberty, defense, pursuit of happiness from the Project Charter was still there. But tellingly, the most important new requirement became the first sentence of the new requirements document.
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
And the rest, as they say, is history. Thank God George Washington tenaciously mitigated for project risk. Thank God a solid CCB was in place to skillfully and honestly manage scope change requests.And Thank God for Rule of Law.
Have a great holiday.
“Create the United States’ Project Documentation