Working life has developed into a project culture. Nearly everything we do is framed within a particular project, either self-defined or external. This has clear benefits in that activities are outcome oriented and budget confined. This has so much developed into a culture that teaching and learning also become increasingly project-oriented. I won’t deny that there are benefits, but here are some views on the dangers of project life that we should reflect upon.
(1) Projects create a tunnel vision. Because they are by nature oriented towards clear (tangible) outcomes, continuous focus on the subject is required. This is not necessarily bad, but the dangers are that people lose sight of the things around them. This tunnel vision stifles creativity and works against interdisciplinarity and exploration. If you look at toddlers exploring the world around them, they do not follow a route A-to-B, but explore it in butterfly zig-zag paths. This makes them stumble upon so many interesting things which adults often won’t detect, because their efficiency route calculates the fastest way from start to destination.
(2) Projects are discontinuous. Because they are confined and constrained by various means, i.e. time, budgets, human resources, and goals, projects create a “no man’s land” around them, both horizontally to other simultaneous projects, and vertically to follow-ups. Despite sustainability efforts and expectations, the reality often is that project workers are bounced from one employer to the next. Neither does this lead to building continuous expertise within the organisation or in the connections attached to the project, nor does it produce loyalty of the project workforce. Indeed there is most often the danger that projects are deserted when project contracts near their end.
(3) Projects are finite. Reaching the end of a project produces a sense of achievement. At the same time, it draws an invisible line or demarcation to your next undertaking. The inherent signal of reaching project objectives are that now you can drop the matter for good or at least for a while (“been there – done that”). While this may work for well-confined tasks like painting your garden fence or managing car repair work, it can be seen as standing in the way of lifelong learning in the sense of personal development planning (PDP) or following a chosen path of development.
(4) Projects are not core business. This may be right or not, but there is always the stigma that if you are involved in projects, you are not core to the organisation’s activities (and therefore expendable). This is partly manifested in short term contracts. Since research at universities has increasingly been directed towards projects, there is a clear danger to separate research from teaching altogether.
(5) Projects are inefficient due to extensive monitoring. Projects carry a large unproductive overhead. First of all, they require extra project-specific administration dividing one large pot into dozens of smaller pots that need to be monitored and operated separately, each requiring their own set of processes and support staff. Their extensive and continuous planning, forecasting, reporting, monitoring and control activities produce mountains of paper and a culture of back-covering that stand in no relationship with the task at hand and merely drain resources away from productive work. Additionally, it leads to work ethics that do not display trust in the project team or individuals.
I guess these are not ground-breaking new revelations to most of you, and they shan’t take away from the benefits that project can bring. The biggest risk I see is that projects have developed into a fully-grown education and business culture that may be harmful to individuals (and organisations) planning their lives. Project importance and appropriate use have been blown out of proportions and have been scaled into a way of learning and working that bears the dangers of negatively affecting society by making other parts of people’s lives subordinate to it.