By Shawn Patrick Quigley
To start our discussion, we need to define some terms and processes. This will ensure that we are starting our discussion with the same or very similar understandings of what we are attempting to talk about.
• Monitoring and Control Phase: “The Monitoring and Controlling Process Group consists of those processes required to track, review, and orchestrate the progress and performance of a project; identify any areas in which changes to the plan are required; and initiate the corresponding changes.” – A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) Fifth Edition.1 (Rupen Sharma, 2013)
Merriam-Webster defines control as:
- to direct the behavior of (a person or animal): to cause (a person or animal) to do what you want
- to have power over (something)
- to direct the actions or function of (something): to cause (something) to act or function in a certain way. 2
Merriam-Webster defines guide as:
- a person who leads or directs other people on a journey
- a person who shows and explains the interesting things in a place
- a person who helps to direct another person’s behavior, life, career, etc. 3
The premise behind Organizational Learning and Development (OL/OD) is that every member of the team and every situation is an opportunity for development and/or learning of some nature. When you really think about the terms “Control” and “Guide” both conjure up different viewpoints, as their definitions suggest. But how does that relate to project management? The answer is based on those definitions we have read and our understanding of OL/OD and Project Management. If I were to ask you to place the two words (control and guide) beside the terms; pro-active, in-active, and re-active, how would you align them? If you feel both would apply put the one which would be predominate first.
When we apply the principle of control to a situation it commonly produces a vision of a ridged or re-active and forced answer to that situation. However, when we apply the principle of guidance to a situation we envision situation avoidance and/or long-term solutions to a situation that avoidance could not be planned for in the beginning of the project. We pay attention to trends and adjust all along the way rather than some command and control mechanism that drives the adapting. The term guidance also infers a team prospective; Shared Vision, whereas control would infer more of an authoritarian environment. Which is not conducive to a learning organization or fostering a high level of motivation in the personnel involved. Even with all these draw backs to “Control” it is sometimes necessary. The key would be knowing when, where, and how to apply it.
Most times when talking in these terms people say, “This is just semantics”. On the surface it would appear to be so, but when you delve into how people perceive things and how that perception affects the reality of the situation, and how people hear what is being said, then these terms become more than semantics. Some of you are probably thinking that what I think of a situation does not change the situation and if no actions or response is taken you are more than likely right. However, if and action is taken or response is elicited then your perception will shape that response. This concept is basic change management: perceives state vs. actual state vs. desired state. The tension between these three states is what drives an action or response. And very few people see the state of a situation or the desire end point identical, therefore the actions taken could be different because the start and end points are not the same. This is why guidance vice control is more aligned with OL/OD. When guiding a group all their perspectives are shared among the team and a more defined actual and desired state can be developed. This more defined actual state and desire state lends itself to a more veneered plan. This better defined plan allows for more effective response issues that arise within the plan/project due to the better understanding.
If you have questions or wish to exchange ideas on the topic, check out the learning organization discussion board.