Professional standards

Interesting discussion at my current client, about what to call the change management organisation. At the moment they planning to call themselves ‘the Change Practice’, but the desired effect – of being compared with legal, medical an other sorts of professional ‘practice’ – is being undermined by a barrage of ribald jokes about ‘still having to practice’ – exactly the opposite of what was intended.

The difficulty, as far as I can see, is two-fold. On the one hand, the business and IT managers I work with aren’t professionals. They are often good people with a lot of experience, but they have none of the attributes of doctors or lawyers. There are few qualifications, and none of any real substance.

  • In the UK a doctor trains for five years and must be formally qualified to a very high standard before they are permitted to treat people independently, but how many weeks does it take a modestly experienced manager to master Scrum or Lean (or Prince2 for that matter)?
  • Nor are they (in the case of most ‘#certifications’) required to demonstrate practical skill and extended experience as well as formal knowledge.
  • There are no standards they must meet – not even the correct implementation of the approach in which they are nominally qualified!
  • Nor – perhaps most crucially of all – are they obliged to join professional bodies exercising legal powers to strike them off the list of authorised practitioners if they aren’t competent or are guilty of malpractice.

As for the values to which a manager is subject, there aren’t any.

  • Yes, of course, individuals have values, but their only obligation is to do the job well enough not to get fired. No professional ethics apart from the ones they choose to apply themselves, and absolutely none that transcend the interests of their employers.
  • And their employers in turn are under no obligation or constraint whatsoever to respect their managers’ professional standards or concerns.
  • And last but by no means least, the quality and performance standards to which real professionals – especially lawyers, doctors and nurses – are held simply do no apply. Just imagine the state we’d all be in if the average doctor had as many failures and complications as the average project or programme manager!

This situation is not helped by the fact that the businesses selling our services seem to be under the impression that selling something vigorously enough will somehow make the almost certainly false message that we will do an excellent, professional job true. We know the statistics for failed projects. the fact that our customers do too is no excuse. Likewise, the discussion that provoked this this article included a very senior member of the executive insisting that we could not call ourselves change ‘management’ because they wanted the name to convey not just management but also professionalism and leadership. But were they doing anything to empower their managers to lead? No. Were they inculcating real professionalism? No. They liked the sound of these words but, having no real idea what they mean, thought that simply reciting them enough would somehow make them come true.

It’s tempting to reply that we are not like other professionals, at least in the sense that the damage we could do is hardly on the same scale. No child will be deterred from a life of curiosity and self-development just because a programme goes over budget. No one will go to jail (though often I think someone should – for fraud, if nothing else). No one will die because users aren’t happy with the deliverable and the business is fuming. And that’s perfectly true. But two things will have happened. We will have squandered money and resources that could have been put to socially valuable use. It comes to billions – billions and billions! – every year. And we will have wasted the time – across a lifetime, many years in total – of other people. Maybe hundreds or thousands of them. No, the fact that they all got paid for their time isn’t excuse enough: no doctor who had amputated the wrong leg would say that it was OK because the patient was adequately compensated. Or if they did, they would quickly be disciplined or even thrown out of the profession.

So managers are not professionals. Is there any prospect that they could be? In the public sector, perhaps, though mass outsourcing of public services and the erosion of an independent civil service under the influence of ‘special political advisers’ and consultants of various kinds makes that hard to imagine. As for business, absolutely no prospect at all. Their personnel are simply themselves too in thrall to the latest management fad and the narrow interests, priorities and outrageously anti-professional powers of the businesses they work for.

This must seem very cynical, not to mention downright insulting to many capable and conscientious managers who work long hours to deliver on their (often forced) promises. But I would like to think that I am one of those managers, and yet still I am very conscious that I am, by the standards of the professionals to whom I owe my children’s education, on more than one occasion my life and (hopefully it will not come to it) the integrity of the legal and political systems on which my and their – and your – futures depend.

We need true professionalisation – not just for the sake of our clients and the long term interests of our employers, but for the sake of our own consciences.


By |2018-04-12T23:03:57+00:00Wednesday, May 11 2011|Categories: All, Empowerment, Language, Principles, Skills, Thought leadership|0 Comments

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