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The Iron Law of Bureaucracy versus ICAgile

AgileI was listening to This Week in Tech #264  and one of the guests was Jerry Pournelle. Though it’s not necessary to go into the details of the NetCast, Jerry said something that had me scrambling for the rewind button.  He referred to his Iron Law of Bureaucracy.

(Jerry) Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. One example in education would be teachers who work and sacrifice to teach children, versus union representatives who work to protect any teacher (including the most incompetent). The Iron Law states that in ALL cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions.

I then watched a Ted Talk titled The Child-Driven Education.  There were three statements by Sugata Mitra that I want to reference.

  1. Self-organizing system: Is where the system structure appears without explicit intervention from outside the system.
  2. Emergence: The appearance of a property not previously observed as a functional characteristic of the system.
  3. Speculation: Education is a self-organizing system, where learning is an emergent phenomenon.

So, what does this have to do with Project Management?  The organizational machine that is the Project Management certification ecosystem has become that second group Jerry Pournelle identifies.  There is now an entire industry dedicated to certifying people and keeping them certified, including the most incompetent. There is no focus on educating people in best practices, delivering value to customers, or increasing project success rates.

On the other end of the spectrum are the visionaries, the mentors, and coaches.  This is where I make my speculation.

Keep your eyes on the International Consortium of Agile (ICAgile).  At ICAgile, the certification path is divided into three main phases; a Fundamentals Phase, a Focus Track Phase, and a Certification Phase.  It’s not all about getting certifications.  It’s about educating and learning.  In the Fundamentals Phase, the goal is to educate the attendee with the values, principles and basic practices of Agile.  Having garnered the fundamentals of agile in the first phase, The Focus Track Development phase will have different tracks to choose from.  This will allow people to focus being educated in different functional areas like Project Management, Business Analysis, and Testing. Only after completing the courses in a focus track, will the applicant is eligible for the ICAgile “Professional” certificate.

I’m very bullish on ICAgile educating and people learning.

Being Agile is self-organizing by nature, does ICAgile have the unique opportunity to prove the Iron Law of Bureaucracy wrong?

Graphic: Pictofigo

About Derek Huether

I'm Vice President of Enterprise Engagements at LeadingAgile. I'm super focused on results. But I also take the hand waving out of organizational transformations. I come from a traditional PM background but I don't give points for stuff done behind the scenes. The only thing that counts is what you get done and delivered. Author of Zombie Project Management (available on Amazon)

5 Responses to “The Iron Law of Bureaucracy versus ICAgile”

  1. Jeff Clark
    September 8, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    Thanks for the article, very interesting. I had not heard of the iron law before, but I can see where that could happen in an organization. I would argue that some reorganizations or new hires disrupt that inevitability. Hope you’re right about ICAgile.

    • Derek Huether
      September 8, 2010 at 3:30 pm

      Jeff, I will admit, I had not heard of Jerry until I listened to the NetCast. I love listening to Leo Laporte and the TWiT gang. I usually get something useful out of every episode. It certainly caught my attention! The other part is from the latest episode from the TED Talk series.

      This mashup was brought to you today by my long commute. Given enough time, I can think of some way to combine anything.

  2. Jeff Clark
    September 8, 2010 at 8:06 am

    Thanks for the article, very interesting. I had not heard of the iron law before, but I can see where that could happen in an organization. I would argue that some reorganizations or new hires disrupt that inevitability. Hope you’re right about ICAgile.

    • Derek Huether
      September 8, 2010 at 8:30 am

      Jeff, I will admit, I had not heard of Jerry until I listened to the NetCast. I love listening to Leo Laporte and the TWiT gang. I usually get something useful out of every episode. It certainly caught my attention! The other part is from the latest episode from the TED Talk series.

      This mashup was brought to you today by my long commute. Given enough time, I can think of some way to combine anything.

  3. December 1, 2010 at 1:22 am

    Does ICAgile have the unique opportunity to prove the Iron Law of Bureaucracy wrong? Every organization has that unique opportunity. The opportunity is unique, because, in the end, the Iron Law of Bureaucracy (which could be considered as an adjunct to Gresham’s/Copernicus’/Oresme’s/Aristophanes’ Law), like the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, wins.

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