Adam on Projects (Volume 2)

Section Index

Click on the links below to jump to a summary of the axioms in each section.

On Execution

Project “execution” refers to all activities you perform to prosecute the project goals, and it’s “how” you go about things in a project, regardless of the “what” you may be doing.


  • # 63. Realisation of a Shared Vision - A shared vision is the only mandatory element of any project; everything else is optional.
  • # 64. Sequential is not a dirty word! - 'Sequential' is not a dirty word!
  • # 65. Do people care how you do things? - People always have an opinion about how you do something, even if they say they don't or say nothing.
  • # 66. Don't assign tasks and actions. - Don't assign tasks and actions: Assign deliverables.
  • # 67. The organisational tax on excellence - Imposed constraints on project teams are an organisational tax on excellence.
  • # 68. Why do "cargo cult" projects still happen? - The "cargo cult" virus infects all management structures.
  • # 69. Keep working the edge! - For continuous and sustainable improvement over time, keep working the edge.
  • # 70. The last thing any project needs in a crisis is a new idea. - In a crisis, the last thing you need is a new idea!
  • # 71. Fred Brooks was 100% correct in 1975—now, I'm not sure. - If you're going to break the law, break Brooks's Law.
  • # 72. When people add toolsets to a project. - A toolset cannot plug a gap in knowledge, data or experience.
  • # 73. Last Responsible moment. - The "Last responsible moment" may have been last week!
  • # 74. Creativity is not about thinking outside the box. - Forget thinking outside the box - true innovation lies where there is no box!
  • # 75. Do the needful in your project, and not much more. - Do only the needful in your project, as and when required.

On Budgeting and Estimation

Budgeting and Estimation are fundamental skills for a project manager, but they go far beyond arithmetic and spreadsheets. Money is used as a proxy for many other aspects of a project not because the project manager has to manage the cost, but because the process of quantification drives analysis.


  • # 76. Get your money fights in early. - You'll always have fights about the budget you want, so get those fights in upfront.
    # 77. Budget padding is an art.
    - Budget padding is a necessary evil, so get good at it.

On Communication

Communication is fundamental to all human activity. Effective communication in projects is the subject of much writing and discussion and much time spent by project managers or “communications processes”.


  • # 78. Project knowledge—we've got both kinds! - Knowledge is either 'in the mind' or 'in the world'; only knowledge 'in the world' can bind a team.
  • # 79. Never interact without an artifact! - Never interact without an artifact!
  • # 80. There are no bad documents. - There are no bad documents, only bad knowledge management.
  • # 81. There are only two kinds of project documents. - There are only two kinds of project documents: blueprints and records.
  • # 82. Meeting waste on communications is constant. - The time wasted at the start of each meeting is constant and technology independent.
  • # 83. Never believe your project bullshit! - Never believe your own project bullshit.
  • # 84. "TL;DR" just doesn't cut it! - TL;DR doesn't cut it in projects.
  • # 85. Never make an animated version of your product! - Never make an animated version of your product because reality will never live up to expectations.

On Value

The concept of “value” is widely misunderstood in projects—to the point where it’s meaningless.


  • # 86. Projects do not "deliver value". - Forget "delivering value" - projects deliver things and a bill; value is created by what the project enables.

On Process and Tools

Based on the training and literature related to most project approaches, processes and tools appear to be the core of project management, but this is not the case.


  • # 87. A project doesn't need a XXXX Process. - Don't mistake a need for a project management outcome with any particular process or system.
  • # 88. The evils of premature optimisation impact projects too. - Every aspect of project management is harmed by premature optimisation.
  • # 89. WBSs are not what you think they are. - WBS and PBS go together like Formula 1 engine parts, except when misunderstood or misused, which is often.
  • # 90. Change your thinking about deliverables! - A deliverable is something to be consumed, not produced.
  • # 91. Forget all about the S-Curve! - Forget all about the S-Curve! It just makes projects late.

On Resourcing

In most project management contexts, ”Resourcing ” refers to human resources, i.e., people. I hate the term “resources” when applied to people—“people” is just fine with me.


  • # 92. What are your hiring criteria? - Hire people primarily for their ability to interact successfully with team members and stakeholders.
  • # 93. Usually, it's easier to manage the vacancy. - It's easier to manage a vacancy than to onboard the wrong person.
  • # 94. The scarcest project resource. - Often the scarcest resource in a project is the accurate and current knowledge of how the \"as-is\" solution works.
  • # 95. The worst-performing investment. - The worst-performing investment is the relentless and mindless focus on reducing office accommodation costs.

On Methodology

Most project managers spend more time thinking about methodology than any other aspect of their job. But this is a mistake. Let’s see how.


  • # 96. The methodology paradox. - When you know enough to use a methodology properly, efficiently, and elegantly, you no longer need it.
  • # 97. What if there never was a "Waterfall"? - "Waterfall" is a complete myth as an implementation lifecycle—so don't use it.
  • # 98. A methodology is one big lump! - A methodology is one big lump you have to swallow whole!
  • # 99. The mark of an incompetent PM. - Only incompetent project managers argue about methodology independent of a specific project.

On Vendors and Procurement

Procurement of supplies from external vendors can be a large part of a project, especially a Systems Integration project.


  • # 100. The secret to managing vendor negotiations. - You don't always get what you pay for, but you rarely get what you don't pay for.
  • # 101. Do you think your vendor's interests and yours are aligned? - Your vendor's interests and yours are only 100% aligned at those fleeting instants when an invoice is paid.
  • # 102. Vendor alignment and quality reference test. - When everything your vendor says translates to "I want more money!" then find another vendor.
  • # 103. Sometimes, your vendor has your balls in the bank. - Be very clear whether your vendor has your balls in the bank or the other way around.
  • # 104. That partnership your vendor keeps mentioning? - If your vendor keeps talking partnership but has nothing at risk, you're just buying stuff.
  • # 105. How does your vendor spell "Global Support"? - For most software vendors, "Global Support" is spelled "Y-O-Y-O".
  • # 106. SLAs are supposed to define acceptable behaviour. - SLAs degrade over time until they define unacceptable behaviour as acceptable!

On Change

“Change” is as inevitable in a project as people breathing air and extracting oxygen. If everything evolves, everything changes - all the time. But what kind of change affects projects the worst, and what can we do about it?


  • # 107. What is the primary source of change in a project? - Sloppy evolution is the most significant source of change in any project.
  • # 108. Just because agile welcomes change.Just because agile welcomes change doesn't mean that change is impact-free.
  • # 109. Change and Mr Creosote. - Every change you absorb in your project could be that "wafer-thin after-dinner mint" forced into Mr Creosote.

On Management

“Management” in this book refers to the process that a project manager executes in a general sense rather than any specific project management process or technique.


  • # 110. Are you still using "Work" to plan or manage projects? - Planning, controlling and measuring "work" is a spectacularly lousy foundation for managing any project.
  • # 111. You fell in love with the project, didn't you? - You can fall in love with the project, but the project doesn't fall in love with you.
  • # 112. A nasty little aphorism that misleads. - Truly great project managers (and people) can do, teach, create learning materials, and create new concepts.
  • # 113. What is your approach to documentation? - You'll know how a person thinks about projects by how they approach documentation.

On Context

The context of a project is the environment within which the project is established. Typically, it refers to the organisational structure that spawns and funds the project. But “context” could equally be social, religious, political, technological or even global.


  • # 114. Dematerialisation is eating your project! - Dematerialisation is eating your project.

On Deadlines

A “deadline” is a point in time by which certain things are supposed to happen.


  • # 115. When you're approaching a deadline. - When that deadline looms, stay calm, prioritise ruthlessly, and keep working on the highest-priority problem.
  • # 116. What's wrong with having Deadlines? - Smart Deadlines are really smart.
  • # 117. The kind of project you never sign up for. - Never sign up for any project that involves a significant sporting event or deadline.

On Motivation

Why do people do things? Why do they work on projects? Why do they work to achieve deadlines? And why do people take on greater responsibilities?


  • # 118. There are only two reasons people follow a rule. - People obey a rule, follow a process or use a tool for only three reasons: one is useless.