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How many people would recognize the name Malcolm Gladwell if I told them?
He has written bestselling books such as Tipping Point, Blink and Outliers, What the Dog Saw and David and Goliath. He is also an author of the same genre that Dan Ariely and Charles Duhigg (all authors whom I highly recommend).
This article is inspired by the book “Blink”, which discusses how people make quick decisions. A portion of the theory behind “Blink” comes from “Gut Feelings1”, and it was while reading this book that my favorite analogy about how to make project management work within an organisation was created.
“Just like one cannot see how scissors are cut by looking at one blade, one can’t understand human behaviour by studying cognition and the environment alone.”
This is a reminder that understanding human behaviour requires more than just understanding how it works and how it interacts with its environment. It is the interaction of the two blades that makes scissors distinctive (see left-hand image).

This has nothing to do with project management. It is important to understand how project management knowledge interacts to your organisational environment in order to make project managing work for an organisation.
You’ll learn about the typical roles of a project manager on any course in project management. However, I have not met an organization that implements these roles as it is written in the book. To properly implement project governance, you need to understand the structure of the organisation in which the project will operate. The levels of decision-making and authority will differ in the financial sector from the public sector.
PM Knowledge is understanding the role of the Sponsor, Project Manager, Senior Users, etc., while Organisational Environment is your company and industry. These are not enough to make project management work. It’s the interaction of knowledge and the organization that matters.
I will now rephrase the above statement:
“Just like one cannot understand how scissors are cut by looking at one blade, one can’t understand project management if they don’t have knowledge of the subject and the environment.”
Last year, I spoke about this analogy at conference and was asked the very valid question: “How much does a manager need technical knowledge of the project?” IT, Construction, Health to manage IT, Construction, Health projects. However, my discussion above does not mention any technical understanding of project managers.
I started my career as a project manager in the automotive industry. I can confidently say that I don’t know anything about cars. To manage projects in this industry, did I need to be able to understand engines and powertrains? My opinion is no. I am currently running a software project and receive communications from the supplier regarding some very specific technical details.
These technical details are not my forte (ask any member of my team). I think I am a conscious incompetent. My team includes people with technical knowledge and I work with them. I like to think that I have some knowledge about project management and how my organisation works – the two sides of the scissors. I know the technical details.
Another way to think about it is, could you give me the opportunity to be a project manager within your organization? This is a question that I often ask organisations when discussing the analogy. Over