Making a difference. It’s often the catchcry of the young. It speaks of gap years and building schools in Bolivia. It is behind political rallies and long conversations involving bad wine and as many undergraduate philosophers as you can find. The more cynical among us close our eyes to stop them rolling out of our heads.
Let’s take away the charity, then. Let’s take away the student politics and the unbridled optimism of youth. Surprisingly, it doesn’t leave you with hardened pessimism or rampant bitterness. It leaves you with capitalism, yes, but also disciplined social enterprise.
In The End of Charity (2008), author Nic Frances writes in his opening chapter: “We need to move beyond notions of charity and welfare, beyond do-gooding and guilt, to a system that recognises complexity of our values and a realistic understanding of how we can support them.”
That sounds like a job for project management to me. I was thinking about how we ensure projects are an extension of organisational strategy, which led me to recognise all the different kinds of organisations that are out there which should have a strategy. If all those organisations were doing project management right, their business cases would make a difference to the organisation. We do projects to improve the sustainability of our organisations, after all, that’s what sets project management apart from operations.
The organisation needs to look different at the end of a project to call it success. Even if all you’ve done is mitigate a threat to be able to maintain the status quo, if you’ve done your job well the organisation should be able to experience palpable relief. Other projects may well bring more obvious forms of change.
So if your project, and you in your project, are not making a difference, what are you doing?