A Commonplace

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7/10/2017

A Project is Fundamentally a Deceptive and Dishonest Endeavour

Anne wants to do a project. But, of course, Anne doesn't want to do this with her own money. So Anne needs to persuade some other people, let's call them the Board, to give her the money. How does Anne do that? Well maybe Anne convinces the Board that the project will deliver more value than it will cost. How does Anne know this? Well, she doesn't really, she's guessing. And such a case on it's own will probably be seen by the board to be just what it is - a massive gamble. And in such cases, there's probably a good chance the board won't fund it.

So how might Anne give her project a better chance of being backed by the Board? Well, one way that Anne might do that is to overstate the benefits of her project, minimise the costs of her project and understate its risks.

Another way that Anne might make a project attractive is by creating a shining vision around the project. Describing the project using a simple, dazzling and attractive idea, preferrably a slogan. The description of the idea will be so simple, dazzling and attractive that discussions of a detailed account of actual benefits, risks and costs would seem churlish.

There are other things that Anne could do. Maybe Anne's relationship to the Board isn't one of a petitioner going cap-in-hand. Anne might have been networking for years. Maybe Anne has a powerful friends, friends on the board or friends of people on the board. Maybe Anne will be sitting on the board when people on the Board try to get their projects funded.

It could also be that there aren't any better ideas for projects knocking about, and the Board knows it needs to do something.

Many, many projects get funded because they are a combination of all the factors discussed above. Funded projects have vague and overstated benefits, vague and understated costs, obfuscated and unexamined risks. Projects have a simple, shiny, attractive tagline: "get into China"; "dominate the market"'; "The same as the old system but using the latest technology." And projects get funded because of powerplays, patronage and favours owed. Projects get funded because budgets need spending.

But this isn't even half of the story. When Anne gets her project green-lit, it's pay day for a lot of people. A lot of people who have absolutely no incentive to probe the risks, question the value, highlight the costs or chill the warm feeling that everyone gets from the tagline.