Saturday, December 12, 2009

Ancient discovery of agile PM from 2600BC?

In Dahshur, Egypt, you will find one of the most interesting of all of the (already interesting) pyramids. It's called the "Bent Pyramid", and it was built for a king named Sneferu (pictured below).

What's interesting about this particular pyramid is that its slope suddenly and dramatically changes from 52 degrees to a much lower slope of about 43 degrees, about halfway up the height of the pyramid.


What happened?

Two theories abound, both of which are definitely all about our profession and discipline.

Theory 1 says that there were collapses and problems (risk triggers and risk occurrences) that indicated the slope was too steep for the materials they were using so the design was changed on the fly to the softer slope.

Theory 2 says that the death of the pharaoh was more imminent than originally expected (schedule pull-up) and they needed to finish more quickly.

Either way, the project engineers were dealing with another pyramid of sorts, or at least a triangle - the ancient triple constraint. This has fallen from favor in the PMBOK(R) Guide, replaced on page 6 with a listing of Scope, Quality, Schedule, Budget, Resources, and Risk, but however you look at it, the project manager adapted and showed his or her agility with the change in slope midway through the project.

Today, much is being made of agile PM, mainly in the area of software development. To some PMs, agile seems like a pyramid scheme (sorry for that lame reference, but I simply had to do it); to others, it is the new way and the only way to do things.

The PMBOK(R) guide does not feature agile PM techniques per se - it does not even show up in the index. However some authors and speakers have done some excellent work on how agile PM can be linked to the PMBOK(R) Guide. Check out this site, from Michele Sliger of Sliger Consulting, it's loaded with some great presentations on the subject.

To me, and this posting, it's really just a reminder of how proud and ancient our job is. As evidenced here, we've been dealing with change requests for thousands and thousands of years.

Now for those of you who have been following ScopeCrepe from its ancient beginnings, you know this isn't my first posting about pyramids, nor will it be the last.

If the idea of pyramids intrigues you, you may want to go back to Akapalah Pyramids, now a classic, for sure, and read that one!


Andrew Meyer said...


fascinating reframing of pyramid building. I would ask you to consider the possible cause, because that might be interesting.

One bit of background information I would like to add. People frequently view pyramid building or cathedral building as monuments to the leader/church/someones ego. What if they were actually public works projects? i.e. when the economy is good, you slow down working on the pyramid because labor needs to be focused on farming, trade, wars etc. When the economy goes into the doldrums and unemployment starts rising, the government, church etc., "invests" their taxes in public works projects.

My main contention is that pyramids were public works projects intended to decrease unemployment, because people sitting around with nothing to do but grumble about how tough they are having it, leads to trouble.

Now, if pyramids were a public works/government make-work project, then changing the slope, effort, duration, etc. may make a lot of sense. If at one time it's important to go slowly, at another time it's important to speed up.

In this way, agile may have been an initial project management approach and provided economic flexibility in times of change.

Love your stuff and hope to have a reason to chat with you again soon,


PM2PM said...

Rich -

Just came upon your blog. Like your style and the historical references.

Reminds me of the presentation about the brief for the Sistine Chapel that has made the rounds in the marketing and advertising world where I work.

Keep it up.

- Jeff

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