For the humorless, I confirm that this has been written with tongue-in-cheek

Published here June 2010


Musings Index

Cockup Management

Some people know that, with the help of a large number of members of the Project Management Institute ("PMI"), I was responsible for orchestrating, facilitating and producing the first comprehensive listing of the project management body of knowledge. To this document, I gave the short-form name: "PMBOK". This PMBOK record also included a new idea - the concept of project risk management. As a result of all this early effort, a whole new consulting industry has since evolved. This development satisfies the need to provide training for project managers seeking certification in the knowledge and processes represented by the PMBOK in general, and project risk management in particular.

Indeed, even the PMBOK itself has come to undergo several upgrades, like the software with which we are so familiar that gets up graded on a regular cycle as much to generate revenue as it is to generate real improvements. Even the book industry has benefitted. At the time of the original PMBOK there were two published books only: Managing High-technology Programs and Projects, 1976, by the guru of project management - Russell D. Archibald, and The Implementation of Project Management, the Professionals Handbook, edited by Linn Stuckenbruck, Ph.D. and published by PMI. Today, there are so many books available on the subject, some more advanced than others, often with conflicting messages, that it is difficult to see the forest for the trees, as they say.

But all of that stemmed from activities starting around twenty-five years ago. Obviously, as a "start-up" expert, it is time for me to contemplate something new, really new. I want to stay with projects of course, because that is my field of expertise. So, as I survey the field of projects, two simple observations become crystal clear:

  1. The creation and conduct of projects has increased enormously, and
  2. A majority of them are cockups.

Even on this web site we have documented a number of case studies that obviously involve cockups.[1]

Clearly, here is a serious new line of theory and practice. It gives rise to a major opportunity to garner a new body of knowledge. All that is required is a suitable name for marketing purposes. And the answer to this is also pretty obvious:

The Cock Up Management Body of Knowledge (CUMBOK)

Interestingly, the CUMBOK can give rise to an opportunity, as much as it can a threat so it should be pretty popular. Of course, managements must be prepared to admit that what they have on their hands is a cockup in the first place, and that they are therefore in need of a CUMBOK expert. But that's not my problem - it's theirs.

Some companies, unknowingly perhaps, even employ CUMBOK experts on their staff. These people delight in throwing whole departments up in the air, simply to see what falls out. (Yes, really - I've seen it first hand! It's called consolidating, integrating, merging, downsizing and so on.) The idea is that whoever it is that lands on top is the survivor. The rest are quietly dismissed. This way, the organization, department, or whatever, is rejuvenated. It's a new beginning.

Now the theory behind CUMBOK is an outgrowth of classic management studies. Innumerable tomes have been written on the strategic triumphs, or misfortunes, of regular management, but almost all such treaties assume that those responsible knew what they were doing. By contrast, this new theory underpinning CUMBOK contemplates that the perpetrators of cockups in fact careen from one unconsidered ploy to the next in a highly uncoordinated series of lurches. These lurches are motivated not by careful dissection and resolution but by an urge for excitement and an unguarded optimism in meeting challenges head on.

There can be no better illustration of the comparison between project management and cockup management than the following illustration by my good friend Robert Goatham, see Figure 1.

Figure 1: Comparison between Project Management and Cock Up Management
Figure 1: Comparison between Project Management and Cock Up Management[2]

Now, if you, dear reader, are going to get involved in CUMBOK activities, then obviously you need to get involved in projects - the larger the better. There is nothing more satisfying to a CUMBOK expert than being involved in a really big cockup. It is a question of safety. By the time the chickens come home to roost, the chances are that the cocked-up project will have been quietly buried in some prior incomprehensible annual financial statement and its consequences rapidly heading for history.

So, are you a candidate for certification in the use of the CUMBOK? To find out, think of your current or most recent project and take this brief self-test now.





Does your project have a compelling Business Case consistent with corporate strategic goals?




Does your project have the full support of top management?




Do you have complete responsibility for the management of the project?




Do you have sufficient experience in managing a project of this size?




Is your project team well trained, competent and highly motivated?




Did you do exhaustive planning in gathering your statement of requirements




Is your project's execution plan thoroughly scheduled complete with key progress milestones?




Have you established a change process and made allowance for risk contingencies?




Is your project being conducted entirely with in-house forces, including design, implementation and testing?




Have detailed arrangements been made for the products of the project to be transferred to the "care, custody and control" of the users?



Your Marking Chart

Score your "No" answers according to the points below, scaled to the degree that you feel is representative. Note: There are no points for a "Yes" answer!

Q1   - If NO, add up to 15 points
Q2   - If NO, add up to 15 points
Q3   - If NO, add up to 5 points
Q4   - If NO, add up to 5 points
Q5   - If NO, add up to 10 points
Q6   - If NO, add up to 10 points
Q7   - If NO, add up to 10 points
Q8   - If NO, add up to 5 points
Q9   - If NO, add up to 10 points
Q10 - If NO, add up to 15 points

Your Assessment Scoring


This project has a better than average chance of being successful. Look for ways to destabilize the process by suggesting major change opportunities to the users. Otherwise consider getting the project canceled on the grounds of premature obsolescence, lack of ROI, operational indifference and so on.


This project might succeed, but with luck there could be trouble ahead. Take steps to cultivate every such available opportunity. Otherwise engage in obfuscated communications, foot-dragging, secrecy and similar advanced CUMBOK techniques.


This project will no doubt be late and over budget and the product is not likely to come up to stakeholder expectations. This is an intermediate cockup level that can probably be considerably enhanced by a little judicious raising of the customers' requirements.


This project looks like a full-fledged disaster already on hand. Now is the time to pack the project with more resources so that there is now no space for anyone to do anything productive, and then move on to the next great disaster. Apply for your CUMBOK membership immediately, if not already a member, and apply for your fully indemnified and certified CUMBOK credential now!

So, armed with your newly minted CUMBOK certificate, rejoice in the marvels of management - and proceed ever onwards and upwards!

1. See
2. With apologies to Robert Goatham, Figure 2
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