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How to Become a Proactionary Project Manager: Are You Sure You Really Want To?

written by: Jean Scheid • edited by: Linda Richter • updated: 3/28/2011

When Dr. Max More came up with the Proactionary Principle, some project managers jumped at the idea. What is this principle, and can you learn how to become a proactionary project manager? Jean Scheid looks at Dr. More’s methods; do they make sense?

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    What Is the Proactionary Principle?

    Is the Principle a Methodology A “strategic futurist," as his bio states, Dr. Max More first introduced his proactionary principle at the Extropy Institute’s Progress Summit I in February of 2004. His ten-step principle has been argued to have faults in that each of the ten steps may indeed be just as reactionary as proactionary (and even conflicting) when utilized in project management. Or, that each step in the principle, if analyzed, can really be compared to other methodologies and strategies already utilized in project management best practices.

    Basically, however, the proactionary principle looks at projects in simple yet focused processes and often elements, such as the human element when making decisions—especially strategic decisions. If you want to learn how to become a proactionary project manager, we’ll take a look at the principle in project management below to help you decide if this is something to invest in or forget.

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    Using the 10 Steps in the Principle

    The Principle Steps To use the proactionary principle in your projects, let’s look at each of the ten steps to help you learn how this methodology (or idea) works.

    1. Freedom to Innovate – While Dr. More offers that “our freedom to innovate technologically is valuable to humanity," more importantly in this first step is the close scrutinizing of innovation instead of identifying initial risks or restrictive measures. Here, a project manager would simply determine the validity of the project at hand with a well-thought-out plan and process instead of over-analyzing or developing a matrix or feasibility study. Let’s use developing a new plastic drinking container—the people want it, so we will make it—decision done.

    2. Objectivity – In the objectivity step, More states, “Use a decision process that is objective, structured and explicit." Here, a proactionary project manager would skip the unneeded such as human or emotional perceptions and, instead, analyze risks through forecasting, leaving out any stakeholders that aren’t immediately involved in the project, and playing the “devil’s advocate" role to determine the right path. Again, for our plastic drinking container, who cares what lies down the road? Our studies say the people want it—even if some stakeholders don’t agree.

    3. Comprehensiveness – Here, this step is defined as “Consider all reasonable alternative actions, including no action." Concentrated and swift decisions are made at the project manager level in this step including costs, imminent factors that will harm the project, and if substitutions such as a different project management methodology or process will achieve project success. They also offer the leader the option to skip the project in its entirety based on analyzed assessments. So, the plastic is too expensive; let’s skip the whole idea of the drinking bottle, what about metal?

    4. Openness/Transparency – With this step the project leader must “Take into account the interests of all potentially affected parties." Here, in my opinion, Dr. More sways from what he pronounces effective in step two—the dis-involvement of the unneeded or unimportant. A proactionary manager, however, may look at this step as a way to allow for dedicated and relevant input only when necessary—if it will affect the project outcome. Or, we can proceed because we only use “relevant" data, so be it!

    5. Simplicity – In this step, any process that is “more complex than necessary" is disregarded. In other words, the proactionary manager would skip reinventing the wheel or using an untried or unlearned methodology if the one at hand works best and always has; or we use Six Sigma, so Six Sigma shall rule—always.

    Please continue on to Page 2 for more how to become a proactionary project manager.

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    So you want to learn how to become a proactionary project manager based on Max More's Proactionary Principle: Is this a real project management methodology or a confusing one? Here, Jean Scheid looks at the 10 steps of the principle with project examples. Is being a proactionary project manager for real or just another made-up method that conflicts with other management theories?
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    Using the 10 Steps in the Principle (Continued)

    A Gamble 6. Triage – Here again, Dr. More reflects back to step one, especially the “value to humanity." The triage step encourages the project manager to look at risks that are harmful to either the human element or the environment instead of brainstorming or offering a hypothetical guess on what is and what isn’t a risk within the project—meaning people and environmental issues should come first. A proactionary management team developing a plastic drinking container would first evaluate how harmful the new plastic is to man and earth and then worry about risks in production.

    7. Symmetrical Treatment – The symmetrical step is also confusing in that it says to “treat technological risks on the same basis as natural (human) risks." If the triage step leads the proactionary project manager to first look at man and the environment above production risks, is this seventh step feasible? For the project leader, here lies the principle of analyzing the technical aspects and the natural elements as equal. To be proactionary, in this step, a manager would indeed have to evaluate both; an unnecessary step or a proactive step in the process—or a simple conflicting step?

    8. Proportionality – Here the principle states that any process must weigh the “benefits and the adverse effects," in a proportionate manner. A team leader may determine the benefits of that plastic container outweigh the environmental concerns or vice versa.

    9. Prioritize – Dr. More offers within this ninth step a way of prioritizing decisions based on:

    • Risks to humans or intelligent beings are first.
    • Risks to human health over the environment are second.
    • Risks that are immediate rather than distant are next.
    • Risks that are certain instead of hypothesized risk are last.

    If the proactionary project manager allows for this prioritization, then our plastic container would be prioritized as:

    • The human (or end user) wants it so let’s make it.
    • The container can hold filtered water even if the plastic harms the environment.
    • The container’s production risks versus the distant risks such as those groups that may protest the container.
    • The container is what the user wants so manufacture and produce instead of worrying about unknown or down the road risk.

    10. Renew and Refresh – Finally, Dr. More uses his tenth step to “prompt decision makers to revisit the decisions" far beyond project completion using a “trigger." For the proactionary manager, that trigger on the plastic container may be a drop in sales, an outcry from the public or another similar potential trigger.

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    Can One Really Be a Proactionary Manager?

    Does the Principle Work Even Dr. More recognizes that those wanting to learn how to become a proactionary project manager will face some challenges using the principle. Those challenges include playing the devil’s advocate—all the time: There are pros and cons to both human and environmental risks and even ignoring one over the other, encouraging technology and profits other than that of the people or planet, along with other harmful factors or risks that are apparent conflicts within the principle.

    In this writer’s opinion, after researching the proactionary principle, not only does the manager become an automaton or practice robotic processes, the conflicts in the principle may confuse the team and stakeholders. In the end, is a proven project management methodology best over being “proactionary?" What charts, project management tools or baselines are used in this methodology? None I could find other than the thoughts (and steps) offered by Dr. More.

    Perhaps Dr. More’s claim to fame as being a “strategic futurist" has a large role in determining whether you should consider being a proactionary project manager or not—something to think about indeed.

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    Max More (2004) The Proactionary Principle retrieved at

    Extropy Institute - Summit Progress I -

    The Technium - The Pro-Actionary Principle retrieved at

    Image Credits:

    Brain - Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

    Steps - MorgueFile/beglib

    Gamble - MorgueFile/alvimann

    Question Mark - Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

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