Good management is often an art

Friday, February 21st, 2014 By Jack Nevison

Some people claim that management is a science. Do certain things in a particular way, they tell you, and you will get the desired and expected results.

That can be a comforting mindset, but it misses one very important point: People are not lab rats. Managing people is never simple. While there are many tried and true techniques and procedures for managing a project, managing a project team is also an art.

That's the view that Margaret Heffernan endorses in a recent article on She argues that while "business schools grew out of engineering schools," there are plenty of examples of good management in other fields.

"We talk about business models as though they really were engines that, with the right precise tinkering, could be persuaded to work," she writes. "We avidly search for connections between cause and effect that might provide the reassurance of physics."

When she talks to owners of different companies, Heffernan finds that most are trying to deal with a simple task: that of getting "their people to work well together" on important projects. Projects are not unique to the business world—after all, as Heffernan points out, artists deal with similar problems all the time. Orchestras spend years perfecting their sound. Filmmakers manage diverse teams of actors, technicians and designers to make a movie within a budget and on schedule.

"Artists and businesses both make something out of nothing," she writes. "They are both born out of creative energy, and they both depend for their lifeblood on human commitment." However, all "human commitment" needs to be—and can be—effectively managed.

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