IPMA International Project Management Association
28 June 2019 / 9:00

Liquid times, liquid organisations and liquid life pursuits

Recently, I came across Zygmunt Bauman´s brilliant writings on liquid modernity, for example in “Liquid Times – Living in an Age of Uncertainty”. In this book he describes how the change from »solid« to »liquid« modernity has created a pretty new and unprecedented setting for individuals, organisations and society with a series of challenges never experienced before. For example, social forms and organisations no longer have enough time to solidify and cannot serve as frames of reference. We are living in an age of uncertainty and people have to find other ways of organizing their lives.

One of the key drivers for this development is modern Information- and Communication Technology (ICT), allowing us to reach out to other people on continents far away and speeding up processes for developing and delivering products and services. The globalization with world-wide easy to access capital and commodities has also contributed to the development. Furthermore, a creative class, with nearly unlimited freedom of working online, across all borders of time, language, culture and countries, has helped to move organisations and societies fast forward. Movements, such as “Fridays for Future” in Europe have a significant impact on what is going on in politics, due to the fact, that news are picking up the ideas, spreading it through social media and increasing the public opinion that change is needed. On the other hand, the openness of today´s society and the information overload through social media is experienced by many people as a rather terrifying experience. They are confronted with and possibly overwhelmed by forces they are neither able to control nor fully understand. People are increasingly horrified by their own undefendability and obsessed with the tightness of their frontiers as well as the security of people living inside. Uncertainty and vulnerability turns into nationalism, isolationism and other adverse effects. Populistic governments gain ground and limit the multinational collaboration to a simple “what´s in for my country”. Governments should help people to better understand what´s going on instead of using the fears for their own purposes.

Like on the level of society, organisations experience the same effect. Liquid organisations are changing, from a rather industrial, hierarchical set-up to an adaptive form serving the customers´ needs in an open, dynamic and focused way. The challenges of a traditional organisation include but are not limited to slowness, rigidity, bureaucracy, disengagement along with various kinds of waste and bottlenecks. They aren´t able to cope with the pace of innovation and its complexity, let alone exploit. Contemporary   

approaches advocate for an organisational model embracing a set of basic principles and putting them in action with the right enabling platform of tools and processes. Guillermo Lopez describes it as follows: “Crowdfounding of talent, agile value-oriented processes, liquid organizational structures, together with a new technology stack based on microservices, containers, IoT, Bigdata and machine learning are transforming the shape of current organizations to be formless, shapeless, like water.”

What does that mean for projects and our life? Everything is changing. We need to be aware of the change and know how to deal with it – in projects, in organisations and even on the macro level of society. Being aware of and accepting that change is a natural part of our life makes it easier to deal with it in a pro-active way. Zygmunt Bauman highlights that a liquid life pursuit requires us to be flexible and adaptable, constantly ready and willing to change strategies and tactics, to abandon commitments and loyalties without regret and to pursue opportunities according to the current availability.

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Reinhard Wagner

Author of this post

Reinhard Wagner has been active for more than 30 years in the field of project- related leadership, in such diverse sectors as Air Defense, Automotive Engineering, and Machinery, as well as various not-for-profit organizations. As a Certified Projects Director (IPMA Level A), he has proven experience in managing projects, programmes and project portfolios in complex and dynamic contexts. He is also an IPMA Certified Programme and Portfolio Management Consultant, and as such supports senior executives in developing and improving their organizational competence in managing projects. For more than 15 years, he has been actively involved in the development of project, programme and portfolio management standards, for example as Convenor of the ISO 21500 “Guidance on Project Management” and the ISO 21503 “Guidance on Programme Management”. Reinhard Wagner is Past President of IPMA and Chairman of the Council, Honorary Chairman of GPM (the German Project Management Association), as well as Managing Director of Tiba Managementberatung GmbH.