If the early 1990s was a euphoric period then its opposite arrived during the dysphoric 2020s. Where exposure to the management of COVID-19 filled me with unease and discomfort, my exposure to the Ukraine debacle was a lot less discomforting, but a lot more pronounced for my children.
The reason is that I am in Africa where experts predicted most COVID-19 casualties would appear (but were wrong), and where the media said Ukraine grain will be sent to the “poorest” countries in Africa, but it went to Europe instead. Apparently, the ships were used to funnel weapons and mercenaries to Ukraine which is why Russia stopped that initiative.
But the geopolitical shock ended up not being COVID-19, but the Ukraine Special Military Operation implemented by the Russian Federation, which is still in the process of execution as I am writing this. So, what has changed since the 1990s?
In the early 1990s I was being trained as a Project Manager and the curriculum was based on American Military Standards and later on also on European Standards where for example Germany and France cooperated with developing the Airbus passenger aircraft. Apart from technical aspects such as equipment, Germany had societal aspects to contend with where they also used project management to re-unify East with West Germany. If memory serves, it was a EU2 billion project comparable to a typical infrastructural phased approach.
During my visit to Germany (then) I spoke to an East German about project management, and he explained that Russians used the K-system in product development but not societal development. Marxism determined societal development where areas were allocated functions such as fruit farms and jam factories in the area where we visited while other areas had different raw materials or minerals and would therefore have had different allocations.
My deduction was that the K-system is different, despite having a similar milestone (MS) approach described in System Engineering Standards. My realization therefore was that Western society used the MS-system for everything, while the Soviets only used it for hardware/equipment. This means that the Soviet style of management were heavily influenced by political thinking but stopped when hardware was involved. After all machines are not human and Marx could not be applied in this line of thinking.
But the 1990s had unintended outcomes as it turned out in hindsight. Africa is of course on the middle of the world map, and it is easy to understand that western and eastern influences on it can easily be compared. Take for example the difference in the electricity generation market. General Electric opened offices in Africa and so did their Chinese counterpart. General Electric would then go about selling a hydro-electric generator to Governments while the Chinese did the same.
But in most cases the Chinese won those contracts. The Americans made proper proposals which depended on their political clout via Ambassadors and Attaches to pressure those Governments. The Chinese did not only do the normal technical proposal, but they also framed it within a financial framework that Africans found very attractive. In other words, the Americans did not understand the societal requirements, while the Chinese did.
Another example may be private military contractors such as the American Blackwater and Russian Wagner groups. America used their hundreds of military bases as a focus point while never solving the endemic conflict in Africa (even with help from United Nations Peacekeeping). In fact, they have increased the propensity for African conflict/coups. Wagner on the other hand, improved coordination and managed (or at least initiated) removal of useless UN Peacekeepers from Africa.
One would have thought that Americans would understand societal requirements in the project management field and that Russian/Chinese Marxists would not, but the opposite emerged in Africa over the last three decades.
What appears to have happened was that the fall of the Berlin Wall made Russia realize that their societal approach was wrong, and they set about fixing that. The Americans on the other hand thought they have been doing everything right and simply marched on. However, what few realized is that in the 90s time-period, the FBI adopted and bought into the South African Scenario Planning risk management model, where a country or company can manage its affairs to fit within the Moral High-ground construct.
To be morally high means one is exposed to less politically incorrect risk. It appears that all intelligence services adopted this approach to ensure that the “Empire” always remains on the moral high ground i.e., ahead of the “curve” so that the US President never looks bad. And as is also becoming more visible, that America’s Department of State drives a “Moral Majority” policy (positioning it as a seemingly non-threatening cultural export) despite it being the opposite: a global security framework.
The situation has therefore reversed. Where the Soviets made the mistake of politically pressurizing their society with economic equality, America is now doing the same, but using moral equality. In other words, the Soviets first used a political construct, then switched to an economic one, while America went the opposite direction.
In both cases it affected the outcome of projects. To prove this theory, it can be demonstrated that American projects are (now) failing while Russian/Chinese projects are (now) working.
The above can explain why NATO is losing the Ukraine Special Military Operation. America’s (and therefore NATO’s) objective in this conflict is a world view i.e., Global Moral Majority, while the Russian Federation’s objective is conquering NATO. It is clear who is going to finish their project on time.
A last point to make based on Project Management expertise is the difference between American and Russian innovation. American politics drove and still drive their projects to produce “game changer” military hardware. This means that they pursue technology “jumps” while Russians pursue “incrementalism.” This is a fundamental difference in psychological approach to project management.
The apparent psychological outcome of the eternal chase for “game-changers” is that the US Military Industrial Complex is now consumed by ideological fervor, as opposed to actual requirements on the ground. In summary it can be said that African project managers are able to identify innovation differences between the West and the East, not only based on standard project performance metrics, but also on political terms: societal, economic and sustainable metrics.
We must draw the conclusion that the Western System Engineering model fell short of its ideological expectation because politics is inferior to economics for plotting the future of a society. Project management driven by morality instead of economics leads to more conflict, not less.