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With this article we are starting a new series with the theme Project Management Current Reality: Challenges and Opportunities. I am not sure how many posts will fall under this theme but will try to address various topics, each in a dedicated short and concise post. Most of these topics are from the first three chapters in an upcoming eBook that we are publishing, which we will share on our project management knowledge portal once available.

Emergence and value of project management

The project management domain has been growing in popularity over the years, and the current reality is that project management practices are widespread across all types of projects in a variety of industries and business sectors. These include non-profit, health care, oil and gas, information and communication technology, pharmaceuticals, marketing, education, human resources and numerous others. Project management skills are essentials at all organizational levels and for projects of all sizes from micro to mega projects. There are numerous associations dedicated to project management and to areas of focus within project management.
Over the last two or three decades, project management[1] has been emerging as core capability for organizations across various industries and business sectors. Although project management has been around for decades, modern project management emerged in the middle of the twentieth century, specifically in the defense industry and major infrastructure (engineering and construction) projects. In recent years, project management started to emerge strongly in technical domains such as information and communication technology, and all types of businesses.
With the turn of the century, project management has been exploding globally with large numbers of professionals from all domains learning project management or even changing their careers into project management. Today, large number of practitioners still comes from traditional industries like defense, petroleum, engineering and construction, and technology but project management is spread into aviation, pharmaceuticals, healthcare, food, utilities, marketing, tourism, and general business.
The fascinating growth of project management, including in not-for-profit, government, and non-governmental organizations (NGO), has led to a huge growth in professional associations’ membership and people seeking certification, By the end of 2012, PMI alone has more than half a million people holding one PMI credential or another. APM Group has awarded close to 800,000 PRINCE certificates (if not more) and IPMA has close to 200,000 certified individuals as well. Other professional associations are spread around the globe with large number of practitioners and certified professionals.

Emerging profession

The reality is that project management is still a growing domain, even an emerging profession[2], and consequently it is still evolving. There have been many achievements in the field of project management, which are reflected in its phenomenal growth. Yet, we still believe that there are many challenges and opportunities. The growth of project management came at the price; the price is damage to the image of the emerging profession and to certification. We recognize that this is a controversial statement and some will debate how could there be damage while the emerging profession is still growing in numbers and professional certifications. We will elaborate on this point, in the upcoming posts.

Point to PonderPoint to ponder

Project management is an emerging domain where a large percentage of its practitioners do not have formal education in this domain. Many are technical or functional specialists who are reliable professionals in their domains. Then management assigns them and expects them to manage projects. The situation becomes complicated since management’s expectation is that these specialists should perform, in the project manager role, at the same level of performance as in their working field of expertise. These professionals are what we call ‘accidental project managers.’
To expand on the last point, let us break up the question:
Why do you think executives and senior managers … assign non-project managers, those with no training or education in project management, the responsibility to manage projects … and expect them to perform, in a project management role, at the same level of performance, as in their educational or professional field?
In light of the above, the point to ponder is Do you agree that the above practice is common and rational?
If not, we still ask the reader to continue reading and investigate the points that we present here.
Let us look at this issue from different viewpoints.

  • Would any of us go to a hospital administrator to seek medical checkup or surgery?
  • Would we choose a legal assistant to defend us in a court case?
  • Would we even go to a butcher to buy bread?
  • Do we seek a marketing professional to fix a computer?
  • Can an excellent practicing civil engineer immediately step up and manage the development of a substantial structure or facility?
  • Can an excellent computer engineer step up and manage a complicated telecommunication infrastructure project?
  • Can a human resource specialist all of a sudden manage an organizational change project?

If not, then why do we assign management of projects to staff other than project managers – and – continue to expect good, or even excellent, performance?
We do accept that many technical and functional professionals can learn how to manage projects – and some become experts – but they must be properly trained before the project and not be thrown into sink or swim situations and made to learn under fire; the possibility and cost of failure is extremely high on the individual and for the organization.
We have observed that too often executives make these decisions then wonder why projects fail. We think that some executives do not fully understand the risks associated with the accidental project managers’ conundrum, which is leading to increased threats of failure.
What do you think?

[1] The author uses the term ‘project management’ here in the wider context to include managing programs and portfolios, and for the organizational level, in comparison to managing a single project
[2] Practitioners and researchers consider project management to fit anywhere in the range from not a profession and never will be, through being an emerging profession, all the way to being a well-established profession. The author subscribe to the project management being an emerging profession, although he is not an authority on this subject.

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