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Dan Goldfischer, editor in chief, PMI: July 2008 Archives

Good Review

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Terry Cooke-Davies is a veteran of all five PMI research conferences as well as one of the team leads on Researching the Value of Project Management. And he liked what he has experienced at the conference.

"I'm enjoying it hugely," Terry said. "There hasn't been a timeslot yet where there is nothing I want to go to."

"We're maintaining the high standards we've come to expect of PMI research conferences," he went on. "Project management research has become more self-confident since the first conference." This conference has greater breadth, he thinks, and Terry really appreciates that the meeting includes "engaging with other management disciplines in academic discourse."

Terry also told me that one of the case-study companies from the Value study e-mailed him this morning and said they are now realizing how far they've come in project management over the last two years. To show how much this particular company valued the study and project management, Terry said they made 21 people in two continents available to him for interviews, including some "very senior managers."

Go (Dispersed) Team, Go!

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Another plenary session of that first day of the conference got equally rave reviews as the first from the audience members I spoke with at lunch. Dr. Martin Hoegl, a well-known expert in teaming, talked about optimum team size and how well remote teams do versus localized teams.

Did you know someone did a teaming study using tug-of-war? It turns out in this sport, and in project teams, less is more. After a tug-of-war team gets more than four members, the amount of effort put out by each team member goes down. "It's just human nature," Dr. Hoegl said. "People think there are lots of others on the team, so they can work less."

And stairs make a difference. Dr. Hoegl's research has shown that teams on the same floor do better than those with members separated by even one story in a building!

Dr. Hoegl's study showed dispersed teams have better outcomes (higher quality and more efficiency) than local teams if their quality of teamwork is high, but dispersed teams do much worse than co-located teams if their teamwork quality is low.

The take-aways from this research for organizations: Office layout matters (keep teams on the same floor); and for virutal team members, recruit and develop those who have good intercultural skills, great self-leadership skills, and consistent skills with other team members to enable shared leadership. And try to foster a global culture.

Watch Out for the J-Curve

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The first plenary presenter at the PMI Research Conference was Dr. Andrew Pettigrew. He is a globally known figure in management academia, the dean of the management school at University of Bath, England. Not project management, just management. But despite this, his stature, topic and talk were all very exciting to the audience. Ed Andrews, in charge of organizing the conference, said it took several attempts to convince Dr. Pettigrew to come.

He talked about seeming conflicts in corporate management that came about in the late 1990s--things like companies both standardizing and customizing at the same time, trends such as centralizing strategy while decentralizing operations. These were among trends that "took some getting use to."

Dr. Pettigrew used 1990s BP as an example for a company making wholesale changes that improved the firm's fortunes in that era of relatively flat oil prices. It cost the head of the CEO who first proposed the changes, he said, but later that CEO (Mr. Horton) got a bonus--posthumously, you might say. The speaker then sidetracked a bit on revolving-door CEOs, saying the average tenure of three years each couldn't be good for companies.

One bit of advice for attendees: Watch out for the J-curve. For non-researchers amongst us like myself, this roughly means things get worse before they get better.

Academic Forum Follow-Up

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I recently received these comments from Olivier Lazar, Ph.D., student, ESC Lille, France, about the GAC Academic Forum, held prior to the Research Conference and thought they were worth sharing:

  The economic situation is putting organizations under high pressure to secure their investments, foster controls and meanwhile be more and more reactive to a constantly changing and more competitive environment.

This is the challenge that has to be undertaken by all the educational programs in project management, by raising the number of degrees, the number of graduates and ensuring their competence between academe and practice.

During the forum, we have seen some very interesting and promising initiatives. Shell, for example, has developed a whole training program with Cranfield University, immersing the academic experts in the pragmatic contrains of the business pace. Their success in this project demonstrates clearly that this is a way where we all should look. This point has also been illustrated by the University of Manchester and the Rolls-Royce Center for Project Management.

The partnership between industry/business and academe is a necessary win-win relationship, feeding the education by the field experience and the real-time connection with business contraints, academe giving the outcome of its research and providing industry with high-level professionals, with a tremendous knowledge of standards and already prepared to the expectation of their future operational practice.

Academic Forum

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There are other events taking place at the same venue as the PMI Research Conference. One was the PMI Academic Forum. As project management grows, so does the need for qualified degreed graduates from universities worldwide. A record turnout of 75 came to this event to share ideas on promoting project management education and making sure it meets the needs of the industry, corporations and governments.

PMI president and CEO Gregory Balestrero kicked off the forum with a passionate appeal on the urgency to fill the project management talent shortage and how academia can help.

Here's more from William Moylan, Ph.D., PMP, a member of the PMI Board of Directors and a project management  educator:

The forum provided a catalyst for forging strong partnerships between academic and business communities. The active dialogues among the participants, informative presentations and interactive Q&A sessions, along with the fun networking receptions all helped in deepening established friendships and kindling new associations. The sense of urgency, as noted by Mr. Balestrero in his opening remarks, set the tone for the day-long program. As the entire world becomes project-focused, the exciting challenges of the project management profession are mounting, and the need to educate the cadre of professional project managers is inherent to the solution.

Building partnerships between industry practitioners and academia seems to be a workable solution. The forum presentations encouraged attendees to continue the learning journey through technology transfer, professional development and active interaction with the intention to serve the needs of all stakeholders, especially the students of project management. As life-long learning is the norm for leading in a world of change, partnering is essential to gain the advantages and benefits of a disciplined approach to managing projects and programs. Let us all keep in touch as we partner together in this quest.

And PMI's Oxana Ahern weighed in with some other thoughts I've included below:

As part of the forum, Bill Wilson, Ph.D., professor from Cranfield University, and John Sharples, Shell learning officer, shed light on training programs designed by universities that teach project management at the program level at corporations such as Shell.

Klaus Brockoff with WHU in Germany, who happened to be sitting next to me in the audience, told me his university faced the same challenges (different priorities of academia and the corporate world; estimating the real costs associated with the endeavor) in their joint collaborative programs.

A presentation by Andrew Gale, Ph.D., professor from the University of Manchester, and Mike Brown, head of the Center for Project Management Rolls-Royce, discussed their partnership, which emphasizes not so much the development of hands-on project management skills but mainly critical reflective thinking about everyday project management practices.


Proud as a Graduate

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One thing that struck me as principal investigators Janice Thomas, Ph.D., and Mark Mullaly, PMP, spoke at their overview presentation on Researching the Value of Project Management was their pride in their team and the team's work in collecting a massive amount of data from 65 organizations around the world, conducting 417 interviews and 344 surveys, and then analyzing all that information.

Trying to imagine what it would be like to stand in front of an audience of your peers at the near-completion of an incredible effort five years in the making, the only analogy that came to mind was graduation. Only, in this case, instead of a person moving on and growing following completion of a degree program, an entire profession with millions of members around the world is graduating to the next level of maturity ... one in which organizations and the world in general will now know the value they create.

To put the power of Researching the Value of Project Management into perspective, Blaize Horner, Ph.D., a professor at Simon Fraser University, told me Dr. Thomas made an "amazingly strong statement for a researcher when she said unequivocally that project management delivers value." Dr. Blaize said researchers rarely use that word unequivocal because research generally brings up more questions than answers. She also said the finding that even at low levels of maturity project management demonstrated value was "very encouraging."

The Value of Volunteering

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While in Warsaw for the Research Conference, I had the pleasure to meet with Piotr Plewinski, PMP, yesterday morning. Piotr, who is with the Gdansk Branch of the PMI Poland Chapter, was going to take me to see the summer camp the chapter has run for five years for Polish orphans, a camp where they take classes in English as a second language. Since I have published several articles about this camp in PMI Today, I was very excited to go and these plans were long in the making. Unfortunately (but fortunately for Poland), road projects tied to the Euro 2012 championship to be hosted by Poland and Ukraine interfered with our plans.

It seems that normally it would take about 2 and one-half hours for a fast native Polish driver like Piotr to get from Warsaw to the camp near Gdansk, but he said that unpredicable weekend traffic jams from road construction would probably increase that time to about 5 hours each way--too difficult to make as a one-day round trip.

So Piotr and I chatted in a cafe about the  camp, how much he has seen the program and the orphans grow in the five years the chapter has run it, the great benefit the campers will see from this education (being more able to get high-paying jobs in construction and other fields), and the challenges of running a volunteer project like this for a chapter that just recently completed the conversion to chapter with branches. One challenge involves the departure of the program manager, who is scheduled to have a baby in August.

I am privileged to know people in the PMI world like Piotr who take project management into the social responsibility realm and really make a difference. Now that's a value of project management! 

Our Principal Investigators

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Here's a brief look at the principal researchers behind PMI's Researching the Value of Project Management study:

 Janice Thomas, Ph.D.:
Dr. Thomas serves as associate professor of project management and program director for the Executive MBA in Project Management program at Athabasca University in Athabasca, Alberta, Canada. A veteran of the field for almost 25 years, she was recognzied by PM Network as one of the most influential women in project management in 2006.
Mark Mullaly, PMP: President of Interthink Consulting in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, Mr. Mullaly works to integrate expertise in project management, strategy, organizational theory and psychology. He has more than 20 years of experience and his research interests include value of organizational project management, strategic decision-making, and exploration of personal preferences and psychological types.

Heading to Warsaw ...

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    My bags are packed and I'm leaving for the airport headed to Warsaw for PMI's Research Conference. I arrive on Saturday and will be making regular posts throughout the event. Check back for a behind-the-scenes look at the conference from me and my fellow bloggers. Gregory Balestrero, president and CEO of PMI, will also be providing his take on the study and project management at large.
    The early buzz around the conference is that researchers Janice Thomas, Ph.D., and Mark Mullaly, PMP, have some pretty significant results to present from PMI's multimillion-dollar study on Researching the Value of Project Management.
    Til now, researchers have been unable to collect and analyze the relevant data to demonstrate the value of project management with sufficient scope and statistical validity. There have been other survey-based studies on the subject. But this is hardcore evidence--apparently a gigabyte of data has been analyzed--and that makes it hard for anyone to ignore. The study will look at more than 60 cases (I've heard closer to 70) from small and large companies across a variety of industries and around the world.
    Stay tuned ...

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