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Observations from the event: July 2008 Archives

The Right Fit

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I finally had them right where I wanted them.

 After their big reveal last week at PMI's Research Conference in Warsaw, Poland, Janice Thomas, Ph.D., and Mark Mullaly, PMP, sat down for an interview, and I could ask them anything about their Researching the Value of Project Management study. It was a wide-ranging discussion covering everything from selling skeptical executives on project management to the number of motorcycles purchased by researchers during the course of the study. (For the record, the answer to that last one would be three.)

I agree with all the fine points made by my fellow blogger and PMI.org editor Kelley Hunsberger in her earlier post.

But what struck me the most--and what I'm still thinking about nearly a week later--was how often talk around the study still comes down to the deceptively simple issue of fit. It seems so basic, but that doesn't make it any less important. For project management to truly show value, companies have to make it their own--attuned to the culture of their country and their organization.

Like the study itself, the authors were full of information and I'll have much, much more on this interview. And be sure to come back to PMI.org/value in August when parts of the interview will be available for viewing.

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."

The Stars Speak ...

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Last week, PM Network editor and fellow Voices of Project Management contributor Cyndee Miller interviewed Janice Thomas, Ph.D., and Mark Mullaly, PMP, principal investigators for PMI's Researching the Value of Project Management study. I had the opportunity to sit in on that interview and there were a few points I wanted to share:


1. Project management does actually have value and the study proves it. Mark and Janice reiterated this point several times during each of their interviews. But Mark was quick to point out, "there is not one thing that is project management." Instead, he said it was all about how organizations "implement project management in their terms."

2. The study wouldn't have been possible without each and every team member--and there were nearly 50 of them. The team worked across almost every time zone--with researchers in China, Russia, North America, Latin America and around the globe. Still, Janice attributed "a strong team from the beginning that was committed to staying with the project through the end," as a key success factor.

3. These researchers have become the humble--and sometimes reluctant--stars of the PMI Research Conference. For example, Mark said during his interview that it took him nearly 40 minutes to get to the restroom after the awards ceremony because there were so many people stopping him to discuss the study.

4. The research doesn't end here. In fact, it seems to just be beginning. "This study generated an amazing database to further research," Janice said.

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.

Some Answers, More Questions

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Well, the session on Researching the Value of Project Management has come and gone. It was captured on video and is now available through www.PMI.org.  Dr. Janice Thomas and Mark Mullaly did a great job in the presentation. They are working virtually around the clock digesting the 600 pages of documentation to deliver comprehensive, yet clear results. The good news is that there is ... well, good news!

The conclusions are very positive about the value that project management contributes to organizations worldwide. Their evidence points to the fact that it's not only tangible results that were achieved, but also intangible, such as better enterprise-wide decision making, more effective work culture, and stronger and clearer communication. In fact, they have identified a clear relationship between project management maturity and a rise in intangible benefits.

There are two other interesting points I came away with. First, none of the 65 organizations measure ROI of the project management. I guess I was surprised by that. Janice and Mark shared they felt that it seemed that it was either a lack of interest in the metric (go figure!), a fear of accountability (paranoia of job security), or perceived complexity of the measurement. I would have thought that more would have measured such a major investment. The other issue is that one of the real intangibles of mature project management competency is the ability to better deploy strategy. To me, this will be one of the greatest executive selling points. If we can clarify this ... make it more than anecdotal evidence ... we should be able to drive more investment in a mature project management competency.

Oh, and one more thing. I think we are going to see a lot more questions than answers from the study. Believe it or not, I am excited about that. The profession is rich with curiosity. PMI needs to continue to fund research to answer these questions. More importantly, challenging questions will be answered by talented researchers, and talented researchers will help build a cadre of competent faculty.

We are at an impasse, though, in that the study has not been fully digested. When I said that Janice and Mark are working round the clock, I meant it. They have an early August deadline to complete the analysis and submit the final manuscript for publication. The study monograph will be published in the early fall for all of us to read. I hate waiting for something I really want and need! However, I have waited four years for this, so I guess a couple of months more won't kill me! However, don't wait. Go to the website and see and listen to Mark and Janice yourself. It was a very polished and informative presentation.

More later.

Who's In the Pipeline?

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I am about to leave the PMI Research Conference in Warsaw, Poland, and head back to the USA. It has been a great meeting, very vibrant, with lots on interaction. Of all the interactions I have had, though, one thing stands out over the others. Yesterday, during my remarks, I shared that a strong base of research is the most important way to ADVANCE a profession.

Peter Drucker referred to the process as understanding the "organized ignorance" of a profession. I have to take exception to what I said. You see, after the presentation, Philip Diab, PMI Chair, and I took a photo with 19 Polish students who are here supporting the conference. They are all students at the Warsaw School of Economics, in undergraduate studies in Project Management.

When I talked to them, I was mesmerized. They display a visible mixture of wonder about learning, while never letting down their self confidence that they can tackle anything. The only way to describe it is that they were an empowered generation of youth. They have a clear sense of purpose, and they know that they have a vital future. There is no sense of entitlement, but rather faith in themselves. They see a future full of promise and filled with opportunities. And I am reminded that they are all here, giving up their weekends and weekdays, helping at the conference during their summer holidays. However, when the sessions start, they don't run outside or find other things to occupy their time ... on the contrary, they all run inside the session halls, listening, observing and learning. Amazing.

I was wrong in saying that research will advance the profession. No. This profession, any profession, will ultimately be advanced by young people, the young people entering the pipeline that will challenge the profession. They will bring the tools of the profession into new applications without fear of failure, and when they discover that those tools do not work, they will create new ones that will. It is this empowered generation that will advance our profession.

My only concern is that there are too few of these young people around the world. All of us, especially PMI, must find a way to add to the intellectual pipeline to build our profession. My travels around the globe, and our executive research, both point to the critical shortage of experienced, talent project professionals. Unless we fill the pipeline with talented youth like the students here in Warsaw, that shortage will only grow. Worse, the profession won't advance but rather will be "maintained." For this profession to achieve its full potential, it must be challenged with new ideas and concepts. Otherwise, we will have a profession defined by its legacy rather than its future. We must add to the professional pipeline and now.

Thank you, Warsaw, for the lesson.

More later.

Results at Last!

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13 July 2008--I am in Warsaw, Poland at PMI's Research Conference. It is very late in the evening on 13 July, and the conference actually begins tomorrow but tonight we were at a private reception to thank the researchers that have worked on a 5-year-long global research project on the Value of Project Management. It is an amazing "who's who" of PM researchers ... 48 renowned leaders from 15 countries. For the last 3 years they have studied nearly 70 organizations literally on every continent on the globe. It is a wonderful example of a multi-national project team working toward a common goal ... on time, on budget ... with a qualitative output that we hope will exceed our wildest expectations.

However, I need to get by this sense of awe over the management of the project and, selfishly, go straight to the end game: the RESULTS! Earlier, I said "we hope" the results will exceed our expectations because the full results are not out yet. Actually, Dr. Janice Thomas and Mark Mullaly, principal investigators for the project, will be presenting the initial findings tomorrow morning.

I have to say, I am "hungry" to get the results, yet I am anxious about the results. When we commissioned the study, we had to accept that one possible answer to the question, "What value has PM provided to your organization?" could be ... NONE! Risky, yes ... but the probability of that answer is very low if non-existent.

Since the 2006 Research Conference in Montreal, I have traveled over 400 days, meeting and talking to organizational leaders around the globe. I have seen first hand the dramatic value that a mature project management process has given government and business organizations. However, when I advocate for adoption of project management to those not currently embracing it, I am met with the same "stare and glare" ... "I appreciate your opinion, but give me the proof."

That is very frustrating ...  but understandable. Why invest in anything that will not give back value ... some clear, tangible or intangible, return on the investment. Well, this research project should push well beyond "anecdote" and into the realm of verified results ... the "best of the best" in researchers, grappling with the most difficult of all study subjects: VALUE.

More later.

From the Future

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Project management's next generation has come out in full force to help make PMI's Research Conference a success. Working with the PMI Poland Chapter and PMI Region 8 Component Mentor Zbigniew J. Tracezyk, PMP, student volunteers from the Warsaw School of Economics Student Association for Project Management have been assisting with everything from manning the information booth to directing conference-goers into different sessions.

After talking to a few of the students, I discovered many of them hope their volunteer work will help with their professional development. For instance, Iga Kuozynska is a member of the Student Association for Project Management, but one day she plans on becoming a PMI member. "I am so excited about project management," she told me. "I wanted to see how it really works and what it really means."

Then there was Aleksandra Dworakowska, a board member of the student association, who will be hosting a Project Management Day with her fellow board members next April. She says the event typically draws nearly 200 students.

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."

Here We Go

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It was finally show time. Nearly 400 attendees of the PMI Research Conference were joined by a slew of virtual visitors who logged on to watch as Janice Thomas, Ph.D., and Mark Mullaly, PMP, delivered one of the most anticipated presentations at the event.

The two principal researchers of PMI's Researching the Value of Project Management quickly got down to business. And then Dr. Thomas gave the statement everyone was waiting for.

"I can state unequivocally that project management delivers value," she said.

Across the board, companies of all types and from nearly every corner of the world see the value of project management. Sometimes the benefits were tangible; sometimes they were intangible. And most organizations seemed to be satisfied with that.

That was the big news for me, but we're just getting started. Dr. Thomas provided just a hint of the broad range of data available when she briefly discussed the case studies. The examples covered everything from a Canadian utility that adopted project management in 2000 to a Chinese construction company forced to implement the discipline in order to secure World Bank funding.

But--oh, come on, you knew there had to be a "but"--the missing element is ROI. It turns out most organizations don't track their investment. And that obviously makes it difficult to determine the return on investment.

"Your Work Matters"

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Project management can not only help companies succeed, it can change the world we live in, said PMI chair Philip Diab in his opening conference remarks.

Sometimes, though, project leaders get so caught up in their schedules and plans, they forget just how transforming project management can be.

It's not just about the bottom line. It's about building a sustainable future. Yes, project management can achieve results, but organizations must also look at the long-term impact.

"Corporate social responsibility" may be the buzzword, he said, but there must be "organizational social responsibility," too, he said.

And I wouldn't be much of a PM Network editor if I didn't put in a plug for our upcoming issue devoted to social responsibility. So: Be sure to check out the October issue for features covering everything from how to build a sustainable supply chain to a case study of how Intel brought wireless technology to a remote Vietnamese village.

Behind the Scenes

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To get ready for tomorrow, Gregory Balestrero, PMI president & CEO, and Philip Diab, chair of the PMI Board of Directors, sat down to tape opening messages to air before the live presentation of Researching the Value of Project Management--in full makeup and all. They both seemed very excited about the findings ... but you'll have to wait until tomorrow to hear all the details.


Unexpected Value

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I have seen many towns destroyed, but nowhere have I been faced with such destruction.
--U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower

  Last night we headed to Warsaw's Old Town. As I looked around, it seems absolutely incredible it's the same city that was bombed to near oblivion during the war. The story goes the city was painstakingly recreated by a team relying on photographs and local records. And although they may not have called themselves project managers, they clearly relied on the discipline.

And that trend continues today. All around the world, companies and organizations rely on project management to achieve results even if they don't call it by its proper name. The August cover story of PM Network takes a look at five trailblazers bringing project management into new sectors--ranging from a cafe in Brazil to a church in the United States. In many cases, they may stumble on the profession. In others, someone might bring it in with them. And then they start seeing the payoff.

Even I'm starting to feel like a project manager. Like any project, our live feed of the Researching the Value of Project Management presentation relies on our team's ability to meet deadlines. And so far, so good. We've set up a studio of sorts for interviews, tested out the equipment and we have a rehearsal set for this afternoon. Reading all those PM Network features is definitely helping.

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