By PH Lohnes, PMP
Before I move into my column this month, I must clarify an issue that landed me in hot water with some readers of last month’s topic. When I said that the best candidate to be a portfolio manager is a member of the Senior Leadership Team (SLT), I did not mean to imply that this was their own duty. The chosen member of the SLT could in fact delegate most of the actual portfolio effort to a working manager. However, I stand by the need to ensure the portfolio manager, director, chair (use your own title) is both privy to and a participant of the enterprise strategic landscape design. Without this connection, well, read this month’s front page for the consequences of such lack of strategic awareness for the portfolio manager.
Onward now. After spending over three years working as a project, program, and portfolio manager/consultant in support of a research endeavor at over 7 government agencies, 3 healthcare companies, and for 5 small-medium government contractors, I have come to the conclusion that the project management state of the practice is disoriented and in chaos. I say this only because over the past 20 years the number of certified project managers has increased by well over 100 times (4,000 to over 400,000) while the project success rates have not shown any material improvement with the small exception of Agile-type projects in the IT world.
What could be the cause of this disconnect? Here is my story, and it is only mine. I do not blame anyone or any institution – they are doing what they think is best to protect their own turf or philosophies. However, I bring up Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity:
“Doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results.”
By this definition, the current state of project management is decidedly crazy. We are continuing to do the same things over and over, but expecting that somehow the results will be marginally different. I point to the fact that next version of what is called the industry project management body of knowledge by its creators is fundamentally the same as the previous versions especially in the risk discipline. Project management is not the same as it was 20 years ago or even 5 years ago. We need to be dynamic and adaptive; flexible and applicable.
Therefore, what in the current state of the practice is limiting our profession from achieving the results that our employers, clients, or customers desire?
Simply, we have become stifled in a liturgy of project management processes that look good on paper, but do not work in the real world. The profession is more interested in protecting its brand than protecting the best interests of those that procure its services. With a comparison to history, the project management profession is at the same point in time as the Western religions were at the beginning of the Reformation – processes are more important than production, form is more important than function, and ostentatiousness than outcomes.
The practice of project management is professionally bankrupt! Those of us that see this need to begin the steps of retaking the profession from those that have put us into this “process limiting” perspective, and rebuild it along the lines that provide value for our employers and clients. We need to show value for our mostly very expensive services – not continued low project success rates.
From the early 1990’s until now, there has been a 100 fold increase in the number of certified project managers just from the PMI – not counting the other PM organizations overseas. If the value of the certification was correlated to the success ratios of project completions, one would expect the ratios to have taken a significant increase over these past two decades. This is far from the reality as has been shown in several studies of project success ratios from the Standish Group, Computerworld, InfoWorld, and authors: Martin Cobb, Kirk Kirksey, Bob Lewis, Thomas Hoffman, Julia King, and many others.
Consequently, if the large increase in certified project managers has not advantaged the project success ratios, the problem must lie elsewhere. In some blogs, the fault is levied at the increase in project complexities, lack of senior management support, lack of defined goals, requirements, etc. However, it would seem that most likely culprit is the methods, processes, and perspectives in use over the past two decades. What I am speaking about is the industry best practices or bodies of knowledge in use. These components of project management are largely unchanged from the 1950’s – 1960’s where they were born of the construction industry. One notable exception is the advent of the Agile methodology in use for the development of software applications.
I maintain that the project management profession MUST come to grips that it is not serving its customers, stakeholders, or clients by continuing to demand wages in the low six figures, but not delivering business value for those high compensatory pay-outs. The US Government has already begun the process of altering their perception of what a project manager is by defining, creating, and instituting their own project management certification program: the FAC-P/PM (Federal Acquisition Certification for Program and Project Managers) from the OFPP (Office of Federal Procurement Policy).
The policy letter of April 25, 2007 states that “the certification shall be accepted by, at a minimum, all civilian agencies as evidence that an employee meets core training and experience requirement for general program and project management.” This should have rocked the PMI and APM to its core; however, nothing appears to have been done about this lack of acceptance of the commercial certifications by the US Government. We are seemingly going quietly into the good night. Sooner or later, the industry must come back from the over complication of its practices towards the concept that in project management it is all about the deliverables – pure and simple – the production of “fit-for-use” deliverables.