PROJECT MANAGEMENT Back to the Future – Ten years of project management

New Zealand’s Project Management Institute has, at least on the face of it, every reason to feel confident about the future. Unlike some professional groups it is not struggling to survive. Project managers are, according to management guru Tom Peters, “a new species” that is flourishing in “the corporate jungle”.
In 10 years in New Zealand the PMI has grown its membership from less than 20 to 940. Worldwide PMI boasts more than 120,000 members. Some commentators predict that project managers will “eventually sweep aside” functional line managers. “Hardly surprising,” wrote management facilitator/consultant Dr Jim Young in Management magazine in February this year, “after all, managers manage projects”.
PMINZ will stage its 10th Anniversary ‘Back to the Future’ Conference in Wellington next month, with US-based PMI international chief executive Greg Balestrero its keynote speaker and conference drawcard.
“Project management is growing internationally because the old ways of managing enterprise don’t work any more,” says Ken Robson, PMINZ’s president. To survive and succeed, organisations today must set targets, measure progress, review trends, cut production costs and processes and deliver clearly defined results. And that is the world of the production manager. “A project management approach makes it possible to accurately cost future projects and ensure they realise the predicted benefits,” he adds. The pressure on profit margins from globalisation and increased competition means every significant project must be professionally managed.
And the PMI has grown along with the global demand for increasingly skilled and competent project managers. It now operates through local branches in 135 countries, says Robson. “It is the world’s leading advocate for the profession, sets industry standards, conducts research and provides education, certification and professional exchange opportunities. Its job is to advance practitioners’ careers while enhancing overall business and government performance through documenting the return on the investment [in project management].”
The local conference’s ‘Back to the Future’ theme is, according to Robson, about re-positioning PMINZ as an organisation. “It is designed to inspire delegates to shape the future of what is rapidly growing organisation and management discipline. We are definitely there to celebrate 10 years of successful growth, but we are also there to learn from past experiences, to deliver more management value through heightened awareness in the present and to discuss how we are going to deliver the future.”
PMINZ wants to understand how project management will shape and contribute to New Zealand’s economic future. “The world will have changed dramatically in 20 years,” says Robson. “We want to think about what kind of training and project management organisations will use. Projects are usually part of wider programmes designed to deliver value and project management needs to understand how this inter-relationship can be managed to optimise that wider use. And human idiosyncrasies are the essence of projects so questions like whether total resource management can ever be achieved need to be considered.”
Project management has changed significantly in the 10 years PMINZ has existed, says Robson. “Project management is now recognised as having an important influence over the success of company.” The impact it has is, he says, based on seven-point approach followed by the discipline. Project management:
* Documents the requirements (scope).
* Establishes the costs and time scale required for success.
* Determines the relevance of past experience.
* Details risk and develops contingency plan to follow if the risk occurs.
* Regularly reviews the risks and updates the contingency plan.
* Reviews progress against the plan and takes action if necessary.
* Documents the lessons learned for the future.
“Organisations increasingly recognise that formalising project management and appointing project managers is just as important as having human resource managers or other areas of specialist management responsibility. Project management improves financial results, profitability and even market share by delivering outcomes on time. It also improves customer satisfaction by delivering products or services on time and at an agreed cost,” says Robson. “And organisations are now asking that project management job applications have the PMI Project Management Professional [PMP] qualification.”
Project management has been called “the accidental profession”, the job that people fell into. It has, quite clearly, now become career in its own right. And as Mark Story wrote in Management in March last year, “the disciplines of project management have become cardinal skills for all aspects of business change – from launching new product, staging customer event, through to relocating an office”.
As Robson now points out: “Project managers are drawn from all career disciplines but they need to have strong people and leaderships skills. Project managers need to manage people both upward and down,” he says. They also need to be good organisational politicians. “They have to lobby the project owners and sponsors and get their backing. They also have to set the expectations of both internal and external customers.”
Jim Young thinks project managers need at least three dimensions of competency, including the ability to:
• Apply the established project management disciplines.
• Lead positive and productive project team and navigate the political realities of the organisational environment, and
• Possess technical or industry knowledge specific to the project.
But where do project managers now sit in the organisational hierarchy? According to Robson their position has improved and moved rapidly up the organisational food chain. “Ten years ago they were still pretty well down the pecking order. They were looked upon as technicians, and not always that successful either,” he says, conceding that many of them came from the engineering side of the tracks and lacked necessary leadership skills. “But now organisations, particularly public sector organisations, are setting up project management offices to set standards and accomplish goals.”
The project management officer (PMO) is, or should be, member of the senior management team, reporting to the CEO or at least general management. Project managers in New Zealand are, however, rather more hands-on than their overseas counterparts, according to Robson. “We are small country,” he explains, “so we don’t have the wealth of resources of larger economies. We have to get stuck in and do it.” He does concede, however, that this state of affairs is changing as “more organisations realise that being project manager is specialised skill”.
PMINZ has carried out professional salary surveys for its members. It found, not surprisingly, that managers with PM qualification earn more than those without, finding that seems likely to boost interest in the Institute’s professional qualification programme. The US-based international office of the PMI is now initiating global delineation study for the role of project manager. “The study is development process in which the tasks, knowledge and skills necessary for project manager are identified and validated through global web-based survey,” explains Robson.
Next month’s conference is important for us here in New Zealand, he says. “It is key point in the evolution of the project management profession. We need to understand where we have come from and where we are headed. We must also understand the impacts of key future influences like government policies, the global economy, the impacts of competition on smaller profit margins that make efficiency and delivery on time critically important and the use of web-based virtual PM teams.”
The conference plays major role in PMINZ’s promotion. “The ‘Back to the Future’ theme is appropriate to

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