A Health-Check for PPM Practices

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff, ProjectExperts CEO.

The Backstory
We founded IPMA-USA in 2001 with a vision of accelerating the advancement of the project and program management (PM) discipline for beneficial change in organizations, the USA, and the world. But first we had to reverse a downward trend.

Our founders——many of whom had key roles in the success of other professional associations——believed that PM had not kept pace with the increased complexity of initiatives. Despite the heroic efforts of PM thought leaders like Lew Ireland, William Duncan, Bob Youker, and others, during the 1990s the momentum of beneficial change through PM had dramatically slowed and showed few signs of regaining traction. And so these same people met to share their insights about the symptoms and causes of the downward trend, and about how to regain momentum.

Downward or Upward? The Insights
Our IPMA-USA founders collected their insights into seven areas that needed serious attention to halt the downward trend and begin its upward acceleration. The areas (numbered here for easier referencing; no ranking implied) are:

  1. Author ownership of PM intellectual property
  2. Learning focused on improving PM performance
  3. Demonstrating PM performance
  4. Improving communication with stakeholders
  5. Improving integration and coordination across PM-related groups
  6. Managing projects to fulfill business objectives and deliver business success
  7. Establishing PM as a core, life competence

Some of the areas required redirecting the practice of PM in general. Some required establishing ways to demonstrate and measure PM performance and business value. Some areas would be easier to measure than others. And some areas would require a seismic shift in thoughts and acts about who we serve and why.

How are We Doing?

1. Author ownership of PM intellectual property.
People who created intellectual property were often relinquishing their copyrights and then licensing back the rights to use it. This was good for the associations, event organizers, and their lawyers; and not so good for the creators.

Now: This was a big win so long ago that most people don’t remember the challenges we overcame. At IPMA-USA, we believe the creators of intellectual property should retain their rights to it. When we publish your paper or you present at our events, you retain the rights to your intellectual property—unless you enter into an agreement to assign those rights to IPMA-USA. Interestingly, other associations are now more-often following that intelligent approach.

2. Learning focused on improving PM performance.
Then: In our view, too much of PM learning had evolved to little more than preparing for an exam; and by the late 1990s an alarming amount of USA investment in PM training was being spent on short-term memory, exam-cram classes instead of true learning that would improve project performance and business results.

Now: Savvy Universities and training firms have realized that, if they are to differentiate from the 3000+ others who are all teaching the same things, they must help build a foundation for delivering project and business success. We know this because of the number that talk to us about “making a difference.”

3. Demonstrating PM performance.
Then: The good news about the turn of the millennium, when IPMA-USA was conceived, was that more organizations were realizing they needed PM and were adding PM-type work for seemingly everyone. The bad news was that they thought that knowing PM processes and jargon, creating a schedule, and generating status reports that explain why they are late is all there is to PM. They thought they knew the recipe for success, but failed to deliver the needed performance.

Now: Because of their international PM experience, IPMA-USA’s founders knew that this faux solution was not just a USA problem–it was global. And, there were several global initiatives available that demonstrated a true grasp of the situation. For example, in 2001, the year of our founding, IPMA’s multi-level certification program had been in place for several years. And, Australia legislated a requirement for performance competence assessments for most skill-based roles. IPMA-USA joined IPMA in 2004, and combined the IPMA approach with a true PM performance-competence development and assessment process for individuals, project teams, and organizations.

4. Improving communication with stakeholders.
Then: Far too many PM practitioners (but of course not you, dear reader) were perceived as lacking communication skills, which many stakeholders interpreted as a lack of leadership, interpersonal, and even team-building skills. In other words, many PMs were not seen as being business friendly.

Now: A wide range of practitioners, and even some associations, are realizing that stakeholder engagement and communication is more than a handful of processes, and leadership and interpersonal skills are more than an appendix to a guide. Yes, come to IPMA-USA, where we have always understood this. Even though these skills and demonstrated competences may be difficult to develop and assess.

5. Improving integration and coordination across PM-related groups.
Then: While PMs were perceived as lacking communication skills, they were also perceived as “stovepiping” their work; i.e., PMs were poorly integrated and poorly coordinated with related professional groups.

Now: Realization among leading practitioners of the need for improved PM integration and coordination with related groups, including Business Development Managers, Proposal Managers, Contract Managers, Product Managers, Business Analysts, Architects, Construction Engineers, Organizational Change Managers, for internal projects, and others. See our article on this topic.

6. Managing projects to fulfill business objectives and achieve business success.
Then: PMs tended to act with a “manage one project at a time” mentality. And the focus was upon easy-to-measure single-project objectives, which did not necessarily tie to organization strategy or meet business objectives. Worse, a tendency to focus on easy to measure (but often lagging) project success measures, rather than the needed business outcomes caused many teams to fail to deliver the business success for which the project was chartered.

Now: Though the change isn’t easy, today more organizations than not realize that each project is just one part of an organization’s portfolio, and that all projects must integrate with the plans, priorities and actions for other projects, programs, and operations. To that end, they are engaging much earlier in projects the stakeholders who will evaluate business success, and working throughout the engagement with those stakeholders to assure they achieve that success. Some PMs realized it before their organizations did. Unfortunately, some PMs are still struggling to accept this insight, and focusing on triple-constraints and other “triangle” approaches.

7. Establishing PM as a core, life competence.
Then: PM Competence, or Competency, was a phrase embraced by very few in the USA during the 1980s and 1990s. Some, such as your author, had set up PM Competency centers in Nuclear Power Plants in the early 1980s (for example). But that was just one part of a practice that assured the project and program results that the organizations sought. We established the same idea in Program Management Offices in the mid and late 1980s. But other than those initiatives and the successes of other current IPMA-USA members, the concept of PM Competency was mostly unknown in the USA.

Now: One of our founding insights was the need to establish the practice of competent and performing project management as a core competence of life, for all persons, regardless of their age, roles, location, or access to guidance. Others have recently come to the competence party, and that is an important shift: A benefit, if all parties really understand how to develop competence (few do), and the power that true competence can deliver. Here is an instance of the scope of this insight: In the mid 1990s, one PM association said there were perhaps 250,000 project managers in the world. We said, the right elements of project management are a core learning and essential competence—a survival skill—for every one of the world’s billions of citizens. Most just don’t realize it yet.

This article began by recapping our vision of accelerating the advancement of the project and program management (PM) discipline for beneficial change in organizations and the world. We then looked back on how we’ve done with the seven insights we focused on to achieve that vision. Twelve years after we filed the papers as a not-for-profit corporation in the state of Colorado, we think we’ve done a pretty good job for our members, while apparently leading other organizations to also do better. Maybe we should Declare Victory, and Take the Weekend Off. After all, we are all volunteers.

However, we know there is much left to do. To guide our future work we’ve adopted (with permission) a more elegant, yet succinct vision: A world in which all projects succeed. Thank you, APM, IPMA-UK for allowing us to adopt your vision statement.

As Change Agents, we saw the need to apply our insights to the USA first. Our rationale: Get results here, then it will be easier to adapt them to other cultures and other competitive environments. Then we had a surprise: Others started watching us, exploring our insights for advancement, and emulating our moves to realize them. By 2004, when we joined IPMA, we had established ourselves as thought leaders in project and program management.

Within five years of our founding, our members had caused more movement towards our needed-change list than in all our efforts in service to other organizations during the 1990s. So we repeat the first part of our question: Is it time now, to Declare Victory?

Progress is Good; Victory Elusive
Many of IPMA-USA’s founders and our charter members are or have been members of Project Management Institute and have founded chapters, and served on its boards at the chapter and national level. Similarly, many of IPMA-USA’s current members are members of the Institute; our two organizations are quite complementary. However, we cautioned in 2001 that the presence of one strong association in any industry signals an industry in decline. Because of our actions over the last 12 years (and certainly the actions of other smart volunteers), we know our industry has advanced, grown, and improved its performance for our stakeholders.

For our part, we are pleased to see everyone making progress in the seven signature areas covered in this article. For example, it’s heartening to see a change from citing the importance of knowledge to emphasizing the importance of competence. Our opinions differ on the degree to which an exam-based certification assesses competence, but at least we finally appear to agree that competence must be assessed. And now, we are seeing new evidence that others also realize that it is time to “kick it up a notch.”

A recent video (no longer available) gives you a window into the Institute’s direction. The video (4 minutes) is about the need to move beyond the Triple Constraint, recorded for a United Kingdom conference last year.

Are You Ready? is an excellent video. Our take-away is that Mark Langley (then head of pm institute) must have studied the IPMA Competence Baseline; he is hitting most of our talking points. The segment at 10:30 sounds to us to be almost directly copied from the table of contents of the IPMA Competence Baseline. Mr. Langley clearly understands the importance of the changes we describe in the seven areas covered in this article. And he is acting on them, to the benefit of all.

IPMA-USA in the USA, and your IPMA Member Associations in the rest of the world have, for 12-16 years, been practicing, engaging, assessing, and spreading the word about the true elements of competence and organizational project and program performance. Our insights are available now to help you to make sure You Are Ready. You can demonstrate your performance competence now with the USA’s only advanced, professionally-assessed, role-specific certification in the PM disciplines.

You can apply now for the IPMA-USA PM certification for which you qualify. And if you are not yet a member of IPMA-USA, the we invite you to join us, and help us continue to move project and business success forward. Then can we declare victory, and take at least one weekend off.

Related Articles
We produced a Progress Report on our results in some of these areas several years ago, to celebrate our 10 year anniversary.

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