Saturday, July 19, 2008

Does PMI (Project Management Institute) find value in Project Management?

On July 15, PMI presented the finding of their four year, $3M study looking to see if project management added value. You can see their presentation here: PMI Presentation

Their results reminded me of Churchill's quote about democracy:

Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried. — Winston Churchill

PM is messy, imperfect and immature, but what are the alternatives? I give Dr. Janice Thomas and Mr Mark Mullaly credit for presenting as objective of a report as they could. PMI gave them a lot of money to say that PM adds value. Reality is messy and that is really what their study found.

Consider that they looked at 65 companies in different industries, countries and organization structures. They looked at private, public, government and sole proprietorships. What insights do government findings offer to sole proprietorships? Equally, PM in office construction bears little resemblance to PM in software development. They also found that culture and context in China bear much resemblance to that in the US. All of these affect outcomes.

To me, what they did was the equivalent of asking 65 different groups of people who grow vegetables to comment on the value of water and fertilizer. I'm not sure what conclusions you could draw looking at my mother's tomato plants in Wisconsin, hog farms in Canada or government farming cooperatives in China.

I'll save researchers $3M and emphatically state that the empirical evidence shows that fertilizer is valuable.

That's pretty much what I think PMI found. Any thoughts?


Dr. PDG said...

Wow Andrew. I am impressed with your willingess to speak out and say that the emperor has no clothes on.

While I highly respect Janice and Mark as researchers, I fully agree with your assessment and interpretations, although I have yet to get my hands on a full copy of the research findings.

As evidenced by the Pyramids, Great Wall of China, taming of fire, invention of the wheel ad infinitum, "project management" in some incarnation has been with us since the beginning of time. I would be willing to hypothesise that project management is hard wired into the human psyche.

So yes, of course project management is valuable and yes of course project management is part of just about everything we do, but all project management is (based on my own PhD research) is a PROCESS. And except at the very highest of levels, that process is not necessarily the same across different applications.

Keep up the good work.

Dr. PDG, from KL, Malaysia

Mark said...

Its not surprising PMI found value in project management, it would be suprising if they didn't.

Proving project value is a different question.

Dr. PDG said...

Notwithstanding the rather abysmal failure rate of IT projects, "project management" as a delivery system/methodology works. By nearly all credible definitions of "project", each commercial airline flight is a project; each medical procedure is a project; each accounting year for a single client is a project, ad infinitum. Looking at it in this context, there are far more successes than failures.

What I believe is missing are is the underlying skill sets that exist around the methodology. While a commercial airline pilot does project management, he doesn't realize it. The process is embedded in what he/she does. Same with medicine. The process or methodology is part and parcel of the specific medical procedure.

It has suited PMI in particular to glorify project management, when in most cases, it is (or at least should be) nothing more than common sense, applied in the context of a specialized skill set. (piloting an aircraft, removing an appendix etc)

Explained another way, my PROFESSION is Civil Engineering (Or commercial airline piloting or medecine or whatever) and the methodology I use in my profession is project management.

Thus PMI's research appears to have proven the obvious. That people with different skill sets apply project management methodolgies in their work. Whoop de do.

Dr. PDG from KL, Malaysia

Andrew Meyer said...

Dr. Pdg,

first off, if I say anything negative to you, please understand it is partly motivated by jealousy. KL is one of my favorite cities in the world. If you drop me a line ( I'll send you my travelogue from KL. I have good friends out there and would love to come back.

I agree with you that PMI and others have taken the ideas of project management and twisted them for their own purposes. PM, in America anyways, was largely developed building the polaris submarines. As they were in Southern California, I suspect that a lot of the ideas were taken from home and office construction.

Construction, whether its submarines or houses is heavily schedule driven. Heavily waterfall schedule driven. You have to dig the hole in the ground before you lay the foundation. You have to install load bearing supports before you put up walls etc. It all fits extremely well into a waterfall approach. Talk to people from those industries and projects may have variances, but they are communicated and the affected people are alerted and make adjustments.

Software development and implementation, however, do not fit so nicely in that paradigm. Try as people might, a software development project just doesn't follow the same pattern as building a building. Even the Petronis towers. There are many more changes in direction and requirements.

Is this an excuse for PM? No. Very few people would say that home construction is similar to software development.

Oh, wait, PMI lumped them all into one group and tried to compare them. What am I thinking?

Drop me a line,


Dr. PDG said...

Hi Andy,
I joined PMI at a time when there were battles between the construction people (of which I am one of them) and the IT people over Safety, Health and the Environment, (SHE) which are HUGE concerns to our sector. It was resolved by "downgrading" SHE to be embedded into scope,cost, time, risk, quality etc. for the sake of "unity".

Of particular interest some years later, were the issues which arose in the IT sector about safety (remember the radiation from the CRT's), Health (repetive stress syndrome) and the Environment (what to do with all those CD's from AOL, as well as the used equipment being dismantled by child laborers in India and China)

I for one would like to see SHE upgraded to the status of its own knowledge area. I know when I teach project management, I include it as a separate module.

PDG, ready to eat a nice Indian meal in KL.

Dr. PDG said...

PS: I agree fully and totally that IT is quite different than construction. Based on my experiences with PMI in the formative years of the PMBOK Guide, I frequently argued that by focusing on those tools, techniques and methodologies used on most projects, most of the time (PMBOK Guide page 3, I think) we were generalizing to the point where it was nearly meaningless. Yet, the PMBOK Guide surely caught on, but based on what I keep seeing, it is the details which are killing us.

Bottom line- IMPO, PMI has become an impediment to improving the delivery of projects simply because it does NOT focus on the details of how project management is different in construction, IT, medecine etc. Supposedly, the SIGS were supposed to develop BoKs unique to their application, but I don't believe that has been very successful.


Nathaniel @ pmi project management said...

Interesting post. It's not really a question that PMI values Project Management. For PM involves our daily lives.

It just doesn't make sense if they didn't. Well, as for democracy, we shouldn't think so negative about it. It also had their good side.

Great work!

Andrew Meyer said...


Project management is a difficult thing and coming up with generalized training to deal with the specific requirements of specific projects is even more problematic.

A large part of the value of PMI is that it sets out a methodology that one can take and evolve to meet their specific requirements. There's tremendous value in looking at it as a starting point.


Dr. PDG said...

Andy, I have to take issue with your statement that what PMI advocates is a METHODOLOGY. It is not. It is a Body of Knowledge.

NOW, having said that, I agree it sure LOOKS like a methodology but if you mind map it, you will find that for all intents and purposes, it is nearly useless "as is"......

IF you are looking for a methodology- a step by step approach, then I highly recommend Gary Humphrey's Project Management Using Earned Value-

IMPO, this is the best PRACTICAL book ever written on project management. It is what PMI's PMBOK Guide SHOULD have been, had it not been written by a committee......

And it is much more pragmatic than the "Kerzner Bible"......


Dr. PDG, Jakarta

Andrew Meyer said...

Dr. PDG,

are you in KL or Jakarta? I'm not sure which one makes me more jealous. Goodness, I have great memories from that part of the world.

I agree with you about PMI and I was sloppy in phrasing that its a methodology. Thanks for correcting me.

Thanks for the "Project Management Using Earned Value" recommendation. I will look for it.


Dr. PDG said...

Hi Andy,
We are based in Jakarta, with an office in Singapore as well, but we travel all over South and Eastern Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Europe. (I leave on Friday for Lagos, Nigeria)

And I think you will enjoy Humphrey's 900 page, double sized book. His linear approach doesn't work really well for IT projects (I think Agile works best for them) but for construction, International Development or any projects where the deliverables are fairly well defined early on on the process, his approach works exceptionally well.

Dr. PDG, Jakarta, Indonesia