Published here August 2003.


Musings Index

Project Management as a Profession: Lost Vision, Take-over or New Direction?

Many would like to have project management seen as a profession, or at least as a recognized discipline. Clearly, the Project Management Institute ("PMI") is the world's largest organization dedicated to project management, so the view of project management by the public-at-large will very much depend on how this institution presents itself, its members and their skill-sets.

More than a decade has now passed since the following historic document was presented to PMI by "The O&M Study" co-chairs David Cleland and Max Wideman, back in November 1991. Looking back, much has changed in the field of project management and we are entitled to ask: Is it for the better? The so-called O&M Study is presented here without further comment. Using this report as a baseline, readers may judge for themselves, the answers to the question we pose in our title.

[Report dated November 1991]
To the Project Management Institute Board

Re: PMI Strategic Planning Sub-Committee
PMI Future Organization and Management
Ten Fundamental Guiding Principles for PMI Governance
(O&M Study)

PMI's Strategic Planning Committee (SPC) Sub-Committee (Wideman/Cleland co-chairs) is attempting to develop recommendations for PMI's future organization and management, given a number of recommendations put before the Board in 1990 and 1991. However, the committee is not restricting itself strictly to these proposals alone but rather wishes to take a broader view encompassing also the organization's goals and objectives as well as financial health in the long term.

Nevertheless, there remains the difficult issue of determining on what basis should any possible suggestions for change be evaluated and justified before formal presentation. Indeed, there is a need to bring together a set of Fundamental Guiding Principles which builds on PMI's heritage and project management philosophy not only for evaluating the committee's recommendations but which would also provide guidelines for the management generally of PMI at Board level. It is clearly important that PMI should be seen as leaders and not followers.


1.   Vision

The vision of PMI is embedded in its Constitution, Article II - Purposes, and the means for attaining that vision is the result of the collective wisdom of its membership.

Therefore, PMI's elected representatives and particularly the Chairman and President respectively are the custodians and leaders for attaining that vision.

Comment: The collective wisdom of the PMI membership is the result of the input from many sources including, for example, CCP [Council of Chapter Presidents] submissions, Strategic and other planning committees, member representations and so on. These inputs are in addition to the policy platforms upon which individual Board members were elected and the latter should not be permitted to override the former.

2.   Priority and Continuity

The General Purpose of PMI is to advance the state-of-the-art in the management of projects, and PMI's specific objectives consistent with this goal are clearly described in Article II section B of the constitution.

Therefore, high priority must be given to achieving these objectivities through organizational structure, continuity of priorities and actions from Board meeting to Board meeting taking into account both new ideas and lessons learned.

Comment: The objectives spelled out in Article II of the PMI constitution also constitute PMI's services to the membership. Not surprisingly, these services are those most in demand by PMI's members and are also the primary basis for the success of PMI's chapter system. Most of these critical activities are presently vested within the responsibility of the VP Technical Activities. Since chapters are the dominant vehicle for future PMI growth, ways and means should be found to integrate the present VP Tech responsibilities with other members of the PMI Board (e.g., promoting the principles of effective project management, the benefits of certification, or the use of PMBOK as the common language of project management etc.).

3.   Origins

PMI was established and developed for the benefit of individual members (so-called grass-roots origins).

Therefore, service to the membership as individuals must remain paramount, and, as numbers grow, constitutionally strengthened.

Comment: The process for member representative election, representation and recall, as well as individual member initiatives (e.g. petitions) should be regularly reviewed to maintain a balance between ability for members to institute change and avoidance of frivolous actions.

4.   Participation and Commitment

The strength of PMI is evident by the dedication, commitment and active contribution of its members.

Therefore, the primary thrust for meeting PMI's established objectives should be through voluntary member efforts.

Comment: This approach has several major benefits, for example:
  • The cost of such effort is kept within bounds so that the call on PMI's financial resources (i.e. principally member fee structure) is minimized.
  • The results are more likely to reflect the real world of practical project management.
  • The Institute's work is less likely to be influenced by vested interest.
  • Hence the quality and durability of such contributions will be more sustainable.

5.   Professional Standards and Competitive Independence

Project management and the development of its process methodologies succeed best in an unfettered environment.

Therefore, PMI's efforts must be directed towards maintaining its independence from all major influences, whether public, private or other self-serving interests.

Comment: Legislated support for the PMP designation, for example, might appear to be an attractive goal to provide leverage for professional standards. However, such a course results in legal entrenchment raising bureaucratic obstacles to progress and change with consequent stagnation. The risk of litigation is also increased.

6.   Diversity and Balance

PMI promotes project management as a universal discipline, i.e. applicable across all cultures, sectors, industries and areas of application.

Therefore, this concept must be constantly recognized and maintained through PMI's representation and management structure.

Comment: This suggests that an equitable distribution of representation should be sought and maintained so that every major grouping within PMI has a forum through which it can contribute and voice its opinion. It means striving for a balance between public, private and not-for-profit sectors; between academic and practicing institutions; and between different industries and areas of PM application.

7.   Practicing What We Preach

Project Management is a structured process for achieving a new end result. It is based on "teams" and a "team approach" rather than on "bureaucracy" or "routine" management.

Therefore, this concept should be highly visible as a consequence of promotion-by-example through all of PMI's management activities. That is to say, PMI's management activities must, to the maximum extent possible, be structured in the project mode in all that it does.

Comment: Project management is more focused than routine management. Even routine management is subject to increasing change which can best be managed as a series of projects. This means, for example, that PMI should give preference to establishing project teams charged with specific end results rather than establishing committees with annual operating expenses. Only those on-going items that are patently routine and do not have any measurable outputs should be accounted for as such and these items should be kept to an absolute minimum.

8.   Delegation

Work breakdown through proper delegation of authority, responsibility and accountability is another powerful and effective project management technique.

Therefore, this approach should be more consistently adopted in the distribution of the work effort necessary to achieve PMI's primary objectives by empowering voluntary project teams accordingly.

Comment: It has been suggested that there are limits to what part time volunteers can accomplish and that this constrains progress in delivering products for the membership. While this may be true, with some 8,000 members and only a fraction of those presently actively participating in the overall effort, it is doubtful whether this limit has been reached. Indeed, PMI suffers from a significant annual attrition rate and this may be attributable to lack of involvement. It is possible that the problem is one of lack of effective application, motivation and logistics rather than one of limited resources. PMI needs to improve its ability in mobilizing its volunteer member resources. Bearing in mind that voluntary effort is unpaid effort, other forms of reward must be identified, developed and established as a matter of policy. There are many creative opportunities in this regard.

9.   Adding Value

PMI is a vibrant organization that has built its strength on innovation and information exchange.

Therefore, PMI must continue to maintain its competitive advantage in this respect and consequent benefits to paid-up members must remain paramount.

Comment: This means that all of PMI's offerings should be highly geared towards favoring PMI membership such as by way of priorities, member discounts (e.g. for meetings, workshops, seminars, publications, chapter meetings) and so on. For example, it is suggested that a minimum differential of a 30% discount on the non-member price should be established throughout the organization's activities. It should also be widely promoted as a benefit of membership. Specific departures would necessarily be advertised as "special" rates. It also means that PMI's fee structure must remain competitive for the value of benefits offered as perceived by the membership.

10.   Financial Health

PMI is a non-profit professional association for which solid financial strength is essential in order to meet its goals.

Therefore, annual budgets and expenditure control must be structured to show a favorable balance annually.

Comment: Non-profit simply means that there is no distribution of "profits" to any "shareholders". This does not preclude building a reasonable asset base as a necessary contingency reserve, such as may be required to absorb periodic member declines during economic down-turns, a possible annual or regional seminar/symposium or other program failure to break even or make a budgeted profit. It may also be necessary to build an asset base for purposes of a planned investment such as a major computer and administration software upgrade. An annual budgeted favorable balance of say 10% is suggested.


The principles outlined above do not directly address the policy issues raised before the SPC sub-committee, but should point the way for action. For example, if accepted as a backdrop for decision making, the appropriate balance between paid staff and volunteer work should be clearly evident. This seemed to be one of the key differences of opinion before the Board in 1991. The need for representation by the present ad-hoc special interest groups is another issue which also becomes more evident.

Respectfully submitted,
David Cleland and Max Wideman

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