An editorial for Project Mangement World Today Web Magazine. Published here February 2000.


Musings Index

What Price Professionalism?

There is much discussion of 'professionalism' amongst project management people. Now, however, it appears that there is a sea-change under way in North America and we are not at all sure we like it. Apparently, a well-known project management association has seen fit to sue some of its own most productive members. And the amounts are not trivial - we understand in the millions of dollars.

We are not familiar with the details, nor is it our place to comment on the specifics of the cases. What is legitimate, is a public discussion on the type of environment that this creates, and its impact on our world of project management. All of the associations with which we are familiar, whether registered, professional or otherwise, are heavily dependent upon the efforts of volunteers. In these days of extreme global competitiveness, long working hours and personal stress, soliciting volunteer efforts is difficult enough. Those that do volunteer their time, do so out of a burning desire to contribute their talents. Understandably, there will be conflicting opinions, personality conflicts and a few damaged egos. It goes with the territory.

In the new order, it seems that these conflicts are to be actively discouraged. Thought processes, and even the content of project management itself are to be mandated from the top. Everyone will sing the same happy song.

It is bad enough having to stay in line with one’s employer’s dictates - often at odds with one’s better judgment, principles or code of ethics. One of the great benefits of joining an association is that it provides an opportunity to test ideas and skill sets without fear of jeopardizing one’s employment. But the latent message of the new order is that volunteers not only sacrifice there valuable discretionary time but may inadvertently put their personal assets at considerable risk. What a chilling prospect for volunteers, their inspiration, and progress towards professionalism!

Fortunately, many other associations think differently. They believe in the subsidiarity principle of giving as much power of decision making as possible to local groups, while providing a common and benign framework for global communication, cooperation and contribution. Project management is supposed to be a discipline in which non-adversarial facilitation approaches to problem resolution are the norm, not the exception. Law suits in this context are not only expensive and counter-productive but look foolish in international eyes. We sincerely hope that the sea-change we are witnessing is reversed - before it becomes all-pervasive.

Footnote (July 2001): The law suits referred to above have since been resolved, but not without considerable damage to the collegial environment which prevailed previously.

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