2006 PMI Research Conference Aims to Link Project Management Discipline with the Business Community
Written By: Neil Stolovitsky
Published On: September 2006
For years, project management research has focused primarily on the methodology to execute projects on time, within budget, and according to specifications. Project managers who were able to meet these three requirements attached the keyword success to their projects—with the perspective that from an execution point of view, the project was a success. However, other business factors (such as profitability) must be taken into consideration when gauging a project's success. Today's business world demands project results that bring value to the business. History has shown that there have been cases of projects with overruns in budgets and projected time that are successful. A good example was the construction project of the Sydney Opera House in Australia that had an estimated cost of $7 million (USD), with a five-year timeline. The project ended up costing $102 million (USD), and was completed in fifteen years. Although from a project execution point of view it was a disaster, today no one would argue the business success of the opera house, and its impact on the city of Sydney. Recognizing the business value of projects, the project management world has confirmed the need to develop new metrics and techniques to measure and communicate project success.
This year's Project Management Institute (PMI) Research Conference confirmed this shift in focus. Following interviews with PMI chair Iain Fraser, vice chair Linda Vela, and research manager Dr. Ed Andrews, it was clear that PMI's future agenda for project management research is two-fold:
- research in advanced areas of project management, such as approaches in portfolio management and program management; and
- research validating the importance and business value of project management for both the public sector and private industry.
In light of these research objectives, in 2005 PMI awarded Athabasca University a $1.14 million (USD) grant for a three-year research project, "Understanding the Value of Implementing Project Management." The purpose of this research is to assess how project management knowledge and skills are applied within organizations, and then to calculate the return on investment associated with those practices. PMI's research manager Dr. Ed Andrews confirmed that this particular research is aligned with PMI's research philosophy, which seeks to create knowledge to use in practice, and to validate knowledge already in use.
PMI's long history with the project management world has provided decades of research, guidelines, and standards for the project management community around the world. The Project Management Institute was established in 1969 outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (US) by five volunteers. During that same year, it held its first PMI Seminars & Symposium event in Atlanta, Georgia (US), and had an attendance of eighty-three people. By the early nineties, PMI was still a relatively small organization, with a couple thousand members. It was not until the high tech boom of the mid-nineties that project management became an important area of interest, catapulting PMI's membership. In fact, 28 percent of today's project management professionals are from the information technology (IT) industry, and consultants comprise another 8 percent. As of 2006, the PMI community consists of 220,000 members, with over 180,000 project management professionals (PMPs) in 175 countries. In addition, there are over 240 local PMI chapters located in 67 countries, and 30 special interest groups (SIGs). PMI also has two colleges: the College of Performance Management and the College of Scheduling.
PMI provides thought leadership in project management, and has published its third edition of A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (also known as the PMBOK Guide). The guide was developed for two levels of certification offered by PMI:
- A Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM), for which one demonstrates a base of knowledge of terms in the field of project management.
- A Project Management Professional (PMP), for which one has met specific education and experience requirements, has agreed to adhere to a code of professional conduct, and has passed an examination designed to objectively assess and measure project management knowledge.
This year's theme at the 2006 PMI Research Conference was "New Directions in Project Management." After a number of presentations, it was evident that project management research is shifting its focus from an execution model to a strategic business model. In fact, a number of research papers at the conference validated project management's critical contribution to an organization's success. The challenge project managers face is their shift in mindset from being managers delivering completed projects to being strategic owners of projects that deliver business value.
PMI's research conference, hosted in Montreal, Quebec (Canada) from July 16 to 19, was the largest of its kind. Attracting over 330 attendees, the research conference consisted of 60 reviewed papers presented by 18 invited and 42 proffered speakers covering 6 topic areas:
- Theoretical foundations, covering best practices and theoretical approaches in project management
- Methodologies and processes, covering a multitude of research topics covering specific methodologies in project execution
- Leadership, focusing on project manager leadership roles, sponsor roles and stakeholder issues
- Organizational project management, covering research on PMOs and organizational structures within the project management world
- Soft skills, focusing on negotiation and people skills for successful project execution and team building
- Learning, covering case studies and lessons learned from historical projects
The three-day event was kicked off each day with different plenary presentations from a number of prolific speakers, including Robert G. Cooper, PhD, president of the Product Development Institute Inc., and creator of the Stage-Gate process for new product development; Bent Flyvbjerg, PhD, professor of planning at the Department of Development and Planning at Aalborg University, Denmark, and an expert on mega-projects and risk; and Hans J. Thamhain, PhD, PMP who specializes in technology-based project management. Some additional highlights included Professor Brian Hobb's research on the organizational structure of PMOs and their diversity, Professor Aaron Shenhar's revolutionary theory of strategic project leadership empowering the transformation of project managers into strategic business owners, and Lynda Bourne's Stakeholder Circle methodology, to ensure stakeholder buy-in for project success. It seems that there was a lot of research focused on the state of project management. For example, Hobb is doing ground-breaking research on defining what is a PMO. Currently there is no uniform definition of a PMO among research organizations, and even PMI has not built a consensus on defining PMOs. However, the real interest to practitioners will be seen in Hobb's later research on how to execute a PMO. Consequently, research with proposed methodologies to solve project management issues, such as those presented by Robert Cooper and Aaron Shenhar, showed the business value project managers bring to their organizations.
In addition, this year's research conference focused on the international presence of PMI and its mission to help standardize the project management discipline within the academic community. The conference also acted as a platform to help revitalize PMI's waning accreditation program. Although the program has been in existence since the mid-eighties, until recent years only the University of Qubec and Western Carolina University have been accredited by the program. PMI revamped the program in 2003 under a new entity, the Global Accreditation Center for Project Management (GACPM). GACPM has greatly increased efforts in establishing guidelines and recruiting applicant institutions for GAC accreditation. To this date, Western Carolina University, University of Qubec, Stevens Institute of Technology, The University of Texas at Dallas, Groupe ESC Lille ISGI, University of Maryland, Boston University Metropolitan College, and the University of Management and Technology are part of the new program. Moreover, there are fourteen additional applicant institutions that are going through the accreditation process. The main mission of PMI's global accreditation program is to review the content and process of candidate project management programs of academic institutions. Accreditation is conferred to institutions that are in compliance with the Global Accreditation Center (GAC) standards of accreditation.
The 2006 PMI Research Conference was an excellent venue for gauging the direction project management research is heading. In fact, the advanced areas of portfolio management and program management presented at the conference confirm the rising demand for PPM solutions within organizations. It is evident that both organizations and project managers are bridging the gap between project management and their overall business strategy. In light of this reality, PMI recognizes that its contribution to the project management world needs to support research that proves the business value project management brings to organizations.