Published here December 2005.


Musings Index

Process Groups and the Profession - Part II

In Part I, I took a look at the project management process groups and suggested that the topic would also relate to project management as a profession. So, where does the topic of "project management profession" come in?

Project Management as a Recognized Profession

Well, more than one organization, and many individuals, would like to see project management espoused as the newest publicly recognized profession. Unfortunately, what we saw with the process groups (see Musings: Process Groups and the Profession - Part I last month) does not fill us with great confidence.

But "process groups" aside, for project management to become a truly recognized profession in the eyes of the public, project management needs stability, solid unique content and appropriate levels of responsibility.

On the issue of stability, consider the definition of project management in 1987:

"Project management - The art of directing and coordinating human and material resources throughout the life of a project by using modern management techniques to achieve predetermined objectives of scope, quality, time and cost and participant satisfaction."[1]

In 1996 the definition was:

"Project Management - The application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities in order to meet or exceed stakeholder needs and expectations from a project."[2]

From 2004 the definition is:

"Project Management - The application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements."[3]

Does that look like stability? Does it even look like progress?

On the issue of solid unique content, just take a look at popular project management editorials and articles. I think you will find that a significant majority of them are really discussing or reporting on general management subjects rather than providing serious content unique to project management. In other words, the writings are aimed at corporate general management people rather than project management. True, the articles are typically laced with a solid helping of project management terms but the articles are still treading well-worn general management ground. And, of course, in these publications there is the inevitable preponderance of feel-good happy smiling faces to go with them, typical of general management magazines and untypical of professional magazines.

What is the overwhelming message? The overwhelming message is that corporate general management is a much more lucrative market audience and that project management is no more than a useful technique of general management, albeit an important one. So, if the problem with the current view of the project management body of knowledge is not enough to undermine the idea that project management is a "profession" then the publicity that project management is currently receiving certainly is.

In the case of responsibility, the public's perception of professional responsibility usually relates to public safety. That means having the authority to spend corporate money to that end if need be. I once did a survey of local project managers and in a group of about thirty not one had authority to make or refuse corporate expenditures. I found this very-unscientific survey very revealing.

It told me that few project managers have real control over costs. Indeed, a number were not even in a position to account for their project costs, especially where internal projects were concerned. Their companies simply don't collect and allocate that kind of data! If you don't believe me, just ask your fellow project managers how many of them have the authority to, say, approve or authorize the purchase of software, training or project management consulting services. Bottom line, if we are not trainers or consultants, who are not project managers by any definition, the rest of us are just a bunch of glorified babysitters.

In any case, bear in mind that it has taken close to a century for general management to achieve the status of a profession. Indeed, the Management Institute (UK) only received its Royal Charter in 2002. Project management still has a long way to go and general recognition of project management as a profession just isn't going to happen anytime soon. Indeed, don't expect project management to be recognized as a profession until it transcends so-called general management as the modus operandi of choice in the public and private sectors, with full responsibility for delivery and full control of associated costs.

And, for that matter, not until the supporting associations of project management are also run the same way that projects should be.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

1. Project Management Body of Knowledge Glossary, Project Management Institute, PA, 1987
2. Project Management Body of Knowledge Glossary, Project Management Institute, PA, 1996
3. Project Management Body of Knowledge Glossary, Project Management Institute, PA, 2004
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