This paper is a slightly updated version of a Feature Interview published on line by PMWorld Today in October and November 2007.

Published here August, 2008.

PART 1 | PART 2 Intro | Project Management Institute | PMI Canadian West Coast Chapter
Service on the PMI Board of Directors | Movers and Shakers on the PMI Board 
A "Sea Change" in PMI | PART 3

A "Sea Change" in PMI

PMWT: Max, you've seen PMI change a lot since then. In your opinion, what are some of the most significant changes affecting PMI since you were president?

Max: The answer to this question probably trespasses into sensitive areas so it will be important to stick to facts rather than opinion. Certainly, since I was president, there has been a sea change in PMI and two forces have dominated that change. The first is obviously the growth in "IT-type" projects spurred on by the evolution and enormous success of the personal computer and its application to business processes. As businesses in all domains discover, the opportunities for process improvement in these rapidly advancing technologies, including of course the Internet, the number and complexity of these projects has ballooned.

What has changed in the project management arena as a result is that such projects are typically much shorter than "traditional construction-type" projects. They generally involve less money per project, the products have a much shorter "shelf-life" so that products cycle through at much shorter intervals, and the number of stakeholders involved in the projects are typically larger in proportion to their size. But above all creation of the product requires intellectual effort (brain work) rather than muscle power (brawn work). All of this means dealing with two quite different types of people who respond to quite different styles of management. And because the PMI membership is now made up of a majority of "IT types" instead of "construction types" the focus of PMI member interest has shifted accordingly. And with it, I think it is fair to say that the PMI culture has also changed.

The second force is the shift in PMI organizational responsibility from the membership to the paid executive staff. As with all nascent organizations, PMI started out by being run entirely by volunteers. As the membership grew along with revenue, so did the need for bureaucracy and paid staff to handle it. Hiring professional association executives inevitably means introducing a struggle between the visions of a permanent executive and those of a regularly changing volunteer Board membership. Understandably, it is difficult for an Executive to establish some degree of stability without exercising a degree of control over the organization. The perennial question is how much?

I recall that this issue was hotly debated on the Board many times as we worked our way through several Executive Directors. There were those, like myself, who wanted to see PMI leadership maintained by volunteers of stature, while others wanted to see a dominant paid professional in charge, one who would lead a parade that others could (meekly?) follow. Eventually, the other side got their wish. It is true that today we have a very flourishing PMI organization and, if numbers and financial strength are the criteria, then highly successful. The problem is that, short of a palace revolt, once members lose control they have probably lost it forever.

The reason is simple. The executive staff is more or less a fixture. The ostensibly authoritative Board is constantly changing. It is easy to convince new Board members of their responsibility to maintain the status quo; after all, it is a prestigious position to be a PMI Board member, a position not to be taken lightly. However, if a Board member should be so audacious as to advocate radical change, the Executive only has to wait it out and the Board member inevitably completes his or her term, and leaves.

As advocated by the Association of Executives, it makes logical sense to persuade an association Board to be responsible for long term planning, while the paid executive is responsible for day-to-day running of the organization. That does not mean that the Board should not pay close attention to how the organization is being run, indeed it has a fiduciary duty to do so. But for the reasons just noted, it is easy for the Executive to keep Board members fully occupied with long-term "strategic" decisions and, perhaps by other means, to simple persuade anyone who wishes to change operational direction, to stop meddling and to "mind their own business".

The irony of this division of responsibility between long-term strategy and short-term operations is that few Board members will ever be around in a position of accountability to ever see the results of their policy efforts. It is a classic case of responsibility without accountability.

So what is the significance of all of this? In my humble view, it is a sea change in the management philosophy of the organization. In the early days of PMI we struggled to identify and establish project management content of high value and to make that knowledge publicly available to all. Today, the knowledge and experience of PMI members is collected and cloistered under copyright and purveyed at a price. The consequence is that those with serious intellectual ideas to contribute are reluctant to do so for fear of being locked out from their own gainful efforts. The result is a degree of stagnation.

Hence, it seems to me at least, that quantity and proceeds trumpet quality and progress. Altogether, it is a sea change indeed.

Coming next

In Part 3 of this Feature Interview, Max will discuss such things as what he considers the most significant recent developments and needed skills, project management in the future, and advice to new project management entrants.

Movers and Shakers on the PMI Board  Movers and Shakers on the PMI Board

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