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The Changing Landscape of Project Management

19 Apr 2018
The Changing Landscape of Project Management

David Pells is a global adviser to the Institute of Project Management and is the editor of In a recent interview, he discussed what major changes he has observed in project management over the last three decades.

1. The Advent of Microsoft Project

The first big disruptive change that I remember was not directly associated with project management per se, but rather the advent of the personal computer in the early 1980s. This was followed immediately by Microsoft and other companies introducing project planning tools that anyone could use on a desktop PC.

Microsoft recognized the growing importance of projects in many industries, created MS Project and integrated it with the MS Office suite of business applications. Whereas previously project planning, scheduling and cost control tasks were often performed by specialists, now anyone could use similar tools and manage (or at least try to manage) their own projects.

Today, having these skills is necessary as everything is being done on a computer. But without understanding how the software operates, it can easily become overwhelming. The Institute's Microsoft Project Fundamentals course teaches you all about project planning, monitoring and communication with Microsoft Project software. Click here if you wish to learn more on how to improve your skills.

2. The Emergence of the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK)

The second really disruptive change was the publication of the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge followed thereafter by PMI’s Project Management Professional (PMP) certification. These two PMI products began to drive growth in both PMI membership as well as industry recognition of project management.

When I served on the PMI Board of Directors from 1995-1997, we began to see the rapid, almost exponential, growth in both certifications and membership. This growth has continued, with PMI membership now well over 400,000 worldwide. Combined with PMP certificate holders, PMI serves more than one million.

PMI, IPMA, APM in UK, AIPM in Australia, AACE, CPM and other professional organizations added more standards and more certifications; the combination of these products and growing numbers of associations, members, chapters and stakeholders has resulted in widespread recognition of projects and project management in many organizations and countries.

3. The Growth of PM Professional Organizations

The third change, a trend really, was the growth of PM professional organizations in many countries. By the time we held the first Global PM Forum in New Orleans in 1995, attended by Ed Naughton representing Ireland, there were more than 30 professional project management societies worldwide. Now there are more than 80; if you count construction management associations, probably more than 200.

Over the last 30 years, the PM profession has grown, expanded and matured. Combined with project management standards, tools, publications, education and training, these organizations have spurred widespread recognition of project and project management across nearly all industries and locations. Many of these organizations offer competing standards, qualifications, products and services, but together they represent a very significant trend (resulting in change). Project management is now well established in most industries and countries.

4. The Importance of Soft Skills

The 4th major change was the recognition that such soft skills as communication, teamwork, leadership, stakeholder engagement and similar issues were just as important, perhaps more so in many cases, than skills and knowledge about scope, schedules, costs, quality, procurement and other engineering or scientific-oriented aspects of project management.

Whereas the largest project management professional associations all had standards and certifications by the year 2000, they all began to incorporate these soft skills into the professional products and messages.

The field of human psychology rocked the PM landscape. Emotional Intelligence made its appearance in the project management field. With economic and industrial globalization came the need for more cultural awareness and knowledge, and Cultural Intelligence. Now we often see “project leadership” emphasized rather than project management, with the soft skills headlining.

5. Governments Embracing Project Management

The 5th big change (a trend in some locations) is the increasing awareness by government leaders that professional project and program management can lead to very serious improvements in managing public programs, projects and organizations.

The best example may be in the UK where the national government began issuing program and projects management standards in the late 1990s (PRINCE2, MSP, etc.), the creation of the current Major Projects Office and the recent Charter awarded to APM.

Profile: David Pells, PMI 

David L. Pells

David L. Pells is Managing Editor of the PM World Journal, a global eJournal for program and project management, and Executive Director at the PM World Library. He is president of PM World Services, a U.S. firm providing high-level PM advisory services for major government programs. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Association for Project Management (APM) in the UK, Project Management Associates (PMA – the national PM society of India), and of the Russian Project Management Association SOVNET.