Project Management

The changing face of project management

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The first quarter of the year tends to herald the results of benchmarking studies and longitudinal research which, along with assertions made by keen industry observers, gives rise to the anticipated trends in project management in a given year.

This article serves to summarise the results of some of the project management industry’s most reliable findings, and where possible compare these with the local scenario.

PM job titles approach the C-suite, but not in SA

About ten years ago, industry commentators began to predict that project management would emerge in the C-suite in the form of Chief Project Officers (CPOs) to ensure strategic oversight of projects by aligning the activities of project-based organisations more closely to their strategic imperatives and ensuring sound project governance at the appropriate organisational level.

The PMI Pulse of the Profession Report identifies an increase in the number and complexity of projects, and in overall project failure, and suggests more strategic project management as a means to address this trend.

There may have been some level of anticipation that its emergence in organisations would be similar to that of Chief Information Officer and, more recently, Chief Marketing Officer. In his Project Management Best Practices column for CIO magazine online (www.cio.com) writer Brad Egeland predicts that 2016 will be the year that the CPO title becomes a trend, and queries what this might mean for PMO directors and those heading up centralised project management offices.

While by no means scientific, a LinkedIn search for this job title yields just shy of a thousand people who carry it, and these are across industries and countries, though mostly in Europe and the United States. This may all be a bit early for South Africa—reviewing the job titles of a database of more than 6000 people in project management yields not one CPO, and only two in the LinkedIn search are South African. Indeed, such small numbers globally small numbers hardly speaks of a trend, but it is certainly worth observing in the coming year.

Recognition of the value of a project management culture

Last year, research was undertaken into the link between project management culture and project management success and how this relates to organisational culture and organisational success. Part of the study involved identifying what constitutes project management culture. The literature showed that the bulk of the prevailing research and industry commentary on this topic took place in the first decade of the current century, with few references in the past eight years. Nevertheless, a handful of definitions of project management culture emerged, including this one by Zuo and Zillante in their article in the International Journal of Construction Management: that it is “the shared values, basic assumptions and beliefs that the participants involved in a project hold that determine the way they process the project and the relationship with each other in the project environment”. The dimensions of project management culture that emerge from this thus include people orientation; goal orientation; flexibility; integration and methodological approach.

In the PMI’s Pulse of the Profession Report for 2016, it was interesting to see PMI CEO Mark Langley make specific reference to developing a suitable project management culture as a contributor to project management success, backed up by testimonials from leaders of project based organisations. The report asserts that organisations that make creating a project management culture a high priority are more likely to meet their original goals and business intent than those who are not mindful of developing a suitable project management culture. By naming it and giving it the same credence as organisational culture received in the past – yet also recognising the two may not support each other – we may see more evidence emerge of deliberate adoption of a mindset for conducive project management culture after which linkages may be observed between culture and success.

Technical and business competency with or without a certification label

Egeland predicts a shift away from the organisation’s focus on project management certifications / accreditations. His observation is that while recruiters list these as ‘preferred’ they are not necessarily germane to the eventual appointment. Clearly proven experience is at the forefront of a candidate’s marketability. Having said that, the responses to the Arras People Survey highlight the fact that individuals continue to invest in their credentials, with 82% of respondents holding some form of recognised credential. No one credential / accreditation stands out as significantly more desirable either by individuals or recruiters, however, and this gives credence to the approach taken by professional bodies such as Project Management South Africa, which awards professional designations based on an individual’s qualifications and proven competencies rather than a specific accreditation. This approach attaches merit to the prevailing accreditations offered globally to the extent that it speaks of an individual’s commitment to their ongoing professional development rather than that they possess one that sets them apart from candidates with similar experience and demonstrated competency. The assessment process for awarding of designations extends beyond technical project management competency and embraces the leadership and strategic skills, both of which were highlighted in the PMI Pulse of the Profession Report as growing in importance. The trend for 2016, therefore, relates to both organisations and individuals adopting a more holistic approach to their professional development that includes technical PM competency and strategic business management skills.

Gender Parity emerges in the younger generation of PMs

It has been observed over the years that the gender split in project management, from memberships of professional bodies to representation on conference programmes has consistently hovered at the 70:30 male to female mark. The Arras People survey has reflected this over the years. In 2016, it is interesting to note that the ratio is beginning to change in the younger age categories, as women now dominate in the 25 to 29 age group at 66:33. The historical split emerges once again in the categories of 35 and older. When looking at the Project Management South Africa (PMSA) database of current and past members, we see a similar shift in gender representation in the under 25 age-group where females dominate at 52:48. This sinks to 23% in the 46-55 age category and 13% in the over 56 category. While this PMSA data has not been specifically examined for comparable trends at this time, it is evident that the formal practice of project management is growing in areas such as IT and financial services, and while males still dominate in the former, females tend to dominate in the latter. The construction and engineering project management roles are still prevalent in the industries specified by members in the higher age categories, thus showing the gender split there is consistent with the legacy of fewer women in these fields. The Arras People Survey highlights the fact that, in terms of roles, women tend to have a higher representation in the support roles and as change managers, with a growing presence in PMO management. As PM grows as a profession, it will be interesting to see how the inherent traits that tend to set women apart from men—negotiation and communication skills, for example—are reflected in the roles they take on and the industries in which they work.

The changing face of the PMO

While Egeland predicts a decrease in the use of project management offices due to what he sees as a poor track record in how they serve organisations resulting from a lack of strong leadership within the structure and inadequate executive buy-in, PMI predicts the rise of the Enterprise Project Management Office (EPMO). As an entity that has always defied definition, companies globally have had mixed results from their PMO structures. Past research by PMI consolidated the PMO function to identify up to five different PMO types, based on which aspect of the organisation they were established to support. In 2016, PMI asserts that organisations that task their PMO with a wider business responsibility and alignment of projects to corporate strategy, will experience stronger governance, strategic alignment and benefits realisation. It may be make-or-break time though for those PMOs that are perceived as purely administration hubs for project teams with no measurable link to improved project performance.

Whatever 2016 brings, we need it to bring us closer to an acceptable level of project success, for the sake of our global economy and more specifically interpreted into the practices that will allow us to successfully deliver on our infrastructure development goals in South Africa.

Taryn van Olden, CEO, Project Management South Africa

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