by: Jesse Fewell, PMBOK® Guide–Seventh Edition Development Team member
Over the last few decades the world of work has changed. The COVID-19 pandemic was not a cause of this disruption, but a reflection of it. It revealed just how interconnected and fast changing we now find our global economies, societies, and, yes, our projects.
In response to these changes, project management has also evolved. Recently, members and staff of the Project Management Institute (PMI) traveled across the world asking project practitioners how they have responded to these new challenges. Those investigations are reflected in the upcoming PMBOK® Guide–Seventh Edition and include some interesting patterns of modern project management practice. This post digs into one of those recurring dynamics: The “Who” of project management.
The Project Manager role has become more sophisticated
First, we became established. As the 20th century came to a close, the discipline of project management was formalized as a noble profession, with the Project Manager as the archetypal practitioner of the profession. We had established our associations (e.g. PMI®, IPMA®), our standards (e.g. The Standard for Project Management, Prince2®, ISO21500:2012), and certifications of practice.
Indeed, our sense of ownership and professional pride are reflected in the 2004 definition of the Project Manager as “The person assigned by the performing organization to achieve the project objectives” (PMBOK® Guide–Third Edition glossary). We project managers were the center of gravity. We had our act together. We were becoming pivotal to any initiative’s success.
Then, we became more curious. In 2009, PMI launched its virtual communities program. This new technology platform helped streamline knowledge sharing among its members where webinars, blogs, articles, etc. were easily shared, especially across different industries from banking to healthcare. Moreover, the newly flexible community charter process allowed several formal groups to self-organize around project management topics like agile methods, social media, learning & development, and innovation. To overcome modern challenges, project managers were becoming even more continuous learners.
Soon, we became more versatile. In 2013, the newly published PMBOK® Guide–Fifth Edition formalized the expectation that “Effective project managers require a balance of ethical, interpersonal, and conceptual skills.” It also introduced a checklist of eleven such interpersonal skills. But the changes didn’t stop there. Just a couple of years later, PMI introduced the Talent Triangle, a framework that required PMI credential holders to grow in project management skills AND interpersonal skills AND strategic business skills. While the Guide formalized this emerging expectation, the Talent Triangle operationalized it: To overcome modern challenges, project managers had to become more than just calculators of critical path or coordinators of resources. We were becoming practitioners of diverse leadership skillsets.
Today, we have become role models. The upcoming PMBOK® Guide –Seventh Edition reflects a new trend in the project manager’s quest to overcome modern challenges: we are leveraging other people, departments, vendors, and stakeholders in the broader project ecosystem. This concept is captured as a “system for value delivery” in The Standard for Project Management. It challenges us to think of a project as more than just unilaterally getting work done; it is the interconnection of several pieces of a larger whole. Those vendors, stakeholders, executives, sponsors, line managers all need us to show them the way, without getting in the way. The new standard goes on to say, “Regardless of how projects are coordinated, the collective effort of the project team delivers the outcomes, benefits, and value.” That means we can be the ones to show how each stakeholder’s part fits within and contributes to the larger whole.
So, what do we do?
Hopefully you can see the trend: The role of project manager has become vastly more sophisticated than when the profession first defined it decades ago, and it still continues to evolve. But that leaves a key question: Okay, so if we are supposed to leverage the broader, extended Project Team, what does that look like? We’ll explore that in part 2, posted next week.