Project Management

Project Executives: the future of project management

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At Synergy, the annual UK PMI project management event in London which was held earlier this month, Mark Langley, PMI President and CEO, spoke about what he sees as the future development of the project management role.

He started by setting the scene for the evolution of projects in the workplace: 88% of organisations think that strategy implementation is important and yet only 62% of projects meet their original business goals. This is 10% less than 5 years ago so businesses are seeing less success when it comes to implementing strategy.

“Value for money, doing more with less – that’s what organisations are dealing with,” he said, “but it is also about strategy.” Working with organisational leaders is an area where PMI are very active as they try to push the agenda that strategic delivery is about projects, programmes and portfolios, which is a link that many businesses seem to have missed.

The challenge, he said, was that when you look round the boardroom table there isn’t anyone accountable for strategy implementation. It’s usually dispersed. “They don’t connect strategy with projects and programmes and too often connect it with something tactical.”

Why don’t executives get it?

“Language influences behaviour,” Mark said. “We define projects in technical terms – budget, scope, performance indices. This sounds great but to the executive – they don’t understand anything you just said.” The board, he explained, talks a different language. “We have to change that language when we go up to organisational leaders when they’re deciding what to invest in project and programme management.”

If we don’t invest in projects and make ourselves understood, we put more resources at risk. A high performing organisation (in project management terms) risks 14 times less money than other organisations, simply through being better at implementing strategic and tactical projects.

So where is project management going?

Mark believes that there will be a role of Project Executive at some point, although I imagine some companies have this now. It will be a board level position responsible for strategy implementation through projects and programmes. The problem is that we don’t have the people with the right skills to fill these roles.

“Technical skills are no longer enough,” he said. “They are the easy to teach but hard to find – it’s a career path issue; a university issue. People don’t come out of university with the technical project management skills that are necessary.”

So, we have two issues: a lack of pre-trained project managers with technical skills and a lack of people who could step up and take board level roles as project executives. Businesses, Mark said, do realise that they need to invest in project management. They recognise that they’re developing project leaders but they don’t recognise that they’re developing business leaders, he explained. The competences you need to be a good project leader are the same as those for being a good C-suite executive in any position: financial acumen, leadership, communication skills and so on.

Despite these challenges, Mark was clear that where project management should be going is to the boardroom. “Strategy development and strategy implementation are part of the same whole and that’s what organisations are starting to realise,” he said. Businesses are moving from having project managers to project leaders and eventually to project executives. Project professionals are moving out of projects into business areas and executive positions.

I think this shift is already starting to happen – it will be interesting to see how far we get in 10 years and whether the statistics for the importance of strategy implementation remain high, only to be matched by an organisation’s ability to deliver to that strategy.

Posted on: November 25, 2013 09:58 AM | Permalink

Comments (3)

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Quite true, although many PMs simply are not the right mind-set for exec positions - relatively few have what it takes to adopt the strategic view and deal effectively with the ambiguities of programme management and project/programme directorship, a world away from the well-defined processes and task-focus of project management.

Well, we will have to do something about that if we're going to address the talent gap. It is a mind set change, but if we work to develop the most talented project managers that show these aptitudes maybe we'll get some good candidates in the pipeline.

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