After 5 years involvement I’ve recently taken a board position in my local Project Management Institute (PMI) chapter. I’ve become curious why and how the profession started and what results we are achieving. It’s an interesting success story; with some foundation elements that remain important.
How did PMI start?
Post the 2nd World War the atomic and aerospace races along with computers were all spawning rapidly larger and more complex initiatives. With management only recognised as a profession since the 1940’s, by the 1950’s and 1960’s a new type of manager was starting to emerge. These managers needed to bring together (usually) multi-disciplinary teams to achieve (often) ambitious goals of importance to their organisations. Sometimes these had to be achieved in secrecy from rivals. Innovation and creativity were usually pre-requisites for success. The teams could be large and complex, with limited time and finite funding.
Against this backdrop, in 1969 an aerospace marketing representative invited an academic, two pharmaceuticals professionals, and a chemical engineer to an informal dinner. They agreed to cooperate across their disciplines and form an association. These people remained involved for the next 4+ decades.
One of PMI’s original five founders explains their idea:
PMI got started as a solution to a problem. The problem was that people in a new and growing profession, saddled with trying to understand project management, needed others in the same profession to share their ideas, test their theories, and communicate their concepts.” – James. R. Snyder (2009)
As time went on PMI matured; always as a not-for-profit largely volunteer based organisation. By 1983 a white paper “Ethics, Standards, and Accreditation Committee Final Report” started to document project management knowledge. 1984 saw the creation of the PMP Credential. 1986 saw the PMBOK released as a multi-disciplinary guide to the generally accepted knowledge of the profession. Professional Development Units (PDUs) were added, requiring Project Managers to engage in continuing learning. Chapter meetings, conferences, and symposiums have carried on the tradition of sharing ideas, theories and concepts; often in informal settings.
Has PMI been successful?
PMI has standardised the profession with measurable and valuable results. PMI’s 2013 “Pulse of the profession” report showed less than 66% of projects globally reach expectations, with 17% failing outright. This research shows significantly improved (80%+) success rates in organisations with mature project management as PMI advocates. These improvements are driven by standardised practices, certified professionals, formal talent development processes, continuing education, and defined career paths – areas in which PMI actively works. The Pulse of the Profession report is valuable reading for all executives with responsibility to successfully deliver change.
How I think PMI can continue helping project professionals
While managing projects is as old as the pyramids; technology, cultural expectations, education standards, complexity of projects, and expectations of stakeholders continue to evolve. Some things I believe we should continue to value in every chapter:
- With Marketing, Academia, Pharmaceuticals, Aerospace and Engineering to thank for our founding – I believe there is still a need for PMI to be multi-disciplinary, inclusive, and diverse.
- Our founders created the association from volunteer members, and actively encouraged the peer level exchange of ideas. With the PMBOK constantly evolving it’s certain that our true Body of Knowledge comes from open discussions and continuing learning exchanges in our membership.
- PMI was founded in an informal setting, networking amongst peers. Our meetings of any form should continue to encourage people to be accepted and to promote enjoying each other’s thoughts and company.
- PMI was created on a vision of co-operative, ongoing learning, with good ethics. These ideas remain part of our certification. Authentic, inquisitive continual learning (not just lowest price / PDU) should be important to every Project Manager.
Projects remain complex, important for any organisations’ competitive survival, with the largest leaps occurring through empowered, creative and multi-disciplinary teams. The Project Management Profession should continue to have much to offer organisations that wish to thrive. PMI has been a help to developing this unique leadership profession and I believe will continue to do so whilst we remain flexible, cooperative, and true to our founding values.
What is PMI?
Exceeding 500,000 members PMI is one of the worlds largest professional associations. As a not for profit PMI has written its own ANSI standard (PMBOK), has its own research and also charitable arms, globally certifies project management practitioners to an international standard, and remains active and growing across the globe. Anyone can join PMI, with reasonable membership fees (students further discounted) and active chapters in most major localities.
Sources / More Information
- Webster, Francis M. (1999), Setting the stage for a new profession. PM Network April 1999.
- YouTube – Meet the PMI Founders (4 min 48 secs)
- PMI’s Pulse of the Profession – The High Cost of Low Performance.