Project Management Institute

PMI Straight Talk with Sunil Episode 4

Sunil Prashara, PMI President & CEO
Cindy Anderson, VP Brand Management

Jonathan Lee, President, Chicagoland Chapter, Chicago, IL, USA

SUNIL, do you practice project management at home?

SUNIL: Hi, Jonathan. Practicing project management at home? For sure. I mean, the serious answer behind that is I believe that everything that people do has some degree of project management embedded in it. I’ll give you an example, scheduling my weekend at home, doing the school run at the appropriate times, cutting the lawn, getting stuff done at home is all some form of scheduling, project management. And I have the beast of all project managers that looks after me which is my wife. So, trust me, there’s a lot of project management going on at home.

SUNIL: Hi everyone, Sunil here again. We have another Straight Talk today and I've got the pleasure to introduce you all to Cindy Anderson, who has been working on our new brand refresh.

So today's topic is all about our brand. There have been a lot of exciting developments, which you've seen, and I'm going to use the time today to talk to Cindy about what our thinking was about the brand and why we have designed the brand that we've got. So welcome, Cindy.

CINDY: Thanks, Sunil.

SUNIL: Let me start straight away. Why did you feel that we needed a brand refresh?

CINDY: Everybody will remember that PMI has just celebrated our 50th anniversary. We had incredible participation from our group of stakeholders, 100,000 hours donated to the achievement of the UN (United Nations) Sustainable Development Goals, and we wanted to really celebrate the 50 years of success that we've had.

We also wanted to make sure that we were really well prepared for the next 50 years and well-positioned and relevant and that we would continue to provide value to our stakeholders. So it seemed like a good time to look at who we are, how we represent our stakeholder base, and really come up with a new approach to do that for the future.

SUNIL: What was that approach and how did you go about landing with what we've got now?

CINDY: What we looked at is… We do research work called Pulse of the Profession. Lots of people have seen it. We do a thought leadership series. We have hundreds and thousands of stakeholders that are out in the market that we talked to about who PMI is, who we need to be for the future.

We did formal market research, we looked at what was happening in the market and we saw that the way that work is being done is changing, just like it was 50 years ago when Jim Snyder and his colleagues created PMI in the first place. And so we said this is a really good time both to connect to the past and to look to the future.

So we got input from a number of different stakeholder groups from some bench research that we had done from some formal market research, and we started looking at and consolidating and condensing that information and saying who could PMI be for the future, who should we be to represent this diverse group of stakeholders that are going to need a different set of skills and capabilities, that are going to need different ways of working as organizations continue to struggle with constant disruption and ongoing transformation.

SUNIL: The brand that we've had for 50 years has lasted 50 years. Why did it feel as it though it needed to change and refresh? To me, when I first joined the organization, I thought the brand looked great.

CINDY: In fact, the PMI brand has gone through about three iterations over the last 50 years.

SUNIL: Oh, really? I didn't know that. Wow.

CINDY: Yep, exactly. So the first brand was really... some people don't know this in fact... we almost were the American Planning and Scheduling Society. And the reason for that is because -

SUNIL: Wow, I didn't know that. [laughs]

CINDY: I know, right? The reason for that is because when Jim and his colleagues were looking at the way work was changing there were these new tools that were being developed and used in some of the large organizations, things like PERT, things like CPM, and they felt like they were having so many conversations with each other that they should bring a group of people together to say let's talk about these new tools.

And they were largely about planning and scheduling, so when they were thinking about the organization they thought…hmm, planning and scheduling, right? And Jim will tell you, if you ask him, that he started thinking about it as he was going through this initial discovery for the organization and he said to me and has said to others "We decided we should name it what it was going to be -- even if it wasn't that yet." [laughter] Right?

SUNIL: That's good.

CINDY: So they named it the Project Management Institute and started building this profession that we know today. So that was kind of the genesis of the brand.

Initially back in the early 1970s, the brand looked like a bullseye. And the reason it looked like a bullseye, because the founders wanted to have really strategic focus on building this profession. So that was the second iteration of the brand position, perception.

The third one was when the globalization really started happening back in the early nineties. And the logo changed to reflect a globe because the folks who were running the organization at the time, the board of directors...

SUNIL: And that's what I recognize right now.

CINDY: That's right. They said, “Ya know what, we really need to globalize this profession, we've done a really good job of building it and of bringing all these people together that use these tools and that deliver value in their organizations -- but we need to really make more of a global impression and globalize the organization.”

So since the 1990s, that's where we've been. And so we were thinking at the time of our 50th anniversary, it's time to look at where PMI needs to be. We need to look at where we're going to be even if we're not quite there yet -- just the same way that Jim and his colleagues did 50 years ago. So that's why we created it.

SUNIL: Some of the big changes I noticed…one was that we're using a lot more color.

CINDY: Yes, that's right.

SUNIL: What's the thing behind that?

CINDY: Brands have a number of different ways that they can be expressed. The first thing that you look at is a brand position. And we'll talk about that in a little bit in terms of The Project EconomyTM. Once you have a brand position and you know what your place is in the world and how you maintain relevance, then you think about what do you look like, how do you feel, how do you engage with the audiences that you want to continue to work with.

And then you start thinking about things like colors and personality and how you talk about the brand, how it looks visually. And what we realized is that as we need to be more relevant to all of the people that are in the market. Many, many younger people are coming in and they are project managers even though they don’t really realize they are. So we wanted to broaden our perspective a little bit and color is one way to do that.

SUNIL: You mentioned a little bit there about The Project Economy. Just shed some light on that. What is that?

CINDY: Absolutely. The Project Economy is…we see The Project Economy as reflecting the way work is changing. The way we're hearing from our organization customers, from our stakeholders is that largely people are working on project teams, they're working on portfolios of projects over their careers rather than having what have been more traditionally known as static job descriptions.

So this is being framed in words like the gig economy and other ways that organizations are changing to accommodate flexibility, agility, constant disruption, transformation, those kinds of things. So we call that The Project Economy, which is really organizations that structure around this portfolio of projects to deliver stakeholder value in this turbulent business environment.

SUNIL: How are we reflecting that in the brand?

CINDY: We created a design language and what our audience is going to see behind us here is nine icons -- different icons -- that create this design language that over time as we begin to learn what they stand for and we see them reflected in PMI's materials and in the work that we do…will come to mean or come to reflect this Project Economy and PMI's position or ability to help people function in this Project Economy in a much more direct and valuable way than maybe they can today.

SUNIL: Right. And so the chapters, we have 300 chapters, plus. They all have a single mission collectively, but they are also individual. How do we reflect the individuality of chapters in India versus those in Singapore versus those in Latin America? How are we doing that?

CINDY: Our chapters are an amazing part of the PMI ecosystem. Absolutely amazing. So it's important for us to make sure that, as you say, we reflected their connection back to PMI and to the entire ecosystem but allow them to then have some kind of individuality as well.

So when we decided to go on this journey and refresh this brand, we worked with about 40 chapters that we called the “early adopters.” And those chapters worked very closely with the Brand Team and with other folks at PMI to refresh their logos, so you'll see new chapter logos that are part of the ecosystem as well, that use this language of the Project Economy, the icons we talked about, and then have that individual personality as well in terms of one of the quadrants of that logo. So you'll see that.

SUNIL: So you'll be able to identify, for example, a chapter in Delhi let's say for example… There will be some kind of individuality in their specific brand for their particular region?

CINDY: That's exactly right.

SUNIL: But it will still look like a PMI brand?

CINDY: That's exactly right. It reflects the overall what we call the master brand for PMI so that that ecosystem stays together. And there are lots of different parts of that in our R.E.P. program, our Global Accreditation Center program...

SUNIL: Right, I was going to go there. Because they're functionally as well...


SUNIL: So for example, we have PMIEF (PMI Educational Foundation).

CINDY: That's right.

SUNIL: So their brand will change. How will we reflect PMIEF? And then Brightline is another one, which is not really regional specific, it's across the whole organization but we want to show Brightline as a separate initiative, if you like, but still within the brand. How are we addressing all of that?

CINDY: That's why we're super excited about The Project Economy positioning and this design language that has been created to really reflect this new brand position because you'll see the Brightline logo that's very similar to the PMI logo -- but uses different icons to reflect that particular brand's value and relevance into the marketplace.

Same for the Project Management Institute Educational Foundation (the PMIEF). They’ll have a brand that reflects the ecosystem, but also gives them their individual place in it and extends that brand into another part of the world where they maintain their relevance.

SUNIL: Personally I think it's an amazing achievement but I know that you went through a lot of challenges. Do you want to share some of the challenges that you had in completely transforming this brand to what we have today?

CINDY: Absolutely. The challenges... It's so much fun to do this kind of work for people that work in brand because it lets people express their creativity in ways that they don't often get to. We got to talk to project managers who don't often get to participate in a brand refresh. We had a group of 100 people that we call our Online Brand Forum and our Collaboration Counsel who provided input, provided feedback, and they were able to express that creative muscle.

Now there's a challenge with that because everybody's perceptions are different, everybody has a particular individual feeling about PMI that they would love to see reflected in the brand. And of course you can't reflect the individual preferences of three million stakeholders.

SUNIL: There were multiple choices. I saw some of the other choices that we could have had. How did we land on this particular one? What was the process? Let's share that with everyone.

CINDY: Right, well there were a lot of conversations about various different... We started with five different design directions and that is pretty typical in a brand refresh and that’s all based on the position and the research that we talked about earlier, the input from all of the stakeholders. And then you start thinking about how visually you want to express the brand in the best way. There are as many options to do that as are as many people in your ecosystem.

So we came to five and then we had a number of workshops with various different stakeholders to say “How does this feel? Does this match the personality, does this reflect the position, does this help us connect both to our successful past and position for the future?” And then we did voting. We did kind of the typical sort of voting that you would do. So in some ways it was a really democratic process.

SUNIL: What do you think is going to be the next big thing that we need to do? We've communicated the new brand, but the work is not over yet. We've now got to launch that across the globe, etc. Talk to me a little bit about what's going to happen next.

CINDY: You're absolutely right. The work has barely even begun.

SUNIL: Really?

CINDY: Although it feels like getting to a decision might be the endpoint for brand work like this…it's really the beginning. So we'll be working with all of our 300+ chapters to help them implement the new brand, we'll be working with our marketing teams, we'll be working with all of our stakeholders, our R.E.P.s, the EF, Brightline, all of our organizations within our ecosystem to make sure that they understand and know how to implement this brand.

And it's really a different mindset. A lot of people think that brand is the logo or the colors or the words, and that's part of it, it's an important part because that's what people see, but it's really for us — this brand, this refresh — is a real mindset shift to help PMI represent all of the people who do all of the work in this new environment of change and transformation.

So it's really important that we help people understand what that means as we move forward, that it's not really just a different set of colors or a different logo, but it's a different way that we are going to represent the work of project management and delivering projects and value...

SUNIL: …The next piece of work, the roll out, the adoption, across all of our stakeholders, all the people that we work with across the globe is a very, very important period of time where you have to communicate a lot. What's your approach there? Have you got a team? What are they going to do?

CINDY: We do. We have a team both internal — I mentioned we have this online Collaboration Counsel that we use an they'll be working with us, we have Super Users within the organization that will be helping stakeholders roll out in various different ways. And we know it's going to take some time. We know it's going to take some time. So we're hoping by the end of the next quarter, or the end of the first quarter of next year…we hope to have most of the roll out completed.

But we have lots of resources. We'll have lots of tools, we'll have tool kits available for the chapters and for others who need to help or need to begin to roll this out in their own ways and their own markets. So we have lots of help available.

SUNIL: A lot of people contributed, I know that, but are there any people that spring to mind that played a big part in this change that you'd like to mention?

CINDY: Absolutely, it's a huge team that does this kind of thing and I want to call out the Brand team at PMI, I want to call out our colleagues, and in particular the (PMI) Board of Directors. I think they were very, very helpful and supportive through the process, in particular Galen Townson, who was one of our liaisons, Terri Knudson and LuAnn Piccard.

SUNIL: As people have seen over the last few days, there's been quite a lot of talk about acquisitions. We made an acquisition earlier on in the year with Disciplined Agile.

As we go forward and potentially we might make more acquisitions, what's your thought around those organizations? Are we likely to convert their brand into our brand? Is our brand going to be the master brand, or will we have separate brands for separate acquisitions?

CINDY: Well, the nice thing about this brand refresh and the design language that we talked about is it gives us so much flexibility. So we can look at an architecture that we have defined… PMI will be the master brand, but there are so many options within that. We have extended, we have opportunities to do extended brands, things like Brightline, things like the Education Foundation. And we have options to do various different things with branding based on the equity that an acquisition might bring to PMI, based on the investment that PMI wants to make in an acquisition. So it gives us tons of flexibility to do the right thing for both the PMI master brand and the acquired brand.

SUNIL: That's great. I think I certainly understand a lot more now about the brand and the thinking that goes behind it. I particularly like the colors, I like the story that is within each of the different images that you see represent a certain part of PMI, whether it’s the chapter or whether its Brightline or whether it's the Education Foundation or any other initiative, maybe even an acquisition that we have made.

So I think that it's so versatile yet it's so simple to comprehend and the colors are... they really pop. I love that. It's exciting times. So I really appreciate your time. Thank you very much for landing a very, very tough decision because of all of the hundreds of stakeholders that you had to work with. It's not an easy task. I've been party to it. You did a great job. Well done, Cindy, and thanks very much for coming here.

CINDY: Well, thanks. Thanks for having me. Thank you.

Giuseppina Meloni, President, Northern Italy Chapter, Milan, Italy

My question to Sunil is that you have come on board at PMI on the 50th anniversary. Try to imagine yourself at the 100 years anniversary… What would you say then to yourself today? What would you like to have achieved 50 years from now?

Sunil: Wow! I have no idea what PMI is going to look like, but I will tell you what we might look like 15 years from now… my vision: the Wikipedia of project management. All things to do with project management I see people coming to PMI. We will be the thought leader in project management — anything to do with projects, programs, initiatives where people are wanting to get stuff done — they come to us as PMI is the organization with the best thought leadership, the best practices, the best mindset, the best experience. That’s what I see us being 15 years from now. One hundred years from now? I won’t even be here, so I’m not sure.