Project Management Institute

PMI Update: Sunil's Remarks to the LIVPM in January 2020

Sunil Prashara, PMI President & CEO

SUNIL: Hi everyone. Sunil here. I’d like to wish you all a very, very happy New Year. I am so sorry I can’t be there with you today. I was so looking forward to it, my adrenaline was pumping and I was super excited, but unfortunately I’ve had a bereavement in the family and right now, very shortly, I’ll be heading off home. I need to be with my wife and with the family. So, unfortunately I can’t be there with you today.

However, I did want to have a few words and first of all share with you some thoughts and some reflections on the amazing year that we have just had in 2019 and some of the exciting things that will be happening in 2020, which has really got that adrenaline flowing for me and I’m sure has for you as well.

Let me first of all start by talking to you and reflecting a little bit on 2019, which is a pivotal year for me because obviously I joined PMI in March. It seems like years ago, but it was just in March last year.

And in the period between then and now, we have come leaps and bounds, me too, personally, but also in my understanding of the project management industry and the people that surround it and work in it. It has been an amazing, great, great nine months. 

I’ve had the opportunity to travel all around the world to meet with the communities from Singapore to Switzerland to Santiago, all over the place. Incredible energy that you see with the PMI community and the volunteers and the folks that are involved in helping this incredible not-for-profit professional institution run globally around the world. It really is exciting. 

I’ve had dozens and dozens of chapter visits, each with their own unique spin, trying to do something special in their specific region, but all with a common purpose and a common mission, which I have found amazing. And I have to first of all remind everyone that I actually come from a for-profit world where we have shareholders and stakeholders I have to work with on a quarterly basis. 

Our operating model is miles away from that. It’s a very different, purpose-driven organization with meaningful folks that work in the organization to help other people become successful. And once you grasp that, it’s really a mind shift and I am loving every minute of my time in this role. 

The other big reflection, of course, I joined the year at a very special time because it was our 50th anniversary. So, I spent a fair bit of my time attending a number of events around the world where we celebrated the 50th anniversary in style, I have to say. I mean the other thing that’s really amazing about the community that we work with is they really know how to rock and they really know how to party. 

And so having a first year as the CEO of an organization that loves to party and rock was very, very nice and I thoroughly enjoyed myself and got right into all those celebrations right from when we were in Ireland right through to Brazil and all the other different places. It was great fun. But a lot of hard work well. 

And one of the things that I really reflect on, which I think the whole team is very proud of, is our new brand and the fact that we launched an incredible new, bright brand and launching that at the same time as our 50th anniversary was an incredible milestone for the organization because it sends out a message that we are changing and we’re trying to become even more relevant for not just the current community that already knows what PMI is, but also beyond that. And I’ll talk a bit more about that in a minute. 

Talking about the new brand has been one deliverable, but there were many deliverables over the last year that I want to really touch upon a little bit. You know, we really leant forward in our agile thinking and understanding by acquiring Flex and Disciplined Agile. Those two acquisitions have helped really set our space and point of view in the agile space, and it’s an area which we were starting to fall behind in, but not anymore.

So in 2019 we made these two acquisitions that projected us into the forefront in the world of agile. So I’m really happy and we’re going to build on that and you’ll see a little bit about that during 2020.

Of course I talked about the 50th anniversary and the brand launch. I think that a pivotal moment for me was walking onto stage in Philadelphia at our 50th anniversary in front of, I don’t know, maybe 3,000 - 4,000 people, wearing a hoodie, a pair of jeans and my trusted Converse baseball boots and just sending out a message to the world that we are here, we are bright, we are young in mind, and we are going to grow.

And for me it was a pivotal moment. It will stay with me for the rest of my life. It was incredible. So thank you all for allowing me to have the opportunity to do that and representing you all there.

Coming back to the operations and the day-to-day stuff, one of the things that I noticed when I was traveling around and meeting people and coming up the learning curve is that we have grown as an organization significantly and there are parts of our organization which are like miles and miles and miles away from our head office.

You know, Singapore is miles away from GHQ, yet most of the operations and the thought leadership and the leadership of how we operate our organization is sitting in Philadelphia. And it’s not necessarily heard, it doesn’t necessarily hear the voices that are coming from these remote regions around the world. So if we truly wanted to become a global organization and we see growth happening all around the world, we have to regionalize our operating model.

So one of the things I embarked on was regionalizing PMI. And we, over the course of the last nine months, have been doing just that. And we’ve created managing director roles for various regions. We have a region for Latin America, we have a region for North America, and we have a region for ASEAN, Africa, for India, China. China and India we already had but now we have these regions.

And these regions... managing directors of each region, the chapters report into those particular managing directors. So the voice of PMI is a lot closer to a particular region. So the folks in Singapore, they can turn to Ben (Breen), who looks after ASEAN, and he is a direct line through into me about how we’re doing things in that specific region. And we should see that really bear fruit for us in 2020. So a bit more about that I’m sure you’ll learn from Joe and the team that are here with you today.

The other big deliverable that really started to accelerate was the transformation. We as an organization, we have grown significantly. We have 1.6 million certifications. We are a very large organization now and we are touching all different parts of the world and different communities and different types of businesses and the government and academia. So we have a really large organization, but our internal infrastructure, the way we do work internally, was a little bit under invested.

So we had taken on a transformation program, we called it PMI 2.0, and 2019 was the year we really accelerated that to get to the deliverable so we could start to create value and create the platform for our future growth. And I am really pleased to say that it is all on track. We are doing very, very well. Many of what we call the “hot bricks,” which are actually specific platform engaged projects of technology that we’re embedding in the organization, like for example a brand new ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system or a brand new CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system, those “hot bricks” are all delivering now and setting ourselves up for 2020 and beyond where we plan to scale significantly.

The other thing I think that was a really good thing to do and has borne quite a lot of fruit is we really embraced the sense and respond mindset by setting up a lot of communication. You’ve seen the Straight Talks with Sunil, you’ve seen me send out emails about how the last 30 days have gone or the last 60 days have gone. 

And these two-way communications is me trying to reach out to our community and sharing with them what’s going on inside, but at the same time those folks, when they see those Straight Talks or those communications, there is a website that they go to, which is on our PMI website, there is a link that will get you through to me and they can write there about anything that they feel may be of value to me or some feedback to me. And that’s the way we can sense whether we’re reaching out to the community. 

So that has worked really, really well. And there are times when I will get 700 pieces of feedback, some of them... not all of it good, but a hell of a lot of it is good and encouraging, and I try to respond back to as many of those as possible. 

So lots and lots of fantastic achievements. 2019 was a great year.

We relearned a few lessons, as well. The number one lesson for me personally is passion beats profit. Hands down. That is a very simple statement, but it is so true. And for a guy like me who comes from the profit world, I get it and I’m proud to be CEO and the lead advert for the project management profession. And the way it is set up and the way we go out to market is beautiful. I’m super passionate about that.

The second thing I learned was communication is key. And it has to be two ways. No point in me just sharing with you all what we’re doing. We need to hear from you whether we’re on the right track. We need to be able to course correct. We are doing what we do for you and the PMI community. So unless we get that feedback from you, good or bad, brutal or not, get the feedback to us we can respond on that, we can work with that. 

And any kind of feedback is good feedback. Really. Don’t hold back. I encourage you to write into us, I encourage you to speak to my team, speak to me. If there is something you don’t like or you feel... Maybe you may not understand why we’re doing what we’re doing, we may have a new idea from you about how you might want to change things... But we’re just trying to do the right thing for everyone here. So really do embrace the communication is key mantra and it is two-way. 

And the third thing is we are really maturing as an organization. There’s huge opportunities when you look in the marketplace about the world becoming more projectified, The Project Economy, and how governments need to become more relevant. There’s huge opportunities for us and we are just scratching the surface of what project management means to society. Scratching the surface. I think that we can scale, grow, and become even more relevant to the communities and society as a whole. 

And that brings me on to 2020 priorities. So how are we going to do that? How are we going to become even more relevant? How are we going to? And what are we going to do in the next 12 months to really set ourselves up on this journey of more relevance?

The first thing we’ve got to do is we’ve got to land what is called PMI 2.0. That is the transformation program, which is in flight right now, its three quarters of the way through, we need to land the last few bricks, what we call the bricks, and they are projects. And once we’ve landed them, that’s not the end of the journey. They have to now deliver value. So we have to capture the value from the work that we have done over the last two years to land the transformation program. 

And it doesn’t stop there either. It’s not just capturing the value from 2.0, we need to move this forward, and about what are we going to look like in three, four, five years’ time. Innovation is moving super-fast and to be honest, we have just... 2.0 was a catch up. It was building the foundations to allow us to transform, change, and become more innovative. That’s what I call 4.0. I’m sort of leap frogging 3.0 here and going straight to 4.0.

So what does 4.0 look like for PMI? What will PMI look like in four or five years’ time? What do we need to do now to set ourselves up for 4.0 in the future, in a few years’ time?

So we’ll be starting the planning in 2020. We need your input, we need your ideas, we need your thought processes, as well as our own, to think about where is the profession going in light of all the things that are happening around the world today? And that planning process actually started in the last quarter of last year, but it will really pick up steam during 4.0 such that by 2021, we are ready to press the button on one or two things.

One button we are ready to press is a renewed focus on youth. So one of the things I noticed when I was traveling around the world is that in some parts of the world we are very, very good at attracting the youth to what we stand for and what we advocate. In other parts of the world, less so.

Now at the end of the day, what we do for ourselves is one thing, but in reality what we’re doing is we’re creating sustainability for our profession. Therefore, we need to be able to attract the youth across the globe. And therefore, we need to have content, insight, and points of view that are relevant to the youth today.

So I am in the middle of thinking through how do we reach out to the youth? And you’ll see by the start of Q2, we plan to kick off a global youth program where we bring together all the things that we do today and then we add some new things to that and we run. And why do I say it’s global? I want every single chapter, every single volunteer, every single staff member, and every single board member to think about how they can contribute to attracting more youth to our organization.

I envisage a whole bunch of activities, a whole bunch of new ways of doing things, new ways to reach out to youth, attracting those folks to us. I have a personalized ambition, objective you might like to say, that a significant portion of our annual conference at the back end of 2020, a significant portion of those will come from the youth, that’s what I would like to see. So you’ll hear more about that. It’s at the moment in an idea formulization phase, but I think by the end of Q1 we’ll be ready to go with a bunch of initiatives.

A few other priorities, we are regionalizing and we need to land the regionalization model and the way we operate. However we can’t forget one thing. We will remain one team, we will sing one song and we will have one dance.

One team, one song, one dance. It’s something I noticed at the African conference in Tanzania where we had chapter members from all over Africa, from Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, Nigeria, and when we were having dinner they were all sitting at their individual tables, enjoying dinner. But when the music came on, they all jumped on the stage together and an amazing thing happened - they all started dancing to what can only be described as the African version of the Macarena. And slowly, slowly everyone got into synch and before you knew it, the entire continent was dancing a single dance to a single song, and it was one team.

It was beautiful to see and that’s what coined the phrase one team, one song, and one dance. So whilst we regionalize, we still need to remember that we are a global team, a PMI team. And so that’s something that we’ll be focusing on as well to make sure that we don’t lose that part of our secret sauce as well, while at the same time we regionalize.

The other really important thing that you’ll see happen is that we will change a little bit, we will pivot a little bit from being more of a farming organization where we are continuously servicing and nurturing existing project managers, in addition what we’re going to do is we’re going to reach out to communities that may not appreciate the importance of project management. I call it moving from a farming environment to a hunting environment.

So reaching out to communities, people, and enterprises that may not today appreciate how much value we can bring to them as project managers and advocating to them - you could argue selling to them - the importance of project management and bring them into the fold as new members, new industries, and new enterprises into the project management community. So evangelizing, advocating to new groups of people about the importance of project management. So you’ll see a fair bit of work happening around that.

Okay I want to leave with just one or two comments around a future vision. And this is something that we discussed at the backend of 2019 in Dubai with the Board of Directors. We had a strategy session for a couple of days to think about what does 4.0 look like, what will PMI look like in four or five years’ time? The opportunity for us is really, really huge. I mentioned it earlier, but scratching at the surface of something - that is really huge for us. So how can we capitalize on that? What are we going to do, what are we going to look like, and what are we going to feel like?

Some of the key areas that we’re looking at, from an aspirational point of view we want to become the digital encyclopedia for all things project - the go-to place for anyone, anywhere in the world who is considering a project and executing on a project. And we want to be able to provide that individual with the right tools, processes, certifications, and standards for them to be able to take their plan and make it a reality. The go-to place, the first port of call, the first telephone number that they look for, the first website that they go to, the digital encyclopedia of all things project.

More tactically, Brightline, which is our reach out into the C-suite and the world of the Chief Strategy Officer and the Chief Transformation Officer, you will see that that has become globally available as a thought leadership, as a standard, maybe also even a certification for the Chief Transformation Officer. There isn’t one today. You don’t see a certification for Chief Transformation Officer. We, with our global footprint, could easily launch that today.

We also see collaboration. We can’t be everything to everyone. So in the future we see that we will have relationships with other associations who are like-minded, who are also trying to reach out and trying to make their community successful.

So why wouldn’t we - with our global footprint - be the market maker for other associations? It’s a platform for us to build relationships with other associations who work with us to share each other’s communities, to build and grow, and to make people even more successful by bringing additional capabilities that we personally would not have the skill sets to do? Like, for example, the Association of Marketing or the Professional Association of Procurement, or maybe even a number of management schools. We can combine, collaborate, create a platform, and reach out to our community and offer them even more capabilities, mindsets, and thinking. 

The youth program, we’re going to expand that youth program in the future. We see that becoming what we call Integrated Life Skills - project management skills that start and build at a very early age and then grow all the way through your life, through your career, right through to the Brightline experience, if you’ve become the Chief Transformation Officer or you’re managing massive programs. 

So starting as a young child, working your way up through there, we call that the life skills and the program is called 5-75. How do we be relevant to people at the age of 5? How do we have the same amount of relevance to a person who is 75 and is doing something different? The 5-75 program. We see that being a reality in the future.

As an organization ultimately we’re going to be a data-driven organization. I think AI is something that we need to grasp and understand today and put to good use in the future so that we can push insights to our community before they even know they need it. Because we know so much about them and what they are looking for, we can provide relevant pieces of content to them before they even know they need it. I can see that happening. And a lot of organizations are doing that today.

So a little bit there about our future. I’ve rambled on a hell of a lot there and I better stop. You’ve got a lot of work to do over the course of the next few days and, as I said again, I’m really sorry I can’t better with you in person, but I hope that you got a little bit of an insight of the way forward and the way I think and where I’m hoping to take PMI.

I’d like to stop there. I hope you have a great time. Thank you very much. Cheers.