Project Management Institute

International conferences

more important than we realize

Global Issues


by David L. Pells, PMP, Contributing Editor

An international conference has far-reaching impacts not only on the individual participants but also on the local organizing body and on the profession as a whole. Is your passport in order?

THE FIRST TRULY INTERNATIONAL project management conference that I attended was the 1990 World Congress on Project Management in Vienna, Austria, sponsored by the International Project Management Association (IPMA, then known as Internet). While I had attended several PMI conferences in the United States, the Vienna Congress was my first event where Americans were far outnumbered by representatives from other countries.

In October 1990 PMI held its Annual Seminar/Symposium in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. While not as international in scope, PMI ‘90 was also outside the U.S. My perspectives on project management issues and the project management profession began to expand and change: I became aware of projects and project management practices in other countries and environments. I met other professionals from around the world. I learned about other project management organizations. Most important, I began to see just how rich and broad the project management profession is, how much potential it holds, on a global basis.

As the project management profession grows rapidly and the number of project management organizations increases globally, the number of international conferences is also increasing. We are faced now with a dilemma: Which conferences should we attend?

Furthermore, in choosing which conferences to attend, we need to determine how the conferences around the world relate to one another, or if they should relate, and perhaps most important, why project management professionals should travel to attend conferences in other countries. I would like to suggest several reasons, some technical, some professional and some personal.

International Conferences Advance the Profession. Nearly every project management conference expands the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), offering technical papers, presentations and workshops, many on the results of research or actual projects. Participants both contribute to and learn from the process. Publications are added, new networks are formed, and information is shared. International conferences greatly expand the scope, range and impact of these activities by involving participants from multiple economies, cultures and national backgrounds and perspectives.


But international conferences also advance the profession in other ways that are not always appreciated, but which support the ongoing expansion and globalization of the profession. Most important, conferences promote and strengthen the project management profession locally and regionally. In some cases the impact can be dramatic, such as when an event is held for the first time in a city or country, when project management experts and leaders from around the world participate, and local industry leaders and government officials learn about it. This is especially true in smaller countries, but actually occurs in every case.

A second major result of international conferences is the development of leaders in the profession, both locally and globally. Every individual who participates in an international conference grows personally and professionally, adding to his or her technical knowledge, network of professional contacts, and understanding of the status of the project management profession. Local leaders who sponsor and organize events gain the experience needed to advance to another level of professional activity.

International Conferences Support Globalization. When conferences are conducted in multiple locations, as they now are in the project management profession, the profession grows locally, regionally and around the world. A result is more and larger project management associations and organizations.

By bringing professional leaders from around the world together, more personal relationships and friendships can be formed, which leads to more cooperation and exchange of information. Since each conference tends to highlight a different set of technical, cultural, or local aspects of project management, the understanding and perspectives of visiting professionals are broadened.

Individual Participants Gain the Most. Based on my own experience, individual professionals gain a great deal from participating in international conferences. For instance, when I travel to a foreign city far from home, my senses are much more active, I learn more quickly, remember more and tend to be more open (and open-minded). I think this is true of most people.

SOVNET ’97 Offers Unique Opportunities

An example of a major international conference that illustrates the points raised in this article is the SOVNET ‘97 Project Management Symposium to be held in Moscow, Russia, June 4–6, 1997. Sponsored by the Russian Project Management Association (SOVNET), “Project Management in the Transition Economy: Investments, Innovations, Management” will feature speakers from many Western countries and from various regions of Russia. PMI is one of several official co-sponsors of this event. The official conference languages will be English and Russian, with simultaneous translation.


Having participated in conferences in Moscow (1993) and St. Petersburg (1995), I anticipate another exciting opportunity to hear about various projects and conditions in Russia, to meet professional colleagues from around the world, and to make more friends in the former Soviet Union. It will be another opportunity to see how things really are in Russia today, and to further advance cooperation between PMI and SOVNET, IPMA, and other associations that will be represented.

Following the conference, a weekend of special tours and excursions has been planned for June 7-8.

For a very rich and rewarding experience, I strongly encourage anyone with personal, professional, or business interests in Russia to attend the SOVNET ‘97 conference.

Participants at international conferences are introduced to new ideas, experiences and perspectives from other countries and regions of the world. Professional contacts and relationships are established, which can become professional resources on future projects.

Most important, participants learn something about the local city, country, geography, customs, economic and social conditions, currency, government, and so forth. This information can be useful if the individual or organization is ever involved in a project in that country. The individual's awareness of these issues is raised, providing a broader perspective to understanding many other international businesses and projects (once you experience a currency exchange problem, for example, you appreciate that issue related to any currency).

Coordinating Conference Dates for Maximum Impact. There are approximately 40 national and international project management associations in the world, most of which hold a major annual event or conference. Many chapters of major organizations sponsor monthly events. The largest associations (PMI, IPMA, AIPM) sponsor large international conferences. In 1997, international conferences will be held in Russia (June), Finland (Sept.), United States (Sept.), South Africa (Nov.), New Zealand (Nov.), Australia (Nov.), and India (Dec.). In 1998, major conferences are being planned for Slovenia, Indonesia and the United States. Many other smaller and regional events are being scheduled—in Canada, Mexico, the Arabian Gulf, Australia, India, Europe.

Few of us can attend more than one or two conferences each year, so we must sometimes choose between events scheduled for the same time or in the same month. An organization that wants to be represented at several international events has a problem if schedules conflict or overlap. This is a bigger problem than many realize, since most conferences are scheduled for either spring or autumn.

To support globalization of the project management profession, those planning international events should coordinate schedules with other project management associations. Calendars of events at least one year into the future should be published in PM Network, as well as in the publications of APM, AIPM, IPMA, and other associations. [Editor's Note: PM Network lists international conferences in the Upcoming Events calendar usually at least six months in advance. A full calendar for the year is available in the online PM Network at] In addition, the Global Forum Steering Committee might provide a future mechanism for coordinating conferences.

Benefits Become Objectives. International project management conferences advance the project management profession in many ways, including contributions to the body of project management literature and the state of the art. They also contribute to globalization of the profession by bringing together professional leaders and organizations, leading to more international cooperation and information-sharing. International conferences offer tremendous opportunities for individual professionals to learn and grow, both personally and professionallyi

These major benefits should be the objectives of those planning international conferences. To maximize objectives, however, the planning and scheduling of major events should be coordinated on a global basis.

MEANWHILE, I RECOMMEND that every PMI member, every project management professional, plan to attend at least one international project management conference outside your home country at least once in your career. It will be the adventure of a lifetime. Do it this year! ∎

David Pells, PMP, is managing partner of Mathie, Pells & Associates, a global project finance and executive advisory firm. He is the PMI Ex Officio VP-Public Relations, and was project manager of the Global Forums at PMI ‘95 and ‘96. He travels extensively on project-related business worldwide.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

PM Network • May 1997



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