PMI Pharmaceutical Specific Interest Group Benchmarking Survey

Current Situation and Future Plans


Project management in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry has been practiced for more than 25 years. The profession has evolved over time to be many different things. People inside and outside the industry have different perspectives on what project management is and can be. However, little benchmarking has been done in project management in the pharmaceutical/biotechnology industry. The following report describes some of the results from a survey sponsored by the Project Management Institute (PMI®) Pharmaceutical Specific Interest Group (SIG). Nine hundred and twenty-six members of the Pharmaceutical SIG were given the opportunity to complete a 36-item survey in November 2001 with 308 responses returned. The results provide insight into the practice of project management in the pharmaceutical/biotechnology industry and provide a baseline against which progress can be measured.


On November 6,2001 all members of the Pharmaceutical SIG with email addresses (N = 926) were emailed a 36-item survey with the following introduction:

“PMI Pharmaceutical SIG is greatly interested in understanding the role and scope of project management in the Pharmaceutical/Biotechnology industries. This understanding will help us improve SIG activities. The results of this study will be made available to participants early next year, so hopefully you can improve your organizations also.

Depending on your role and the length of employment with the organization, you may not be able to answer some questions with a high level of confidence (minimum of 80% confidence level, as estimated subjectively). If you are not highly confident about the response to a particular question, please leave that question blank. However, we encourage you to answer as many questions as possible.

When we refer to Organization in the survey, you may consider the organization to be your full company, a division or business unit (but not any smaller entity).

Your input remains strictly confidential. The results will be compiled, aggregated and analyzed by an outside organization, and only the aggregated results would be made available to the SIG board. Summary results will be sent to the respondents.

Thank you very much for your participation.”

Quantum Performance Solutions (QPS, Bethlehem, PA) distributed the survey on November 6,2001, and reminded recipients to complete the survey on November 12 and 15, 2001. The survey collection ended on November 21, 2001. QPS collected the responses and analyzed the results. The Pharmaceutical SIG conducted additional analysis and sent a summary of the results to respondents on March 4, 2002.

Results and Discussion


The respondents to the survey told us this about themselves (see Exhibit 1).

Characteristics of the survey respondents’ Organizations are shown in Exhibit 2.

Finally, the respondents provided the following information about the Project Management Discipline in their Organizations (see Exhibit 3).

Senior Management

It is important to determine the views of senior management toward project management and how the project management discipline is different in their organizations. Therefore, the following question was asked (frequency of responses in parentheses):

“Your primary role within the organization in your current position:

Senior management (Director, VP, etc.) (66)

Project manager (153)

Team/project leader (34)

Technical (scientist, engineer, etc.) (9)

Other (30)”

Exhibit 1

Exhibit 1

The data were sorted by senior management versus all of the other responses to facilitate an analysis of senior management responses. Senior managers had higher education than others (79% versus 66% with the highest level of formal education completed and degree obtained above B.A./B.S.). Senior managers also had been in the industry longer (85% versus 66% report experience greater than five years in the industry) and had been in project management longer (90% versus 60% indicating experience greater than five years in project management).

There were also several differences in the organizations to which senior management respondents belonged compared to the other respondents. They were more concentrated in small companies (41% versus 24% in companies with less than 500 employees). They were less likely to identify themselves as being employed by a large pharmaceutical manufacturer (31% versus 43%). These data may suggest that small companies value project management more than larger companies. Alternatively, there may be other factors, particularly significant in smaller companies, which result in an organizational alignment of project management with specific members of senior management.

The project management discipline in the senior managers’ organizations differed in some respects from that in other organizations. Many of these differences could be due to the realities of project management in a smaller company. For example, senior manager organizations were more likely to have project management training outside the company (66% versus 46%). However, there could be other explanations for the differences in responses to questions. When given the choice between describing their project management organization as being a single functional department or a number of departments, specializing in different aspects of development project management, the senior managers are more involved in a single functional department (52% versus 38%). This could suggest that in these companies senior management has consolidated project management and put it under a senior person.

Exhibit 2 (Continues)


Exhibit 3

Exhibit 3

Organizations represented by senior managers responding to this survey also recruit more from outside the company [compared to from within the company or from school compared to non-senior manager organizations (56% versus 39%)]. This could be due to needing new employees with different skill sets and the likelihood that the original team is primarily scientific. Finally, when asked to identify the most important project manager knowledge areas, senior managers’ organizations emphasized cost (36% versus 22%), but not communication (52% versus 64%). This suggests that they value the “hard” role of project management more than the “soft” role of project management. Being in smaller companies with potentially tighter budgets, these senior managers might also have a need to be more focused on cost. Taken together, these results provide an initial indication that company size is a significant determining factor in the organization of project management practitioners in the industry.

Project Manager Experience

As noted above, senior managers have more experience in project management. This could have impacted their responses to the survey. Sorting the data by project management experience [10–14 years (N=66) versus less than five years (N=99)], yields interesting results. The more experienced project managers had higher levels of education (78% versus 63% had more formal education than B.A./B.S.). This finding is not surprising, as this group also tends to be older. The two groups have similar experience in the pharmaceutical industry (37% versus 37% have less than five years experience in the pharmaceutical industry) suggesting that the added project management experience is gained outside the pharmaceutical/biotechnology industry. The more experienced group has a higher percentage of PMP® certification (29% versus 14%). This is an important observation, confirming other data showing that there is a higher percentage of PMPs in other industries.

The organizations with experienced project managers have some unique characteristics. They may value project management more since the project management group is more likely to be headed by a vice president (39% versus 22%) and they have more experienced project managers (61% versus 42% have more than five years project management experience). These findings are not due to differences in the size of the company as there was no difference in this respect (e.g., 24% versus 27% have less than 500 employees).

On the other hand, there are indications that companies with experienced project managers do not see them as leaders or authority figures. In answer to the question, “project managers in your company would best be described as: leaders, managers, coordinators, or other,” the experienced project manager organizations were less likely to see them as leaders (25% versus 39%). In terms of authority, functions (versus project management) are more dominant in organizations with experienced project managers (21% versus 9%).

Experienced project managers are also viewed as good technicians who can who can keep track of time and cost, but not provide the leadership skills of communication and risk management. In response to the survey question about important project manager knowledge areas, experienced (10–14 years) project managers, compared to less experienced project managers (0–5 years) placed more emphasis on time (41% versus 25%) and cost (29% versus 17%) and less emphasis on communication (46% versus 68%) and risk (18% versus 32%).

Company Project Management Experience

Respondents from companies where project management has existed for a longer period of time (more than eight years, N = 86) were compared with companies with newer project management groups (less than three years, N = 101). As would be expected, the former respondents have more years in the industry (greater than 10 years, 59% versus 41%). The newer project management department employees have more formal course work in project management (62% versus 51%) suggesting that there may be a trend toward increased formal project management training in the future as more companies embrace a project management model, driven by the demonstrated successes of their peers.

The organizations with older project management functions are larger (e.g., 53% versus 18% have greater than 5000M US$ in annual sales) and have bigger project management departments (80% versus 15% have project management staffs greater than 20; 72% versus 12% have support staffs greater than 10). It is intuitive that older organizations are larger and have in the course of growing the business established project management functions longer ago.

Where are the newer project management organizations leading the profession? In response to the question of virtual versus defined project management organizations, the emphasis is on virtual (48% versus 21%). This may be due to the explosion of new technologies that allow for effective virtual organizations. These newer organizations are more likely to recruit from outside the company than inside the company (57% versus 36%). This is probably partly related to the size of the company, but may also be due to a culture of diversity. Project management training in the new project management groups is less frequent (48% versus 31% no formal training). Part of the explanation for this probably comes from the newer organization having less inside training (40% versus 62%).

Younger project management organizations are also different in other ways. They tend not to get involved in working with teams as early as their more established colleagues (e.g., 38% versus 58% start with teams before the start of Phase 1). This may be a reflection of more established project management functions in bigger companies having more resources and finding value in involving project management earlier in the development process. It is also the case that younger project management groups have less responsibility for cost (57% versus 70%), resources (53% versus 69%), earned value (11% versus 28%), and timing (80% versus 98%). Perhaps as the young departments show their worth they evolve to the higher level of responsibility in thee areas reflective of more mature departments.

Formal Course of Study in Project Management

Respondents either completed (N = 136) or did not complete (N = 159) a formal course of study in project management. Regardless of how they answered this question, responses to the rest of the survey were very similar. The person's role in the organization was very similar (e.g., senior management 22% versus 22%; project manager 51% versus 52%). Respondents had similar number of years in project management (e.g., 0–5 years 29% versus 37%; 10–14 years 21% versus 23%). Education level was similar (e.g., B.A./B.S. 32% versus 29%).

The organizations employing project managers with and without formal course work are very similar. The size of the company as measured by annual revenue in US$ was similar (e.g., less than 50 million US$, 24% versus 25%; greater than 5,000 million US$, 31% versus 33%). The typical project manager in the organization has been a project manager in the pharmaceutical/biotechnology industry for a similar period of time regardless of their having completed a course in project management (e.g., less than five years, 51% versus 48%). Even the formal course work in project management by the typical project manager in these organizations did not differ (e.g., no formal project management training, 35% versus 41%) despite the fact that the respondents were very different in this respect.

Formal courses in project management do not differentiate organizations possibly because there are few formal courses in pharmaceutical/biotechnology project management and practitioners in the industry continue to believe project management is different, and/or because the industry believes project management is relatively simple (if the focus is on time, then simple scheduling may be enough), and/or because there is such a high concentration of people with advanced degrees who do not see the available course work or credentialing as anything beyond what they already know. Future surveys will be designed to help differentiate these possibilities.

PMP® versus non-PMP®

The Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification is one of the most recognized credentials in project management. What impact did having this certification (N = 70) versus not being a PMP (N = 225) have on the survey results? PMPs generally have more advanced degrees (e.g., 28% versus 16% have M.B.A.s) indicating that they see value in advanced education. PMPs have more experience as project managers (82% versus 62% have greater than five years experience), but not in the pharmaceutical industry (67% versus 71% have greater than five years experience). This again suggests that PMP is more valued in other industries. Otherwise, there was little difference between PMP and non-PMP in terms of responses to the survey. There seems to be little recognition for the PMP in the pharmaceutical/biotechnology industry.

General Observations

The survey results were analyzed in several ways in addition to those described above. Those findings will be presented in other publications where paper length is not restricting. However, one question deserves mention here. We asked the question, “If you were hiring a project manager with a bachelor's degree and three to five years experience in project management in the pharmaceutical/ biotechnology area, the following would be the typical compensation (in US $): salary (<$40,000 to >$100,000 in $20,000 increments), bonus (% of salary) (0% to >10% in 3% increments).” The median salary and bonus were $68,321 and 5.7%, respectively. Surprisingly, there were no differences between large pharmaceutical manufacturer, biotechnology, and small pharmaceutical manufacturer companies. A follow-up question asked, “Would a new project management employee typically receive stock options at the time of hire?” Biotechnology company respondents responded yes 83% of the time while large and small pharmaceutical manufacturing companies had much lower response rates, 21% and 38%, respectively. The data suggest that these types of companies offer similar basic compensation packages to attract people and that biotechnology companies offer more upside potential perhaps to offset the risk involved in these employment situations.


The goal of the survey was to develop baseline on the current practice of project management in the pharmaceutical/biotechnology industry and to lay the foundation for future surveys. The response to the survey was very high, allowing for important conclusions to be reached. Respondents to the survey from senior management were more concentrated in the smaller companies. Their attitudes about the definition of project management, style of recruiting and emphasis on training suggests that these companies are taking a different approach than larger companies. It will be interesting to follow these trends in future surveys. We plan in the next survey to probe the value of project management to see how this might differ depending on the style and attitudes in the company.

Experience in project management came largely from outside of the pharmaceutical/biotechnology industries. These more experienced project managers were more educated with added certification and had a greater emphasis on training. However, they were less likely to be seen as leaders and were employed in companies where authority resided more with functional areas than project management. This suggests that we do not fully value project management in the pharmaceutical/biotechnology industries. It will be interesting to see if this changes in coming years.

Younger project management groups tend to reside in smaller companies. They work in more virtual project management organizations, work in more diverse groups, and get their training from outside the company. Future surveys will tell us if this style adds more or less value to the organization.

Formal course work in project management and PMP certification made very little difference in the way people answered the survey questions. This suggests that we need to work harder to convince organizations of the value of our profession and its certification. The PMI Pharmaceutical SIG is developing material to demonstrate the value of project management in the pharmaceutical/biotechnology industries. This material combined with information on value in future surveys will aid in promoting the project management profession in the pharmaceutical/biotechnology industries.


The authors would like to acknowledge the financial support of the PMI Pharmaceutical SIG for developing, administering, and analyzing the benchmarking survey. Thanks also go to Dr. Pawan Singh, Quantum Performance Solutions, for his help with the survey.

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 or any listed author.

Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
October 3–10, 2002 • San Antonio, Texas, USA



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