Awakening the giant within

Abstract

Project management, as an emerging and highly dynamic profession, is expanding into many industries and application areas and into most countries of the world, including the countries of the Gulf Corporation Council–Middle East. This paper continues to build on the work of the lead author in this region in promoting professional project management. The first related paper was published as a part of the proceedings of the 2004 PMI Global Congress – Europe and addressed Achievements, Challenges and Opportunities for PM in this part of the globe. A second paper was based on the pursuit of professional opportunities via an actual experience of implementing a professional development program in a major regional oil & gas company; published as a part of the proceedings of the 2005 PMI Global Congress – Edinburgh.

Awakening the Giant Within documents our pursuit of more opportunities in this extremely active region. We will deal with this topic from two essential but related aspects. (1) First, we will deal with awakening the giant of project management within us – as individuals. The idea is the authors attempt to answer: how to discover that there is a giant residing inside each one of us regardless of our pursuits in life? How to awaken this giant from its deep sleep (hibernation), how to deal with this giant, tame it, refine it and utilize it in order to serve our personal and professional growth? (2) The second aspect of this paper deals with awakening the giant of project management within our geographical region. This second aspects is discussed from the perspective of a team of volunteers responsible for significant increase of PMPs in the region, where most of these volunteers have discovered their giants, and wanted to put it into action to help others discover theirs. Let us proceed slowly, since we do not want to awake the giant prematurely.

Introduction

Few months ago, a giant started to turn and toss, stretch and yawn, and hesitantly started to crawl out of its deep and long sleep. Is it our bear waking up from hibernation? Is it the noise of other bears waking up that is forcing our bear to weak up? Or is it a sub-conscious awareness of a challenge ahead, a danger, or a great opportunity? Who or what is this giant? Where did it come from? And how come it doesn't have any differentiation of gender, religion, race or age? How come this giant manages to get awakened even in many areas of this small globe of ours? How come it even contributed in the awakening of huge conglomerates, as if it has no limits, or better says it allowed no limits or restrictions of its awakening? When it is triggered, nothing could stop it or limit it. Then, the journey begins …

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As if it is a hunger that is existing since the very beginning and it was just waiting for the right circumstances and the right environment and the right acquaintances to get unleashed and be revealed to the humans as individuals. This thing is not stopping at the individuals rather it is moving into the multifunctional, multinationals conglomerates and into the smaller enterprises. Once you get to be aware of it, you can not avoid it or postpone it, and yet becomes one of the urging priorities.

In other words, our giant is none other than the emerging profession of project management from the tactical into its strategic value and importance. This paper is about translating Project Management Institute's (PMI®) envisioned goal of “helping organizations succeed and attribute their success to project management”. In this paper we will share statistics and data demonstrating this process of awakening.

Introducing the Giant – Beware!

What is this giant?

This giant is the hunger for development, advancement, and excellence. All of a sudden we seem to awake this giant, we seem to discover the power of knowledge, and the need to utilize this giant to help us build a knowledge society. Antoun Saadeh once said in the introduction to his book the Genesis of Nations that “Society is Knowledge, and Knowledge is Power” (Saadeh 1937) and our society has finally discovered the power of knowledge. Here we are drawing a narrow parallelism between knowledge in respect to project management; yes project management. We have finally discovered the giant of knowledge, the giant of project management knowledge, yet it has always been within – we just have to trigger its awakening from a deep sleep. We have to learn how to recognize it in its “rough” condition. Awakening of a giant is like the awakening of nations – it is quite powerful.

The Giant within Us

You say it has always been within?

Do you mean within us as individuals? Are we really talking about project management? How could project management be within every one of us? How it could help us build a knowledge society? How could it help us advance and seek excellence? Is not project management just for engineering or construction project? Is it not for technical people or those “jack of all traders and masters of none”?

No it is not.

No, it is not just constructing that refinery, road, hospital, or office building. Project management is within every single one of us, it is an inborn skill that we had years ago and we have practiced it unconsciously since we were children managing our first steps.

A toddler learning to walk has to plan where and how she can stand up first, she looks for things to hold on to before letting go and taking the first few steps; is not this planning? Is not a bit of risk mitigation where the child hold on to something until it feels secure she can take the next step. A child does not have to fall to worry about falling; she just anticipates a fall and learns, with time, how to prevent it.

So aspects of PM have been within but we just forgot it and now we must learn how to discover it again. Do not you wish that you can anticipate the “problems” on your projects before they are triggered? If yes, then why do not we use more of Risk Management looking for the threats and opportunities? Looking for the threats of falling down and the opportunities of reaching somewhere nice so “I can destroy”; forgive us – this is the child in us talking!

So the giant “PM” exists in our every day life. It is with us when we plan a wonderful vacation. It is with us when we plan the wedding of a loved one or to chart a path for our future growth, personal or professional. It is within us at work, whether we are employees just entering the challenging job market, whether we are managers learning how to continue to advance our careers, or whether we are senior executives, or the owner of our own corporations learning how to lead, motivate, and excel with our people on the Journey to Project Management Excellence. In a way, each one of us is the Owner of Me, Inc. and project management is the way to help us succeed, advance, and seek a path to excellence. The challenge is for each of us to enhance our skills in order to provide a better service to our community and not to view Me Inc. from a purely self-centred focus. Is not this what PMI's promote as Professional and Social Responsibility: to enhance our skills to grow personally and increase our contribution to our professional community?

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Proper project management is a key contributing factor that goes beyond just efficiency and effectiveness to further make a leap into excellence. Project management is what helps us align objectives with actions; it is what helps us implement a strategy; it is what helps us do the right things at the right time in the right way. It helps us catch the bus, stay on the bus that is taking us on this journey, may be one of us can drive the bus; the key is not to leave before everyone is on the bus – this is our view of teamwork.

Discovering “Awakening” the Giant

The challenge is most people do not believe they have what it takes for project management and when we say the above they think we are off a couple of “mental notches☹”. Our response: have you seen a mother running between work, home, the children schools and most importantly children activities? The man author of this paper is talking now: “we men struggle balancing watching a football game and keeping the floor clean or getting a beer from the fridge at the same time – so how do these women ‘mothers’ do this balancing act?” Simple: project management. Women (not trying to be sexist here – authors are a team of both sexes) are great “dormant” project managers (even though they might know how to read a map “just kidding”) … and men are great chefs☺ so we should have a role reversal.

Now serious, we watch women keeping up with all these tasks, activities while going only half crazy – is not this the role of the PM, keeping all of the activities progressing well if we are lucky? The challenge is you ask many women “how do they do that” and some just do not know. Their opportunity is to discover a more formal project management to go with their inherent project management skills. So the male author can keep his male friends: we are not trying to say that women are better than men since obviously this would be the wrong thing to say – yet the balancing act described above is quite common, at least in many of the global places where we have lived and it makes a good analogy.

Taming the Giant

We said earlier that we just have to learn how to recognize it and how to tame it and refine it. Well let us try to do this via asking yet another question: what is the project management?

According to A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), “Project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet project requirements” (PMI 2004). “Now I know what project management, then why do I need it?” To answer this, let us define: what is a project? Once again, in accordance with the PMBOK® Guide, “A project is a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result” (p. 5). The product, service, or result could be anything in your life.

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We like to view this concept as it relates to one of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Covey 1990), the habit dealing with “begin with the end in mind”. The product, service, or result is the end of our project, which could also be the start of something more wonderful or productive. It is like the wedding that we mentioned earlier, that open the door for an enriching family life. It is the launch of a powerful website that your organization uses to communicate its services. It is the house you are building to give you the warmth and sense of belonging to “home”. It is the school that provides the proper environment to educate our future generations. It is the curriculum that we design to enhance the knowledge of our people and lead them on a path to build the knowledge society. It is the Project Management Professional (PMPP®) credential that grants us the opportunity of applying these knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques in our projects, whether they are personal or professional, whether they are technical projects or our career path project!

Proper Use of the Giant

In our expertise of the reasons for failed small projects is either the over use of project management or the lack of its use. Too much project management lead us to be enslaved by a cumbersome system – to little use and we will not where we are heading. So the key is to advocate the proper use of project management concepts in order to deliver the intended results.

To demonstrate the previous point, back to the our “mother” project manager: now taking the children to school is not a project but planning ahead for a proper school, college fund, education, is much more effective if we know a bit about planning and budgeting.

Purchasing a car could be an emotional trip or it could be an exercise of proper planning, budgeting once again, communication and negotiation. It can be the implementation of decision tree, alternative evaluations, or defining a selection criteria and weighting system.

Building our dream house; this is more of a traditional PM or is it? We have never met anyone that built a house without a great deal of agony and frustration. Why? Due to the lack of proper scoping, or lack of alignment on scope between seller and buyer among other factors – leading to a product that we might not have envisioned.

How to enjoy a vacation: anticipate some of the risks and prepare a proper response strategy. Need more?

The Giant within the Region

Now, enough poetry, how do we know this giant is truly awake? Why are we making such a statement? How could we know that the giant within is being discovered gradually? On the individual side it is difficult to answer this question without a detailed survey tool that ask new comers to project management about their life before and after (may be a topic for 2007 Congress). However, we can answer this question indirectly; the answer is quite measurable and tangible if we view it from different perspective: PMI membership and PMPs® growth in the region.

It is clear that when people start to discover project management, professionally initially, they join a professional society like PMI. As they learn more about the value and benefits of membership they start to consider certifications. Therefore, the growth of membership and certification holders is a good indicator – although a lagging indicators. On other hand, those of us in the training and consultancy business have a somewhat leading indicator which the higher level of interest among executives.

PMP and Membership Growth

It should be well recognized within the PM community that the PMP® stands for project management professional and it is a highly regarded global credential granted by PMI. It is a fact that membership and PMP® growth last year are mostly driven by the change in the exam but if we look at the data published by PMI Leadership Site, then one would notice that this region have seen a much higher growth than average; leading the way among large chapters in PMI (Leadership Community Web Site access is limited to community leaders but the Analysis is available upon request).

PMP® Total Growth to September 2005

Chart 1: PMP® Total Growth to September 2005

The awakening of this giant is easily tracked through measuring the number of PMP®s in the region (countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council) as mentioned above. A few years ago, we had about 60 PMP® across the countries of the GCC. At the end of 2004, we had less than 200. In 2005, and only in nine months, we have crossed the 520 mark. These figures are represented in the above chart (Chart 1). It must be stressed that such a result, almost tripled what took 13 years to achieve. It is also worth noting that the real numbers of members and PMP® in the region are much higher than presented here but this data is based on those that are members in the regional chapter.

Chart 2 demonstrates the same thing in a different way; this data is generated from a survey that was conducted in the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries on the Arabian Peninsula in February 2006. This figure clearly shows that 73% of the survey respondents (896 respondents) indicate that they have achieved their PMP® in 2005. The other 27% obtained their PMP® over a 13 years period since the regional chapter has been in operation.

Majority of Respondents Achieving their PMP® in 2005

Chart 2: Majority of Respondents Achieving their PMP® in 2005

Regional Organizations & Trends

Registered Education Providers

It is to our interest to monitor changes in the region, we have been doing this for five years, and one of the things that we have noticed recently is the number of Registered Education Providers in the area (Mr. Ajam serves on the Advisory Group to PMI for the R.E.P. Program) and we noticed that the number of R.E.P. in the area has possibly tripled in 2005. Now even computer and language training centres are listed as R.E.P. since they might be offering a certification course. Why of this? Obviously, due to the high demand.

Paper Based Tests

It has been necessary in this region to conduct paper based tests (PBT) for private clients or in areas where there is no computer testing; most of the population of the region did not have a ready access to a test centre – this is slowly changing. The author or our company has organized at least five PBT within the last two years for private clients with the number of candidates and passing rates increasing with every test. Just most recently (March 2006), we had 45 professionals take PBT in an area in Saudi Arabia where there is only 6 or 7 PMP®. The result for the first group is already out with 22 out of 28 professionals achieving the highly valuable credential. In one shot, we quadrupled the number of PMP®s in this area – we are still awaiting the results of 17 more candidates.

Executives and Organizational Leadership

On the companies and institutions level, this giant revealed itself through the increased demand of project management consultancy and training; and through the increased providers including international majors moving into the area. Executives see a need among the basic priorities of their companies, as if they suddenly realized that they are somehow behind a new generation that contributed to a leap towards excellence, and they refuse but to be part of it, and to an extend act like leaders through its journey.

We have seen advocacy of project management in various industries in the region from government to private. We have been seeing it in Tourism Boards and Hospitals Administration. We have seen in the construction and banking industries. We have seen it among airlines and hospitality companies. We have seen it in ministries, municipalities, NGOs and utilities. This giant knows how to get around.

What is happening in the area is a true demonstration of PMI envisioned goal.

Why Such a Growth?

Why such a growth? What awaken this giant? Once again: is it the noise of the world waking up to project management that is forcing our bear to weak up? Or is it a sub-conscious awareness of a challenge ahead; a danger of loosing a competitive edge in our work; or a great opportunity to excel and get ahead of the crowd? Or is it the caring hands of a friend who is willing to help; the whisper of a colleague highlighting an opportunity; or the soft persistent distant voice that remind us of our great potential that the giant within can bring us. Or is it simply a double need, a need for better practices in managing project or a need to get acquainted with our hidden capacities and its usage to the potential, because we believe deep inside that we are up to the excellence.

This giant is not easily maintained, it requires a lot of care and nurturing to be able to grow and mature, just like a newly born, thus the importance of the right persons to provide the necessary time and effort to further unleash the Giant within; here comes the ultimate fruit of this article; the volunteers, the ones that already witness the awakening of this giants within themselves and couldn't be satisfied by having it awakened in themselves alone, they invested their time and effort and committed themselves to lead the road for the dormant giants to be awakened in others as well.

So what is the story of these volunteers?

It is the story of a few professionals, who dedicated their time to help others follow their path and achieve an international recognition. This is the Story of the True Volunteers.

Our achievement and success was the manifestation of the work of some very committed volunteers. What is special about our volunteers and what distinguish them and our achievements among the other PMI communities in the world: Geography and Diversity. What do we mean?

Geography

Our “regional” chapter is the only chapter in PMI that covers multiple countries (six to be exact) with a land area that is about half of the United States and most of the focus is on a small area of the vast region. Moving from one country to another is not readily done due to various formalities especially for the expatriates working in the region; (a very large percentage of the professional workforce). Due to this we had to deal via emails and most of the volunteers on the certification and education team never met each others. Our spread did not allow us to focus on small areas so sub-teams where the order of the day with centralized leadership but local execution.

Diversity

Our diversity did hurt and help us at the same time. Since many of us could not move among the various countries we could not collaborate closely and we had to operate in virtual space. On the other hand, our international mix (unfortunately not enough diversity among the sexes – one courageous woman only) helped us a great deal since we had the necessary dedication to represent all stakeholders within the community regardless of national origin.

Our diversity also led us to look for alternative “cheaper way” to conduct training. This was necessary since many regional organizations either did not even know much about PMI or they have yet to discover this giant. Therefore, many did not support their people to take time off from work to attend training or paid for it. Further, many people could not afford the high rates or day time training. So in one city we identified a community centre where we could conduct the training free of charge and provided our community members with volunteer “PMP facilitators” and after business hours sessions. This was extremely welcomed and gave us a great boost – leading to “sold out” of the session; the results at least 12 PMP from one session. This is just one of the examples that helped us deal with the challenges of geography, diversity, and special requirements.

Conclusion

Such a magnificent growth led us to think about how can we continue to build our community of professional project management? How to address the need of other industries that are typically not the focus in an area where oil and gas get all the attention? How to address the ethnical, national and gender diversity in this region? We feel that we do not have enough representation among women with only a fraction of our members and PMP represent the professional women and “PM Mothers”. To address these questions while we continue to grow, to help seek out the giants that are still dormant in “non-traditional” industries we need big “drums” – in our view this means more chapters in the area to provide the proper focus. New chapters will allow us to focus locally while we think globally; new chapters will allow us to address the uniqueness of each community; new chapters are needed to reach more corporate giants.

These numbers trigger a very specific need for the region, such as creating more chapters in the region, this orientation leads to decentralization of the PMI Chapters, thus opens the opportunities for the volunteers from different areas to be able to contribute within their surroundings in the process of awakening. This is a need that is triggered by a result of on going projects undertaken by committed and dedicated volunteers.

The leap that already took place and is continuing to its ultimate accomplishments could have been even faster and tremendously more effective knowing that they act in a decentralization environment where the effect can be spread and multiplied and re-multiplied, rather than being enclosed in one specific area and the circle gets concentrated in one area.

What is next? Having the baby giant awakened and nurtured and matured by its community; the volunteers, all what is still lacking sustainability, security and continuous follow ups, what could be better than home that can provide all of the above, yes decentralized PMI Chapters, that's what we are talking about, decentralized chapters that can be the umbrella, the future vision and the basis for the volunteers to further proceed with their awakening mission to reach a tremendous number of giants that are waiting long time ago. This is our pursuit and it was clearly stated by the vast majority (close to 100%) of our community members who responded to the survey that we conducted in February 2006.

Closing Remarks

In his book on the Genesis of Nations, Saadeh (Saadeh, 1937) talked about nations and the essential elements that lead to the genesis of a nation. On a related subject once a journalist asked Saadeh if the whole world could become one nation and Saadeh responded “who knows”. We are moving toward a one nation of “project management” – OK this is a stretch but once we break the language barrier a PMP® from Brazil can talk to a PMP® in the United Arab Emirates or Lebanon or Sri Lanka or China or India and understand each others.

We started with “Society is Knowledge, and Knowledge is Power” (Saadeh 1937) and we close with it. Some believe that knowledge is not power until it is acted on – and we agree if we look at knowledge for the sake of knowledge. However, our intent is “Society is Knowledge” – by this it is implied that this knowledge “acted upon” by members of the society; in our paper society refer to PM community. Self-centred knowledge could enslave its holder while community-centric knowledge leads to advancement of mankind. This what the volunteers demonstrated in our wonderful community – we need to continue our leadership role for a better tomorrow and a tomorrow full of unselfish service to a great community through a path of excellence!

References

Ajam, M.A. (2004, April) Project Management Achievements, Challenges, and Opportunities in the Arabian Gulf Region. PMI Global Congress 2004, Europe, Prague, The Czech Republic

Covey, S. R. (1990) The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Franklin Covey Co

Dalton, G.W. & Thompson, P.H. (1986) Novations: Strategies for Career Management. Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman and Co.

Project Management Institute. (2004) A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK®) (2004 ed.). Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

Saadeh, A. (1937) Genesis of Nations. Lebanon, publisher unknown (published in Arabic)

United Nations Development Programme, Arab Human Development Report 2003, Building a Knowledge Society; http://www.undp.org/rbas/ahdr

PMI Needs Assessment Survey for a United Arab Emirates Chapter, survey conducted by a team of volunteers led by one of the authors in February 2006

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.

© 2006, Mounir Ajam & Ramona Boulos
Originally published as a part of 2006 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Madrid, Spain

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