Project Management Institute

Today's project manager

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BY ROSS FOTI • ILLUSTRATION BY RAFAEL LOPEZ

   
  Project management experts discuss where today’s best and brightest come from and where they are going.  

The project management profession has grown and evolved beyond technical skills toward business acumen. As project managers increasingly take on more responsibility and accountability for project success, executives are giving them more freedom— but expecting more in return.

The profession may be coming of age, but project managers still have a way to go. In this panel discussion, industry professionals mull the state of today’s project managers and their world.

WHO’ WHO

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MILES SHEPHERD is chairman of the International Project Management Association, based in Nijkerk, The Netherlands. He is an associate lecturer for the Open University and an industry specialist in validation of postgraduate project management programs at Bournemouth University, Poole, Dorset, U.K. He has chaired conferences on e-project management and is an assessor for the German Excellence in Project Management Awards.

JENNIFER J. STANFORD, PMP, is the director of professional development for Robbins Gioia LLC, a project management consulting firm in Alexandria, Va., USA. She has experience as a project manager, trainer, facilitator and executive coach. Stanford also has worked with customers in government, telecommunications, consumer products and automotive environments.

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KAREN R.J. WHITE, PMP, is a Weare, N.H., USA-based director of resource management for PM Solutions. She has more than 20 years experience in project management and software development and serves as chairperson of PMI’s Ethics Review Committee. White also is active in IEEE Computer Society’s Technical Council on Software Engineering.

DONALD GARDNER, PMP, president of Gardner Project Integration Group Ltd., Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., USA, was awarded PMI’s 2002 Outstanding Specific Interest Group (SIG) Chair Award for his work with PMI’s Financial Services SIG. Gardner has more than 31 years of experience as an information delivery specialist and project manager for the financial services and health care industries.

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JEANNA STAVAS is director of program management with Metrowerks, an Austin, Texas, USA-based Motorola subsidiary. Her knowledge crosses a range of technical industries and markets: client/server applications, networking, database design, software development tools and embedded systems.

PM Network: How is the role of the project manager different today than it was 10 years ago?

Jennifer J. Stanford: Today’s organizations are doing more with fewer resources. Organizations are viewing project management as a true management role, and thus many organizations have fewer project managers managing multiple projects and teams across the organization.

Donald Gardner: The project manager’s role has moved from managing individual projects toward a bigger, broader function with more leadership responsibility and a greater span of control and a bigger perspective. There’s more movement toward the business side.

Jeanna Stavas: In our project and program managers, it’s more than just identifying technical risks. We’re all so dependent on external deliverables, and we’re working with competition to develop products. It’s “co-opetition.” In some areas, we’re using another company’s deliverables—we’re still competitors but not for exactly the same niche.

Karen R.J. White: We’re also seeing more “virtuality.” In the last 10 years, most of the projects I’ve been assigned have involved folks outside of my direct sight. Whether the project manager is based on the client location or in a different geographical office, communication skills and the ability to leverage technology are important to build teams. That didn’t exist 10 years ago when we were all in cubicles lined up next to each other.

TODAY’S SALARIES

Project managers’ average starting salary beginning 2001 (U.S. average): $47,400.

Salary for more than 10 years experience (U.S. average): $93,600.

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SOURCE: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR

Miles Shepherd: Users of my projects are much more demanding than they were back in the days when computing was still a novelty. I need to spend less time on the sector-specific issues than I used to, but I now have to spend much more time discussing project management techniques. Today’s project manager is younger, able to use the latest software and has much better communication skills.

 

PM Network: What do you see as the most common profile of young project managers entering the profession?

Gardner: In financial services, new project managers are aggressive and willing to take on whatever’s out there. They have a positive attitude, but they don’t have the structure, discipline and experience.

Stavas: We put a lot of technical leads into management positions, but if it’s not the right fit, it won’t work. A new project manager must have the basic understanding of the development cycle, must be well-rounded and have business acumen.

Shepherd: When I started, most project managers were professional engineers and came into project management by accident. Nowadays, many set out to be project managers as they leave college. I think the average age is a good few years younger; the educational profile is similar, certainly in engineering. The major change is that young project managers are looking for postgraduate qualifications and seeking them earlier than they used to.

White: Unfortunately, I’m finding they know the science of project management and administration, but they haven’t learned the art of soft skills. They’re coming out of certification programs that say they know all about risk management, but when it comes to making decisions and going with their guts, they hesitate.

Shepherd: Many of the younger project managers I meet seem to look for job changes every three to four years. This is partly a reflection of how industry in general has changed, but there is a more mobile element, too.

White: Within IT, the dot-com bubble bursting really woke some youngsters up, and they realize job-hopping is not advantageous. Companies are trying to retain proven project managers who have both business and technical acumen. Salaries are pretty flat—some of that’s a reflection of supply.

PM Network: Are today’s executives changing their views of the profession?

Stavas: In our company, executives see us as a part of the organization and allow them to look at the enterprise view, but we have to prove ourselves. Being autonomous has increased our visibility. The executive support I get allows us to be the conscience of the organization: the good “bad guys.”

Stanford: Project management is most definitely becoming more entrenched in today’s companies. In general, we see projects with dedicated budgets to project management support. Numbers average about 15 percent dedicated time and resources. Implementing project management is often an uphill battle, waged by people with vision against people clinging to current paradigms and familiar surroundings.

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White: The business community has not yet seen the value of the project management office (PMO), so until functional corporate officers see the value of a holistic view, there will be a struggle to gain an integrated project view.

PM Network: How is the role of project managers continuing to evolve?

White: I see project managers assuming more accountability and liability. The project manager will be where the buck stops. A few years ago, if you called yourself a software engineer, there was an attempt to make that a licensed job. Personal accountability comes along with licensure.

Stanford: Several years ago, Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification was seen as the pinnacle of a project manager’s career, however with the responsibilities of the project managers today, this certification becomes more of a differentiator among many rather than the qualification of a few. Certification is still important, but in the future, we will need to see more proof.

Gardner: Companies are asking for certification and expecting it. I’m just not sure they know what it is yet. I think they just know that having something certified is a good thing. That awareness will catch up, as witnessed by the growing number of PMPs out there.

White: Certification is necessary, at least to certify basic knowledge. PMP status is starting to become a requirement, especially in Fortune 50-type companies. You don’t get to be a senior project manager at One Beacon Insurance and IBM Global Services without certification.

Stavas: PMP certification is impacting salaries. Because there are more people gaining certification, it’s keeping salaries in control. Project managers are no longer job-hopping—they build relationships with the team they’re working with, and that builds loyalty.

Shepherd: In the United Kingdom, project management standards have been most successful, and recently ISO 10006 has been reviewed and updated. These seem to have greater acceptance in Europe than elsewhere, but they are a good start. I would like to see the development of other, more far-reaching, standards to handle issues in certification, perhaps under ISO 17024. I hope the International Project Management Association can join with PMI to make a real impact.

 

PM Network: In what ways are today’s projects changing?

White: Within IT, projects are complicated due to the technology. There are much more integrated project teams with a core group of employees and third-party outsourcers. We’re seeing shorter projects, so if something goes astray, you have less time to recover. The focus is on just-in-time project management. We used to spend four weeks planning; nowadays, the project better be done by then.

Stavas: In the past, dispersed teams weren’t happening as much. Now, we have teams all over the map. Companies expect things faster—no one wants to wait for anything. The more standardized we can get as a company, the better we are able to cross-train, identify risks sooner and become more efficient.

INDUSTRY SNAPSHOT

Organizations that measure the value of project management 52.1%
Executives that rate the importance of project portfolio management as moderately important to important 61.4%
Project managers with PMP certification in organization 14.8%
Percentage of organizations with project offices 43.7%
Organizations with 50 or more ongoing projects 41.4%
Projects lasting 6 months or less 48.3%
Projects costing $100,000 or more 59.2%

SOURCE: CENTER FOR BUSINESS PRACTICES, “PROJECT MANAGEMENT: THE STATE OF THE INDUSTRY” SURVEY.

PM Network: What responsibilities will the modern PMO take on over the next five years?

White: When I was first exposed to PMO, they were the folks who came to beat me up when I didn’t have my status report on time. In more enlightened organizations, the PMO is becoming a center of excellence that implements communities of practice, ensures return on investment and manages the corporation’s project portfolio.

Gardner: PMOs have gone from the administrative to a holistic role in corporations. We’re fighting against the tide because there’s not a lot of free money, but if nascent PMOs stay lean, they can insinuate their way into an organization, and executives will realize the benefits.

Stanford: Electronic PMOs (EPMOs) will be in place in the next five years, not just looking at the tactical aspects but providing strategic support such as portfolio management and aligning initiatives with strategic goals.

PM Network: Which countries and industries are demanding more project managers today?

Stanford: The fastest growing areas for project managers in the IT sector are e-business, e-commerce and data warehouse projects. In the United States, the demand will continue to be on the government sector as mandates, guidance and regulations continue to drive the career tracks of project managers.

White: Within the information systems area, there is still a growing demand, especially in the third-world countries embarking on off-shore development. In Singapore, Mexico and Ireland, there is a strong national drive to become manufacturers of software— that’s the space where you’ll see the biggest growth.

Shepherd: Perhaps the biggest growth can be expected in the lower tech end as the effective project management practice has spread to the high-tech industries. The examples are clear to see for the not-for-profit sector and for developing economies, such as those in the former CIS states now moving into the European Union.

Stavas: We’re seeing a lot of growth in India, China and Romania. That’s where we’re moving projects and resourcing development teams. Having project managers on-site works better for us, especially in engineering-centric areas. As more people become PMP-certified, we’re going to look toward an international standard—we’re already trying to do this internally. PM

To participate in an online discussion on today’s project manager with your colleagues, visit communities.pmi.org and go to the PMI Member Community.

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 | APRIL 2003 | www.pmi.org

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