Getting senior executives "on side"

Janice L.Thomas, Ph.D., M.B.A., B.Sc., Centre for Innovative Management, Athabasca University, Project Management Specialization, University of Calgary
Connie L. Delisle, Ph.D., M.Sc., BA, B.A. (Ed.), Centre for Innovative Management, Athabasca University
Kam Jugdev, PMP, M.Eng., M.H.S.A., B.Sc., B.Sc., Project Management Specialization, University of Calgary


Why is it hard to get executives “on side” regarding the value of project management? Why is it hard to “sell” it to them? These and other related questions continue to perplex both practitioners and academics alike. Anecdotal reports focus on identifying best practices and strategies for sellers to “get their foot in the door” and secure airtime with busy executives. Some of the literature focuses on the process of building a buyer-seller relationship, and emphasizes the elements of trust and credibility, which are key to interaction marketing. However, there are no empirical studies conducted within project management on this topic.

In 1999, the Project Management Institute (PMI®) identified the need to study the value of project management in both qualitative and quantitative ways. This was in response to membership feedback on the top issues they were facing. This paper represents the outcome of research into Best Practices for Communicating the Benefits of Project Management to Senior Executives.The two-year study, partially funded by PMI®, was awarded to this team in response to the international request for proposal.

This paper provides an overview of the study, a summary of findings and interpretive analysis, and puts forward interpretations about the best ways to “get senior executives on side.” It summarizes findings on what executives are looking for in terms of project management value and what different groups are selling. Project management professionals and practitioners, project personnel, senior executives, managers, and consultants may gain significant insight from this. The paper includes the following sections: study background, literature review, Phase I overview, Phase II overview, summary of study findings, conclusions.

Study Background

The primary objective of this study is to better understand the process of selling project management, by project managers and consultants, to senior executives. The primary research questions answered in this two-phased investigation included “Why is it difficult to sell project management to senior executives?” and “How do you successfully sell project management to executives?” In particular, we set out to:

• Identify the main arguments put forth to promote (sell) project management to executives, or in other words, bring project management to their attention (or colloquially “get them on side”).

• Articulate the effective strategies used to sell project management to executives. In doing so, we identified the specific “best practices”related to the process, arguments, and context of successfully selling project management to senior executives.

In this study, project management is operationally defined as the disciplines, methodologies, processes, and standards applied to managing projects in the workplace. The construct of selling refers to promoting and advocating project management to executives in an organized manner. Project personnel includes all organizational personnel involved in project management. This could include team leaders and project controls officers up to and including program directors. Consultants are individuals involved in “selling” project management services and tools to organizations. Executives or senior executives are individuals at the vice president level or higher that sponsor and or manage projects in their organizations.

In order to get a handle on these issues and the research questions at hand, we conducted a literature review of project management, marketing, and organizational literature that formed the foundation for the study. The next section highlights some of the most significant research we consulted at this stage.

Literature Review

Project management is a growing discipline practiced in a challenging, competitive marketplace. It is “one of a few critically enabling strategies for strengthening a competitive marketplace posture” (Bounds 1998, 41). The issue of selling project management to executives is significant as successful project management involves senior management support, both financially and in managerial terms, and achieving support for the discipline enables firms to improve their competitive advantage (Pinto and Slevin 1987; Shenhar et al 1997; Belassi and Tukel 1996).Although project management is perceived to have value towards improving operational efficiency and contributing to a firm’s competitive advantage, the perceptions of its organizational benefits are not always aligned between executives who may buy or invest in the services, practitioners who apply the discipline, and consultants involved in selling it. Executives focus on business goals, results, and outcomes from projects, while practitioners and consultants tend to focus on the tactics of tools and techniques. The emphasis on different values of project management that the other party may not uphold, supports earlier work that suggests there are substantial language barriers in project management, and considerable difficulty in developing a, shared understanding and appreciation (Thomas 2000).

Research from marketing reflects a common theme. Successful sellers present the service/product in a practical manner that speaks to the issues of the purchaser. The literature provides basic tenets of marketing that includes: developing rapport, meeting with the decision-makers, and having credibility (Gardner et al 1996; Gardner and Bistritz 1998; Heinrichs 2000; King 1994; King 1996; Marchetti 1997; On Target 1999; Weitz and Bradford 1999; Price 1999). Few have related these concepts specifically to project management (Thomas et al 2001b; Thomas et al 2001a; Block 1991; Block 1992). In addition, the strategy development literature does not address project management per se. Current literature on the valuation of project management indicates that is measured in efficiency terms (time, cost, scope) and financial terms that are generally limited to the project as opposed to broader valuation practices that extend to the organization (Belassi and Tukel 1996; Clarke 1999; Kerzner 1987; Munns and Bjeirmi 1996; Shenhar et al 1997). This supports the premise that project manage-ment’s value is generally perceived to be at the operational level and that project management’s value is that of a tactical construct. In contrast, executives generally focus on corporate issues and those related to business results (Dutton et al 2000; Barney 2001). This is part of the conundrum within project management. How do we get executives on side with respect to project management, when the perception is that it is a tactical construct?

Since there is little theory specific to project management, on how we sell or buy project management, we turned to the literature on strategic issues. Strategic issues are those that continuously appear on executives radar screen as they develop corporate strategy and make management decisions (Dutton et al 2000; Dutton and Ashford 1993; Dutton and Webster 1988). The key is to understand how project management becomes a strategic issue that gains executive attention in a positive way.

From the marketing and selling literature, we know that it is important it is for sellers to be credible (Dutton et al 2000; Dutton and Ashford 1993; Dutton and Webster 1988; Bistritz et al 1999; Gardner et al 1996; Gardner and Bistritz 1998; Block 1991; Block 1992). Executive attention to project management is related to who brings it to their attention, the credibility they have, and how it is presented (Dutton and Ashford 1993). Executives also pay attention to how strategic issues are framed (wording, emotional content). In addition, the selling process is a key factor. Executive attention to project management is related to the selling process, e.g., who is involved, public, or private channels, degree of formality (Dutton and Ashford 1993).

The two ways in which we structured the study then, was to examine the processes and context within which project management is sold to executives. We examined a number of factors (independent variables) to understand the relationships and linkages to executive attention or support for project management as a measure for the dependent variable, or in other words,“buying project management.” Since this paper contributes to developing the theory of selling project management (as a strategic issue), the methodology did not use independent and dependent variables along with hypotheses. Instead, the concepts were identified as such for the purposes of exploratory factor analysis.

Study Methodology

The primary objective of this study is to better understand the process of selling project management, by project managers and consultants, to senior executives. A two-phased approach was used.

Phase I Overview

Answering the research question in Phase I, “Why is it difficult to sell project management to senior executives?” involved interviewing twenty-five participants using a set of 30–35 semi-structured/open-ended questions. The participants represent three groups: senior managers, project managers/practitioners, and external project management consultants/experts. By qualitatively exploring the participants understanding of project management, we identified differences in understanding value and selling and buying project management at various organizational levels. The grounded-theory analysis method revealed key trends and themes emerging from the interview transcripts to eventually point to prototypes in processes of selling project management as well as interaction patterns between buyers and sellers (Strauss 1990). Phase I questions also covered such topics as key barriers to selling project management, basic strategies used to sell project management, effective selling strategies, and reflections from executives on what they are looking for.

The interviews provided preliminary feedback on the processes and arguments used to sell project management. This information was coded using ATLAS-TI and key themes and patterns identified. Phase I primary indicated that senior executives recognize the importance of project management to their organization. However, they view it as of importance to a lower, tactical level of the organization. We call this the operational level of the firm. As well, the results show that project management only became a strategic or senior management issue when there was a crisis in the market or internally in the organization. These findings are portrayed in the Phase I model on the investment in project management diagram.

The diagram portrays three key points. First, the “sale” of project management is most often triggered by a crisis of some type in the organization. This means that project management is brought into the organization at a very tough time. Second, the decision to invest in project management is usually a decision to buy it as the nature of the crisis invoked an urgency that did not allow growing it internally. In part, the decision to buy the services was also related to the greater credibility consultants had in relation to internal project managers viewed of as contributing to the current crises or project management problems. Third, those organizations that did not invest in project management tended to have “accidental project managers” trying to do damage control and in the process, creating or contributing to other crises.

Our results indicated that project management remains a tough sell for reasons that relate to the cognitive gaps between sellers and purchasers:

• When project management is purchased during times of crises, practitioners lose credibility, as management may view them as being responsible for project failures.

• Practitioners do not necessarily view “selling project management” as one of their roles.

• Project management is generally perceived to have primarily tactical (operational) value.

• Sellers do not convincingly connect project management to business strategy, relegating it to the operational level of concerns that do not interest senior executives.

The findings from Phase I were used to formulate the Phase II instrument and tested in a larger sample for statistically generalizability purposes.

Phase II Methodology

The research question in Phase II,“How do you successfully sell project management to executives?” was tackled with a rigorously designed and pretested survey questionnaire. The foundation of these questions lie in conclusions coming from confirmation/challenges to results initially examined and interpretations of concepts generated from Phase I analysis, literature review findings, discussions with experts in the field, and examination of previous questionnaires on similar topics. The instrument consisted of a 105-item questionnaire consisting of sixty-two questions including seventeen questions on demographics, and eleven open-ended questions. A five-point Likert scale was used and the anchors were “strongly agree and strongly disagree.” The intermediate choices were somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, and neither. It was pretested for validity and reliability with a panel of academic colleagues and practitioners. In addition, we tested the instrument validity and content validity and internal consistency of the items.

Figure 1. Phase 1 I Model

Phase 1 I Model

A professional survey company who used the Internet to enable the collection of data from suitable participants worldwide administered the questionnaire. The sampling frame was a combination of convenience, purposive, and random sampling designed to allows us to generalize results mainly to North American project management situation. Of these, 3,093 respondents accessed the survey, we collected a useable sample totaling 1,868 participants for a response rate of 5.3 percent overall. The survey accuracy rate of +/- 2.27 percent nineteen times out of twenty means that the questionnaire provided data that is statistically valid, not occurring by chance. The integrity of the size of the dataset combined with careful comparison of underlying demographics of the sample and respondents allows for generalizability of the findings. The large-scale study using both quantitative and qualitative data helped to determine the statistical validity of findings and interpretation of data from Phase I. Since we used split halves to conduct the Exploratory Factor Analysis (EFA), the results are based on one-half of the respondents. The other half is retained for further studies that would confirm these findings. On this basis, our sample size was 933. It consisted of 499 project managers, 244 consultants, and 190 executives.

Data from Phase II was analyzed to:

• Identify and examine how project management is used in organization at a strategic and operational level.

• Identify the arguments and processes used to gain senior management attention purchase project management.

• Examine the demographic background of those involved particularly with respect to their background preparation in project management.

Part one of the analysis involved demographic statistical analysis using Microsoft® Excel® and SSPS statistical software packages. Patterns from this analysis identified “hot spots” of key data to conduct further analysis. Part two of the analysis included scrutinizing the data on participant demographics (position, industry, and country) and both descriptive and inferential statistical analysis (comparisons between demographics and the three types of data collected) to gain insights into the actions contribute selling project management to senior executives an easy/tough sell. Part three of the analysis involved EFA to reduce and summarize the data to first identify the top factors explaining how project managers and consultants sell the discipline to executives. The EFA also allowed us to generate different theoretical models and see how the data best fit with the objectives of the study. The project manager group plus the consultants group served as the base model (n = 743 based on 249 + 244) for these complex comparisons. This type of careful analysis allowed us to compare the very successful project managers and consultants to the base model, as well as compare the very successful data files to the very unsuccessful data files. Finally, these results were compared to what the executives explained they were looking for when they purchase project management services.

Study Findings

The sheer magnitude of the data set collected and the wealth of findings make it impossible to document all the analysis and findings in one paper. We have chosen to present a relatively simple summary of the findings. Those interested in more detailed understanding of the analysis and implications are referred to the research report to be published by PMI® or are invited to contact the authors.

Phase I Findings

Phase I data analysis allow for key interpretations as follows:

• Senior executives recognize the importance of project management to their organization.

• Senior executives view project management as important, but mainly in the lower or more tactical levels of their organizations.

• Project management only becomes a strategic or senior management issue when a trigger residing within the organization erupts as a crisis or in response to an external calamity in the market.

• When a trigger ignites a crisis in the organization, senior executives may consider the type of information resources they have on hand or seek external advice from consultants to determine how to proceed. Senior executives who deny or do not take the crises seriously, maintain the status quo by endorsing the accidental project manager, or react by purchasing a commercial project management software or methodology. These actions attempt to create value only at a tactical level. Senior executive, who acknowledge the crises, support “growing” project management in-house, bring in training consultants, or hire new project managers.

Phase II Descriptive Statistics on Current State of Project Management Practice

Simple descriptive statistics from Phase II suggest the following findings:

• A large proportion of all participants (82 percent) agree that project management increases the likelihood of delivering successful projects.

• While 60 percent of all participants agree that “projects are usually aligned with my company’s strategic plans,” 60 percent disagree that projects within their company are usually completed on schedule or on budget.

• More than seven-in-ten agree that project management enhances customer satisfaction (73 percent) and their firm’s performance in non-financial ways (71 percent).

• Just over 70 percent of respondents strongly agree that project management enhances customer satisfaction.

• The majority of respondents recognize project management as having strategic as well as tactical value in their organizations. However, an average of 25 percent of respondents still do not recognize project management as having a strategic role to play.

• Only 39 percent of the sample reports a belief that appropriate project management methods are being used in their organizations. Most often, they report believing that there are “appropriate methods,” which are not being applied.

• Slightly fewer than 50 percent of respondents believe that project management is recognized as a valued discipline in their organizations.

• As many as 49 percent believe that senior executive’s expectations of project management are realistic.

• Only 44 percent report that senior management provides adequate funding to support project management.

• Participants report that 58 percent of project managers in their organizations have little or no formal project management training.

• Sixty-nine percent of participants report still spending over 50 percent of their time on project management and expect it to increase in the future.

• Nearly 50 percent of time project management is used in response to crises.

Quickly summarized, these findings highlight several interesting gaps. The results suggest that project management is indeed becoming increasingly important and is present in today’s organizations in terms of the time spent on it. At the same time, senior executive financial commitment for investing in project management is quite low as is the percentage of project managers receiving little or no formal training. Furthermore, senior executive’s expectations of project management as a strategic weapon seem realistic, but appropriate project management methods are not generally being applied to the strategic level.

Strategically important projects are not meeting specification, cost, or schedule expectations consistently. Decisions by senior executives to not act or hold the status quo may well underlie the incidences of accidental project managers managing strategically important projects. Should we be surprised that these projects are not using the appropriate project management tools and techniques or achieving the expected outcomes? While organizations believe that there are such things as appropriate methods (that is, they know how to manage projects) the results suggest that these organizations are woefully inept in doing that effectively.

Phase II Key Considerations in Selling Project Management to Senior Executives

The following section provides a high level summary of key comparisons of the results of the EFA for the General Base Selling Model, the Very Successful Selling Models (combined, consultant, and project personnel), the Unsuccessful Selling Model, and the Senior Executive Model. The first part of this section compares the common core contextual issues, arguments, and processes in successfully selling project management to all the processes and arguments identified in the General Base Selling Model. The second part of this section presents the highlights of the “best practices” from those sellers who report being very successful at selling project management. The section concludes by briefly presenting key differences in the unsuccessful selling group.

General Base Selling Model Findings

This General Base Selling Model explores how project management is sold to executives regardless of level of success reported. This gives us a general picture of the most common approaches used, which we can compare to those reporting extreme levels of success or failure.

This model reveals three contextual issues that are common across the study sample:

• Competition: Attention to arguments that highlight previous successes using project management, point out what the competition is doing better, and highlight new business opportunities. Although this a significant factor identified by senior executives, even successful sellers do not focus on competition-framed arguments about best practices from organizations using project management.

• Crisis: The triggering of a crisis by an event (internal or external) often creates a context amenable to “trigger” or spark interest in “sales” of project. Selling in this environment may be risky if the sales goal is to build a long-term relationship because the crisis contexts complicates the implementation efforts enough so senior executive expectations are not met.

• Accidental Project Management: The presence of the “accidental project manager” (does not have the formal training to manage strategic projects yet; is doing so often without increased incentives and compensation) results in accidental project management. This context may be so in-grained that it becomes part of an organizations’ culture.

Factors identified as important to successful selling include:

• Framing the project management investment in senior executive terms and as an executive decision. And, to do so also in such a way to involve others who do project management in the organization. Although the final decision may be the senior executives, taking the time to build relationships with strategic advocates of project management within the organization (especially in the consultants case) may enable the sale.

• The content of the sales pitch revolves around a variety of value statements relating project management to corporate business outcomes and the iron triangle discussions tied to project outcomes and practices.

• In addition, successful sellers shape arguments to enable the alignment of senior executive expectations and corporate goals with project management outcomes.

The General Base Selling Model points to key process considerations as it relates to deciding who is to be involved in the sales process. The involvement of both internal and external project management personnel is deemed important to the sales process.

Very Successful Selling Practices

Analyzing those reporting the highest degrees of success in selling project management to senior executives allows for the generation of a refined and more focused model. The very successful selling contextual issues, arguments, and processes are briefly presented in the first part of the section. The remainder of the section presents the key differences between very successful consultants and project personnel.

The two contextual issues important to this group include:

• Resistance to project management

• Realistic senior management expectations.

The sales arguments by very successful sellers focus value statements followed by iron triangle discussions and the use of both executive language and executive framing show the same trend as the common core selling arguments. The difference lay mostly in the “salespeople,” that is, their ability to effectively tie together tactical and strategic value statements to demonstrate the benefits and pay offs that they are speaking about. As noted in the qualitative data analysis, there is room to improve since senior executives want selling arguments to contain examples of previous successes, and case studies/examples that they can relate to.

Successful selling processes of importance stress the need to developing a corporate fit and the selling relationship. The corporate fit issue relates directly to how well sellers tie tactical and strategic arguments throughout the sales cycle, so that these arguments are part of an ongoing part of establishing a lasting relationship between the seller and buyer. Effectively, very successful sellers are always being “tested” because the business context may change, and thus, the project management needs of an organization.

Very Successful Selling Practices—Consultants versus Project Personnel

Distinct differences are visible between the model created from the very successful project personnel data and that created from very successful consultant data.

Unique to the very successful project personnel, they identify realistic senior executive expectations as the most important contextual factor. Thus, they lead sales discussions with arguments related to iron triangle outcomes and practices, framing them in executive language. However, they hone in on a smaller set of specific value statements about organizational development outcomes rather than financial measures. Thus, more emphasis is on language to gain a consensual understanding rather than on executive framing.

In contrast, the Very Successful Consultant Model reports that accidental project management is the primary contextual issue. Very successful sellers pay attention to the “accidental project manager” phenomenon and the organization’s competitive situation as part of what Dutton (2001) calls “reading the wind.” They also shape selling arguments around a variety of value statements, using particular statements depending on the depended on the individual client and the timing. Next, they identified using executive language in framing iron triangle arguments while aligning project management goals with corporate goals and executive expectations.

The number one process factor very successful consultants mention relates to relationship issues. These consultants pay attention to the relationship and political nature of the sales process recognizing that the arguments they use and the way they are framed is actually a part of the entire sales process.

In addition, very successful consultants used value statements as processes to tie project management to a valuable corporate goal as often as long as they are able to infer that project management will deliver such a benefit on its own merits.Otherwise, if these consultants indirectly or directly tie the sale of project management to themselves or success of the project management implementation, the pressure increases to meet senior management expectations that may be set too high or not managed well. The overall pay off to sellers is high if they are positively “branded” along with project management being sold. On the downside, the risk is also high, particularly if senior management expectations are not aligned, or managed well.

Unsuccessful Selling Practices

In contrast to the other models discussed above, the Unsuccessful Selling Model shows some interesting differences. Unsuccessful sellers do not appear to incorporate any purely process-related factors. Rather, they identify the context of realistic senior management expectations and resistance to project management as a process part of the sales effort. They also report using an unrelated mix or “hodgepodge” of sales arguments mostly containing words that are important in executive language, in combination with dramatic emotional terms that are unique to this model. They also report focusing more on shaping arguments around value statements that point out the quantitative benefit or effect on profits, market share, and competitive position. Ironically, these very arguments are likely the most difficult to justify or deliver.

What Are Executives Looking For?

Overall, it appears that the very unsuccessful project managers/consultants used many approaches that the very successful project managers and consultants did not. Unsuccessful seller strategies are not as aligned with what executives seek relative to the very successful groups. In contrast, the strategies used by the very successful groups are closely aligned with the value statement in particular, in the Senior Executive Model that manage senior management expectations about benefits.

In general, project managers and consultants place different emphasis on, but commonly use executive language, discussing the corporate fit and present it as a value proposition when selling project management. However, they can improve by using language that conveys and arguments that more clearly articulate the tie between project management and the business context in terms of results.

Senior executives are seeking business results and seeking to achieve this through an emphasis on the project management iron triangle. Both the very successful project managers and consultants also use iron triangle arguments in their selling strategies. Senior executives are also more likely to pay attention to project management when someone with whom they have a relationship based on credibility and trust presents it.

Overall, these models suggest that senior executives are mainly interested in information that presents key aspects of project management as they tie into the business context of their particular organization whether that means quantifiable or qualitative results. They also want to hear about past successes, case studies, and any form of evidence to help them see the payoffs.


This paper presents preliminary results from an international web-based survey aimed at improving our understanding of best practices in selling project management to executives. To our knowledge, this is the first of its kind combination study on project management that draws from a diverse group of professional associations and uses Internet technology. We have collected a significant amount of very interesting data that will make a significant contribution to the field.

At the same time, no one best sales strategy should be applied across the board because successful selling is sensitive to the instability of ever-changing client priorities and contexts, such as the global business climate. In essence, the approach that works for one seller may not work for another seller. As well, there are many different ways that salespeople themselves influence and shape the way project management is sold.

Those reporting being very successful in getting senior executives on side use moves that fit with what executives are seeking. They frame project management by relating it to business results, the iron triangle, and use executive language. They recognize the context as setting and managing realistic senior management expectations of project management and creating or entering an environment that has little resistance to project management. These sellers tend to use arguments that highlight a variety of value statements about financial measures, staff growth, customer satisfaction, competition, and nonfinancial performance, and link them to issues/values of interest to the organization; making the value statements also plays a bundling role in the sales process. They also use project management outcomes and practices as important sales arguments. Although very successful sellers arguments are sensitive to project management as a senior executive decision, they frame it in positive business language that speaks to solving problems. In terms of process, very successful sellers focus on explaining the fit between project management and the corporation or organization. Ultimately, very successful sellers pay attention to the quality of the relationship and in building that relationship. They may be more adept at shifting arguments as the business context changes over time, thus, creating lasting seller-buyer relations.

While very successful sellers present the air of tying project management to corporate goals and objectives by being politically astute, the sell continues to be related to stamping out a crisis or potentially flammable situation. These types of strategies may also create long-term problems of gaining re-entry to sell project management if organizations find that senior management expectations have not been met. A more solid strategy may be on building on the trust-credibility relationship with the buyer, so that over time, the buyer establishes a brand—or distinctive identity—that promises value from project management. Branding helps the buyer and seller establish common value statements about the value of project management so that gaining entry for future sales may be more likely.

In contrast, the very unsuccessful project managers and consultants appear to use a spaghetti strategy. This involves putting various strategies into the pot, boiling it, and then seeing what sticks to the wall. The result is a mixture of presenting project management as a solution, describing what the competition is doing, and using dramatic and emotional terms. They also involve people in the selling strategy based on their roles within or external to the organization. Although they talk about how project management aligns with the company’s goals, they fail to discuss it in terms of business results. They also fail to align their strategies to what executives are seeking. In addition, they do not use moves that matter and appear to work.

Practical Recommendations

As mentioned earlier, there do not appear to be any silver bullets or universal truths to successfully selling project management to senior executives. However, there are guidelines that effective salespeople can employ to bring project management to the attention of executives and getting them onside. The following suggestions for those interested in getting senior executives on side arise from this study:

• Understand an organization’s key business priorities and discuss project management in the context of measurable quantitative outcomes as well as effectiveness outcomes.

• Explain project management in terms of the iron triangle (time, cost, and scope) but do not over emphasize project language (tools and techniques).

• Ensure that you as a seller have a credible, effective, professional relationship with the buyer. In selling the services, it is less important to involve people at certain levels of project management within the organization—it is more important to focus on the building a common understanding using executive language to ensure effectiveness of the relationship between buyer and seller.

• Understand how project management fits the organization in terms of operational and strategic goals and discuss it in those contexts that make sense. Thus, the seller has to be sensitive to and aware of the possibility of switching gears in midstream of the selling relationship should the context internally or externally shift significantly.

• Do not use dramatic or emotional terms (the silver bullet, huge failure, gigantic problems)—they do not seem to work. Very unsuccessful project managers and consultants use this strategy. In addition, unsuccessful sellers present the “sale” as a hodgepodge of reasons as to why executives should pay attention to project management, essentially setting up to fail. It is important to be clear about the business results possible from project management and the expectations of senior executives by not promising more than is possible given the particular business context.

• Do no fixate on references to competition within the industry—they do not appear to be a key factor causing executives to pay attention to project management. These arguments can also become entangled with the use of dramatic and emotional terms. Senior executives seem focused on the results they can achieve by using project management within the firm.

• Do not second-guess what senior executives are thinking about. The seller’s views on senior executive expectations being realistic and attainable do not seem to matter. Selling arguments that challenge the realism of senior executive expectations was not a highly effective factor for the very successful project managers or consultants.

Research Contributions

The research has a great deal of practical value in its ability to capture results that allow for interpretation of underlying reasons associated with why project management benefits are difficult to sell to senior management. In answering the research questions, the monograph presents arguments about how successful selling processes work that can be taken away and used by practitioners and consultants.

The research also identifies the processes, arguments, and context that senior executives are mainly interested in as they deliberate an investment in project management. Knowledge about the best milieu for selling provides additional insights into what sellers and buyers could expect in managing and aligning expectations about what project management can do.

Researchers gain an appreciation for the usefulness and value of going outside the field of project management to other disciplines in to help expanding thinking out of the box. A multidisciplinary effort lends credibility to our efforts to create a theoretical base of concepts that can be rigorously tested by others in and outside the arena of project management research.

Empirically, this study appears to have one of the largest numbers of survey respondents of any research in discipline of project management to date. The generation of interest from around the world not only raises the profile of project management as a practice, but also as valuable research topic. The statistical rigor of the survey preparation and data analysis sets the stage future research of high quality.

This study also challenges methodological assumptions regarding data collection methods, further propelling the use of Internet-based collection as a reliable and useful medium to use in research. Our efforts may help to clarify outdated expectations about response rates regardless of the medium.


We would like to thank PMI® and Athabasca University for their funding and support of this study. In particular, we are appreciative of the guidance and support that Dr. Lew Gedansky and Mr. Paul Shaltry provided. We would like to thank the organizations that supported this research (Athabasca University, CIO, Computers in Information Processing Society, ESI-International, Professional Engineers of Ontario, Project Management Institute, University of Calgary, and SurveySite). Last but not least, we appreciate the time and effort on the part of all participants in completing the survey and providing their insights.

For further details contact Dr. Janice Thomas at


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Proceedings of PMI Research Conference 2002



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