The shift from traditional management to project management

Introduction

In the last article, we discussed the growth of project management as an emerging domain or profession. Today, we will shift to a discussion of traditional management and what led to professional project management.

Traditional management versus project management

When and where did project management start? Was it with the large defense projects in the United States, with the pyramids in ancient Egypt, the Great Wall in China, the Acropolis in Greece or even further back to the earliest recorded civilizations such as the Sumerians and Acadians? The answers, though interesting, are not directly relevant here. What is relevant is that many will agree that modern project management is a twentieth century phenomenon and its considerable growth is in part due to professional associations advocating the importance of a different approach to managing projects. We think that one factor that fueled the growth is that traditional management failed in ensuring the successful completion of projects, thus necessitating the need for a different approach, which we now call project management.

Role of professional associations

Professional associations, which focus on the advancement of project management, have been around for close to fifty years. If we tally the count of their members from around the globe, it would be over a million. This is in addition to the millions practicing project management without being members in any association.

These associations have played a significant role in the growth of this emerging domain, through their various standards, certifications, and marketing efforts. There are probably more than fifty different certifications related to project management, by the various global associations who offer these certifications. Yet even with so many practitioners, associations and certifications, we know one thing for sure: something is missing. That something is preventing us from delivering consistently successful projects. Perhaps it is just human nature’s inability to be consistent or maybe we are right in stating something is missing.

With the view that traditional management is not enough and project management is a possible answer to those shortcomings, then the question becomes: with years of professional practice of project management, even supported with the presence of active professional associations and their various standards and publications, why are so many projects still challenged or even failing?

Here, we ask a second question, has project management succeeded in overcoming the shortcomings of traditional management?

What is missing

What are the challenges we face in project management that are still preventing us from reaching a higher level of consistency in project performance: more successes than failures and challenges?

The question is pertinent, and we are not sure if anyone knows the answers with a degree of certainty or even high confidence. What we are sure about is the need for further research by the project management community; further soul-searching research and not just general research to indicate project management is valuable. Project management is demonstrably valuable, and there has been quite a few research on this topic and even quantify this value. However, tough questions remain and the project management community, whether practitioners, global associations, organizations, researchers, academics, or executives must try to address them.

Project Management ChallengesBut if we have no answers then how can we deal with these challenges?

Let us discuss what we do know.

We know that project management is an emerging profession; therefore, it is natural and expected to experience challenges and growing pains.

In the next few posts, we will address six challenges. These challenges are the author’s professional opinion; emphasis is on opinion. We share them here, to encourage the project management community to research these topics and debate them. It is vital to increase our collective knowledge with the ultimate purpose being the betterment of the emerging profession, its practitioners, organizations, and ultimately, society.

What are these challenges?

  1. Project management is simple
  2. Project management is bureaucratic
  3. Project management is one size fits all
  4. Project management is not industry specific
  5. Project management certification as a commodity
  6. Project management is not institutionalized (raining not organizational focus)

Again, we will address each of these challenges in an upcoming posts.