GovernmentManagement
May 26, 2020

Getting Project Management Right

The Project Management Institute (PMI) recently had the unique opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the historic rehabilitation and modernization of the Canadian Parliament Buildings. Our team marveled at the intricate wood paneling, the distinctive stained glass and the majestic setting above the Ottawa River. 

But we also viewed this challenging project — the largest heritage restoration ever undertaken in Canada — in the context of why we were in Ottawa in the first place. PMI was holding its annual meeting of our Global Executive Council in Ottawa. The Council is made up of an elite group of organizations around the world, spanning a wide variety of sectors but sharing a common purpose – directing the future of the project management profession.

Founded a half century ago, PMI is the world’s leading professional association for project professionals. Our members live all around the globe, but we always feel at home in Canada, and in Ottawa.

Several public and private sector Canadian organizations sit on our Global Executive Council, and we partner with the Government of Canada on a range of development and learning programs. More broadly, six percent of our volunteer chapters around the world are in Canada, including every province – Toronto, Montreal and Calgary among our ten biggest chapters. And our flagship Project Management Professional (PMP ®) certification is widely employed, with seven per cent of the million graduates worldwide in Canada (the third highest country total and the highest rate per capita, almost twice the rate in the United States).  

But we can do even more to deepen project management expertise in Canada – especially now. There is no doubt that COVID-19 is driving all organizations to work and collaborate in new ways. Organizations across sectors and industries coming out of COVID are undergoing massive disruption and economic pressure to transform their business with fewer resources and more efficiency. The only way to enable change is through projects and that is a catalyst for a project-based or “projectified” world and what we call, “The Project Economy.”  So, the project management skillset is more instrumental than ever before.

We’ve reached out to federal government leaders amid the COVID-19 crisis to help them navigate this disruption, offering practical steps for how the government’s response measures can best succeed by setting priorities and focusing on a clear-cut execution plan. There’s always risk to the normally prudent approach to government expenditure when projects and programs are launched as quickly as possible. There are time-proven means to minimizing those risks, however. That’s what our expertise offers; project management is our raison d’etre.

Our research underlines the value of having a trained cadre of professional project managers. PMI’s 2020 Pulse of the Profession® survey found that an average of 11.4 per cent of every dollar invested on projects and programs — that’s public and private sector, in Canada and globally — is wasted due to poor performance. But if organizations work more strategically and build internal capacity — with a clear strategy, detailed and tested methodology, and certified project managers — the chances that a project will be successful double. And that includes ensuring project managers have the technical, strategic and business management, digital and “power skills” – like effective communication, emotional intelligence, and empathy – to navigate change and drive success. What does that look like in action? Beyond delivering projects on time and on budget, it is about delivering value. It is about ensuring a project meets the objectives it set out to accomplish.

In this context, we’re encouraged by the reference in the mandate letter of the President of the Treasury Board that he work with his cabinet colleagues to “improve project management capabilities so that all major projects in government are led by a certified professional with at least five years of experience.”

In 2016, President Barack Obama, in one of the last acts of his administration, signed bipartisan legislation — the Program Management Improvement and Accountability Act (PMIAA) — to formalize many of the principles in the United States federal government that we advocate: requirements for project management certification for individual managers and project management standards for U.S. government departments and agencies; inter-governmental coordination and alignment on successful approaches; and recognition that executive leadership must focus on project management excellence. 

In recent years, we have placed a particular priority on the advantages of technological applications. A 2017 study by the World Economic Forum found that Canada stood 68th globally in using government procurement of advanced technologies to spark innovation, while the United States stood second.

Canada’s approach to improving project management has evolved rapidly, and the government’s recent Directive on the Management of Projects and Programmes is a tremendous step forward. In particular, the federal government will likely see great dividends from a new requirement mandating that all projects with a total cost of more than $25-million submit baseline information to the Office of the Controller General on scope, schedule, costs and risks. Further measures can ensure greater progress, such as codification of the kind of whole-of-government strategy set out in PMIAA. 

We can begin by prioritizing critical expertise and training at every step in the project lifecycle from start-up to close-out. This includes the planning that must take place before implementation even begins, including detailed project requirements, constraints and assumptions, risk assessment and management, as well as detailed scope management, cost management, project scheduling, and much more. 

As the saying goes: “Measure twice, cut once…” 

PMI stands ready to help the federal government with its project management expertise as the “real-time” roll-out of COVID-19 programs accelerates. But, equally, we stand ready to do so when this emergency turns to recovery. As the world rebounds from this challenging period, the path forward will be through projects and programs. And the project management community will play a pivotal and leading role in helping with this rebuild. As we have seen time and again, project management expertise never goes out of fashion. 

Sunil Prashara is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Project Management Institute.

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Sunil Prashara

Sunil Prashara is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Project Management Institute.

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A few months ago, the cover of this magazine featured a 20-year retrospective...