Project Manager Profession

Project management is a profession that many people just don’t seem to understand. Even project managers have difficulty explaining to their family and friends what they actually do. During a keynote address I delivered recently my daughter was in attendance and remarked to me after the speech that I mentioned the word “PMBOK” at least 20 times. She had no idea what it was. Since I was in the presence of a group of project managers I basically took it for granted that everyone would know what I was talking about.

There is a lesson learned here (lessons learned, what a concept!) We really can’t make any assumptions about how people perceive the job of the project manager and we especially can’t make any assumptions about the terminology we use or about the methods and procedures used to manage and complete our projects. It is also apparent that many people view project management as “added work”, overhead, or something that prevents real work from being accomplished. The generally accepted practice in business is to plan minimally and get started quickly. The belief is that less planning means more time for work and therefore faster time to completion or to the market. This is where we begin to see the value of project management. Projects that that start off quickly and follow the “just do it” approach ultimately end up in triage (a medical term referring to treatment of problems or sorting injuries and prioritizing treatment) Additional cost, displeased customers, schedule overruns, and probably several changes in the project team can be expected. Troubled projects are (in most cases) the result of poor planning. The perception that following a project management methodology will delay the project and prevent the team from being productive has been fueled by the belief that if you take too much time up front to plan you will not have enough time to meet the deadline. Where did the deadline come from? It was probably a guess based on loosely defined information, a lack of understanding about the complexity of the work to be done and a failure to analyze the current workload of the existing resources.

That’s where project management comes in. It is an organized, common sense approach that will, when properly administered, increase the probability of success significantly while supporting and contributing to the organization’s major goals and objectives. If you are a project manager you already know all about this. You may also being dealing with the frustrations associated with working for people or within organizations that do not seem to fully understand the challenges of the project manager position or the benefits that can be derived if the entire organization actually embraced the true value of a project management methodology.

Looking at project management from a different perspective, there is a truly exhilarating feeling when a project manager looks back at a project that has been completed successfully. Completed projects are a testimonial to the project manager and team and visibly demonstrate the true Power of the Profession. Gazing upon a completed bridge or a new park in an urban area, or a new sports stadium or concert arena will provide anyone with a feeling of awe and an appreciation for the work that was done. These are projects and we need to take the time to recognize those who worked so hard for us to enjoy them. Recently the city of Newark, New Jersey celebrated the opening of the Prudential Center, an arena, or more appropriately a masterpiece of a building, that brings pride to the community and unlimited opportunities for economic growth. The grand opening of the arena was brought to the public through another project- a concert by Bon Jovi. Yes, rock concerts are projects! I don’t think too many of the fans were thinking about the WBS for the concert or the risks associated with pyrotechnics but you can rest assured that a strong team of dedicated professionals planned every part of the concert from the amplification and sound to an extra set of guitar strings.

Projects are all around us. A political convention, the making of a movie, a new building in downtown San Francisco, a wedding reception, a graduation party, a webcast, or a family vacation are all examples of projects people encounter just about everyday.

The world is actually filled with project managers. The title is not the important element here; it is more about what people do to achieve the desired objective. This is where the idea of International Project Management Day was originated. Sometime in 2002 the alumni of the Project Management Institute’s Leadership Institute initiated an email-based discussion group to confer about how we could take the field or profession of project management to higher levels of appreciation in our respective communities. I thought about International Project Management Day back in the later part of 2003. I sent a few memos about the idea and received some very supportive feedback from my colleagues. During the next several months I sent several inquires to the members of my project management network, looking for additional support and ideas that would actually help me to make IPM Day a reality. In 2004 I attempted to identify a date that was not associated with any major holiday. I soon discovered that just about every day is a holiday somewhere around the world.  I selected November 2, 2005. It seemed to be a good choice at the time and I decided to designate the first Thursday of November each year as International Project Management Day.

E. Laverne Johnson, the CEO and Founder of  International Institute for Learning Inc. recognized the importance of designating a day for honoring project managers and the profession of project management and the first webinar, of what has now become an annual event, sponsored by IIL was planned and delivered to more than 1000 attendees from around the world.
International Project Management Day gained more interest in 2006 and through the support of PM Forum, a distinguished group of professionals who promote project management and provide a vehicle for sharing information via the internet, and managing editor David Pells along with Hugh Woodward, a former member of the PMI Board of Directors, a website was created to provide information about IPM Day to all project managers around the globe. In 2006 IIL also started the Kerzner International Project Manager of the Year Award that is announced and bestowed every year on IPM Day, in honor of Dr. Harold Kerzner.

Interest and participation grows each year and International Project Management Day has reached the desks of several city governments and state capitals. New York City Mayor Bloomberg has declared 1 November 2007 as International Project Management Day, as has New State Governor Eliot Spitzer, The Governor of the State of Arizona, Janet Napolitano has declared November 1-8 as International Project Management Week, Other City and state government officials are in the process of finalizing their own declarations.

Several PMI Chapters are also planning major events including PMI UK Chapter, PMI Silicon Valley Chapter, San Francisco Bay Area Chapter, Washington D.C Chapter, New Jersey Chapter, New Brunswick Chapter, Phoenix Chapter, and Sacramento Chapter. Alcatel – Lucent has also planned an event to recognize their project managers and AOL has planned an event at their November 1 Conference and Expo.

It is extremely gratifying to see so many organizations actively involved in recognizing project managers and promoting the value of the profession. I am hoping that all organizations that are involved in managing projects take just a few minutes on November 1, 2007 or some time during that week to say thanks to the people who really make things happen- the project managers and the teams that work with them. We wouldn’t have city sky lines, magnificent cruise ships, highways to take us to new adventures, amusement parks and roller coasters, or new cars without project managers. Its time we set one day aside just to say thanks. We have mother’s day, father’s day, grandparents’ day, bosses’ day, secretary’s day, flag day, mother –in-law day, Reformation day (Switzerland), Independence day (in many countries), Arbor day, children’s day (Panama) volunteer week, international, pet week, frog day and even ice cream sandwich day. It seemed like the right thing to do to declare a day for project managers.

There is one very important item to mention. 1 November and 2 November have been set aside by many countries in Europe and in Latin America and South America, the Carribean Islands as well as many other countries around the world to observe All Souls Day or El Dia De Los Muertes. To respect the importance of these dates I believe it is necessary to take IPM Day to a slightly higher level and focus on an entire week for recognition of project managers. This will provide many more countries an opportunity to plan events and participate in the recognition of project managers while avoiding any possible conflict with national holidays and religious observance. So that is the plan for next year and thereafter.

IPM Day is a day of recognition and it is not necessary to wait until November to thank project managers and their teams. As Judith W. Umlas states in her book, The Power of Acknowledgment, “The world is full of people who deserve to be acknowledged.” So get on board with the rest of the world and help us spread the message about the value of project management. Take a project manager to lunch or just say thanks. They will truly appreciate a few kind words, and a sincere thank you is good for a whole string of completed milestones!

by: Frank P. Saladis (PMP)