Project Management is a millenary activity, but it was only in the ’50s that the term emerged in the corporate environment and still as something innovative.
It is intriguing to think that for millennia, long before the technological apparatus that we have today, monuments were erected, the most famous cathedrals were built, and sculptures were molded without the help of any computational resource capable of undoing an error or a slip through with the simple combination of the Ctrl or Command +Z keys.
However, it is not rare for research to point out the constant failures in projects. Billions of dollars are spent annually around the world on unsuccessful initiatives.
Michelangelo said that to sculpt, all he had to do was take a rough stone and remove the excess.
Where did we go wrong? What excesses or faults were committed? What are the future perspectives for Project Management? What is the impact of the Agile philosophy in the digital era? Has artificial intelligence arrived to help? What defines the success of an initiative?
To shed light on these and other issues, AgileTimes.News channel spoke with two industry-leading names, Mr. Max Wideman and Doctor Paul D. Giammalvo.
Mr. Wideman is a former PMI president and was primarily responsible for creating the first and only PMBOK, published and approved by PMI in 1987. Wideman is the author of several books on project, program, and portfolio management and is considered PMI’s risk management father. He received numerous awards and honors for his distinguished contribution to the project management discipline. With over half a century of practical experience in projects of different sizes and segments, it is no exaggeration to assert that Mr. Wideman is one of the biggest and most respected personalities in this coveted industry.
Paul D. Giammalvo holds a master’s degree in project management from George Washington University and obtained his Ph.D. in program and project management from the Institute Superieur De Gestion Industrielle (ISGI) and Ecole Superieure De Commerce De Lille (ESC-Lille). With over 45 years of practical experience, he has spent 35 of the past 50 years working on large, highly technical international projects. Its current client list includes Fortune’s 500 largest telecommunications, oil, gas, mining companies, the UN Project Office, and many Multinational companies, NGO organizations, and Indonesian Government Agencies.
AgileTimes.News: Why does PMI consider the 1996 book the first edition of PMBOK?
Max Wideman: I am not sure that PMI itself misnames the document – the correct name is the “Guide to the PMBOK” document, but I know a lot of people do. The Guide was introduced to tell people “How to,” whereas the original 1987 document set out to tell people “What PMBOK is.”
It’s a bit like following the recipe to bake a cake without bothering to see what the cake is actually being made of.
So the 1996 “book” was certainly the first edition of the PMBOK Guide, but it was never any edition of the PMBOK description. In other words, the 1996 document was always a guide because what people wanted is a “How to.”
AgileTimes.News: From its creation until today, what is the importance of PMBOK for the consolidation of project management as one of the most demanded professions in organizations worldwide?
Max Wideman: Interestingly, most people seem to think that “Project Management” is only about 50-60 years old – that is since we attempted to document it in PMI back in the early 80s. In so far as public works go, that is certainly not the case. We were not trying to *invent* it, which is rather the impression you get when you look at the string of PM Guides that have been produced since 1996. We were simply trying to get an agreement on *documenting* it!
The fact is that program management can be traced well back as far as the building of the great pyramids of Giza in Egypt – and that was over 4000 (thousand) years ago! We know now that these pyramids were incredibly well managed and under much greater difficulties than we know today.
It’s a very intriguing story. Since then, only the laws and technology have changed.
AgileTimes.News: According to some publications, the term project management was first used in the 1950s. However, project management’s macro processes: initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and control, and closure, have been used for millennia and remain the same until today. In this context, how can we differentiate the Modern Project Management of the Project Management used for millennia, passing through the construction of the pyramids, cathedrals, and many monuments of humanity, to the application of projects in initiatives that involve the use of cutting edge technology nowadays?
Paul D. Giammalvo: Based on my own research as well as that done by Pat Weaver in his paper “A Brief History of Scheduling,” I feel pretty comfortable that what is known as “Modern Project Management” started in the late 1800s to early 1900s. In Gillette and Dana’s 1909 book “Cost Keeping and Management Engineering: A Treatise for Engineers and Constructors Engaged in the Management of Engineering Construction,” the term “Project Management” is not used but given the title and the stated objective of the book was to “assist engineers, contractors and superintendents to reduce construction costs to a minimum” is a clear indication that what was being described was and is “Project Management”.
Other researchers around that same time period are Henri Fayol, Henry Gantt, Frank, Lillian Gilbreath, and of course, Frederick Taylor. Worth noting is that while all these people were coming from a background in operations, during this period, there was not a clear distinction being made between operations and project management, which has many implications moving forward. Speaking as a contractor where single-digit EBIT margins and effective cash flow management are the keys to survival, my interest is in the evolution of Earned Value Management, which clearly dates back to the 17th and 18th Century factory floors Industrial Revolution.
While traditionally, construction superintendents came up through the trades (usually as Master Carpenters or Free Masons), the first degrees in Construction Project Management were issued just after WWII as the demand for qualified construction managers was unable to be met by the trades. Two early Universities awarding these degrees were the University of Florida, Gainsville, and Melbourne, Australia’s RMIT.
AgileTimes.News: Between the mid-1950s and the late 1960s, some of the main organizations for project management and related topics emerged, still seen as a reference for professionals in the field. They are; The Association for the Advancement of Cost Engineering (AACE International), the International Project Management Association (IPMA), and the Project Management Institute (PMI). What were these organizations’ main contributions to the profession’s recognition and appreciation and the Project Management professional? Where should or could these organizations have been more effective?
Paul D. Giammalvo: Having spent 30 years in the Carpenter’s Union from apprentice to journeyman to master builder and general contractor, the words of the noted industrial psychologist, Elliott Friedson, who told us “the only difference between the trade unions and the professional societies lies in the latters sanctimoniousness.” PMI, in particular, is actually quite open and honest, telling us on pages 2-3 of just about any PMBOK that they advocate “those practices used on most projects, most of the time, which translates to “average” practices. And given the rather abysmal track record of most projects means that even “average” are probably below average.
Something else to consider is given PMI is unquestionably the largest and most influential of the global societies, with over 1,000,000 “PMP Disciples” and who knows how many legal and illegal copies of their PMBOK Guide in circulation, IF what PMI advocated actually worked, then why, in the 35 years of the PMBOK/PMBOK Guide has been in publication, have we not seen any measurable improvements in project “success” rates? And why if what PMI advocated actually worked, are they effectively abandoning it with the new 7th Edition and the move to a principle-based BoK and support for agile.
As a lifelong practitioner as a construction project manager, general contractor, and respected academic, I believe that most of the “not for profit” professional organizations, in particular, PMI, have caused more damage to the practice of project management than they had done any good.
Lastly, project management is not a profession. Yes, there are professional project managers, but just because we can make a living doing something does not make what we do a profession.
The processes of project management are already embedded in every existing profession, the trades, and even into our day-to-day personal lives.
So if the processes of project management are already embedded into all existing professions, the trades, and into our personal lives, then how can we isolate or claim that the processes we use are a stand-alone profession? Should we require a heart surgeon to not only obtain his/her license to practice medicine but also a PMP or PRINCE2 to demonstrate they know how to “initiate, plan, execute, control and close” each surgery or procedure? This seems to be an “issue” most in IT and Government sectors? As a Construction Project Manager, my profession is Civil Engineering, and the processes I apply as a contractor are the “best tested and proven” practices that I can find, given that I am in a highly competitive market where single-digit EBIT margins are the norm.
AgileTimes.News: Is there any difference between Agile and Project Management? What is the main characteristic that distinguishes the two approaches?
Paul D. Giammalvo: If we can step back and start to look at the full spectrum of options that any organization can choose from to “create, acquire, update, expand, maintain, repair and eventually dispose of organizational assets, then it becomes incredibly simple to determine which is the most “appropriate” method. The two criteria to determine where along this spectrum of options our “project” falls is based on:
1) How well defined the scope or objective is when the project is initiated and authorized and.
2) How tolerant the stakeholders are to accept or even expect changes to occur.
When we step back and look at this from the perspective of Asset Management, much of the debate about “waterfall” or “agile” or “hybrid” pretty much goes away. What is needed is a better or more consistent way to define “Scope” or “Objective” in a way that is more “accurate, precise, and reliable.”
AgileTimes.News: With the advent of agility, is project management still a discipline to be considered in technology initiatives? Does the application of agility prevent the use of project management?
Paul D. Giammalvo: Using the Scrum definition of “Agility”:
1) Adapting to, and exploiting, the realities we see.
2) The act of adapting to, and exploiting, the realities we see, as opposed to being predictive or plan-driven. Agility has two primary facets: Physical Agility and Mental Agility.
Speaking as a lifelong practitioner and entrepreneur, I cannot begin to imagine any business that is unable to “adapt to” or “exploit” business, political or technological opportunities is going to survive unless being subsidized or supported by some government agency via funding (tax breaks) or regulations.
This concept dates back to Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand” and many other “free market” advocates. The problem we face is there is no longer a “free market.” We can see this by the actions of Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, et al. and Parler. So until/unless we return to a real free-market economy, the entire concept of “agility” is going to die.
As noted previously, the processes of project management are already embedded into everything we as humans have been doing for hundreds of thousands of years. IF we would take the time to study and understand the long history of “Agile,” whether disciplined, agnostic, or any other combination or permutation is nothing more than the same “trial and error” method used by our Neanderthal ancestors 300.000 years ago to tame fire, and the same method used 6000 years ago to invent the wheel, and the same method given the name of the “Scientific Method” around the 12th Century and which for the past 1000 or so years, has brought us hundreds of thousands of new products and services, including the telephone (Bell), the lightbulb (Edison) and penicillin (Fleming).
Project Management is not going away. Unquestionably many of the processes will become automated by AI and decision making being made using “big data,” but the core underlying fact remains that the propensity to “initiate, plan, execute, control and close” projects is somehow hard-wired into the human psyche, something that sets us apart from the lesser animals, and that if we don’t have projects to keep our minds and hands busy, we invent them. And for proof, all I have to do is look at the “Honey Do” sticky notes stuck on my refrigerator door.
AgileTimes.News: How do you believe that AI can be useful for the project management industry? What problems do you see with systems based more and more on the use of artificial intelligence, where algorithms are replacing human beings?
Paul D. Giammalvo: I presented a paper in Milan, Italy, and Lima, Peru back in 2019 on the future of project controls, where I showed examples of where AI is already being used in Construction Project Management, Drones, Driverless Equipment, Facial Recognition Software, Time Lapse Photography, “Building Information Modeling” (BIM).
Paul D. Giammalvo, PhD
The problem I see is that given we already know why projects “fail” with such alarming regularity, unless we first face up to and fix those problems, automating a broken system is not going to do anything but speed up the failure rate.
The main elements that show what is broken and how to fix them come from Glenn Butts and Bent Flyvbjerg, from NASA.
AgileTimes.News: What are the prospects for the project management industry? What needs to be done so that, in fact, we can deliver better results shortly, to reduce waste in our initiatives, whether in the public or private segment, in an increasingly scarce world of natural resources and that faces big social disparities?
Paulo Giammalvo: Given that the propensity to “initiate, plan, execute, control and close” projects is somehow “hard-wired” into the human psyche and has been for hundreds of thousands of years, I don’t see that changing. What I do see is undertaking ever larger and/or more complex projects, the best examples being the race to see who can build the tallest buildings and our efforts to colonize the Moon and eventually Mars.
As resources become more scarce or expensive to extract, I think the economics will determine the “highest and best” use of those scarce or limited resources. Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand” at work. Having said that, I’ve been in the business now for 50+ years, and they’ve been talking about “peak oil” happening in the next “20-30 years,” and we continue to find more of it and new and better ways to extract it.
As for “social disparities,” I have yet to see any evidence that “socialism” in any form has ever worked. There will always be “rich” and “poor” people. I believe that as long as we have equal opportunity, that is what really matters. But do not penalize those who, through luck or innovation, were able to exploit their opportunities and make the best of them. As an Ayn Rand Libertarian, the less government (which is inherently corrupt and self-serving regardless of the country or their political philosophy), the better.
AgileTimes.News: Do you believe that project management could play an essential role in reducing social disparities? Why? What needs to be done?
Paul D. Giammalvo: Given I believe the processes of project management are embedded in the human psyche – that the propensity to “do” projects is something that separates humans from the lesser animals, I don’t see project management ever “going away”. And if we look at history, there have been very good projects and very bad projects (think of how many wars, large and small, have been fought over the past 10,000 years?)
So what gives us any indication that what we have been doing for the past 10,000 years is going to be any different than in the coming 10,000 years? What needs to be done? We need to figure out a way how to stop killing each other and destroying our Mother Earth. IF we fail at that, then it looks like we too will join the list of species that have gone extinct. “Victims of our own success”?
AgileTimes.News: Shall we talk about success and failure in projects?
Max Wideman: For what it is worth, and from my perspective, may I add a few comments on the issue of success and failure of projects?
As I see, the problem here is that “project success” can be measured in a number of different ways, such as: Was it what was wanted? Did it work? Was it worth it? However, to measure it on the basis of “How soon based on time and cost?” is entirely specious. Why? Because both time and cost are arbitrary, often based on blatant guessing or incomplete information or political interests. Blatant guessing is the short cut. Incomplete information is the natural condition at any given moment, even after the project is completed, and political interests, while often intended to squeeze out any waste of time and materials but actually encourages performers to cut corners.
Is it, therefore, reasonable to judge the efforts of a project team on the basis of arbitrary time and cost, especially as it may take no account of the shortcomings of the project owners in terms of specific requirements, lack of prompt participation, and/or frequency of subsequent changes? I think not.
Mr. Max Wideman
Who really has the powers to foresee the practical and hidden challenges, especially in those projects of considerable complexity and duration?
To criticize projects and those involved, especially by critics with inappropriately experienced armchair observers, is in my view both unhelpful and a shameful act. Why do people do it? Because it is so easy to do.
Paul Giammalvo: Seeing how the topic of “success” or “failure” seems to be of considerable relevance and interest, add that there may or may not be any correlation between the success or failure of the project and the success or failure of the asset the project created or produced.
The best example illustrating this is the Sydney Opera House. From a project perspective, it was an abysmal failure- late, grossly over budget with significant quality problems, yet the asset the project created has been a tremendous success, becoming part of the iconic brand image of Sydney Harbour.
Another example is the exploratory oil and gas wells. With a commercial success rate of <10% for frontier fields and ~40% for wells drilled in mature fields. But when they do hit a winner, they tend to be huge.
AgileTimes.News: Mr. Max Wideman, definitely, you are one of the people who contribute the most to the Project Management study worldwide. You gave life to the PMBOK; you were PMI’s president and wrote excellent works on the subject. Throughout your career, you deservedly received many awards and honors. And today, at the age of 94, you remain active and contributing to the project community. Where do so much energy, pleasure, and dedication come from?
Max Wideman: As a small boy, my father was always berating me for not getting finished my frequent challenges (called “projects” these days), and so eventually, I got the message. In fact, I enjoyed the encouragement I got from my father when I finally got my various endeavors finished. Those efforts ranged from garden improvements to coal cellar brickwork, to carpentry, and my favorite, creating mechanisms with my extensive Meccano set. It goes without saying that I merciless excluded any thoughts of planning, preplanning, let alone “front-end” stuff. Finishing was the aim – and on to the next challenge.
I suppose that persuasion has lasted all of my life. I just hate to see anything left undone, effectively time and energy left to waste. Later on, it became a question of “encouraging” others to get to the finish line as well. This, in turn, gave rise to one of two responses: Those who responded well to the feeling of accomplishment became my friends and those who got bored well before the finishing line. Well, they got “drafted” to other less wasteful activities – or so I hoped.
Of course, all of this depends on being able to see “What could be done”, “What should be done,” or “What would be done, if only…”. Perhaps the last is the most interesting because you also have to take into account whether you can articulate a convincing argument to justify the question: “Is it worth it?”
It seems to me that all those other things that PMBOKs talk about then follow as a matter of course.
But these days, the complexity of projects, especially large ones, makes planning, pre-planning, and even so-called “front-end” planning, all essential prerequisites. All of which, in my view, should be practiced as separate “pre-project projects” and properly identified as such in a well-established (overall) project life span.
My colleague, Paul Giammalvo, has gone a long way in documenting these ideas with his various project diagrams
Oh, and by the way, has anyone ever given serious thought to treating the “back-end” of large projects the same way? For example: “Now that we have created this great project outcome, what are we going to do with it?”
Mr. Max Wideman has a website with rich content on “Portfolio, Program and Project Management.” Go to www.maxwideman.com.
Paul D. Giammalvo published an article in PM World Journal, where you can find more information and valuable graphics that endorse his words. You can access the article through this link: Agility is not a subset of project management.