Professional Practitioners and the Professionalisation of Project Management

Arras People recently hosted a birds of a feather session for project practitioners, the aim of the discussion was to explore professionalism and its many aspects in terms of the field of PPM (Programme & Project Management) and with specific reference to professional bodies in project management and their push for professional recognition.

The starting point for the discussion was to explore the views of the individuals to ascertain their personal views regarding their own status and that of PPM in the wider community. Unsurprisingly the consensus was that the groups saw themselves as professionals and the art of programme and project management as a profession. However there was significantly less confidence that the wider world shared their view, the majority agreeing that it is still seen as an occupation.

Why Project Managers See Themselves as Professionals

The groups further explored the reasons why they saw themselves as professionals and identified many elements that are widely accepted as being indicative of this status. The list included;

  • Specialist Skills
  • Accreditation
  • Accountability
  • Responsibility

In summary, we agreed that as individuals the group all possessed levels of applicable knowledge, the know how to apply this knowledge and a commitment to our field of expertise. After further discussion we also agreed that we had some sort of personal code of ethics against which we set our standards of behaviour and also judge others.

Professionalisation PPMPushing further the point of Accountability and Ethics we discussed the next level of influence which impacts how we operate as professionals, namely our environment. Be this the employer if you are an employee or the company within which you are operating as a contractor; our environment has a significant impact on our professionalism at all levels. The highest impacting element of environment being the rules and regulations which we are requested to adhere to, which may formalise or go against the code of ethics which we personally used to define our own professionalism. As a member of a community we may still have personal freedom in our pursuit of professionalism, though this may well be constrained or influenced. In all probabilities we will also be subject to levels of accountability which we have no control over.

So we have moved from being an individual to being a member of a community, though this may well be a community of one! Our professionalism at this level is still not consistent, nor measurable, as environments A to Z may all define their standards differently.

External Influencers in Project Professionalism

Taking the issues of standards to the next level we examined the external influencers who look to shape or impact the way programme and project management develops both in the UK and internationally. The list of influencers differs by sector or discipline within PPM, so we kept it simple for the cause of the discussion. In this band we included the Axelos,  APMG, PMI, APM and the IPMA all of whom are relatively well-known in the PPM space in the UK. Again this group look to influence our state of professionalism, offering us shrink wrapped knowledge, bodies of knowledge, badges, access to continued professional development and even their own brands of ethics and accountability.

As individuals we may choose to adopt any of these offerings as we see fit, within the context of our own professionalism. Our environment may also influence how we see and interact with these influencers as organisations and markets adopt their standards or cherry pick what they feel is applicable. The wider environment may also impact on us individually, such as the situation caused by PRINCE2 becoming for many a defacto standard in project management.

Each organisation brings along a brand, theme or flavour of PPM which is aligned to their individual thinking; all of them being aimed at shaping the market with the offer of consistency. Unfortunately though, we are still left in a position where we do not have a singularly recognisable path to become a profession, we may align as individuals and organisations but once again fragmented consistency takes it toll.

Traditionally Recognised Professions

To take the discussion forward we looked at the question of consistency in terms of traditionally recognised professions such as Doctors, Dentists and Accountants where this is progressed through the act of formal charter. The major differences that these professional grouping would appear to have over PPM are:

  • Public recognition & acceptance
  • Practitioners recognition & acceptance
  • Acceptance as a regulatory body
  • Defined entry criteria for practitioners
  • Accepted and publicly accessible disciplinary procedures
  • Longevity of the practice

There would appear to be differing methods of implementation such as the GMC which registers doctors to practice medicine in the UK, with the stated purpose of to protect, promote and maintain the health and safety of the public by ensuring proper standards in the practice of medicine. Accountants meanwhile have six accountancy institutes which operate under Royal Charter which make up a singular body CCAB (Consultative Committee of Accountancy Bodies).

[tweetshare tweet=”We have work to do if we are to achieve the goal of professional recognition in PM” username=”projectmgmt”]

Whatever the form, these bodies are seen as the monopolistic controller(s) of the individuals who choose to operate within their domain with influence over all matters of professionalism and particularly accountability and ethics.

Ultimately it would seem that if we wish to move on from our state of individual professionalism to that of being a recognised member of a profession, we will have to be willing to give up some of our personal freedoms.

Maybe this is a step too far at this stage for PPM practitioners, though maybe as the domain matures suitable bodies will evolve who can gain the trust and respect of practitioners and the wider population to secure this advancement in the field of programme and project management.

It would appear that we still have much work to do if we are to raise the bar and achieve the goal of professional recognition. The outer circles of our diagram are still evolving and need to push on to drive the profession forward not only with the family of practitioners but also in the wider public domain if this vision is to become a reality.

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  1. Lindsay when are we going to come to accept the fact that now matter how hard we try, we CANNOT build a PROFESSION around a set of PROCESSES, especially when those processes are already built into every existing profession, the trades and into our day to day personal lives?

    I am a civil engineer and and educator. My PROFESSIONS are engineering and teaching. The PROCESSES I apply to initiate, plan, execute, control and close my engineering and teaching projects are the processes of project management (as opposed to the processes of operations management)

    To put the absurdity of this mission in perspective, let me asked the question another way. Are you trying to tell us that in addition to earning a license to become a medical doctor, that I would also need to get my PMP or PRINCE2 certification to prove that I can “initiate, plan, execute, control and close” the removal of an inflamed appendix? Or that in addition to getting my Professional Engineer license that I would also need to get my PMP or PRINCE2 certification to prove that I can plan, initiate, execute, control and close my design project? SURELY the absurdity of this can or should be readily seen?

    To continue to flog this dead horse is not going to magically make people respect us as project managers. IF we want to get the respect we seem to feel we need or want as practitioners, then we need to EARN that respect and the only way we can earn that respect is by CONSISTENTLY delivering projects on time, within budget, in substantial conformance to the technical requirements AND delivering the PRODUCT of the project which substantially accomplishes the objective for which the project was undertaken to achieve in the first place.

    Anything less than that is nothing more than wasted effort and the faster we come to recognize this and stop wasting our time trying to get project management Chartered, the better off we all will be.

    Dr. PDG, Jakarta, Indonesia

      1. Glad you asked that question, Lindsay. What I have been proposing for perhaps the last 5 years or so is that organizations such as PMI, APM, IPMA, AACE, Guild of Project Controls etc etc adopt the MODEL professional code of ethics developed by the Society for Compliance and Ethics professionals.

        More specifically, in paragraph 1.4 it requires that:
        “If, in the course of their work, CEPs become aware of any
        decision by their employing organization which, if implemented,
        would constitute misconduct, the professional
        shall: (a) refuse to consent to the decision; (b) escalate the
        matter, including to the highest governing body, as appropriate;
        (c) if serious issues remain unresolved after exercising
        “a” and “b”, consider resignation; and (d) report the
        decision to public officials when required by law.

        In other words, applying this to project management and the project manager, IF a sponsor or client wants us to accept a “death march” project that we follow the above steps even if it means we REFUSE TO ACCEPT the position of project manager.

        I realize that this may sound idealistic but IF we want to earn the respect as professionals then we MUST be more assertive in rendering professional opinions (i,e, Time, Cost and Risk especially) and then backing up our opinions with fact then supporting them with our actions.

        For more on this, read the work of Prof. Bent Flyvbjerg or the presentations by Glenn Butts, of NASA. Pay special attention to what Glenn has to say in slides 8-12, 20-21 but most importantly, slides 31 and 32.

        Dr. PDG, Jakarta, Indonesia

  2. Many countries have national occupation codes (NOCs) — i.e.. UK’s ONS, Standard Occupational Classification. It’s been a hard sell around the world to even have project management accepted as an occupation in these NOCs…a profession will require evidence-based justification/proof. I’m a believer that some day it will be recognised as such.

    1. Mark, aside from construction, I see it highly unlikely that it will be recognized as a “job title”. Wanna see why?

      And the reason why project management is not now, nor is ever likely to be recognized as a profession is explained in great detail HERE

      I realize this upsets and offends many, especially those in IT, which makes me wonder why they don’t consider Computer Science or Computer Engineering as being their profession and simply accept the fact that they apply the project management processes to initiate, plan, execute, control and close their IT projects?

      That is what we in construction have done for the past 60+ years and it has worked for us…..

      Dr. PDG, Jakarta

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