PM World Journal is an influential professional eJournal for program and project management. Lots of scholars, students, PM practitioners in China regard it as a reliable source for trends and updates in the field of project management. The journal enjoys great popularity in China.
Q1. You have more than 35 years of experience in project management; what changes have happened in PM?
David L. Pells (Pells): In 35 years there have been many, many changes in the project management field. When I began to work in major projects in the mid-1970s, such important concepts as critical path planning, work breakdown structure (WBS), earned value management (EVM), quality assurance (QA), resource leveling and others were already well developed. The first big disruptive change that I remember was not directly associated with project management per se, but rather the advent of the personal computer in the early 1980s. This was followed immediately by Microsoft and other companies introducing project planning tools that anyone could use on a desktop PC. Microsoft recognized the growing importance of projects in many industries, created MS Project and integrated it with the MS Office suite of business applications. Whereas previously project planning, scheduling and cost control tasks were often performed by specialists, now anyone could use similar tools and manage (or at least try to manage) their own projects.
Q2. What’s your biggest harvest after working in this field for so long? What is it that you are most proud of? Please share with us some unforgettable lessons learned in your career.
Pells: Of course, I am very proud to have received the PMI Fellow award in 1999, and to have been named an honorary Fellow of APM in the UK, PMA in India and SOVNET in Russia. Recognition by one’s peers must always rank at the top of anyone’s career. I’m also proud of the work I did in the 1990s to bring various project management societies together to promote cooperation and collaboration. The lesson for me was the positive impact on myself personally and on my career from volunteering and “giving back” to the PM profession. I learned more about PM faster, gained leadership experience, gained recognition and made many friends around the world, many of whom I then had opportunities to visit in their home countries.
I would also rank my current work as editor and publisher of the PM World Journal, and the creation of the PM World Library, just as high. With the dual missions of promoting knowledge sharing and continuous learning related to program and project management, these two online resources offer authors and readers around the world opportunities to share their knowledge, get published (which provides recognition and advances careers), and to learn from others. It is fulfilling to provide a real service for others, to promote professional PM and to possibly even contribute to important projects.
For the last ten years, I have also acted as a program management advisor for several major US government programs. I am proud to have contributed my program and project management knowledge to the success of these programs. The point is that if we have an opportunity to work on projects that solve global problems or help our national homelands, those are the projects that can cap a career.
Q3. As you have said, there are signs of leapfrogging happening in the project management world especially in Asia countries. Have you paid attention to PM development in China? What impresses you most? What message would you like to say to project management professionals in China?
Pells: I am impressed with the increasing interest in project management in China. I don’t follow developments there closely, as I can only read English. But I know that there are now many project management programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels in Chinese universities. There are multiple PM professional organizations in China; both PMI and IPMA are active there as well. And I can tell you that Chinese readers rank seventh among all visitors to the PM World Journal website (www.pmworldjournal.net), behind only large English language countries (USA, UK, India, Canada, Australia and South Africa).
Another observation has been the impressive and globally visible number and range of big projects completed by Chinese organizations, both government and industrial. We have watched the rapid completion of such projects as new airports, rail lines, space launches, web-based businesses (and entire industries), manufacturing plants, buildings and even entire new cities. Projects around Asia and Africa by Chinese organizations have been equally impressive. It’s hard to imagine so many projects being completed without effective project management, so well done!
Leapfrogging is really possible. My message to PM professionals in China is to find opportunities to leapfrog. Learn some history and proven methodologies, but study new research, consider current changing and future conditions, figure out what fits best for you and your projects. Learn what’s new, figure it out, and don’t wait.
Q4. In one of your articles, you mention that project management is a national competence. Would you please elaborate a little more on the importance of project management?
Pells: There are several answers to this question, depending on perspective. First, we play a crucial role in advancing the profession, by informing and educating working professionals. Publishing thus goes hand-in-hand with education in PM and in all professional fields.
For PMWJ, there was another motivation. It seemed to me that the authors of PM articles and papers do not receive enough visibility or recognition for their work. In some cases, new creative works are brilliant, offer new solutions, create new knowledge and advance the PM profession. Certainly the authors of such works deserve visible credit. So everything we publish in the PMWJ has an author profile at the end. We also showcase authors in the PM World Library (PMWL). This is very important to me.
Q6. You’ve listed cultural intelligence as one of the top soft skills of project managers. I think what you said makes great sense in the context of multi-cultural and virtual working teams.
Pells: Culture is important in project management, but it’s not as simple as the word implies. What is culture? While the focus is often on ethnic, national or regional differences, every organization, family, location, school or other social groups create cultural influences or identifies. I worked on a very large project in the early 1990s that brought people together from many different backgrounds, including academia, engineering organizations, scientific laboratories, defense and construction industries and many different countries. The challenge became, how to create a new culture of our own for our big project that could empower the most people. It was a challenge. You are right; this is a big issue on virtual projects where awareness and sensitivity are both more difficult and more important. It takes both experience and maturity.
Many people consider cultural differences as challenges or risks on project teams. While that may often be true, I see it differently. Cultural diversity on teams can provide opportunities to identify and explore new ideas and possible solutions. Diversity can thus contribute to innovation and agility, in my opinion. I think the best leaders recognize the potential value of diversity, are open to differences and act accordingly.
Pells: This is a fun topic, and highly related to the emergence of the “Internet of Things” (IOT). These technologies will have great influence on project management from two angles – more projects will include smart materials, components and systems that are digitally (often wirelessly) connected. Some industries will be influenced more quickly than others, but already include aerospace, construction, defense, energy, healthcare, manufacturing and transportation. Project managers will still need to be human for the foreseeable future, but project teams will soon include robots (think about drones, for instance) doing specific tasks, some smarter than others. So what are the challenges when your team includes both people and robots? How do they interact? Who’s in charge? How are they trained, directed, rewarded or cared for?
Pells: If projects are defined as unique endeavors, then every project creates change. So by definition, project managers are change managers. Dealing with rapid change has led to all of the attention on “agility” in my opinion. But there is another related and important aspect of this topic that better answers your question.
Change has often been correlated with risk, and considered from a negative perspective. Numerous or rapid changes are bad because they introduce more uncertainty, more risks of making mistakes (affecting scope, schedule, costs and other traditional performance objectives.) But if you embrace agility and the need to innovate, to find new creative solutions, then change can be embraced as opportunities to improve, adjust, achieve more positive outcomes and benefits (as mentioned previously). In the future, I expect the opportunity side of risk management to increase in importance and for PM to incorporate both agility and innovation as fundamental skills.
Q9. It’s said that everyone is the project manager of his / her own life. Do you agree with that?
Pells: No and yes! Portfolio managers might be more accurate. The problem is this: the best PM normally takes experience, education, knowledge and maturity gained over many years. Young people, my younger self included, seldom have a good picture of their future life (or life cycle), don’t know what projects they will (or want) to achieve, or how to plan (let alone manage) those goals. Some people focus on an industry or career quite early (accountant, engineer, builder, doctor, scientist, soldier, teacher, spy, etc.), but still don’t have a clear understanding of the projects that they will attempt or achieve. So in retrospect, maybe we are all project managers, but mostly ‘accidental project managers’ with respect to our own lives.
Q10. How do you view women's role in or contribution to project management? What strengths do women have in this profession?
Pells: Thank you for these important questions. Let me answer the second question first. Generally speaking, women are equal to men in intelligence, capabilities and now very often in experience. Their capabilities and success in project management, as is the case with men, depend on their education,training, experience and motivation. These factors vary, of course,based on industry, location, age and opportunities. It is often argued that men and women have different natural tendencies, for example, that women are more socially adaptive with better communication skills. In many cases, this might be true, but I am not 100% convinced. In the project management field, soft skills must be tailored appropriately to be most affective;project management education and knowledge are critical.I firmly believe that women and men should be valued and treated equally in our profession.