Project management has come a long way, but there’s still a distance to go before the public identifies the discipline as a discrete profession.
Three decades ago, project management as a structured discipline was in its infancy. New project managers may well marvel at how much the industry has evolved since then, both at the amount of rigour now apparent in the accreditation process as well as the diversity of fields into which the discipline has entered. No longer solely in the domain of construction and defence, project management now spans everything from IT and finance to health and community development.
However, it’s easy for an industry body to view its path in retrospect and self-diagnose its success; it’s another thing altogether to see the industry from an outsider’s point of view.
Peter Cox is the chairman of the International Cost Engineering Council, a worldwide confederation of cost engineering, quantity surveying and project management societies. As an observer from a related industry body, he believes project management has progressed beyond the professions that spawned it.
“Evidence of that is the self-assessment of the profession as it has moved from an accidental profession to a ‘career’ or organised profession. It’s interesting to reflect on its origins, not unlike quantity surveying, which largely come from other professions, for example engineering, architecture or another,” he says. “It’s definitely maturing.”
While Cox is “pretty confident that it’s emerging now as a discrete profession”, he says the challenge of educating the general public is another story altogether. He believes turning points, including the recent global financial crisis, will lead to greater recognition of the discipline. Additionally, he sees project management’s role in dealing with climate change, as well as its visibility in disaster recovery, as “opportunities to get the message out to wider sections of the community”.
While the global financial crisis saw projects cancelled or delayed, there’s no doubt that overall the event benefited the industry in prompting organisations to look more closely at their projects. “A growing economy often hides a multitude of sins and problems. In a contracting economy, the projects you run need a solid justification, effective execution and good returns,” says Pete Swan, managing director of project services group PM-Partners.
He points out that renewed scrutiny of projects threw light on the people managing them: “For example, organisations that underwent changes such as restructures or retrenchments of project staff and contractors seriously considered a health check before moving the project to the next stage. Some also use a health check as assurance when a project is managed by staff that may not have all the required experience.”