Is IT Project Management Professionalism on the decline?

Posted by Kevin Brady on Wed 11th October 2006 at 08:42 AM, Filed in Programme ManagementProject ManagementProfessional Qualifications

With annual IT Project Failure Rates running at 70% + it is clear that improvements in the professionalism of IT project staff and management should be a part of the solution.


In my post Can Government Policy Reduce IT Project Failure Rates Part 2, I described how the government could assist in making this disgraceful state of affairs a thing of the past. One of these was to make it a legal requirement for certain key IT Professionals to have Chartered Qualifications before being allowed to work on IT Projects /Programmes of work above a certain budgetary value.

Despite the media /press pushing for better training and professionalism within the IT industry one finds, on closer inspection, evidence of a disturbing decline in the levels of professionalism, especially in the areas of IT management.

One way of measuring this decline is by taking a closer look at the membership statistics for the key Project Management Associations such as the PMI. This information effectively gives us a rough picture from which to estimate the growing /declining levels of professionalism within IT Management.

PMI Membership Statistics


• 90,000 people joined the PMI in 2005
• 33,751 joined in April 2006
• 70,000 growth in annual membership up to April 2006


• 2 people are leaving the PMI for every 3 new members
• 52,000 ex members who were members of PMI in January 2005

These statistics pose a number of important questions:-

1. Is this simply a loss of membership to a single organisation, or a larger trend in project management practices?
2. Are there 52,000 less people claiming to be project managers, or did they simply fail to see the value in PMI membership?
3. Where are these Project Managers “going”?

In an attempt to answer the first two questions, I decided to ring round a few of my palls who had recently left the PMI and in turn asked them to contact people they knew had done the same. The answers given were as follows:-

• “The ratio of certified PMPs to PMI members is now 88 percent. I have left because the organisation is a massive training camp for the training of newbie PMs. All their publications reflect this. As an expeienced Project Manager I am asking what’s in it for me ?”

• “The PMI teaches methods /approaches more suitable for the delivery of small to medium size projects and has very little to offer when it come’s to the education of members to deliver large projects /programmes of work.” This continuous development of hardened professionals was sadly lacking in the PMI and other Project Management Associations so they saw little worth in retaining their membership.

• “Project Management qualifications are less important these days than industry knowledge and experience which has lead me to question the value of continued membership of the PMI.” Many felt experience was the key factor in getting promotion or finding more work. Proving technical ability in project management was rarely discussed at interviews or by sponsors /clients. Many service-based departments were more concerned with “touchy feely” things (people management) and abilities to spin success out of failure . These are alien topics to the project management associations.

• “I was also told that the Project Management Institutes don’t include master level certification which would allow them as experienced professionals to be distinguished from the newbie Project Managers flooding into the industry”. “The PMI has failed to offer adequate continued development to members once they have acquired the initial PMP qualification”. For example many professional institutes offer varying levels of membership according to ones proficiency and expertise. For example the Chartered Insurance Institute offers ACII, FCII and finally the ultimate Chartered Membership all adding up to many year of study and continuous progression..

• “Agile methods and thinking are putting the project management profession into serious flux as standard project management practices no longer integrate well with Agile”. “PMI methods are like “Oil and water” where Agile is concerned and the PMI does not help me make the Oil & Water mix.”

The answer to the final question concerning where have all these hardened professionals gone is more difficult to answer, as most the people I questioned are still working in the industry. However, the media /press is suggesting that a significant proportion of these experienced professionals are leaving associations like the PMI, and indeed leaving the IT industry all together, or in some cases taking IT roles lower down the organisational structure.

The reasons cited are as follows:-

• “With 70% annual IT project failure rates many experienced managers have become disillusioned with IT Project Management”. No one wants to find themselves in a profession such as project management where the odds are so stacked against success. Most people want to achieve things with their lives and create things they are proud of and succeed in their chosen profession. 

• “Many professional project /programme managers stated that most of their work is nothing to do with what they learnt at the Institute and more to do with Machiavelli and Spin Management than Project Management”. One of my closet friends was a Head of Projects for one of the UKs largest New Media agencies and decided enough was enough. He decided to become an IT support person for a small business rather than compromise his integrity.

Big Respect!
• “Many IT software service departments of large companies will only be tolerated to run IT Projects if they are run according to Line Management Principals rather than key Project Management principals i.e Risk /Issue Management (seen as a blame culture), change control (your job is to give us what we want) or detailed project planning (motivation & team work rather than targets and defining detail ).

Surely the IT industry needs to retain people who have integrity and a commitment to delivery, rather than the active development /employment of Spin Managers who see being the students of the Machiavellian dark arts as their chosen route to Eldorado?

The future depends in my opinion on how organisations measure and identify successful Project Management. Do they make the judgement based on the propensity of Line Management to work repeatedly over time with the same Project Manager/s or do they measure success in terms of the numbers of successful projects delivered. The former is all to often the chosen yardstick, making the pursuit of professional excellence less appealing to busy Project Managers. Attitudes of this kind will make the eradication of IT Spin Management a problem as difficult to eradicate as Malaria.

Surely, if the IT industry assisted by the Government is interested in reducing the annual 70% IT failure rate it must make improved IT Professionalism one of its key goals over the next decade.

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Interesting observations but I think the most important factors are training and the influx of new PM’s into the fold.

And why is Agile perceived as the Anti-PM methodology?

Posted by Regnard Kreisler C. Raquedan  on Wed 11th October 2006 at 11:50 AM | #

Regnard - Agree.  Anyone who doesn’t understand that PMI processes can be part of an agile process don’t fully understand either agile methods, or PMI processes, or both.

FWIW - your idea that government should force PMP certification on project managers initially struck me as asinine - but after reading your posts, I tend to agree.

I think the reality is that project management in our current environment isn’t a hell of a lot of fun.  Companies routinely violate processes out of “business necessity”.

Whether the PM is blamed as a nay-sayer or for failing to support business needs up-front, or blamed as a failure on the backend - it is developers and PMs are the ones who are blamed at the end of the day.

Currently PMP certification is an HR checkbox, one that you HAD to have in the post-dotbomb economy, but one that is no longer needed as things have improved.  I believe the dotbomb pushed a lot of senior IT management folks out of the industry, and newly-minted PMPs don’t have the business management experience to deal with the political issues that invariably are a bigger factor than the project processes they learned.

Posted by Jonathan Peterson  on Wed 11th October 2006 at 02:18 PM | #

“PMI methods are like “Oil and water” where Agile is concerned.

It pains me to say that this is a sentiment which resonates with many in the industry.

Posted by TomHayden  on Wed 11th October 2006 at 03:36 PM | #

The ‘70% failure rate’ figure is news to me.  An informative link for such a statistic would not be unwelcome the first time it’s mentioned.  In fact such a citation would contribute greatly to the tone of the article.

Posted by Mark  on Sun 15th October 2006 at 02:57 AM | #

Hi Mark,

I have mentioned on this blog many times the disgraceful annual IT project failure rates across the world and how damaging they are to ALL OF US.

Just to help, here is one of my MANY earlier posts which explains to you the range of surveys which post corroborated proof of such huge annual IT project failure rates :- Get Sacking Path To Project Success

I also discuss in another post what the Government can do to correct this hugely wasteful problem which effects us ALL:-
Can Government Reduce IT Project Failure Rates

One of the very best blog sites on the net which makes it its mission to expose this disgraceful state of affairs is Rearranging the Rearranging the Deck Chairs . If you’re a detail person and want to see some of the raw survey data then check out IT Cortex

If this lot does not convince you that some very large groups within the IT Industry make it their business to talk up Project Successes and hide Project Failures then I suggest that you read the following books CRASH and Rip-Off. The later book is so true to life and entertaining to boot that when I first read it on a plane trip I laughed so much I covered myself in hot coffee. A must !!
I am writing two e books which will explain how government, commerce and coal face project teams can make IT Projects Consistently Successful and a realistic investment oppurtunity for Goverments and Industry.

Posted by Kevin_Brady  on Sun 15th October 2006 at 12:03 PM | #

Hi Regnard,

The conversations I had with PMs and Programme Managers felt that Agile cut across PMI standard concepts such as Change Control which Agile considers a non issue and is in fact positively encouraged despite failure surveys identifying this as a top ten reason for IT project Failure.

Also Agile & Scrum positively recommend iterative IT development methods which by their nature kill the ability of PMs to provide confident cost and time projections for a given project /programme, because the requirements are only fully understood close to the end of the project (not an ideal point for a PM put up his hand and say I can now tell you what the end cost and delivery date will be).

This is just some of the pain experienced by newbie and experienced PM’s trying to marry up Agile and Scrum techniques to very often proven PMI established methods and processes. I have always considered Agile & Scrum as a set of great ideas which are sadly not enterprise ready /robust development approaches /methods.

Time will tell on this one as more and more organisations experiment with these new ideas and concepts.

Posted by Kevin_Brady  on Sun 15th October 2006 at 12:58 PM | #

Hi Jonathan,

Agree with much of your comments.

I have to say the Project Management is one of the most challenging jobs on the planet especially managing the Project Management /Line Management interface.

Once again this is where the Oil and Water remark comes in once again. Line Managers rarely win the intellectual arguments concerning the need for process but all to often cut through necessary checks /process and discipline because can (they have the authority). If you really want a quick little fable to read explaining this difference in thinking and its impact on Project Successes /Failures please read race through the Forest

This cutting across process issue is a real challenge and if at the end of the day the line managers win you need to relax !!! smile !!! have fun because when you know a Project is F**ked what else is their to do apart from finding a new job and shoot pool with the project team.

The issue I have very often with newbie managers, is the fact that they have such pride that they refuse to see the writing on the wall and don’t know how to manage a parachute landing for a failed project. They battle on to long like Hitler in his bunker only to fall into the hands of the enemy smile

Posted by Kevin_Brady  on Sun 15th October 2006 at 01:14 PM | #

I’ve delivered projects to the Australian and NZ governments for a number of years. Project failure is an interesting term, for most onlookers it revolves arount the containment of the traditional Time, Cost, Quality triangle. However as PM’s we need to educate our stakeholders to see what true successful projects look like - a great example is the Sydney Opera house - over budget, late, stakeholder disputes - a terrible example of project management. However look at it’s success now. In my book there is one criteria for a successful project - the User Experience.
In my experience PM’s generally are fairly successful in delivering what they are required to deliver - in government circles, it is usually the inability of project sponsors to orchestrate stakeholders and align agendas by that causes the problem and an apparent failure to deliver. I’m not saying that government projects don’t fail, but I believe a statistic of a 70% failure rate needs further analysis. Failure on who’s part?
Thanks for the blog


Posted by Michael  on Fri 9th October 2009 at 05:44 AM | #


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