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4 Power Skills: PMI’s Formula for Project Success [Pulse of the Profession 2023]

4 Power Skills- PMI's Formula for Project Success [Pulse of the Profession 2023]

PMI’s Pulse of the Profession Report 2023 is here. And this one focuses on Power Skills that help us work well with other people. PMI assesses the hypothesis that these Power Skills deliver positive results for our organizations.

I have covered all the PMI’s Pulse of the Profession reports since the start of OnlinePMCourses, in 2016:

You may notice there wasn’t a 2022 report – although, unusually, this 2023 edition was published at the tail end of 2022, and not in 2023. The cover page confirms this as the 14th edition.

4 Power Skills- PMI's Formula for Project Success [Pulse of the Profession 2023]

Pulse of the Profession 2023: Power Skills

PMI’s 2023 Pulse of the Profession Report is titled: Power Skills, Redefining Project Success. You can download the report – and several other assets PMI has created, from the PMI’s Power Skills Resource Hub website page. I recommend you do so.

Agenda

I will split my analysis of the report into five parts:

  1. What PMI tells us about Power Skills in Pulse of the Profession 2023
  2. PMI’s Pulse of the Profession Methodology
  3. PMI and APM: Two Approaches, Overlapping Conclusions
  4. Critique of Pulse of the Profession 2023
  5. Conclusion: PMI’s Power Skills Report

What PMI tells us about Power Skills in Pulse of the Profession 2023

Like other recent Pulse of the Profession reports, this one has a single focus: Power Skills. This is a term that PMI has crafted – as it did with Gymnastic Enterprise and PMTQ in two of the previous three reports.

But, the term ‘Power Skills’ is not new – they introduced it in the previous Pulse of the Profession report, Beyond Agility.

The Power Skills Hypothesis

PMI starts with a hypothesis: that there is a connection between Power Skills and Project Success. They then set out to demonstrate that connection. Whether they succeed or not, I’ll return to, in the critique, below.

But, first, we need to look at their definition of Power Skills. I’ll assess the term more carefully when we look at the methodology. But, for the benefit of understanding their headline finding, Power Skills are soft skills, or interpersonal skills, or people skills. When I reviewed their 2021 Beyond Agility report, I noted that ‘Power Skills’ does not encapsulate anything new. It is simply a re-labeling. And an ugly one at that.

The Headline: The Value of Power Skills

PMI states clearly that:

…organizations that place a higher value on power skills tend to perform significantly better on multiple key drivers of success such as benefits realization management (BRM) maturity, organizational agility and project management maturity.

Pulse of the Profession 2023, page 4.
Project Management Institute, 2022

What are the 4 Power Skills?

PMI starts with a set of 12 Power Skills that survey respondents prioritized, to give their Top 4 Power Skills (highlighted). These 12, in order of ranking within the survey, are:

  1. Communication
  2. Problem-solving
  3. Collaborative leadership
  4. Strategic thinking
  5. Relationship building
  6. Adaptability
  7. Innovative mindset
  8. Accountability
  9. Empathy
  10. Discipline
  11. For-purpose orientation
  12. Future-focused orientation

Demonstrating the Power Skills – Project Success Correlation

However, there PMI presents little in the way of statistical analysis, save some comparative figures for organizations that place either a:

  • High priority on power skills, or
  • Low priority on power skills

They do not define how they segment organizations and therefore how they measure the level of priority. And neither do they offer sample sizes.

They find that:

Organizations that place a high priority on power skillsOrganizations that place a low priority on power skills 
57% report high BRM maturity
18% report low BRM maturity
18% report high BRM maturity
47% report low BRM maturity
64% report high project management maturity
11% report low project management maturity
32% report high project management maturity
40% report low project management maturity
51% report high agility
19% report low agility
16% report high agility
58% report low agility

These appear to be compelling findings. However, as we shall see, there is much we do not know about how PMI derives these results.

There is another equally compelling set of graphs, which shows:

Organizations that place a high priority on power skillsOrganizations that place a low priority on power skills 
72% of projects successfully met business goals65% of projects successfully met business goals
28% of projects experience scope creep40% of projects experience scope creep
17% of budget lost to project failure25% of budget lost to project failure

Given the range of 10 indicators that PMI describes on page 6 of this report, the fact that it chooses three of those 10 for the first table and one for the second – along with two output measures is, at the very least, odd. Are we seeing a selective choice of which data to present, with less compelling data suppressed?

Other Things We Learn about Power Skills

I do think that, like other PMI Pulse of the Profession reports, it is the detailed findings that offer the more interesting findings than where PMI makes sweeping interpretations.

On page 8, they tell us that:

By Region

Geographies where project professionals report that their organizations place a higher priority on power skills are:

  • Sub-Saharan Africa (67%)
  • India (64%)

Geographies where project professionals report that their organizations place a lower priority on power skills are:

  • Asia Pacific (27%)
  • North America (24%)

By Sector

Industries where project professionals report that their organizations place a higher priority on power skills are:

  • Information Technology
  • Manufacturing
  • Energy
  • Telecommunications

Industries where project professionals report that their organizations place a lower priority on power skills are:

  • Government
  • Healthcare
  • Training/Education

Some data on page 12 offer an interesting comparison. They look at where talent decision makers (recruiters, trainers, professional development specialists) most or least often report lower perceived value for power skills.

By Region

Most often report low value of power skills in:

  • Europe (57%)
  • Sub-Sharan Africa (54%)

Least often report low value of power skills in:

  • Asia Pacific (28%)
  • Middle-East/North Africa (35%)

By Sector

Most often report low value of power skills in:

  • Energy (58%)
  • Manufacturing (57%)

Least often report low value of power skills in:

  • Construction (34%)
  • Financial Services (45%)

Is it me, but do some of these assessments seem contradictory – or, at the very least confusing? PMI offers no additional analysis or interpretation. Odd.

PMI’s Pulse of the Profession Methodology

I think there are three aspects of PMI’s methodology that we need to explore.

Defining Power Skills

PMI defines power skills as:

Abilities and behaviors that facilitate working with others and help professionals to succeed in their workplace’

Pulse of the Profession 2023, page 5.
Project Management Institute, 2022

It’s a nice definition. But, do you see the deep-seated flaw?

PMI is setting out to show that power skills lead to success. But they define them as abilities and behaviors that lead to success. Their hypothesis is proven by default. They show that the things which lead to success (what they call power skills) lead to success.

This is egregious.

I can say no more!

Defining Project Success

And how does PMI define project success? Well, on page 6 they list 10 plausible candidates for drivers of project success. Where they come from is not clear. Neither does PMI show us the data that supports their choice of just three of them as the top drivers of success.

They present the 10 key drivers in this order, and I have highlighted their top 3:

  1. High benefits realization management (BRM) maturity*
  2. Low level of scope creep
  • Frequent use of standardized stakeholder engagement practices
  • High organizational agility*
  • High performance of department-specific/regional/divisional project management office (PMO)
  • High project management maturity*
  • Overall performance of enterprise-wide PMO
  • Project management success metric used: Quality of work
  • Project management success metric used: Adherence to schedule

This raises so many questions. I don’t disagree that their top 3 are likely to be hugely important. Indeed, I can only respond by cheering the focus on Benefits Management and reminding readers that I launched my own Benefits Management course for just this reason, just over 2 years ago, in October 2020.

Project Benefits Management

Project Benefits Management

Our organizations and clients are investing a lot in their projects So, they should expect us to realize the benefits that those projects promise.

Learn More about this Crucial Course

The Data Set

PMI starts with a data set of 3,492 professionals spread globally but concentrated in the Americas (51% – 34% in North America). This is a big (though geographically skewed) data set where variations of around 2% can be considered statistically significant. However, the data by industry and by region offer far less rigor.

But this pales to the main methodology gap. All of the data is based on individual perceptions… Not on measurable outcomes.

PMI and APM: Two Approaches, Overlapping Conclusions

Reading this put me in mind of the report that the Association for Project Management (APM) published earlier this year: ‘Dynamic Conditions for Project Success’.

APM Dynamic Conditions Study

This report is a follow on to their 2015 report ‘Conditions for Project Success’. The earlier report identified 12 structural or process conditions. The new one looks at softer, less process-oriented conditions, and identifies nine:

  1. Interpersonal skills
  2. Training and certifications
  3. Team ethos
  4. Technology and data
  5. Contracts
  6. Knowledge management
  7. Agility
  8. Sustainability
  9. Diversity

APM Conclusions

In terms of survey findings of rated importance, Interpersonal Skills stands head and shoulders above the others with Team Ethos second, and (surprisingly to me) Knowledge Management third.

In many ways, this report holds more surprises and insights than PMI’s does. And the reason, I think, is because it does not seek to prove a single simple hypothesis.

APM Methodology

Another important reason why I think this research is more interesting is the research process. It was led by academics and, as well as a large-scale survey (1,015 responses, so a variance of 3.5% is significant), they also included a literature review and 37 semi-structured interviews.

But, I will repeat, the main difference to me is that the authors did not present a thesis – just the results.

Critique of Pulse of the Profession 2023

If you have read this far, you’ll realize that, while I don’t find the conclusion surprising – or even highly contentious – I do not like this report. It is a poor piece of work.

I have three big issues with this research. It’s beautifully presented and contains a decent amount of data. But I cannot say its conclusion takes the profession forward. My concerns are with the poor:

  • testing of a woolly hypothesis
  • definition of power skills
  • definition of success

Testing the Power Skills Hypothesis

As I have already said, the hypothesis could not fail. It was embedded in the definition of power skills. And there is no null hypothesis – no attempt to test the truth of the importance of power skills – only to find supporting evidence.

And, of course, all the evidence PMI did gather was anecdotal – the perceptions of practitioners. Many of whom, I suspect, share a prejudice (as do I) that soft skills are important. Indeed, I first learned this over 25 years ago and had already heard it as a commonplace assumption among colleagues. 

So, I would assert that PMI offers us ‘proof by anecdotal bias’.

The Value of Re-proving a Known Truth

Don’t get me wrong – there is nothing wrong with research that confirms expectations. Too little social science research is designed to test existing findings. And where it is, positive confirmation rarely gets published – it’s just not as sexy as refutation! 

But, when the confirming results are methodologically flawed, I have to wonder: ‘was this set up just to get the answer they got?’

I’m expecting PMI to launch its own Soft Skills (sorry, Power Skills) product in 2023. Maybe it will be a Practice Guide or a Practice Standard – though I don’t see how these concepts properly apply. More likely it will be a training product of some sort – or maybe a certification. Let’s see!

Defining Power Skills

So, I don’t think PMI is onto anything new. And I don’t think they have offered real, verifiable, objective proof. But it’s worse than that. There is nowhere a precise definition of what Power Skills really are. Just a load of wooly statements and a note that their respondents selected four soft skills as important than the others. These become the power skills – not because they have demonstrable power, but because people think they do.

Hurrah for:

  • communication
  • problem-solving
  • collaborative leadership
  • strategic thinking

Each of which, by the way, has no more than a woolly definition. So, there’s no certainty about how respondents really interpreted them.

Defining Project Success

I think I have already said enough about the flaws in the PMI’s identification of the drivers of project success that they show to correlate with the power skills. So, instead, I will remind you (and PMI one more time, if they ever read my articles) that…

Correlation does not imply causation

Just because I have power skills and I deliver a successful project, does not mean the one is the cause of the other. There may be another factor or set of factors entirely. Maybe, for example, the people with the best level of power skills also have the best level of technical skills. And it may be that it is the technical skills that drive success. 

I am not saying this is true, but it is an equally possible prospect, without clear evidence – which PMI does not offer.

Conclusion: PMI’s Power Skills Report

This is a classic piece of PMI research. They have squandered the fabulous opportunity offered by a world-class survey reach and data set by following a deeply flawed process, and hiding too much of their analysis.

Once again, their conclusion will surprise no one. And that, I suspect, is how they get away with such shoddy research methods. If only PMI would use its phenomenal access to such a huge number of professionals to conduct a well-designed research project.

But, ho-hum. That isn’t what they do.

So, instead, we have a research paper that tells us what everyone expects to hear and offers little new insight. Its sexy production may be helpful for some Project Managers seeking corporate support for soft skills training. And that would be a service to the community. 

But, has it changed my thinking, as a Project Manager, in any way? 

No. 

Or has it added to our body of rigorous knowledge? 

Not at all. 

I learned nothing from this deeply flawed report and I kind of resent the time I spent reviewing it.

About the Author Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.

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