8 April, 2019

PMTQ: PMI’s Vision for the Future of Project Management

The PMI has just released a report on the Future of Work, based on its 11th Pulse of the Profession Survey. Called ‘Leading the Way with PMTQ’, it introduced the idea of Project Management Technology Quotient (PMTQ).

In this article, we’ll examine this report critically. We’ll try to understand the idea behind PMTQ and assess what it means for you, as a working Project Manager.

PMI Talent Triangle - Strategic & Business Management

Please be aware that this is partly a summary of the PMI’s report, partly an analysis of its context, and also, in part, an opinion piece. As always, if this is a topic that resonates for you, you should read the original report for yourself and form your own judgment.

To download your copy of ‘The Future of Work: Leading the Way with PMTQ’, visit the PMI’s website.

The 2019 Pulse of the Profession Report

The PMI’s 2019 Pulse of the Profession report on the Future of Work came out in March 2019. At that time, it is not clear whether PMI will produce further reports based on its 11th global project management survey data. This is certainly a very different report to the previous three that we have analysed:

Global Project Management Surveys

Each year, the Project Management Institute (PMI) conducts a global project management survey, and this year, it publishes the 11th. The previous Pulse of the Profession Reports presented a large quantity of survey data, to draw several important findings from it.

Whilst each had a key theme, the reports gave many different things for us to think about. This report, ‘The Future of Work: Leading the Way with PMTQ’, is different.

This Year’s Survey (2019)

PMI - Pulse of the Profession 2019 - Leading the Way with PMTQ
The PMI’s Pulse of the Profession survey report, ‘The Future of Work: Leading the Way with PMTQ

It has just one theme, and presents very little data. And, all of that data is selected purely to support the one theme and linked conclusions. I can’t help thinking:

  • Where’s the rest?
  • What else did you find out, PMI?
  • Will we see that data in another report later in the year?

On the last question, I am hopeful we will. Last year (2018), PMI produced the broad survey report in February, then followed it up with a deep dive into one aspect, the following May.

One Theme: Project Management Technology Quotient (PMTQ)

This report’s theme is the PMI’s concept of a Project Management Technology Quotient, PMTQ. It picks up on the established concept of a Technology Quotient (TQ) and combines it with Project Management.

The Need for PMTQ

PMI opens the report by noting that their 2019 survey shows that organizations continue to waste a big chunk of their project budgets. They put this down to poor performance.

Report YearWasted Investment
2019‘almost 12 percent’

The conclusion PMI draws from this is something of a truism:

  • it’s hard to argue with it
  • we’ve heard it many times before
  • there’s no hard link to facts

They say we need ‘a new ingredient to that old formula’. The roles we need to carry out will increasingly be ‘tied to technology’. Therefore, project leaders need a high Project Management Technology Quotient.

What Is PMTQ?

PMTQ - PMI's Vision for the Future of Project Management

PMTQ appears to be PMI’s own coinage. So let’s start on some more solid ground: TQ, or Technology Quotient.

What is Technology Quotient?

PMI’s report defines Technology Quotient as:

…a person’s ability to adapt, manage and integrate technology based on the needs of the organization or project at hand.

The Future of Work: Leading the Way with PMTQ

This very much matches other definitions you’ll find. The idea of Technology Quotient leans on the long familiar idea of Intelligence Quotient (IQ) as a statistical measure of intelligence, where 100 is the average for a wide population.

TQ Scores

Note that it would be foolish to think that any detailed research has gone into TQ, and the statistics around it. And it’s also worth mentioning that, while scientifically valid, the core concept of IQ has been much misused and abused as a means of creating divisions among us.

However, in his 2017 article in Psychology Today, John Nostra takes the IQ analogy further, in defining TQ as…

A technology quotient representing a person’s ability to adapt to and integrate technology as compared to the statistical norm or average for their age, taken as 100.

John Nosta in Psychology Today (14 March 2017)

My favorite definition appeared a few months later in a paper documenting a session that I take to be a seminar or workshop by a John Burton. This defines TQ as:

…our ability to assimilate or adapt to technology changes by developing and employing strategies to successfully include technology in our work and life. A high TQ includes the right attitude, capabilities and decision- making strategies to fully leverage technology. A person with a high TQ:

– organizes work to take full advantage of available technology
– reaps a payback from taking technology risks
– takes advantage of the opportunities technology presents

Technology Quotient (TQ) and the Digital Skills Gap, John Burton

The Origins of Technology Quotient

There is a webpage dating back to 2007 that refers to a website that PayPal had built that allowed us to Test our TQ. That site is no longer available. But it does suggest two things:

  1. The term TQ has been around for over 12 years, and also that
  2. Somebody has given thought to how to measure TQ

The normal way I’d trace the start of a term like TQ is using Google’s ngram tool. However, two things frustrate this. First, the term ‘technology quotient’ does not appear in its data set up to the first available year of 2008. And second, the term TQ has many meanings. It was evidently in wide use in the early 19th century. And it rises again through the 1970s. I take the usage driving this rise to be Total Quality.

The first solid use I found is the Psychology Today article by John Nostra, which I referenced above. But I will later draw upon a June 2015 article in McKinsey Quarterly, that refers to Digital Quotient, or DQ.

So, back to PMTQ

PMI does not explicitly define PMTQ. But it is clear what they mean in this paper. PMTQ is the ability to manage projects and have a high TQ. This combination is clearly already much in demand in the job market, and this can only increase.

But it has always been so. When did Project Managers not need to be comfortable with the technology of the era? Surely the pyramid builders needed project managers who understood rollers, levers, and pulleys.

Maybe, PMDQ would have been a smarter term to choose.

The PMI’s Conclusions

PMI concludes that constant digital disruption needs organizations with innovation-driven cultures. These need to couple new technology with tech-savvy people.

Digital sustainability, therefore, demands project managers to lead the transformations that will create new products, services, and cultures. With high PMTQ, you can not only understand the technology you are charged to implement. But you can also properly manage and lead the technologists and engineers who will do the work.

More than this, you will need to cultivate a real flexibility and constant learning among your teams. So, PMI sees the big challenge for us in transforming organizational cultures.

A Critical Assessment of the PMTQ Concept

This paper has three principal assertions that we must examine:

  1. That the concept of PMTQ is a necessary response to the changes in our workplaces and, in particular, to the under-performance of projects. And to what extent does PMI provide solid evidence to support this?
  2. PMI offers three characteristics that define a high PMTQ. We can’t gainsay their own definition of a term they created. But we can ask whether this list of characteristics seems useful.
  3. The focus of PMI’s call to action is on Project Managers helping your organization reach the innovative, agile, critical-thinking culture that PMI advocates. We’ll look at that call to action later. But here, we must assess whether this is a reasonable ask of us.

Do we Have the Evidence to Support the Call for PMTQ?

I’ll come straight out and say ‘no’. I don’t doubt that the conclusion is correct, but PMI’s evidence is thin at best. I’m sure the survey gathered far more data than PMI presents in this short report. But what it does present is correlational, not causational. Let me explain…

The data PMI presents show two groups: ‘PMTQ Innovators’ and ‘PMTQ Laggards’. It shows that the PMTQ Innovators, who put a high priority on digital skills and knowledge, have far higher scores across a wide range of project management processes and capabilities.

The case is made, then?

High PMTQ leads to better project management?

No. All this shows us is that the good organizations, that invest in digital skills and knowledge also have good PM abilities. Is it a surprise that an organization that is good at one thing is good at something else that is equally important for its success? Correlation does not imply causation.

Oh dear, PMI. You advocate critical thinking on page 5 of your report, but this is a misstep.

McKinsey’s Digital Quotient (DQ)

In 2015, consulting firm McKinsey carried out research into practices related to digital strategy, capabilities, and culture. Their report, ‘Raising Your Digital Quotient’ is wide-ranging, subtle, and thoughtful.

Whilst this report is aimed at corporate CEOs and is talking about company-wide culture and strategy. It is relevant here. Firstly, because it does endorse PMI’s conclusions. And secondly, because PMI sets us, as project managers, the task of helping our organizations with this transformation.

Defining a High PMTQ

I must compliment PMI on the three characteristics the report selects to define a high PMTQ. These are not the ‘obvious’ things like:

  • knows a lot about technology
  • readily adopts new tools
  • comfortable with change

Rather, we see what I consider to be subtle and mature thinking. For me, page 4 is the star of the report.

The Three Characteristics of High PMTQ

The three characteristics are:

  1. Always-on Curiosity. I’ll admit a bias in believing curiosity is the master attribute for a professional career. Here, though, PMI puts a special emphasis on experimentation. This is the curiosity to try out new approaches, and to assess their outcomes critically.
  2. All-inclusive Leadership. Managing a wildly diverse team of people and how they interact with technology. This will include people of different ages, skills, seniority, and location. That’s a given. But I took a step back when the paragraph introduced robots to your possible future team! The mini case study on NASA’s inclusion of robots as digital employees with their own government email accounts was the highlight of the report for me.
  3. A Future-proof Talent Pool. I don’t think this section is well-written, but the message I get is clear. A high PMTQ project leader needs to constantly create opportunities for their team to develop the next skills they will need. A laissez-faire attitude that lets your team stand still will not serve you, them, or your organization.

Helping Your Organization Reach its Digital Future

PMI offers four challenges for us in helping our organizations get to a ‘new normal’. And I will summarize them below.

My concern is that PMI seems to be loading a lot onto us. I do wonder how many project managers have the leverage to do this.

To me, the third and fourth challenges seem doable. The first and second are big asks. They seek to address corporate-tier strategic and cultural shifts. And I think for us to be successful, we need to see a shift in the status of the profession. We need a seat at the very top table of corporate governance. Sadly, we aren’t there yet. C-suite Project Directors are rare. The closest we come are usually high-influence Transformation Directors and PMO leaders.

Raising Your PMTQ: What You Need to Do

I’ll return to those four challenges at an organizational level, because they are important and valuable. Certainly, we should aspire to them. But I want to start with the challenge of becoming a high PMTQ project manager. What can you do to raise your Project Management Technology Quotient?

The PMI’s Three Characteristics

The first place to start is with cultivating:

  1. An always-on curiosity
  2. All-inclusive leadership
  3. Working to build a future-proof talent pool

Always-on Curiosity

You’re reading this. That’s a great start. The broader your base of learning and self-development, the better. Ask questions and seek answers. Talk to people and find out what they know. Ask also what they think, and then assess it critically. And find ways to test your ideas in the crucible of your project.

When you settle in with a fixed solution set for the problems you anticipate, that marks the start of your career decline. I’m not saying you won’t get jobs and projects to manage. But they won’t be at the leading edge for long.

All-inclusive Leadership

It’s going to take a very special mindset to manage a robot. I thought my credentials on diversity and equalities in the workplace were pretty nearly impeccable. But the thought of ‘treating a digital employee just like we would a human employee’ has shaken me. It’s not that I reject the idea, but that I am not sure I’d know how.

Just as gender, race, sexuality, and other sources of diversity have challenged generations before us, so this will challenge ours. But just as I for one would strive to treat any human with equal respect, I believe there will be a generation that will see robots as just another source of workplace talent.

But don’t think this will come easily. You may need to shift your attitude. And you will need to learn new ways of working.

Build a Future Proof Talent Pool

Your always-on curiosity will serve you well. But as a project manager, you have a wider responsibility: to secure a team that has all the capabilities you’ll need for this and your next project. So there will be a growing premium on project managers who can anticipate the direction of travel of their organizations, and create the capability pool you’ll need to make that journey effectively.

But there’s a deeper point. We can’t be treating our colleagues as disposable items.

When your phone’s capabilities no longer match the shiny new functionality of the latest generation, you may well replace it with a new one. Let’s set aside the ethical challenge of placing so much rare metal in land-fill while expending huge reserves of energy extracting more from our environment.

And there is a temptation to treat professionals the same way. I no longer need capability G. Now I need capability H. So I’ll fire the worker I have and hire a new one. That won’t work. It’s costly, it’s risky, and it’s unethical. Instead, you’ll need to foresee this possibility and make sure the people you have get the skills they need. So now, when you need capability H, there it is, in your team, ready and waiting.

The Hybrid Age

The Singularity is Near

Ray Kurzweil wrote a book called, ‘The Singularity Is Near’ (US|UK). The moment of ‘Singularity’ is when machines surpass human intelligence.

The 1990s ushered in what we call the ‘Information Age’. A time of easy access to vast information banks, and the ability to process ‘big data’ to gain more information. But at some time we will enter (or maybe have entered) the ‘Hybrid Age’. The transitional period between the Information Age and the Singularity. Machine intelligence catches us up and starts to play an increasing role in our lives, culture, and economy.

For me, Technical Quotient needs to measure our ability to work effectively in the Hybrid Age. And PMTQ is our ability to deliver projects in that culture. But we also need to be able to lead a younger generation who take it all for granted, just as my parents’ generation took TV, radio, and telephones for granted. These are the ‘Digital Natives’.

Competing with Digital Natives

Google’s dictionary defines a digital native as:

a person born or brought up during the age of digital technology and so familiar with computers and the Internet from an early age.

Wikipedia tells us that the term was coined in 1996 by John Perry Barlow, as part of the Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace. It describes someone who grew up in the digital age. It contrasts them with digital immigrants, who moved into the digital world as an adult.

You may be a digital native. But what that means and the depth of digital technology are constantly shifting. You may be a native of a different digital landscape than the one that now prevails.

A high PMTQ means being able to adapt easily to, and readily thrive in, the new digital landscape. As well as a native can. And more particularly, you need the empathy to lead the true natives of today’s digital world wisely.

Close the Digital Skills Gap

The skills gap is certainly increasing, between those who feel proficient and comfortable with the digital tools their workplace needs them to use, and those who don’t.

You’ll find all sorts of estimates of the ratio. Ignore them. Probably the variability depends largely on the type of digital tools being assessed, and the demographics of the workforce.

For your organization to navigate the maze of digital disruption, managing technological advances is a key differentiator that can lead to business success… or failure.

Five Steps for Higher TQ

But technology is an enabler: not the product. So, to apply it wisely needs business acumen too. So what are the steps to close the skills gap between digital natives and yourself, if you have a lower PMTQ than you’d like? I think there are five.

  1. Inventory the digital skills that you and your team will need. These will refer to the specific projects you’ll be called upon to lead, and also the new methodologies you’ll need to adopt. PMI highlights some of these approaches:
    1. DevOps – the integration of IT development and IT operations
    2. Agile
    3. Hybrid PM – Integrating agile and traditional practices and methods
    4. Design thinking
    5. Change management
  2. Find the gaps between the skills you have and the skills you need. You may need to work with your Learning and Development (L&D) colleagues to conduct a formal learning needs analysis (LNA).
  3. Specify and design the training, development, and other learning programs that will grow the skills you need. Consider whether formal or informal assessments will yield enough benefit to justify the cost and disruption.
  4. Delivering training and taking people out of the workplace is costly. You’ll need to build a business case and seek funding. This is where reports like PMI’s and McKinsey’s will help.
  5. Build this into the operational cycle of your project processes. A high-maturity project environment now needs to be constantly developing high TQ.

PMTQ Competencies

Beyond the PMI’s three characteristics of high PMTQ, what are some of the competencies that a high PMTQ project manager will need? This isn’t an area of expertise for me, but I offer the following list as a starter to stimulate your thinking.

  • Learning skills, and the time management skills to make learning a priority
  • Ready review and adoption of new tools and methodologies
  • Knowledge of core technologies and familiarity with terminology and jargon
  • Willingness to set team members the task to evaluate new tools and methods
  • An effective approach to piloting, prototyping, and lessons learned
  • Facility with large data sets and the tools to analyze and manipulate them
  • Change management and leadership skills (do take a look at our video course, Managing and Leading Change).
  • Ability to balance detail and big-picture approaches to technology in your project
  • Effective digital etiquette in the use of collaboration tools and social media
  • Toolset for technical problem solving

Preparing Your Organization: PMI’s Call to Action

Oddly, the ‘Future of Work’ report ends (rather than starts) with the case for PMTQ. It puts forward a graph showing the performance difference between PMTQ Innovators and PMTQ Laggards. Like the other data, I think the PMI is confusing correlation with causation. There is no evidence, beyond an appeal to plausibility, to suggest that better project performance metrics are the direct result of higher PMTQ.

But that’s the case they make for the Return on Investment (ROI) of PMTQ.

No shrewd Finance Director would see this as a compelling case.

But I do believe that no progressive organization can afford to take the risk of not investing in raising the TQ and PMTQ of its people. So, what does PMI say we should be doing to contribute to this?

PMI suggests 4 Ways to Help Your Organization reach the New Normal

First, Put Technology Front and Center

This one seems a bit obvious. But my challenge is that the examples are around corporate strategy and marketing initiatives. As project managers, we don’t get to choose those: we just implement them. But, I would say:

Number 1: Become an advocate for trying innovative technology solutions wherever possible.

Build Digital Fluency across the Enterprise

The report points out that increasingly, ‘each employee must simultaneously be a technician, mentor, and project delivery expert’. Here again, I question the locus of our influence. But we can become an advocate for project skills deep into our organizations and participate in the training that needs. So, I would say:

Number 2: Don’t see increasing tiers of Project Managers as a threat. It’s an opportunity to focus your career on ever more complex and stimulating projects.

Reimagine Career Journeys

Our colleagues (and we ourselves) need career paths that will combine project management, leadership, business skills, and digital acumen. I see this call to action as absolutely right”

Number 3: Work with your Human Resources (HR) colleagues to create career paths and development opportunities.

Think Talent Triangle

I sense the PMI is skirting around a change to its talent triangle. The report says that:

the new professional reality demands a combination of technical and project management skills, leadership skills and strategic and business management skills – along with the ability to learn and keep pace with technology.

The Future of Work: Leading the Way with PMTQ, page 6 – my emphasis

Doesn’t this sound rather like four, rather than three sides of a triangle! PMI refers to six digital-age skills:

  1. Data Science
  2. Security and privacy knowledge
  3. Legal and regulatory compliance
  4. Ability to make data-driven decisions
  5. Innovative mindset
  6. Collaborative leadership

Number 4: Get ahead of the PMI’s shift to the Talent Tetrad. Invest in your technology Quotient and your Digital-age skill set.

PMTQ and The Talent Triangle

What Do You Think about the PMTQ?

This has been a long article with more opinion-led than usual. So I’d welcome reading and discussing your responses to the PMI’s PMTQ concept, and the report in general. Please leave a comment below.

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Mike Clayton

About the Author...

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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