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Success in Disruptive Times: PMI’s 2018 Pulse of the Profession

Success in Disruptive Times

The PMI has titled its 2018 Pulse of the Profession report: Success in Disruptive Times.

As with previous reports, Success in Disruptive Times is filled with fascinating data and valuable insights. And, as we have done with the 2016 and 2017 Pulse of the Profession reports, we will take a selective look at the aspects that catch our attention, and encourage you to read the full report for yourself.

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You can download your copy of Success in Disruptive Times from the PMI’s website.

The PMI’s Annual Project Management Survey:
The Pulse of the Profession

Success in Disruptive Times

Success in Disruptive Times

Our regular readers will know that, for the last two years, we have extracted the marrow from the bones of the PMI’s Pulse of the Profession survey. You can find our previous reviews at:

Both of these reports made essential reading and this year’s is no different. It’s always a matter of some discipline for us to delay our response a suitable time.

The Power of the Pulse

In many ways, the Pulse of the Profession is the most important project management survey available. There are four reasons:

  1. Whilst it misses the chance to track most of its indices long term*, it does so for a good reason. Each survey asks a new set of questions, which keep it current.
  2. The PMI’s eminence means its surveys reach large numbers of respondents.
  3. Their document are carefully thought-through, well-produced, and always have interesting insights.
  4. Alongside their main reports, PMI also produces a slew of in-depth complementary reports and other interesting documents.

Whether you are a PMI member or not, if you are serious about project management, you should be reading the PMI’s Pulse of the Profession reports.

It is all free to download from the PMI’s Pulse of the Profession page.

Note: * The exception is the Project Performance Metrics, which we’ll look at below.

PMI: Success in Disruptive Times - 2018

PMI: Success in Disruptive Times – 2018

This Year’s Theme:
Success in Disruptive Times

When I saw the theme, I was expecting a cautious nod to global politics. It’s very subtle.

The theme of disruption is is more about the need for agility in the face of rapid commercial and technical changes. And, to my mind, it’s a good theme.

Introduction from PMI President, Mark Langley

But I can’t start my summary without a nod to two astonishing statistics Mark Langley presents at the to of his introduction:

The GDP contribution from project-oriented industries are forecast to reach $20.2 trillion over the next 20 years

That comes from the 2017-2027 Project Management Job Growth and Talent Gap Report, which I referenced in our earlier guide to the best project management surveys. But nearly 10 per cent of that could be wasted.

I need to repeat that figure, because it shocked me. Langley quotes the Brightline Initiative in saying:

Scaled to encompass total global capital investment, around $1 million is wasted every 20 seconds – or $2 trillion every year

I’m going to be a little less appalled when my daughter leaves peas on her plate! The figure PMI states is that:

9.9% of every dollar is wasted due to poor project performance

So, how does this Waste Translate to the Report’s Theme?

I’ll summarize the underlying model that has driven this investigation with a simple diagram…

The task of Project Management

The task of Project Management

This leads the report’s authors to draw our attention to the need to focus on benefits management. They assessed levels of benefits realization maturity as a key determinant of project success.

Champions and Underperformers

Among the orgaizations that responded, they identified:

  • Champions
    Organizations that completed 80% or more of their projects on time, on budget, and to meet business intent, and that have high benefits realization maturity
  • Underperformers
    Organizations that completed 60% or fewer of their projects on time, on budget, and to meet business intent, and that have low benefits realization maturity

They use these to identify the drivers of success.

It’s also worth noting that around a third of organizations self-reported as having high benefits realization maturity. This means they are able to track management and realization of tangible and intangible benefits alongside time, cost, quality, and scope measures.

Headline Findings

The 2018 Pulse of the Profession report has three headline findings:

  1. Greater project implementation success is linked to greater investment in proven project management practices.
  2. Though the 9.9% wastage figure above is startling, it represents a decrease of 27%, from 13.5% in 2013.
  3. Champions have an average project success rate of 92%, compared to an average of 32% for the Underperformers. They waste less money and enjoy better business outcomes.

Champions and Underachievers:
The Drivers of Success

The PMI draws three key lessons from its assessment of Champions versus Underperformers.

If your organization is struggling to realize business benefits from your projects, their conclusions on pages 6 to 9 are a good place to start. To maintain fair use of the PMI’s research, I only have space to add a line or so to their three headings:

Invest in Project Sponsors

This is something I have been banging on about here in the UK, with my clients for may years. When I have run Project Sponsor workshops they have had bigger impacts on my clients’ project performance than the associated project manager training. And, as PMI say:

‘For the sixth year in a row, our research shows that having actively engaged project sponsors is the number one top driver of project success.’

Control Scope

D’oh. PM 101.

They found that 52% of projects experienced scope creep. That’s way we need to place a high priority on both Project Definition from day 1, and excellent change control procedures subsequently.

Mature Value Delivery Capabilities

For me this is about having a repeatable process and strong governance that covers every step of the chain from understanding what drives value in your organization, to identifying the initiatives that will increase value, to successfully implementing those initiatives. Sponsorship and scope control are key components.

Success in Disruptive Times:
Responding to Disruption

Some organizations are finding it hard to deliver successful projects today. In the graph I’ll show below, we can see that 15 per cent of projects are deemed failures. So, PMI asks how prepared they will be for a future disruptive environment.

What is Disruption?

Sadly, though, PMI fails to define clearly what it means by disruption, or what kinds of disruption the authors have in mind. They do talk about:

  • Technology, in the form of robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and autoomous vehicles
  • Big data and data intelligence
  • Climate change and sustainable development
  • Competition
  • Government regulation and reform
  • Political uncertainty

Let’s look at the three insights the report highlights in how organizations can respond to disruption.

A Spectrum of Approaches

Put simply, tradition, predictive project management is not dead yet. Though 30% of projects use Agile methodologies, 44% use a predictive approach and, I am pleased to see, 23% adopt a hybrid approach.

Use of Different Project Management Approaches among Champions

Use of Different Project Management Approaches among Champions

The report concludes that success depends on choosing the right project approach, and that this is often going to be some form of hybrid of traditional, predictive methods, and agile approaches.

Broadening Skills

Success in disruptive times needs project professionals, more than ever, to broaden their skills and continue to learn in a variety of ways. Figure 4 in the report shows clearly that Champions are making bigger investments in their project talent. I’ve adapted their chart directly, because it is so valuable.

Champions make Investments in Project Management Talent

Champions make Investments in Project Management Talent

Project Professionals taking a Lead

This one I love. And to illustrate what it’s all about, I’ll requote part of a quotation the report uses, from Chintan Oza, the PMO Director at a major telecommunications company.

The project manager is no longer just a cheerleader in the game. The project manager brings strategy, brings customer insights, and brings some opposition insights.’


Respondents identified the skills project managers will need, and I have illustrated the data this section cites below.

Skills Project Professionals will need

Skills Project Professionals will need to Take Advantage of Disruption

Returning to a Previous Theme:
PMOs and EPMOs

In previous Pulse of the Profession reports, the PMI has examined the value of PMOs and EPMOs (Project or Program Management Offices, and Enterprise-wide PMOs).

This year, they report that 41 per cent of organizations with an EPMO believe it is highly aligned with the organizational strategy. And 72 per cent of Champions that have one (80%), do so.

PMI sees an EMO’s strategic role as a vital one in responding to disruption. An EPMO is a key part of your success in disruptive times.

For those interested in the role of PMOs, you’ll find a lot of data at the start of Section 1 of the Appendix.

Tracking Data:
Long Term Trends

The Pulse of the Profession Reports do not concentrate on long term tracking data. But there is one chart in the 2018 report that does so. That’s Figure 6, which tracks five project performance metrics annually, from 2011 to 2018. I have extracted estimates of the data by reading from that chart, for the two highest level metrics (‘Met original goals/business intent’ and ‘Deemed failures’). That’s allowed me to infer the projects that are partial successes (or failures).

So, the data in the chart below belongs to PMI and the interpretation (right or wrong) is mine.

Tracking Project Performance Metrics

Tracking Project Performance Metrics

Additional Insights from the Data at the Back

The last 12 pages of the report contain over 35 data charts, and make fascinating reading. If you’re a data junkie like me, they can soak up a lot of your time!

(This is far from my longest article, but has taken me longer to research and  prepare than any of the 180+ I have written to date)

I want to highlight some interesting points that attracted my attention.

Change Management Practices

Change Management practices are one of the most widely-used toolsets. But only 60 per cent of organizations use it often or always. Learn more about it with our Managing and Leading Change course, our feature article, or the Strategy and Business Change module in our Free Academy off Project Management.

Project Failure

As you probably know, I’m always interested in why projects fail and How to Avoid Project Failure. The fourth chart on page 25 shows the primary causes of project failures. The top two can be ascribed to the volatile, Uncertain, and Ambiguous environment their sponsoring organizations operate within:

  • Change in organization’s priorities
  • Change in project objectives

In my opinion, most of the others relate, quite simply, to aspects of poor project management!

What are Your Thoughts about The PMI Pulse of the Profession 2018 Report?

I’d encourage you to download your own copy of Success in Disruptive Times. And I’d love to hear your own thoughts about any aspect of the report. I’ll respond to any comments. Most of all, I’d like to know what’s happening n your organization.

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 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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