Sorting by

Skip to main content

The Evolution of the Project Management Profession

“Even the dogs may eat of the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table;

and in these days, when the rich in knowledge eat such specialized food at such separate tables,

only the dogs have the chance of a balanced diet.”

Sir Geoffrey Vickers, 1965

Image 1: The Three Bummers – Edward Jump’s cartoon shows Bummer and Lazarus begging scraps from Emperor Norton.

Transitioning to the New Reality for Project Managers

In order to position some of GPM Global’s insights into the transitions and evolution of project management we have observed over the past thirty years, we wanted to provide some context based on our years of working with leading standards bodies and professional associations such as (in no particular order):

As demonstrated by the image above, we believe project managers have to widen their perspective of what disciplines they should be proficient in.

First, is the belief that projects managers should not be clerks just doing what they are told.

We are professionals taking a leadership role in helping the organizations successfully deliver change and obtaining the best benefits with reduced risk and cost. Though there are numerous arguments for and against project management being a profession, with leadership from countries like the United Kingdom and the Association for Project Management (APM) this is becoming a reality.

Migration from Hierarchical Governance to Collaborative and Peer Governance

We are transitioning from the hierarchical model to one where the project manager is a peer to the sponsor.

That is from this outdated model…

Image 2: Hierarchical Project Management Governance (Copyright © Peter Milsom & GPM Global 2012+)

To this model…

Image 3: Peer Based Project Management Governance (Copyright © Peter Milsom & GPM Global 2012+)

 Project Managers Allegiance Transitioning from Output to Organizational

So what do we mean by that?  Simply put, the old model had the project manager only focused on the project and project team, and only deferentially involved with the sponsor and not really involved with the organization.  Acceptance, adoption, integration, business case, benefits etc. were entirely in the purview of the sponsor and organization… not the project team.

In reality though, most organizations do not understand projects or change very well at all.  As well, most sponsors have no idea what their remit or responsibilities or accountabilities are.  The project managers are the change delivery professionals there to help empower the organization to get the biggest bang for their investment buck from the project.


How the Organizational Allegiance Focuses on Benefits and Asset Life Cycle and Sustainability

No longer just focused on the iron triangle (please refer to the blog post (Flaws with the Iron Triangle), which is based on manufacturing and factory theory, but towards a more risk / benefits / asset life cycle / organizationally sustainable focus to reduce risk, improve the asset life cycle and protect the organizations reputation.  A perspective of this evolution in our profession is outlined below:

Image 4: Evolution of the Project Management Profession (Copyright © Peter Milsom & GPM Global 2012+)


The project managers have to help the sponsor and the organization to achieve the output and the benefits that the organizational objectives and strategy demand.

In order to accomplish this though, the project manager has to be aware and competent in the whole asset life cycle perspective.

Modern Project Management Competencies and Disciplines

This requires the project manager to have an awareness (and even expertise) of the following disciplines:

  • Governance
  • Value Management
  • Risk Management
  • Asset Life-cycle Management
  • Benefits Management
  • Business Case
  • Support Structures (PMO) and Communications, Reporting and Escalation
  • Sponsorship
  • Portfolio Management
  • Programme Management
  • Project Management
  • Team Management (i.e. agile, scrum and work packages)
  • Project Controls

The point being that the demands on the new project manager are significantly different from those in the past.  As outlined in the post The Future of Project Managers, the demands on project managers are exponentially increasing.

Lets open it up to be a little more complicated.  The International Project Management Association (IPMA) recently released the IPMA Competence Baseline 4 edition (ICB4), which is a brilliant reference that provides the key competencies for project managers, as outlined before:

Image 5: IPMA ICB4 Competency Listing for Project Managers


Start with the basics.  Remember though, the basics include a solid understanding of the following:

Image 6: Earned Value Project Management (Humphrey 2014, Figure 1.8, page 39)

A simpler model is below…

Image 7: Planning and Scheduling (Humphrey 2014, Figure 6.2, page 140)

If you are not rock solid in these areas you have no business anywhere in the game.

The other evolution for project managers beyond the triple iron constraint and the relationship with the organization, leveraging the developing sustainability focus,  will be supporting the UN Global Compact Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a planned focus for all humanity.

Image 8: UN Global Compact 17 Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs)

If you want to get ahead of the game though, get proficient in the organizational focus of sustainability and social responsibility… which adds another layer of complexity and interest in the project management space, back makes you far more valuable to the organization.

Image 9: The GPM P5 Standard for Sustainable Project Management



March 1 2017: GPM Global is currently changing its social media and membership strategy.  The intent is to consolidate articles to ensure they do not duplicate information, and to provide relevant information for each of our stakeholders.  As such, some of the more focused GPM Global intellectual property, research and references will be moved to the GPM Global Membership site, whereas the more public information will remain on the public GPM Blog and on our articles on partner sites.

If you are a registered reader and have provided comments or are a current registered reader on this blog and have liked the content and would like the original content, please contact GPM Global with the blog posts name and request for the original content.

Peter Milsom

Peter Milsom is an entrepreneurial advocate for sensible, sustainable change delivery practice. Peter has come to realize that sustainability is the perfect catalyst for Project / Programme / Portfolio / Risk / Value / Business Case and Benefits Management improvement. As an entrepreneurial methodologist Peter's unique value proposition is the vast array of tools and techniques that he brings to every engagement using the most cost effective and efficient methods based on the situation and tailored to meet your needs. This is based on his unique combination of experience and extensive training / certifications in change delivery, value / risk / benefits management business case, and business architecture.

11 thoughts to “The Evolution of the Project Management Profession”

  1. Nice article Peter BUT…….. There is absolutely no proof that supports your statement that project management is a profession.

    Project management is, as you pointed out above, a series of processes and those processes are embedded in every existing profession along with the trades and even into many operating environments, such as your local barber or beautician, automobile repair shop, dentist, family doctor, local electrician, plumber or carpenter…..

    Virtually ANYONE who is involved in the service industry where clients randomly walk in or where operations have been projectized (i.e. commercial aircraft piloting where each flight is a project or a hospital operating theater where each medical procedure is a project)

    Under the Federal Trade Commission Act (

    Advertising must be truthful and non-deceptive;
    Advertisers must have evidence to back up their claims; and
    Advertisements cannot be unfair.

    So my challenge to you is WHERE IS THE PROOF THAT PROJECT MANAGEMENT IS A PROFESSION? Unless you can provide proof then aren’t you breaking the law or at least violating your GPM code of ethics?

    Think about it…..

    Dr. PDG, Jakarta, Indonesia

      1. Nope……. There are 22 intrinsic and extrinsic attributes that go into any occupation being recognized and accepted as a profession and project management only scores about 35 on a scale of 0-100…….

        The real “killers” are:
        1) We do not nor cannot own or control the body of knowledge. (Which is why medicine and law use Latin and Greek or why professional pilots have a language all their own)
        2) There is no AUTONOMY in making decisions
        3) The flip side of autonomy in making decisions financial and legal liability for those decisions if they go wrong.

        But when all is said and done, there has never been any occupation which was built around a process, ESPECIALLY when those processes are already embedded in every existing profession, trade and even into most operations…… I mean, can you imagine trying to build the practice of medicine around the Heimlich Maneuver?

        Bottom line- just because project management is NOT a profession does not mean that there are not PROFESSIONAL project managers……… Once does not need one’s occupation to be a profession in order for one to be a professional….

        Dr. PDG, Jakarta, Indonesia

        1. Dr. Paul,

          As always we enjoy having this debate. One of the reasons you are an important member of GPM Global is you provide a different perspective to the debates.

          Note: I am not marketing anything, selling anything or in violation of any professional ethics. Lets not be overly dramatic here.

          You earned your PhD by contributing some new perspective to the discipline with your analysis on project management as a profession. You represent one informed perspective… not “the” only one. I know plenty of PhDs that disagree with your thesis. That is the nature of academia. It is not the loudest and most aggressive voice that wins. It is the debate.

          The nature of the professions is changing, that is generally understood. In Canada and the UK, your definition does not fully apply, but governments have accepted project management and management consultancy to be professions. Period end statement.

          Granted many things can be defined as a work package or project. My experience is that any serious project or programme is managed by a “professional” in the discipline… which takes specific training, apprenticeship and experience. Again it is the definition and interpretation of what a professional is.

          1) We do not nor cannot own or control the body of knowledge. (Which is why medicine and law use Latin and Greek or why professional pilots have a language all their own)
          Seriously… we need to simplify our project management speech to make it easier for our clients. Are you saying it has to have been written in Greek or Latin? And own it… I don’t think these bodies of knowledge are just restricted to doctors and lawyers… like everything else it is available online.
          The first instance of projects I believe was Daniel Defoe’s An Essay Upon Projects in 1697… I believe it was written in English… As it occurred so late does it mean it does not count?
          A curious point, but is the fact that the ancients had no word for blue (never shows up in the original texts) mean the colour did not exist, or there was no reason to acknowledge that colour at the time or… (Through the Language Glass – Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages, Guy Deutscher)?
          Debate and argument is good… but I think we are taking this point our of context.

          2) There is no AUTONOMY in making decisions
          I am not sure what projects you deal with, but there is a lot of autonomy in my and my peers engagements… that is why I am hired. Though you may fall in the curious (and dated) the project manager just does what they are told category and has no free thought.

          3) The flip side of autonomy in making decisions financial and legal liability for those decisions if they go wrong.
          Seriously… I have had errors and omissions insurance for years to protect against that very thing. Not sure what it is like in your part of the world but it is expected in mine.

          I am not breaking any code of ethics, I simply believe something else, and I have sufficient proof to justify it. I am not wrong, I am not lying, and I am not being deceptive. I just have a different interpretation.

          If you do not accept it, we can agree to disagree.

          Always willing to debate.


          1. Peter, first, my research was not the FIRST on this topic. Bill Zwerman, Janet Thomas et al first published their QUALITATIVE findings in 2004 that “project management is not now, nor it is likely to become recognized as a profession”. My research published in 2008 took a QUANTITATIVE approach and used different case studies which REAFFIRMED the findings of Zwerman, Thomas et al.

            Since then, there has been debate whether MANAGEMENT is a profession-

            So while I agree with you that not everyone agrees with these findings, I have yet to see ANYONE publish any credible research which refutes these findings. (PMI has tried and came up short…..) And in the academic world, if there is no proof then alternative ideas are nothing more than hypothesis…..

            Lastly while I agree that as an INDIVIDUAL you are not prevented from voicing your unsupported or unsubtantiated opinions, when you hold a high ranking position as a Board Member or Officer in the organization, you need to be very clear whether you are speaking as an individual or are you actually representing the GPM? IF you are representing the GPM then you probably are on shaky ground in terms of the FTC guidelines. If you are speaking as an INDIVIDUAL then certainly you are violating PMI’s paragraph 5.3.1 “We do not engage in or condone behavior that is designed to deceive others, including but not limited to, making misleading or false statements, stating half-truths, providing information out of context or withholding information that, if known, would render our statements as misleading or incomplete.” Your statements also may well violate the AACE Canon of Ethics, paragraph 1.3 “Members shall oppose any untrue, unsupported, or exaggerated statements regarding Cost Engineering and Cost Management. [I.3]”. (The GPM CoE is less specific)

            Bottom line- IF you honestly believe that project management is a profession then is it being unreasonable to expect you to offer credible, substantive PROOF to back up your claims?

            Dr. PDG, Jakarta

        2. Playing devil’s advocate, the Association for project management (UK) defines it as a profession and is on the cusp of gaining chartered status. They state:

          Benefits of Chartered status:
          – It offers assurance to users of project management services through the association’s regulating authority;
          – It acknowledges project professionals as experts in their field, offering a clear differentiator between professionals and others.
          – It provides a framework for improving project performance.
          – It will raise the profile and value of project management

          PMI sued them to try and stop this but lost.

          1. Joel, meeting a single element of the LEGAL criteria is only part of the whole process……. In order to earn the recognition as a profession, an occupation must also meet or fulfill the socio-economic and semantic criteria (sound familiar?) which project management clearly does NOT……

            What I will be really watching closely to see is if/when any project manager gets sued for malpractice once project management gets Royal Chartered status in the UK…..

            And I found it more than a bit ironic that PMI was suing them to prevent it….. Quoting from Elliott Friedson, “the only difference between the trade unions and the professional societies lies in their sanctimoniousness”….

            Dr. PDG, Jakarta, Indonesia

          2. Dr Paul,

            At this juncture I am not writing a PhD thesis to justify a perspective that is accepted by at least two Commonwealth nations. Though in do course that might be fun.

            You have a right to your informed perspective. I and others do not agree with several of your conditions. Again, the nature of professions is changing with artificial intelligence, expert systems and robotics. You may not agree, but the literature on this is clear (maybe thinking a couple decades ahead but…). I am in violation of no ethics as I can provide sufficient independent and respected justification (read Governments) to back up my perspective. You may not agree.

            By the way, you have a thesis and a model that at the time was accepted. You contributed positively to the discipline. Personally I think it is still an admirable paper and a worthy contribution. It is not truth. It is not absolute. And it is open to other perspectives. In time it may be overturned by another thesis. In the meantime, I have sufficient justification from governments to say that project management and management consultancy, neither of which meet your model, is a profession. Sue them if you want.

            By the way, I argued several of your real killers above.

            Save your threats, I am in no violation of any of my ethical obligations.

            As always, willing to discuss.


          3. OK Peter, I understand and will be happy to apply that same logic to published research on climate change as well….. 😉

            On another topic, I was more than thrilled to see you quoting Gary Humphrey’s and I would hope that you will rely on his work to update PRISM, and given I think the current PRISM has some holes in the process, I would be happy to volunteer to provide input while we wait for Michael to finish up the ILO standards……..

            Dr. PDG, Jakarta

  2. Whose definition of profession are we using here? I’m referring to the “22 intrinsic and extrinsic attributes that go into any occupation being recognized and accepted as a profession”. Meanwhile, Peter, great piece. Would it be possible to share a pdf or Word copy of this paper for my future reference.

    1. Daniel, this is the research behind the definition……

      To my knowledge there have been at least 3 attempts to refute the findings of Zwerman and Thomas et al and myself, to no avail…..

      Also subsequent efforts trying to establish MANAGEMENT as a profession have also gone no where….

      Bottom line- UNLESS there is proof, then making this claim certainly violates professional codes of ethics if not the FTC regulations on false and misleading advertising…….

      Dr. PDG, Jakarta, Indonesia

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Get the latest posts delivered to your mailbox:

Clef two-factor authentication
%d bloggers like this: