The Project Management Mid-life Crisis

Today I presented my paper entitled “The Project Management Mid-life Crisis” (download it here) at the Association for Project Management (APM) conference. It was a fantastic experience and the organisation and venue proved to be superb. I was introduced by Adrian Dooley at just after 11:15 and spoke for just under 20 minutes.

After my talk Geoff Whittaker took to the stage and put forwards an interesting point of view on how objectives should be set to incentivise project managers.

After Geoff Whittaker and I had presented the audience was able to vote on a number of questions using rather snazzy interactive keypads. 100% of the audience agreed with me that project management most focus more on people and 92% agreed with me that it is essential for PMs to concentrate on delivering value. However only 62% felt that companies should resist mandating a single project management process and only 61% agreed with my central thesis that project management has reached a mid-life crisis.

Following this “voting session” the audience asked a series of questions during which a number of people indicated to me that the themes I had covered resonated with them personally.

Later in the day it was a real pleasure for me to meet Elizabeth Harrin (of Project Management for Girls) and hear her talk about the necessity for PMs to find ways of working that fit in with the teams they are leading. Hopefully she will make the slides available for download from her website.

Following this Martin Price focussed on the importance of people to project success and he used a great quote of Doug DeCarlo which was “People are not the heart of the matter…they are the matter”.

Later in the afternoon I had the pleasure of listening to Dr Peter Merrick and David Tuffs talking about the benefits of agile project management and how best to introduce agile practices to an organisation that is currently using more traditional approaches.

If you were at the conference and would like to give me some feedback on my paper/presentation then I’d really love to hear from you. Feel free to drop me a line at or leave a comment below. For those who couldn’t make it today you can download the paper here (this version also includes all the original interviews) and again I would be very interested in hearing your views and opinions.

As a final note I would like to extend my extreme gratitude to Pawel Brodzinski, Bruce P Henry, Alex S Brown, Johanna Rothman, Raven Young and Jim McCarthy for taking part in the series of interviews on which my presentation and paper were based. None of this would have been possible without them.


6 comments so far

  1. Alex S. Brown on

    Congratulations on the presentation. I would not worry about the audience response percentages. You are asking people to change, and Machiavelli reminds us that we always have vigorous opponents when we advocate for change. Many people profit under the current approaches, and they will resist any change. Remember that you were speaking to a mix of people who are ready to embrace change, and others who are profiting from the existing systems in their organizations.

    Thanks for the huge honor of being one of your interviewees. You did a wonderful job with the paper and the results. Each of the people you interviewed had a unique point of view, but I believe you created some unique and important conclusions after talking to us. Thanks for letting us be a part of this work.

    –Alex S. Brown

  2. […] in time to see the joint Q&A session with Geoff and David Daly, who writes the excellent blog Outside of the Triangle.  David’s talk was on the state of project management and while I didn’t get to see it, he had […]

  3. daviddaly on

    HI Alex,
    Thanks for your comments and the additional thoughts that you have posted on your website. And once again thanks for taking part!

  4. Tony Lew on

    I really liked your article, and you nailed it. Couple things I do want to comment on:
    1) Resource allocation was mentioned in your article very briefly as a problem, but I was surprised to find that it was not emphacized as much by any of your interviewees. In matrix organization with shared resources across multiple projects, prioritizing and allocating resources to projects that change the schedule constantly is probably one of the biggest problem we have. And there also isn’t an easy solution to it.
    2) I believe that one big reason you may want to have one project management system, is not simply for the executives to understand what IT does, but to allocate resources and prioritize projects across the board in an organization. Again, this system won’t resolve all resource allocation problems, because when project plan changes, it impacts everyone regardless of whether everyone and all projects are in the system or not, it will certainly improve this aspect of it tremendously. At least this is our hope, and this is the main reason we are trying to roll out an enterprise wide PPM tool. Wishful thinking, you think?

    Anyway, really apprecite your article, and it’s great to see everyone feels the same pain we are in PM space, but I am optimistic that we will get better.


    PM NBC Universal

  5. daviddaly on

    Hi Tony,

    Thank you so much for leaving a comment with your thoughts.

    Firstly I agree with you that resource management is a critical factor to the success of any project. In general it is my belief that the less individuals (especially in technical roles) have to multitask the more productive they will be. Johanna Rothman talked about this briefly in her interview and you might find her article Are Your Pants on Fire, or Do You Suffer from Split Focus? interesting. Also I quite like what Bruce P Henry had to say about multitasking at an organisational level in his post Multi tasking is killing your business.

    With regard to your second point I agree that to some extent a standardised format for project reporting enables organisation-wide decision making however that is vastly different from applying a single PM process.

    Best regards,


  6. Tony Lew on

    I completely agree that multi-tasking can reduce productivity. Just as a car uses more gas to start and stop rather than go continuously, it takes more energy and effort to stop and restart something repeatedly. However, that is how my particular group is setup, (we call ourselves Shared services group) and I doubt this will change anytime soon.

    In regards to project reporting..I think you’re suggesting that each group have their own PM systems, but have a central reporting system that gets feeds from the different PM systems? This might be enough, if the resources aren’t shared across different groups, and you just want to do some analytical reporting. But our resources are shared across multiple groups, doing different types of projects, and we need real-time, transactional type reporting also. We also need fairly consistent way to start projects, and assign resources. Otherwise it would get very confusing in a hurry for us.

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