Alexander and the Indian King – Part 1



By John Schlichter

Georgia, USA



Some people believe the Project Management Institute’s primary purpose should be to advocate the project management profession (the profession of the vast majority of its members) through standards applicable to all projects and certifications that denote competence in those standards, which legitimizes practitioners as professionals. Ancillary activities may include hosting conferences pertaining to all aspects of projects, facilitating networking events that help project management practitioners associate with each other globally, and publishing educational materials that increase knowledge regarding all aspects of project management. This view prioritizes institutionalizing project management throughout society. Alternatively, others believe PMI’s primary purpose should be to ensure the growth of PMI through profitable commercial endeavors whereby PMI provides all manner of professional services in ways that elevate the profile of the institute. That view prioritizes scaling the institute, which some critics argue looks like empire-building. While the latter (scaling the institute) could certainly be used to support the former (institutionalizing project management), which takes priority? In either case, where do we draw the line between PMI’s nonprofit role to do charitable work in the interest of elevating the field of project management to the profession of project management and PMI’s commercial role to dominate profitable ventures to scale the institute? Does PMI undermine itself by offering professional services?

By comparison, other trade associations like the American Medical Association and the American Bar Association largely eschew professional services from their menus. There are some exceptions, instances of professional services corresponding to the unique concerns of members, e.g. risk retention or insurance. But trade associations largely limit their activities to the development of standards, the managemen­t of certifications, and the distribution of educational materials, which is why the AMA is not a healthcare provider and the ABA is not a law firm. PMI’s incoming CEO would do well to mak­e this distinction as PMI engages in the most fundamental question of strategy, namely deciding courageously what not to do, and as leaders ranging from Jack Welch to Jagdesh Sheth have said, doing that by focusing on differentiation, making PMI’s specialization(s) sticky, emphasizing strategy implementation in a way that is transparent and honest. To my mind PMI’s leaders should start by revisiting PMI’s values, beginning with consideration of perceptions that past decisions fomented and the implications for redressing those perceptions by recasting PMI’s values. If PMI’s new CEO were to recast PMI’s values in a way that prioritized institutionalizing project management by focusing exclusively on delivering only those products and services that PMI alone can furnish in its role as the premiere trade association for project management, the chief executive could expect to be celebrated like Alexander the Great upon cutting the Gordian Knot and fulfilling the prophecy that doing so would unite the world.

Popular accounts tell us Alexander encountered the knot early in his campaign and that an oracle had foretold the man to free its intractable yoke would become the ruler of all Asia. Alexander slashed the knot in two with his sword and then conquered the Achaemenid Empire of Persia before proceeding into India’s subcontinent, which the Greeks believed marked the end of the world. Once there, upon defeating an Indian king, Alexander asked the royal how he wanted to be treated, and the proud king invoked the Golden Rule, replying “How would you wish to be treated?” Alexander was so impressed by the king that he returned his lands and title. An alternative history told by some Indians to this day is that Alexander was defeated by the king, whose war elephants literally unseated Alexander, who fell from his horse on the battlefield and broke his back, inspiring Alexander to ask for a halt to hostilities. By that account, the Indian king agreed to his opponent’s plea for peace, as that was the Indian custom, not only invoking the Golden Rule but embodying it. In either case, whether the legacy belonged to the emperor or to the king, a leader had brought peace to the land by invoking values and choosing courageously what not to do. Therein lies a lesson for PMI’s new CEO, which I would enroll the executive to reckon by recounting a more recent history in what follows.

I represent many people involved in the creation of PMI’s foundational standard called OPM3 (Appendix A). It is clear to me that significant differences abound between the facts of what transpired in the evolution of OPM3 and perceptions of those facts, and the implications reach far beyond OPM3 itself, challenging PMI’s identity, its fidelity, and even its viability. Soon after OPM3’s publication, PMI entered the software business, removed the most valuable components of OPM3 from the standard, and sold them at a price orders of magnitude higher than any PMI standard to date as software named ProductSuite, a database version of OPM3. Us­ers were supposed to use ProductSuite to perform assessments of organizations and plan improvements based on those assessments. That is what happened, but what some people made it mean was that PMI valued revenue and control more than promoting goodwill and freedom. Though I doubt PMI believed such a trade-off had occurred, it is clear to me confusion about it resulted from different views of values. And after PMI removed OPM3’s most valuable components from the standard, PMI withdrew those components altogether from the marketplace. Consequently, OPM3’s users could no longer use OPM3 to assess organizations accurately and improve their organizations’ capabilities in the many ways that OPM3 was designed to help them improve their capability to implement strategies through projects successfully, consistently, and predictably. That is what happened, but what some people made it mean was that PMI failed to respect an implicit agreement with volunteers that the fruits of their labor would not be abandoned. PMI acquired its own consultancy as a subsidiary of PMI to provide assessments for hire using a proprietary model which was not OPM3. PMI viewed ProductSuite and this other new model as apples and oranges, not as a replacement of one by the other. That is what happened, but what some people made it mean was that PMI’s noble charter to institutionalize project management had been compromised and that PMI’s charitable functions had given way to profit motives that personified their fears. Eventually PMI decommissioned that acquisition, which brings us to the present. Looking back, PMI’s executives and PMI’s volunteers had shared the goal of supporting project managers and elevating the profession, but there was great division between different camps who envisioned accomplishing that shared goal in very different ways.

I believe that in the case described above an organic sequence of events occurred, driven by a persistent logic that has dominated PMI for the better part of twenty years, a logic that confuses ideas in the minds of many stakeholders about what PMI should do (i.e., institutionalism) with ideas about what PMI can do (i.e., commercialism). I believe some of the people involved may not fully appreciate the distinction. Others may simply believe “institutionalism versus commercialism” is a false dichotomy. Whatever the case may be, different views about PMI’s values appear to have produced different ideas about how PMI should serve society. Recognizing the presence of a plurality of views regarding PMI’s values, we should create the possibility of discussing disagreements about these things publicly to cultivate empathy and alignment, which creates an internal consistency that produces strength, which is called integrity. These are values relevant to PMI’s mission, which I have imagined in the hope that discussing values dispassionately will resolve rampant division and lead PMI away from a ditch that lies dead ahead and into an unimaginably awesome future that transforms the way we live, work, and play as a species.

Ryan Berman, author of Return on Courage, wrote “Values-based, socially responsible, and purpose-driven companies are the ones that are winning today’s business game.” In his book, Berman presents a business model for what he calls “courageous change.” He wants organizations to take thoughtful, calculated risks when developing a new product, implementing an innovative strategy, or simply voicing an opinion that upsets the status quo. Berman’s five-step process, called P.R.I.C.E., is based on his experiences advising prominent brands like Major League Baseball, PUMA and Subway, as well as interviews with leaders from Apple, Google, Dominos, Zappos and other successful companies. The process includes five steps undoubtedly familiar to PMI’s new CEO:


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How to cite this article: Schlichter, J.  (2019). Alexander and the Indian King: Part 1; PM World Journal, Vol. VIII, Issue V, June.  Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/pmwj82-Jun2019-Schlichter-Alexander-and-Indian-King-Part1-3-fjs.pdf



About the Author

John Schlichter

Atlanta, GA, USA



John Schlichter coined the term “Organizational Project Management” or “OPM,” which is the system for implementing the business strategy of an organization through projects. OPM became a global standard and is how companies throughout the world deliver projects valued in billions if not trillions of dollars. “John has contributed greatly to PMI,” Greg Balestrero, CEO, PMI Today, 2002. “In John’s role as the leader of PMI’s OPM3 program, he has immeasurably contributed to the growth of the profession,” Becky Winston, J.D., Chair of the Board of Directors, PMI Today, 2002. Having created OPM3© (an international standard in project, program, and portfolio management), John founded OPM Experts LLC, a firm delivering OPM solutions and a leading provider of maturity assessment services. Industry classifications: NAICS 541618 Other Management Consulting and NAICS 611430 Training. John is a member of the adjunct faculty of Emory University’s Goizueta Business School.

John can be contacted at jschlichter@opmexperts.com or frank.john.schlichter.iii@emory.edu.

To view more works by John Schlichter, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at https://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/john-schlichter/