Alexander and the Indian King – Part 2



By John Schlichter

Georgia, USA



By some estimates, the sum of all human knowledge is doubling every twelve hours. The pace of technological change is perpetually redefining human-technology relations to such an extent that every leader inherits an identity crisis as soon as he is collected to any organization anew. In this context, it is not only natural but necessary for PMI’s incoming CEO to face the question: “What is PMI?” Is it a developer of technology? An architect of abstractions? While PMI may be many things in the minds of many people, what is it essentially? What structures and functions are indispensable to PMI’s meaning? In much the same way one might ask “What makes a horse a horse?” PMI’s CEO must ask “What makes PMI whatever it is?” After everything PMI could be is removed, and nothing more can be removed without losing what it means for PMI to be PMI, what remains? PMI should cleave from itself and terminate all entrepreneurial endeavors that other companies can do and re-focus all its energy on revolutionizing those things which only the premiere trade association for the profession of project management can do.

The one interest common to all stakeholders of project management is for projects to be successful. Toward that one common goal, all stakeholders want project management to be not only a field of activity but a profession. The field of project management cannot become the profession of project management unless the practitioners subscribing to the profession are widely perceived as adhering capably to standards. Although trade organizations may obtain many structures (e.g. a non-profit organization, a federation, a network), the preferred structure is whichever one facilitates most efficiently and sustainably transformation of the field to the profession by enrolling a critical mass of adherents to a shared vision based on shared values.

To reiterate a predicate from Part 1, some people perceive PMI’s values in such a way that they 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, certifications that denote competence in those standards, conferences pertaining to all aspects of projects, networking events that help project management practitioners associate with each other globally, and educational materials that increase knowledge regarding all aspects of project management. This view prioritizes institutionalizing project management in society.

Alternatively, others perceive PMI’s values in such a way that they 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. That view prioritizes scaling the institute. 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? By offering professional services, does PMI undermine itself?


Consider what is at stake. Projects dominate our world, whether the Human Genome Project or humanitarian projects in Sudan or Syria, projects to create everything from new information security platforms to new mobile phones and futuristic technologies; projects that deploy technology infrastructures or urban infrastructures, projects that consolidate businesses or expand businesses, and projects that improve all manner of processes, systems, and cultures. When project managers mismanage projects, damages occur. The scale of damages from poorly managed projects is enormous, whether that is due to any given mega-project that costs billions of dollars in overruns or countless smaller projects with smaller failures in organizations of every kind across the globe that, in the aggregate, eclipse individual mega-failures. By creating technical and ethical standards which distinguish good practices from bad and helping people to be certified in these, we can help both the persons who are certified and their stakeholders gain a confidence that has real value. We can also discourage bad or irresponsible practices. Every essential trade recapitulates these principles toward institutionalization as an intrinsic telos inured to the benefit of society.

If a professional association prioritizes commercialism and becomes a competitor to commercial organizations of the field, it degrades its legitimacy and therefore its ability to perform the role of defining standards that distinguish what is professional from what is not. Why do you think baseball umpires are prohibited from owning a baseball team governed by the standards they arbitrate, much less prohibited from betting on teams? PMI cannot be the arbiter of any standard of ethics, for example, if it has a vested interest in competing against others governed by that standard, no matter how one structures UBTI. It must choose to be one or the other, the advocate or the player. If it chooses to be the advocate, it must recuse itself from being a player.

Rumors abound that PMI has refreshed its strategy (in something called PMI 2.0) to resume its original mantle: the mission PMI had when it was first formed in 1969 — service and support for project management practitioners. In pursuit of the institutionalism of project management as an indispensable and implicit practice for solving problems at all scales, will PMI aspire to elevate project management as a discipline on par with medicine and law? Or in pursuit of the Project Management Institute’s growth and revenue goals, will PMI weave its way through every stage of the value chain associated with professional services that enable strategy implementation through projects, vertically integrating one stage after another in an inexorably totalizing drive to commercialize the full line? Whether one path is righteous and the other is reprobate in anyone’s eyes will depend on what that person makes “service and support for project management practitioners” mean. For example, in what appears to some to be a contravention of the rumored refresh, PMI appears to be going down the latter path of commercializing professional services vis-a-vis a marketing campaign called the Brightline Initiative, which is marketing assessments and capability development offerings that pit PMI against any other company offering similar services.


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How to cite this article: Schlichter, J.  (2019). Alexander and the Indian King: Part 2; PM World Journal, Vol. VIII, Issue VI, July. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/pmwj83-Jul2019-Schlichter-Alexander-and-Indian-King-Part2-3.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/