Building Program and Project Management Muscles:


The Thinking Muscle


The Connected Future Business Culture:

The Great Project Management Accelerator


By Dr. Harold Kerzner
Senior Executive for Project Management
The International Institute for Learning (IIL)
New York and Florida, USA


Dr. Al Zeitoun, PgMP, PMI Fellow
Global Future of Work Executive
Siemens DISW
Ohio and Maryland USA


Sooner or later, everyone actively involved in project management attends a meeting where they are asked to “think outside the box.” The unfortunate result that often occurs, is that the meeting does not provide the outcome that was expected. Part of the problem is that attendees often get confused or misunderstand the meaning of thinking outside the box.

The metaphor, “thinking outside the box”, implies doing things differently or perhaps unconventionally. The intent is to explore new ideas and perspectives as part of the creative thinking process. The outcome hopefully should generate unique or unusual expectations that may not be constrained by rules or traditions.

The future belongs to organizations that are able to continually create.  With all the digital transformation efforts of today, It has become evident, that in the forefront of their successful implementation, is a strong hunger for staying creative, innovative, and maintaining a beginner’s mind.

We learned a lot over the years about the mind, its capacity, and its limitations.  Strategically, excellent organizations in the next decade will see a tremendous value in building the thinking muscles of their project leaders and project teams in order to deliver sustained value to their most critical stakeholders.

What most companies fail to realize is that developing this thinking muscle requires an intentional investment. New organizational ways of working could reverse that obstacle. Dedicating time for fresh thinking, blocking off calendars for innovation, and building the culture an environment that rewards ideation, no matter how strange, are all concrete sings of a much more effective future approach to excellence.

The Mind and Thinking outside the Box

Use of the expression, “thinking outside the box”, has been in existence for more than 100 years and became a popular expression used by consulting groups in the 1960s and 1970s, and later in project management during the 1980s and 1990s as we began applying project management practices to projects that required innovation and R&D.

Consulting firms provided their clients with guidance on effective creative thinking practices using the “nine dots puzzle” from a 1914 book by Sam Lloyd entitled the Cyclopedia of Puzzles. The puzzle is shown in Exhibit 1. Consultants would ask their clients to connect all 9 dots using four straight lines or less, without lifting the pen from the paper and without tracing over the same line twice.

Exhibit 1. The Nine Dots Puzzle

At first, people try solving the puzzle by drawing lines inside the imaginary square created in their minds by the nine dots. The instructions given to the people did not prevent them from drawing lines outside of the box. However, their mind assumed we must remain within the imaginary box created by the nine dots. Eventually they solved the puzzle. The most common solution to the puzzle appears in Exhibit 2.


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How to cite this paper: Kerzner, H. and Zeitoun, A. (2023). Building Program and Project Management Muscles: The Thinking Muscle, PM World Journal, Vol. XII, Issue V, May. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/pmwj129-May2023-Kerzner-Zeitoun-buidling-program-and-project-management-muscles-3.pdf

About the Authors

Harold Kerzner, Ph.D., MS, M.B.A

Senior Executive Director for Project Management
International Institute of Learning
New York & Florida, USA


Dr. Harold Kerzner is Senior Executive Director for Project Management for the International Institute for Learning (IIL). He has an MS and Ph.D. in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering from the University of Illinois and an MBA from Utah State University. He is a prior Air Force Officer and spent several years at Morton-Thiokol in project management. He taught engineering at the University of Illinois and business administration at Utah State University, and for 38 years taught project management at Baldwin-Wallace University. He has published or presented numerous engineering and business papers and has had published more than 60 college textbooks/workbooks on project management, including later editions. Some of his books are (1) Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling and Controlling; (2) Project Management Metrics, KPIs and Dashboards, (3) Project Management Case Studies, (4) Project Management Best Practices: Achieving Global Excellence, (5) PM 2.0: The Future of Project Management, (6) Using the Project Management Maturity Model, and (7) Innovation Project Management.

He is a charter member of the Northeast Ohio PMI Chapter.

Dr. Kerzner has traveled around the world conducting project management lectures for PMI Chapters and companies in Japan, China, Russia, Brazil, Singapore, Korea, South Africa, Canada, Ireland, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Poland, Croatia, Mexico, Trinidad, Barbados, The Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Venezuela, Columbia, United Arab Emirates, France, Italy, England, and Switzerland. He delivered a keynote speech at a PMI Global Congress on the future of project management.

His recognitions include:

  • The University of Illinois granted Dr. Kerzner a Distinguished Recent Alumni Award in 1981 for his contributions to the field of project management.
  • Utah State University provided Dr. Kerzner with the 1998 Distinguished Service Award for his contributions to the field of project management.
  • The Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Project Management Institute gives out the Kerzner Award once a year to one project manager in Northeast Ohio that has demonstrated excellence in project management. They also give out a second Kerzner Award for project of the year in Northeast Ohio.
  • The Project Management Institute (National Organization) in cooperation with IIL has initiated the Kerzner International Project Manager of the Year Award given to one project manager yearly anywhere in the world that demonstrated excellence in project management.
  • The Project Management Institute also gives out four scholarships each year in Dr. Kerzner’s name for graduate studies in project management.
  • Baldwin-Wallace University has instituted the Kerzner Distinguished Lecturer Series in project management.
  • The Italian Institute of Project Management presented Dr. Kerzner with the 2019 International ISIPM Award for his contributions to the field of project management.

Dr. Harold Kerzner can be contacted at hkerzner@hotmail.com


Dr. Al Zeitoun, PgMP, PMI Fellow

Global Future of Work Executive
Siemens DISW
Ohio & Maryland USA


Dr. Al Zeitoun is a Future of Work, business optimization, and operational performance excellence thought leader with global experiences in strategy execution. His experiences encompass leading organizations; delivering their Enterprise Digital and Business Transformation; guiding fitting frameworks implementations; and using his empathy, engineering insights, and collaboration strengths to successfully envision new business models and execute complex missions across diverse cultures globally.

In his current role with Siemens, he is a Senior Director of Strategy responsible for driving the global program management practices, Master Plan governance, and enabling the Strategy Transformation processes and priorities.

In his position, as the Executive Director for Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation, Abu Dhabi, UAE, he was responsible for creating the strategy execution framework, achieving transformation benefits, governance excellence, and creating the data analytics discipline necessary for delivering on the $40B complex country energy mission roadmap.

At the McLean, USA HQ of Booz Allen Hamilton, Dr. Zeitoun strategically envisioned and customized digitally enabled EPMO advisory, mapped playbooks, and capability development for clients’ Billions of Dollars strategic initiatives. Furthermore, he led the firm’s Middle East North Africa Portfolio Management and Agile Governance Solutions.

With the International Institute of Learning, Dr. Zeitoun played a senior leader and global trainer and coach. He was instrumental in driving its global expansions, thought leadership, and operational excellence methodology to sense and shape dynamic ways of working across organizations worldwide. He speaks English, Arabic, and German and enjoys good food, travel, and volunteering. Dr. Al Zeitoun can be contacted at  zeitounstrategy@gmail.com