Project Management needs a Higher Purpose – Part 3

The Future of the Planet, Civil Society, Doing the Right Projects, What about Governance and the Power of Why


By David Pells

Managing Editor

Addison, Texas, USA


In late December 2020, I authored a long editorial as a follow-on to my June 2020 editorial on black elephants[1]. On good advice, that long editorial was broken into four parts so that a few more readers might make it to the end.  That said, the long original covers many topics that I thought important to my argument that the project management professional world needs a higher purpose than earning more money, helping organizations become more profitable, or just advancing PM processes, methods or skills. What is that higher purpose though?  It’s for us to decide.  For those interested in reading the long editorial, it has been posted in the PM World Library.[2]

In part 1 published in January, I introduced the topic and referred to my June black elephants editorial in which I discussed the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change and other global problems (the black elephants that everyone knows about but few seem to want to address) and what the PM professional world could (or should) be doing to help. In part 2 last month, I discussed organizational mission statements and social responsibility, and the ‘rogue black elephant’, corruption.  Specifically, as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to inflict sickness and death around the world, and as extreme weather events multiply (as we experienced here in Texas in February), a focus on organizational social responsibility seems ever more important.

Part 3 this month builds on those topics.  In particular, if the planet is destroyed or civil society collapses, what good is a free market, organizational productivity, projects or project management, for that matter?  What is project success, if the wrong projects are initiated, even if completed to scope, schedule and cost? Shouldn’t the right projects also be good projects? Does governance of programs, projects or project management really work?  Perhaps we should reconsider why projects are important, why we work on them, and why modern project management matters at all.  These are the topics this month.

Now comes news that anomalies are occurring in the Atlantic Gulf Stream, with the larger AMOC ocean circulation system slowing down. “The larger system in which the Gulf Stream flows is called the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC for short. The AMOC is a large system of ocean currents, like a conveyor belt, driven by differences in temperature and salt content, which affects its density. The Gulf stream is just the surface part of the AMOC in the North Atlantic”.[3] Scientists say the AMOC is weaker than it has been in 1,000 years. [4] The result is likely to be more severe extreme weather events in both North America and Europe (UK especially), or even worse.  And have you heard about the new “cold blob” off the coast of Greenland? [5]

So let’s start with the climate change and risks to the planet this month.

The Future of the Planet is at Risk

I vividly remember one time on a flight across the country some years ago, at around 30,000 feet looking down on the land far below and thinking, “wow, the band of atmosphere in which humans live on the earth is really small, only around 3,000 meters (less than 10,000 feet), much less for most people. That’s a really narrow band of air for the entire human race.”  If you also consider that we live on land masses, and primarily in hospitable locations, the situation seems very fragile.  This leads to the obvious realization that climate change, severe weather and natural disasters will be devastating to many people and perhaps to civilization itself.

Those thoughts have magnified my perception of the risks of climate change, especially as I’ve been studying disasters in recent months. While researching global warming, climate risks and disasters for this paper, I was thinking a lot about the massive fires in Australia and California, the hurricanes that hit the United States and Central America in 2020, and typhoons in the South Pacific, the heat waves and droughts.  And of course the Covid-19 Pandemic that has infected and killed millions worldwide. It seemed to me that severe weather is becoming more common and is likely to continue, and this is what climate experts also predict.  But how bad can it get?


To read entire editorial, click here

How to cite this paper: Pells, D.L. (2021). Project Management needs a Higher Purpose – Part 3: The Future of the Planet, Civil Society, Doing the Right Projects, What about Governance and the Power of Why; PM World Journal, Vol. X, Issue III, March. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/pmwj103-Mar2021-Pells-project-management-needs-a-higher-purpose-editorial-part-3.pdf

About the Author

David L. Pells

Managing Editor, PMWJ
Managing Director, PMWL


David L. Pells, PMI Fellow, HonFAPM, ISIPM, PMA, SOVNET is Managing Editor and publisher of the PM World Journal (www.pmworldjournal.com) and Managing Director of the PM World Library (www.pmworldlibrary.net). David is an internationally recognized leader in the field of professional project management with more than 40 years of experience on a variety of programs and projects, including engineering, construction, energy, defense, transit, technology and nuclear security, and project sizes ranging from thousands to billions of dollars. He occasionally acts as project management advisor for U.S. national laboratories and international programs, and currently serves as an independent advisor for a major U.S. national security program.

David Pells has been an active professional leader in the United States since the 1980s, as founder and president of several PMI chapters, founder of PMI’s first SIG (Project Earth), and member of the PMI board of directors twice.  He was founder and chair of the Global Project Management Forum (1995-2000), an annual meeting of leaders of PM associations from around the world. David was awarded PMI’s Person of the Year award in 1998 and Fellow Award, PMI’s highest honor, in 1999. He is also an Honorary Fellow of the Association for Project Management (APM) in the UK; the Instituto Italiano di Project Management (ISIMP – Italy); Project Management Associates (PMA – India); and the Russian Project Management Association (SOVNET).  In 2010 he was made an honorary member of the Project Management Association of Nepal.

Former managing editor of PM World Today, he is the creator, editor and publisher of the PM World Journal (ISSN: 2330-4880).  David has a BA in Business Administration from the University of Washington and an MBA from Idaho State University in the USA.  He has published widely and spoken at conferences and events worldwide.  David lives near Dallas, Texas and can be contacted at editor@pmworldjournal.com.

To see other works by David Pells, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/david-l-pells/

[1] Pells, D. L. (2020). Black Elephants and … maybe Project Management. PM World Journal, Vol. IX, Issue VI, June. https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/pmwj94-Jun2020-Pells-black-elephants-and-maybe-project-management-editorial3.pdf
[2] https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/pmwj101-Jan2021-Pells-project-management-needs-a-higher-purpose-editorial-January-complete2.pdf
[3] https://www.severe-weather.eu/global-weather/gulf-stream-amoc-ocean-anomaly-united-states-europe-fa/
[4] https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2021/02/25/atlantic-ocean-currents-weakening-amoc-gulf-stream/
[5] https://www.9news.com.au/world/cold-blob-slowing-down-atlantic-ocean-currents-drastic-climate-changes-research-says/9ead0abc-7ca1-42da-920f-809d6ab62924