Should we CHALLENGE or RECALL ISO 21502:2020?



Dr. Paul D. Giammalvo, CDT, CCP, MScPM, MRICS, CCE

Jakarta, Indonesia



Just recently, LinkedIn was bombarded by announcements that ISO 21500:2020 was formally released. Reviewing what was published, it appears to be little more than an adoption of many of the latest “buzz words” that pass for project management “knowledge”, reflecting a heavy bias towards “agile” project management. Furthermore, given that ISO 21500 was not well received in the marketplace, this author is urging people to take a second look at this standard and at least CONSIDER challenging what this committee produced?

Given we are on the verge of developing and applying “Artificial Intelligence” (AI) to “project management,” doesn’t it make sense that NOW is the time that we fix anything that is “wrong” with the project management processes or the tools and techniques BEFORE we start to automate anything?

In my professional opinion, ISO 21502:2020 as it currently stands does not reflect reality nor is it based on “Best Tested and PROVEN” practices and therefore, is inappropriate for use as the basis to start to implement “Artificial Intelligence.”


Project management, as it currently is being practiced, is not working in too many if not most instances.[2] [3] [4] Far too many projects are finishing late, over budget, with quality problems, and worse yet, the products (=ASSETS) these projects are producing are not delivering the “value” or “benefits” for which they were undertaken.

For 6000+ years, humans have been “initiating, planning, executing, controlling and closing” projects without the benefit of MS Project, or P6 or the PMBOK Guide or PRINCE2, so doesn’t it seem reasonable that with 6000+ years of history behind us in construction, entertainment, and medicine, that by now we should know how to “initiate, plan, execute, control and close” projects “successfully” and in a way that delivers substantially on what the project was undertaken to achieve? Surely in 6000 years, we should have learned SOMETHING!

Seriously, if our Neanderthal ancestors were able to tame fire 300,000 years ago[5] and our more recent ancestors were able to invent the wheel[6] about 6000 years ago using nothing more than a “trial and error” method, and around the 12th Century, we formalized the “trial and error” method, and it became what is known today as the “Scientific Method”[7] which in the past  ~1,000 years or so has produced hundreds of thousands of new products and services including the telephone (Bell), the lightbulb (Edison) and Penicillin (Fleming) to name but a few.  And reinforcing the observation that we fail to learn from history, our IT colleagues have relatively recently “discovered” the Scientific Method and named it “agile” or “Agile”.

Figure 1- Scientific Method[8]

So, Where to Start?

While references to the fundamental processes, tools, and techniques of “project management” date back to the Old Testament[9], [10], [11], much of what we know today as “Modern Project Management” originated on the factory floors of 17th and 18th Century Industrial Revolution as evidenced by the work of  Henri Fayol, Frank and Lillian Gilbreath, Frederick Taylor, Henry Gantt and the work of Halbert Powers Gillette and Richard Turner Dana in their 1909 book “Cost Keeping and Management Engineering: A Treatise for Engineers, Contractors and Superintendents Engaged in the Management of Engineering Construction”[12]. This book is particularly important as it gives the origins of “earned value management” as a “pay for performance” incentive payment scheme, more specifically based on the concept of “earned time” or “earned schedule”.  This point is worth noting as PMI has recognized the work of Walt Lipske and given him a major award for what amounts to little more than careless or incomplete research, driving home the problems of  what happens by failing to look back in history BEFORE we go writing standards or giving recognition or automating our processes, tools and techniques…


To read entire paper, click here

How to cite this paper: Giammalvo, P.D. (2021). Should we CHALLENGE or RECALL ISO 21502:2020? Commentary, PM World Journal, Vol. X, Issue II, February. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/pmwj102-Feb2021-Giammalvo-should-we-challenge-or-cancel-iso-21500-2020.pdf

About the Author               

Dr. Paul D. Giammalvo, CDT, CCE, MScPM, MRICS

Jakarta, Indonesia


Dr. Paul D. Giammalvo, CDT, CCE (#1240), MScPM, MRICS, is a Senior Technical Advisor (Project Management) to PT Mitratata Citragraha. (PTMC), Jakarta, Indonesia. www.build-project-management-competency.com. He is noted for the development and delivery of graduate level, blended learning curricula designed for the mid-career path, English as Second Language (ESL) professionals to develop competency in the local practitioner and build capacity for the local organizations. For 25+ years, he has been developing and delivering Project Management training and consulting throughout South and Eastern Asia Pacific, the Middle East, West Africa, and Europe.

He is also active in the Global Project Management Community, by playing a “thought leadership” role for the Association for the Advancement of Cost Engineering International, (AACEI) http://www.aacei.org/ since 1991; He has also been active in two IPMA member organizations: The Green Project Management Association (GPM) http://www.greenprojectmanagement.org/ where he served on the Certification Board of Directors for two years and the American Society for the Advancement of Project Management http://www.asapm.org/ for which he served for four years on the BoD as Director of Marketing. He also sat on the Board of Directors of the Global Alliance for Project Performance Standards (GAPPS), www.globalpmstandards.org, Sydney, Australia and is active as a regional leader. Currently, he is a compensated consultant to the International Guild of Project Controls. http://www.planningplanet.com/guild  as the primary author of their “Compendium and Reference” as well as the chief architect of their competency-based credentialing program. http://www.planningplanet.com/guild/certification

He has spent 35 of the last 50 years working on large, highly technical international projects, including such prestigious projects as the Alyeska Pipeline and the Distant Early Warning Site (DEW Line), upgrades in Alaska and the Negev Airbase Constructors, Ovda, Israel and the Minas Oil Field in Rumbai, Sumatra. His current client list includes Fortune 500 major telecommunications, oil, gas and mining companies plus the UN Projects Office and many other multi-national companies, NGO organizations and Indonesian Government Agencies.

In addition to 45+ years of hands-on field experience, Dr. Giammalvo holds an undergraduate degree in Construction Management, his Master of Science in Project Management through the George Washington University and was awarded his PhD in Project and Program Management through the Institute Superieur De Gestion Industrielle (ISGI) and Ecole Superieure De Commerce De Lille (ESC-Lille) under the supervision of Professor Christophe Bredillet.  “Dr. PDG” can be contacted at pauldgphd@gmail.com.

To view other original work by Paul Giammalvo, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/dr-paul-d-giammalvo/

[1] George Santayana ““Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” https://iep.utm.edu/santayan/
[2] Future of Project Management: Global Outlook (2019) KPMG, AIPM, IPMA https://www.ipma.world/assets/PM-Survey-FullReport-2019-FINAL.pdf
[3] Butts, Glenn, NASA  (2010) “Megaproject Estimates- A history of denial” https://www.slideshare.net/NASAPMC/glennbutts-mega-projects-estimates
[4] Flyvbjerg, Bent Oxford (2011) “Over Budget, Over Time, Over and Over Again: Managing Major Projects” https://www.researchgate.net/publication/235953357_Over_Budget_Over_Time_Over_and_Over_Again_Managing_Major_Projects
[5] History Channel (2018) https://www.history.com/news/human-ancestors-tamed-fire-earlier-than-thought
[6] Gambino, Megan (2009) “A Salute to the Wheel” Smithsonian Online https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/a-salute-to-the-wheel-31805121/
[7] Scientific Method (N.D) Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/scientific-method/
[8] Anchon Magnus (2015) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Scientific_Method_as_an_Ongoing_Process.svg
[9] Geneste, Sophie, (2018) The True Origins of Earned Value Management https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/pmwj86-Oct2019-Geneste-the-true-origins-of-evm.pdf
[10] Taybi, Yasmine (2018) “Is Earned Value Management Consistent with Shariah Law?” https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/pmwj85-Sep2019-Taybi-is-evm-consistent-with-sharia-law.pdf
[11]  Hu, Bertile (2018) ”The History of Earned Value as an Incentive Payment System” https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/pmwj85-Sep2019-Hu-history-of-evm-through-incentive-plans.pdf
[12] Gillette & Dana (1909) “Cost Keeping and Management Engineering: A Treatise for Engineers, Contractors and Superintendents Engaged in the Management of Engineering Construction” https://books.google.co.id/books?redir_esc=y&id=zO-ADudj-R8C&focus