Towards a “higher purpose”


for project management representative bodies?



By Alan Stretton, PhD (Hon)

Sydney, Australia


This article has been prompted by some materials in Pells’ 2021 editorial “Project management needs a higher purpose”, particularly those relating to what I am going to describe as project management (PM) representative bodies – broadly covering project management institutes, associations, and similar bodies).

This article focuses on one particular area of Pells’ exploration of “mission statements among the world’s most influential project management societies and professional bodies” – namely his critique of three PM representative bodies whose vision statements include an aspiration that “all projects succeed”. His objection is that “not all projects should succeed; many projects should never even be started”. In other words, someone has failed to choose the “right” projects in the first place (to borrow a convenient vernacular descriptor from Cooke-Davies 2004).

The implied question is, “What is the position of project management (PM) representative bodies with regard to PM involvement in helping choose the ‘right’ projects?” This question is largely unanswered in any substantive way in the project management literature. However, it appears to me that this could be seen as an opportunity area for PM representative bodies to move towards a “higher purpose” – namely the promotion and achievement of increased involvement by project management in the initial choice of projects. This is the main subject of this article.


Deficiencies in choosing the “right” projects create “lose-lose” situations

It virtually goes without saying that, if the “right” project is not chosen, there will be multiple losers, be they sponsors, owners, users, or other stakeholders.

External providers of project management services are not excluded – even if they make a profit on an individual project, they stand to suffer a loss of reputation if it is a failure because it is a “wrong” project.

“Wrong” project choices account for up to 40% of so-called “project” failures

Some earlier work I did on causes of so-called “project failure” – admittedly with only sparse available data – indicated that something of the order of 40% of such failures were due to decisions made prior to authorisation to proceed (e.g. Stretton 2018a). I do not know how much of this was due to bad choice of projects, and how much to inadequate specification of requirements, or other causes. However, the overall figure of 40% of failures which is totally outside the control of project management is an alarming one, and there can be little doubt that failure to choose the “right” projects would be a significant contributor to this figure.

Project mgt. is often blamed for these, but is seldom involved in project choice

As we will see later, there are some exceptions to this situation, but in the vast majority of cases project management will not have been involved in choosing the projects which it undertakes. However, as just indicated, it is quite likely to be blamed for the failure of its project, even if it had no involvement in choosing the “wrong” project in the first place.

So, who is to blame for poor choices of projects?


To read entire paper, click here

How to cite this article: Stretton, A. (2021). Towards a “higher purpose” for project management representative bodies? PM World Journal, Vol X, Issue V, May. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/pmwj105-May2021-Stretton-higher-purpose-for-project-management-representative-bodies.pdf

About the Author

Alan Stretton, PhD     

Faculty Corps, University of Management
and Technology, Arlington, VA (USA)
Life Fellow, AIPM (Australia)


Alan Stretton is one of the pioneers of modern project management.  He is currently a member of the Faculty Corps for the University of Management & Technology (UMT), USA.  In 2006 he retired from a position as Adjunct Professor of Project Management in the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), Australia, which he joined in 1988 to develop and deliver a Master of Project Management program.   Prior to joining UTS, Mr. Stretton worked in the building and construction industries in Australia, New Zealand and the USA for some 38 years, which included the project management of construction, R&D, introduction of information and control systems, internal management education programs and organizational change projects.  He has degrees in Civil Engineering (BE, Tasmania) and Mathematics (MA, Oxford), and an honorary PhD in strategy, programme and project management (ESC, Lille, France).  Alan was Chairman of the Standards (PMBOK) Committee of the Project Management Institute (PMI®) from late 1989 to early 1992.  He held a similar position with the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM), and was elected a Life Fellow of AIPM in 1996.  He was a member of the Core Working Group in the development of the Australian National Competency Standards for Project Management.  He has published over 230 professional articles and papers.  Alan can be contacted at alanailene@bigpond.com.au.

To see more works by Alan Stretton, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/alan-stretton/