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Solid Proof

PMI has commissioned some research into the value of project management. The findings were shared at their research conference in Warsaw last month. The study apparently took three years of field-work and cross-disciplinary analysis that culminated in June this year.

Now I’m a bit sceptical of a study commissioned by an organisation that promotes project management, carried out by someone with a qualification from that organisation, that eventually concludes that project management is a valuable exercise. What else could they say? It’s a bit like pharmaceutical companies funding research into diseases. (Incidentally, Ben Goldacre writes an excellent column in The Guardian and on his blog Bad Science, seeking truth behind the science headlines.)

However, they have filled a gap in the literature, and the study looks robust. Project management value is so hard to quantify that I’m grateful someone has even made an effort to try. According to the website, Janice Thomas, PhD, and Mark Mullaly, PMP, looked at more than 65 case studies from various industries around the world. They have drawn information from 344 project managers and 148 employers, so they have a huge basis from which to make valid statistical conclusions. The August edition of PM Network comes with a supplement about the research called Solid Proof, which you can also read on the PMI website (link removed 26/5/15 as it’s no longer working). It includes a little box on statistical analysis and if you’re interested in Cronbach’s Alpha as applied to social science research, it’s all there. The research team established that:

  • Project management practices correlate highly with:
    • Project outcome satisfaction
    • ?Achievement of project success
    • Organizational project outcome success
  • Project management benefits correlate highly with
    • ?Organization project outcome satisfaction
    • ?Organization project performance.

While analysis continues, and is planned to continue into next year, the preliminary results show what those of us working in the industry already know (but couldn’t prove): project management works, when it’s done well and adapted to the needs of the organisation. Too much bureaucracy makes it less useful. Try to quantify the value of project management in ROI terms and you’ll come unstuck. ROI was level five on the five-point value hierarchy, according to the research team, so when the detailed results come out later this month maybe we’ll get to see how ROI is achieved and by what percentage of companies.

Dr Thomas is quoted as saying that “The most significant findings are that we have the data available to provide empirically grounded advice to organizations on how to decide on where to spend their project management investment dollars to get the most value.” That will be interesting to read. As and when I hear more about the further analysis of this study, I’ll let you know.

About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin is a Fellow of the Association for Project Management in the UK and the award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.

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