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February 27, 2009 Vol. 2 Issue 2


Increasing project complexity and a global market for talent are driving trends toward the establishment of project academies and the certification of project managers.

From my vantage point at NASA, I have the opportunity to interact with members of the global project management community and learn about new developments and trends. In 2008, two themes recurred in my meetings with international colleagues in industry and academia: increasing project complexity, and the global market for top project leadership talent.

Increasing project complexity continues to pose new challenges for organizations. As projects become larger and involve more international and cross-sector partnerships, the project manager has to play a more active role in developing and maintaining support from a wide range of stakeholders. Since complex projects often have long time horizons, leaders need to sustain their projects through changing political, social, and economic circumstances. The skills required to succeed in this environment go beyond the traditional project management domains of cost, schedule, and technical performance. Organizations have to find new ways to give their project managers the knowledge and skills to deal with this dynamic environment.

A related trend is the global market for talent. Look in any issue of The Economist and you are likely to see job ads seeking senior project managers for assignments around the world. The need for project management talent does not stop at national borders, and talented people will go where the most challenging and rewarding work takes them. As a government agency with high employee loyalty, NASA is somewhat insulated from the effects of this right now, but as our retirement-eligible project managers decide to step down, the agency will compete for a small pool of highly talented individuals.

Project complexity and the global market for talent are driving two trends. First, organizations around the world — including multinational corporations such as Shell, BAE, and Rolls Royce — are establishing in-house project academies. A project academy can be an ideal structure for a distributed organization with facilities and projects around the world. Its organizing principle — promoting project excellence — allows it to target the specific needs of the project workforce and devise professional development approaches to suit them. Terry Cooke-Davies of Human Systems has studied the role of project academies within project-based organizations and has begun to identify the benefits and challenges associated with them.

Second, project-based organizations are under pressure to demonstrate that their project management professionals are qualified to run highly complex and expensive projects. In the federal government, the White House Office of Management set out new project management certification requirements in April 2007. (See a February 2008 column about this.) For NASA, which has had its project management development program in place since the early 1990s, the initial challenge will be documenting the qualifications of our current project managers and tracking the development of new project managers throughout their careers. I will write more about this in an upcoming column.

So are the trends toward project academies and certification likely to continue in 2009? I think so. When NASA launched its project academy in the mid-1990s, we were virtually alone in the field. Today, at least twenty major multinational firms have project academies. I expect that number to grow as more organizations deal with the challenges associated with complex project leadership. In terms of certification, the new administration has made it clear that transparency and accountability are top priorities for the federal government. With an entity as large as the federal government adopting certification, others will likely follow.

This column is the first in an annual series on project management trends that the Academy plans to produce. Throughout the year I will keep you posted on new developments in the field as I learn about them. Stay tuned.

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