Interview with David L. Pells

Managing Editor
PM World Journal

Interviewed by Yu Yanjuan
Journalist, Project Management Review: PMR (China)

Journalist’s notes

PM World Journal is an influential professional eJournal for program and project management. Lots of scholars, students, PM practitioners in China regard it as a reliable source for trends and updates in the field of project management. The journal enjoys great popularity in China.

I feel honored to have an interview with David L. Pells, Managing Editor of the PM World Journal. With over 35 years of experience in project management, David L. Pells shares generously with us his thought-provoking viewpoints and insightful observations about the profession. On behalf of PMR, I extend sincere gratitude to David L. Pells.

Notes from David Pells

Dear Spring (Yu Yanjuan), Thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts and perspectives with your readers in China. I have followed the PMR since it began publication and want to congratulate you and your editorial team for supporting the advance of professional project management in China.  I am honored to be interviewed.

Introduction of David Pells

David L. Pells is Managing Editor of the PM World Journal, a global eJournal for program and project management, and Executive Director at the PM World Library. He is also the president and CEO of PM World, the virtual organization behind the PM World Journal and Library, and president of PM World Services, a U.S. firm providing high level PM advisory services for major government programs.

David is an internationally recognized leader in the field of professional project management with more than 35 years of experience on a wide variety of programs and projects, including engineering, construction, defense, transit and high technology, and project sizes ranging from several thousand to ten billion dollars. He continues to act in advisory roles for several global programs and organizations. He has been an active professional leader in the United States since the 1980s, served on the board of directors of the Project Management Institute (PMI®) twice, and founded and led the Global Project Management Forum, a series of meetings of international PM professional leaders from around the world, during the 1990s. David was awarded PMI’s Person of the Year award in 1998 and Fellow Award in 1999. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Association for Project Management (APM) in the UK, of Project Management Associates (PMA – the national PM society of India), and of the Russian Project Management Association SOVNET. David has published widely, speaks at conferences and events worldwide.




Q1. You have more than 35 years of experience in project management; what changes have happened in PM?

David L. Pells (Pells):  In 35 years there have been many, many changes in the project management field. When I began to work in major projects in the mid-1970s, such important concepts as critical path planning, work breakdown structure (WBS), earned value management (EVM), quality assurance (QA), resource leveling and others were already well developed. The first big disruptive change that I remember was not directly associated with project management per se, but rather the advent of the personal computer in the early 1980s. This was followed immediately by Microsoft and other companies introducing project planning tools that anyone could use on a desktop PC.  Microsoft recognized the growing importance of projects in many industries, created MS Project and integrated it with the MS Office suite of business applications. Whereas previously project planning, scheduling and cost control tasks were often performed by specialists, now anyone could use similar tools and manage (or at least try to manage) their own projects.

The second really disruptive change was the publication of the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge by the Project Management Institute (PMI), followed soon thereafter by PMI’s Project Management Professional (PMP) certification.  These two PMI products began to drive growth in both PMI membership as well as industry recognition of project management. When I served on the PMI Board of Directors from 1995-1997, we began to see the rapid, almost exponential, growth in both certifications and membership. This growth has continued, with PMI membership now well over 400,000 worldwide. Combined with PMP certificate holders, PMI serves more than one million. PMI, APM in UK, AIPM in Australia, IPMA, AACE, CPM and other professional organizations added more standards and more certifications; the combination of these products and growing numbers of associations, members, chapters and stakeholders has resulted in widespread recognition of projects and project management in many organizations and countries.

The third change, a trend really, was the growth of PM professional organizations in many countries. By the time we held the first Global PM Forum in New Orleans in 1995, there were more than 30 professional PM societies worldwide. Now there are more than 80; if you count construction management associations, probably more than 200. Over the last 30 years, the PM profession has grown, expanded and matured. Combined with PM standards, tools, publications, education and training, these organizations have spurred widespread recognition of project and project management across nearly all industries and locations. Many of these organizations offer competing standards, qualifications, products and services, but together they represent a very significant trend (resulting in change). Project management is now well established in most industries and countries.

The 4th major change was the recognition that such soft skills as communication, teamwork, leadership, stakeholder engagement and similar issues were just as important, perhaps more so in many cases, than skills and knowledge about scope, schedules, costs, quality, procurement and other engineering or scientific-oriented aspects of PM.  Whereas the largest PM professional associations all had standards and certifications by the year 2000, they all began to incorporate these soft skills into the professional products and messages. The field of human psychology rocked the PM landscape. Emotional Intelligence made its appearance in the PM field. With economic and industrial globalization came the need for more cultural awareness and knowledge, and Cultural Intelligence. Now we often see “project leadership” emphasized rather than project management, with the soft skills headlining

The 5th big change (trend in some locations) is the increasing awareness by government leaders that professional project and program management can lead to very serious improvements in managing public programs, projects and organizations. The best example may be in the UK where the national government began issuing program and projects management standards in the late 1990s (PRINCE2, MSP, etc.), the creation of the current Major Projects Office and the recent Charter awarded to APM.

Q2. What’s your biggest harvest after working in this field for so long? What is it that you are most proud of? Please share with us some unforgettable lessons learned in your career.



To read entire interview, click here


Editor’s note: This interview was first published in PMR, Project Management Review magazine, in China in March 2018.  It is republished here with the permission of PMR.  To see the original version with Chinese introduction, click here.