On the Subject of Project Management and Professionalism


9 February 2014

Dear Editor,

I read the commentary “Notes on general management, project management and professionalism” by Alan Stretton with considerable interest, for as I think you know, the question of project managing being a profession was the topic of my PhD dissertation- “Is project management a profession? And if not, what is it?”  http://www.build-project-management-competency.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/P.Giammalvo_PHDthesis_2008.pdf and this topic continues to generate raging debates on several LinkedIn forums.

What concerned me about your commentary is the focus on just the semantic definitions coming from the dictionary, while apparently ignoring the equally if not more important socio-economic and legal definitions?

In my dissertation, I explained the problem with the semantic definitions with this anecdote: (page 49)

Tiger Woods is unquestionably a talented golfer. One would be very hard-put to dispute the obvious, which that he is very competent at what he does, perhaps one of the best ever. Therefore he meets the first test of being a professional (n) – skill and competence. In fact, he is sufficiently competent that he makes a very handsome living performing for pay what most of us consider a hobby; hence, applying the second criterion, he meets the ‘earnings test’ to be considered a professional (n). He is not an amateur. Having met both tests (highly competent and earning a living at what most do
for a hobby) entitles him to be termed a professional (adj.) golfer. However, just because Tiger Woods meets the criteria to be called both a professional (n) and a professional (adj) golfer, golf does not qualify as a profession, although Woods might call it his profession (his paid job). 

It is no wonder that many in the community of practice of project management
confuse what is means to belong to a profession. There is the tendency to make the
connection that if they are in fact professional (extremely competent) in the way they
work, then what they do must, by association, be considered a profession. This is
false logic and a semantic trap easily fallen into.

In total, there are some 22 semantic, socio-economic and legal attributes which go into “measuring” or “assessing” any occupation in terms of it being a profession and “project management” scores only ~34% out of a possible score of 100%. (See Exhibit 6.4 on page 304)  More specifically, in terms of “perceived professionalism” project management ranks just about halfway between being an Electrician and being a Medical Doctor in terms of the relative “perceptions”. (See chart on page 303)

Subsequent to the publication of both Zwerman, Thomas et al “Exploring the Past to Map the Future” (2004) which concluded that “project management is not now, nor is it likely in the foreseeable future, to be recognized as a profession” and my research in 2008, which reaffirmed the findings of Zwerman et al using different case studies and developing a quantitative vs qualitative scoring model, there have been at least 3 challenges to GENERAL MANAGEMENT being a profession-

Khurana and Nohria (2008)- http://hbr.org/2008/10/its-time-to-make-management-a-true-profession/ar/1

Barker (2010)- http://hbr.org/2010/07/the-big-idea-no-management-is-not-a-profession/ar/1

Pfeffer (2011)- http://hbr.org/2011/09/management-a-profession-wheres-the-proof/ar/1
Furthermore, I understand PMI spend some 1.6 million USD on their “Value of Project Management” research (Thomas & Mullaly, 2008) and were not able to “prove” anything more than project management is “a tested, proven and valuable delivery system” for asset creation, updating, refinement and eventual disposal.

Given the growing challenges to management in general being a profession and not one, but two independent, published research papers which conclude that project management specifically is not a profession, it is of considerable concern how both PMI and APM, despite credible published research to the contrary, continue to make what amounts to false and misleading claims that project management is a profession. This is clearly a violation of their own codes of ethics/codes of conduct if not the various “consumer protection” or “truth in advertising” laws in both the US and UK.

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Bureau of Consumer Affairs, has published a “Advertising Guideline for Small Businesses”.

http://www.business.ftc.gov/documents/bus35-advertising-faqs-guide-small-business .

Under the Federal Trade Commission Act:

·   Advertising must be truthful and non-deceptive;

·   Advertisers must have evidence to back up their claims; and

·   Advertisements cannot be unfair.

I believe the time has come for member/owners of their respective professional organizations to INSIST that the professional organization(s) they belong to and support, adhere to the letter and intent of the FTC requirements. To do anything less makes a mockery of the Codes of Ethics/Codes of Conduct these professional organizations hold their members to. Failure of any organization to not exemplify what they expect from their members is the ultimate hypocrisy.


Dr. Paul D. Giammalvo, CDT, CCP, MScPM, MRICS, GPM-M,

Jakarta, Indonesia