Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.

What is Project Management, per the Project Management Institute―and where does it fit? (Strategy execution methodologies series. Post 2)

Strategies identify “what” needs to change. Project management provides a structure for “how.” Some go so far as to say that “projects are the vehicles of change.” This post is a continuation in the “Strategy Execution Methodologies” series.

 The most common organizational flow is this:

  1. The leadership team analyzes the market and documents a 3-, 5-, or 10-year strategic plan.
  2. Each functional leader takes it back to his or her division and identifies initiatives that will serve the strategic direction. (For example, if the strategy calls for integrating global systems for x% efficiency, then the leader may choose to select and implement an ERP system.)
  3. A team is assembled to execute each current initiative.  The team usually includes people who have full-time jobs that will be impacted by the initiative and who will have important insights as to what this organization specifically needs.  It may include additional project-specific resources.
  4. The team needs an interim leader—a project manager (PM).  The PM’s role is to guide the team through initiation, planning, design, implementation, monitoring, closing, and post mortem.
  5. Project managers use a structured process to ensure delivery across three dimensions: scope, time, and budget.

History for context

It is important to realize that project management is a relatively young discipline, born in the height of the industrial age.  In the 1950s, project management was formalized in the construction industry to systemize and synchronize heavy engineering projects: “At that time, two mathematical project-scheduling models were developed—the ‘Critical Path Method’ (CPM) as a joint venture between DuPont Corporation and Remington Rand Corporation for managing plant maintenance projects, and the ‘Program Evaluation and Review Technique’ or PERT, developed by Booz Allen Hamilton as part of the United States Navy’s (in conjunction with the Lockheed Corporation) Polaris missile submarine program.” (1)

A tactical, logistics-based approach made a lot of sense for such initiatives; the strengths of the approach were increasingly modified for private enterprise.

These approaches were codified into basically two schools: The Project Management Institute’s (PMI’s) approach, predominantly used in North America, and PRINCE2, which was derived from a UK government initiative.  The spheres of influence seem to radiate out of these centers.

This post addresses PMI’s approach, and the next post will address PRINCE2.

What is “Project Management”—per PMI?

PMI provides a definition of “What is Project Management” on its website (2).  Here are a couple of relevant excerpts for our discussion:

  • Project management is the application of knowledge, skills, and techniques to execute projects effectively and efficiently. It’s a strategic competency for organizations, enabling them to tie project results to business goals and, thus, better compete in their markets.
  • PMI defines five processes: initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing.
  • There are nine areas of knowledge: integration, scope, time, cost, quality, procurement, human resources, communications, and risk management.
  • PMI’s methodology is best known for focusing on the “triple constraint” of scope, time, and cost.
  • Practitioners are certified and place the designation Project Management Professional (PMP)® after their names. PMI offers further designations—Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)®, Program Management Professional (PgMP)®, PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)SM, PMI Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP)® and PMI Scheduling Professional (PMI-SP)®.
  • Depending on the size of the initiative, a program manager is retained to manage a group of projects. Where an individual project is of sufficient size or complexity, a project manager is retained to run it. In very large programs, several project managers will report to a lead project manager.
  • The senior program or project manager works with the business owner (often referred to as the “sponsor”) to plan and execute the project.


In my view, project management is an essential discipline on most incremental change and on all transformational change. The challenge for many organizations is figuring out the answer to the question, “How much project management rigor do we need?” The rigor rises with the degree of difficulty of the project.

At the level of transformational change, the requirement at the highest levels expands into program or portfolio management, which provides for a rolled-up and comprehensive view of the current status of all projects supporting the strategy (again against scope, time, and budget).

To all the Project Management Professionals (PMPs) out there: if you feel that I have missed anything, please do comment.

What’s next?  A review of PRINCE2 and then we peer into the murky waters of change management―a younger discipline that is advancing rapidly. Stay tuned… in fact perhaps you’d like to subscribe. If you are not reading this post on my home site you can link over to The Change Whisperer ( and look for the subscribe button top left.


(1)    “Project Management”, Wikipedia

(2)    Project Management Institute (PMI)


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3 Comments so far
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In your post you comment “The team needs an interim leader—a project manager (PM). The PM’s role is to guide the team through initiation, planning, design, implementation, monitoring, closing, and post mortem.” This is an interesting point for some discussion – is the leadership of this work via the Project Manager or the Business Lead? I have often found that the Business Lead provides the overall leadership – alignment to intent/strategic direction, motivation of the team etc – supported of course by the PM for execution. Thoughts?

Comment by Yvonne

This is a great question and I especially appreciate the timing as I am writing about the integration of the Project Manager and Change Manager roles now for the 4th post in this series. I will include my thoughts about the Business Lead role. Here is what comes to mind at the moment.

Firstly, in my experience, there is very little consistency across companies in the processes that are being followed. Most often there is a PM and that role is usually very well defined thanks to the solid work of PMI and PRINCE2. Sometimes there is a CM practitioner. In my experience in the US and Canada, this is more common in the US and US CM practitioners seem to have more clout in their projects than Canadian CM practitioners do – but still rarely enough to be really effective. Sometimes there is a “Business Lead” and sometimes not. Sometimes that role is defined more by the skills and experience of the individual filling it than a RASCI chart suggests.

This really gets to the core of the problem. We have potentially 3 “leads”, each with comparable seniority in the project food chain, and often making decisions becomes more a question of influence than authority (sometimes it’s even a haggle).

In our own model which I will speak to in Post 5, the Business Lead is the “Change Agent” (not to be mistaken for a Change Management practitioner). I think it will be very comparable to your definition of Business Lead. The Change Agent serves the Business Sponsor – this is a straight line reporting relationship (for the project’s purposes) and this individual is responsible for focusing on realization of the business objectives, tracking all risks associated with the project and resolving issues with the Sponsor.

I think it is worth making a distinction here tho: our approach is built for large scale transformational change. We often have a hierarchy of Sponsors and Change Agents. There are always important roles for Program and Project Managers and we work in partnership but the hierarchy is clear: the Sponsor makes the decisions (and the Sponsor’s Agent is at their right-hand). In developmental or incremental change this would be overkill. Either a PM or Business Lead can usually deliver the project.

You got me thinking, as usual. How does this sound to you?

Comment by Gail Severini ©

As always, you leave me with lots to chew on, thanks Gail!

Comment by Yvonne

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