Do Only 10% of Project Managers Shine?


A 2016 research article at a university in Brazil found that "there was a great disparity of productivity, where 10% of all new PhDs account for most of the Brazilian research productivity while most of the PhDs have very low performance."

This got me thinking about project managers. My question is this: Do only 10% of project managers account for most of productive project results while the rest are low performers?

Ok, up front I have to say I don't have the answer. Nor have I researched or conducted surveys to help answer this question. But, I wonder because there are many stats and articles that could lead us to believe there are many more low performing project managers than there are high performers.

It doesn't look good

Let's look at some factors. First of all, I co-wrote a three-part blog series about how 70% of projects fail to meet business value and expectations. The first of this series presents this high failure rate, which was obtained from Standish Group research on project failures.

A recent PMI's Pulse of the Profession paper found that out of every $1 billion invested in large project management projects, as much as $122 million was waisted because of poor performance. That doesn't mean the rest of the money was well spent. This is only reflecting some hard costs calculations, not soft costs that are hard to calculate from problems with deadlines, expectations, business value, customer relations, etc.

What about the Project Management Office (PMO) initiatives set up to bring in seasoned project managers to help an organization improve project performance. Unfortunately, many are run by project administrators in charge of scheduling and resourcing rather than project managers focusing on end project results for improved company value. Therefore, I'm not surprised to read that 50% of PMOs close within three years. If the organization doesn't find productivity improvements after adding a PMO, the chance of shutting it down is high.

Project Management Institute (PMI) estimates there are 16-17 million project managers in the world. As of March 2018, there are 833,025 people certified with the most popular certification called PMP, offered by PMI. There are other certifications, but we can estimate that the majority of people running projects didn't obtain formal project management training.

As we know, projects are needed to get things built and completed. There just are not enough really good project managers out there, so many firms and institutions throw bodies at projects mainly because they are available or can be easily pulled off other work. Many projects are run by a "project lead", and in some cases, this means they may know a little more than the others on the team, or they may not have the skills to do the actual work and therefore asked to administer the schedule and keep tabs on things like task completion and issue notes. 

It's unfortunate we don't have a culture platform that celebrates top achieving project managers like we do with athletes, actors, and artists. It's hard to point out who are the top dogs, but they are out there. After all, 30% of projects do meet business expectations AND bring value.

What can we do about it?

Can we get more productive project managers? Here are three simple steps on how you might find a way to expand the project management knowledge at your company.

  1. Who are the hot project chefs in your kitchen? Look for large projects that ended up as real successes and find out who led them.

  2. Meet with that person and find out what makes them tick. You'll be surprised to find that they would be honored if you asked them for their recipes that guarantee success.

  3. Ask if they can share with others. See if they could facilitate internal workshops on how to be a productive project manager. These can be structured or informal. The important thing is that they share whatever they can to help junior project managers and project leads.

In summary, I'm not estimating there are only 10% of project managers who successfully produce results. I suspect that number to be higher and maybe at least 30%. But, whatever the number, it's not enough. Let's try to learn from those who shine!

Written by Paul Dandurand, PieMatrix CEO/Founder
Photo by Alex Iby

Paul DandurandComment