The set of skills generally known as project management is becoming more and more important in a China. Rising economic growth has created higher commercial expectations. For those shouldering the responsibility for a company’s fortunes in the country, the bar is constantly being raised through faster turnaround times and tighter budgets. The emergence of a robust private sector, driven by ever-growing clusters of small and medium-sized enterprises, has sent the project management industry skyrocketing in China. Skilled individuals are in demand, whether it is to develop a business in the domestic market or coordinate global expansion. Greg Balestrero, CEO of the Project Management Institute (PMI), the world’s leading provider of project management training and standards, talked to China Economic Review about the impact this is having on all involved.
Q: PMI has a different way of approaching China. What is it?
A: Our real focus in China is ensuring professionals recognize that our standards and our certification are the two most important things to them. Since 2001 we’ve had 22,000 certified professionals here in China – we call them Project Management Professionals (PMPs) – and the growth rate is getting close to 50-60% a year. Without a doubt, China is seeing the fastest growth in management professionals, and it’s a demand for excellence in project management.
Q: Is there a shortage of people who can manage projects, be it middle managers, line managers or those who bring a project together?
A: There’s a shortage of project managers worldwide. And we are working 24/7 to provide education and certification worldwide. There is no lack of demand for certified professionals in project management. And if you add complex projects, be they the Three Gorges Dam, the Beijing Olympics infrastructure or space projects, there is a drought of people so those that are there can command good salaries worldwide.
Q: Projects have been around since the Pyramids – why are project managers so important now?
A: There is the issue of assurance of repeatable success in projects, being able to predict a result and repeat it. This is particularly the case when you’re talking about short life cycles, for example fourth or fifth-generation products that have a life cycle of less than 12 months. Aligning project skills with product development skills is one of the most important things. Then there is an obsessive demand for return on value earlier and earlier. Even if you’re not in product delivery but putting in an IT system in a new facility, the era of the five-year project is long gone. Companies need the IT installation now and within 12 months it needs to be generating the value that it was set out to do. So there is this increase in shortness.
Q: What has been the impact of globalization on the challenges involved in project management?
A: Nowadays, when we talk about the project manager we are really talking about the global project manager. Globalization – for good, bad or however you look at it – has created a demand for multicultural projects. Look at the Airbus A380 – it required 1,500 suppliers and 2,400 projects across 30 countries. That is pretty complex. When it first came out, the BMW Z4 was seen as a very simple car, everyone thought it was pure German. But only about 18% of the products in that car are manufactured in Germany; 82% are manufactured in 30 other countries. When you are managing projects across cultural lines and national borders you must put in place a standard that is a common language, a common approach so everyone can answer the question "Is it on budget?" I don’t care if it’s 1,500 suppliers working in 27 different currencies, you need an answer that is accurate and understandable to everyone. We promote a global standard which we call the project management body of knowledge … it’s like an operating system for projects.
Q: Is China’s education platform sufficient? How many project managers does the country need?
A: There was an independent UN study that predicted they would need more than 100,000 trained, certified, qualified projects managers over the next five years. This is not just bodies that can go in and manage the projects but people who have been recognized as having the skills and knowledge of standards as well as the right approach to get things done. And that was in 2003 – since then it has accelerated. The 11th Five-Year Plan has shown the need to move infrastructure out into central China and – whether it’s power generation, roads, transportation, fresh drinking water, health care, education – it’s all project-related. This is then magnified by the scope and size of China.
Q: Can project managers keep the big picture in mind while focusing on the details?
A: At Korea Western Power Company, which is one of the largest power generation builders in Korea, the CEO is the first PNP in South Korea. He is a very profitable and successful CEO and has become one of the greatest advocates in the country of the need to focus on projects. What they care most about is getting, successful business results.
Q: What is going to happen with the lack of project managers in China?
A: I think that it’s going to be increasingly difficult for China. They have a five-year goal to reduce the number of state-owned enterprises from 24,000 to 1,000 and small- and medium-sized companies are going to have to start learning how to be competitive. Otherwise there is going to be this big turn of employment in companies that go out of business because they can’t deliver projects on time. That is why we are growing at an astronomical rate too. We have 225,000 members in 160 countries; in 1996, we had 12,000 members, mostly in the US. We are growing at a rate of 45% outside of North America and, when you look at the Asia Pacific region with half the world’s population, that’s where we are growing in leaps and bounds.
Q: Is the growth likely to continue?
A: I think the biggest examples of this growth are going to emerge over the next five years. Companies are going to have to use principles of management that they are not using now… I think the next five years hold great promise for IT and telecommunications and certainly for automotives. On top of that you have the traditional areas of power generation and so forth that are integral to China.