IPMA International Project Management Association
21 September 2016 / 8:48

When there is no plan B

The 4th IPMA research conference was held in Reykjavik Iceland on Sept 14-16. This conference was an eye opener for everyone that participated. I wouldn’t be surprised if it would be remembered in the future as a milestone for IPMA where an important redefinition of purpose took place and foundations were laid for new definitions of traditional concepts in project management, such as competences and success. At least, that is my hope.

A group of MPM students from Reykjavik University told us about basic definitions of sustainability and the meaning of the Paris convention. Professor Yvonne Schoper presented ten trends that will shape our lives and our profession in the coming decades, for instance population growth, climate change, technology, people’s values. Professor Gilbert Silvius explained how sustainability has become a core issue for some larger international corporations and should in fact be an integral part of the bodies of knowledge for project management, which is the case with the recent ICB4. Professor Peter Morris, a legendary project management scholar, gave a passionate talk about what is happening in our world and argued that instead of talking about sustainability, we should just focus on climate change and how to deal with it before it is too late. Michael Young talked about the imminent drastic changes that are already happening as a result of climate change, he gave an example of the great coral reef in Australia – the largest coral reef in the world that has just recently been severely damaged because of increased sea temperatures. On the bright side, there is a growing awareness in the project management community with the introduction of sustainability standards.


The discussions by the conference participants – from over 20 countries – around these keynote presentations were mind blowing and revealed that we have a great responsibility as a profession. We are dealing with the management of projects as business. We cannot afford anymore to point our fingers at different roles and argue that sustainability is the responsibility of someone else. As project management has become a way of doing business we need a new way of thinking. We need to understand the larger picture, we need to readjust our attitude; readjust our values. Systems thinking, understanding that projects are not contained and isolated but a part of a larger context – along with a deep understanding of the different dimensions of sustainability, social, environmental and economical – and the attitude and ethical judgement to make decisions for the greater good – these are the competences and characteristics of people that can plan and manage projects and project oriented organisations and hopefully steer this world away from the edge of the cliff that we are now heading towards, at an increasing pace.

This is a strong message to IPMA as an association that defines our profession. There is no time to waste because as Ban Ki-moon of UN has said, “there is no plan B because there is no planet B.”

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Helgi Thor Ingason

Author of this post

Helgi Thor Ingason holds a PhD from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, MSc from the University of Iceland and a SAPM degree from Stanford University. He is a Certified Senior Project Manager by IPMA. Dr. Ingason is an professor at Reykjavik University. He is the co-author of 6 books on management in Icelandic and English. He is a management consultant and a member of the Research Management Board of IPMA.