First global Standard on project management - ISO 21500

Issue 43 – October 2012

This article by Miles Shepherd and Karl Best first appeared in ISO Focus+ September 2012 and is summarised here with permission.

ISO has recently produced the first global Standard on project management, ISO 21500:2012 Guidance on project management. ISO 21500 is a basic guide, aimed at the informed reader without an in-depth knowledge of project management.

Project management is now big business. According to the Anderson Economic Group, over 24.4 million employees were participating in projects in 11 major economies in 2006. By 2016, this demand will exist to support 32.6 million employees in the same countries. ISO 21500 enables people in any organisation to understand how the discipline fits into a business environment.

An industry need

As business is increasingly globalised, it is particularly important to ensure the availability of a common understanding of what is involved in project management.

Project management increases efficiency in how resources are used to achieve intended results. Projects are initiated, planned, executed, controlled, monitored, and closed, with the goal of successful project completion in accordance with the project owner's requirements.

Upon project completion, for example, resources can be reassigned to the next project rather than continuing work on a lagging project.

The Project Management Institute's 2012 'Pulse of the Profession' study showed much greater project success by organisations with well-developed project management practices. Alternatively, when a project fails, typically around a third of its budget is lost – having a significant negative effect on productivity.

Global reach

ISO 21500 can be applied internationally, across a wide range of industries and project types. It is also designed to align with related international Standards such as ISO 10006:2003 Quality management systems – Guidelines for quality management in projects, ISO 10007:2003, Quality management systems − Guidelines for configuration management, ISO 31000:2009, Risk management – Principles and guidelines, and some sector-specific standards in industries such as aerospace and IT.

Just the beginning

ISO 21500 is just the first in a planned family of project management Standards. ISO is pursuing further development of Standards in this area.

Origins of project management

The origins of project management may be traced back to the Second World War. Although the so-called Manhattan Project was claimed to be the first 'managed project', many great projects in history such as the pyramids of Egypt, Stonehenge in England, and the Great Wall in China have no doubt required project management. While there is no evidence to suppose these structures were the result of formal project management, it is difficult to conceive that they were built without some sort of planning or process.

Miles Shepherd is Chair of ISO/project committee (PC) 236, Project management and ISO technical committee (TC) ISO/technical committee (TC) 258, Project, programme and portfolio management. Karl Best is Secretary of ISO/PC 236, Project management, and of ISO/TC 258, Project, programme and portfolio management.

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