The Need for a Canadian National Project Management Award

For years, people have joked that it is part of our Canadian culture that we show excess humility by ignoring our successes — even apologizing for them, at times. While there have been many theories about why we have this attitude — and how different it is from the approach taken by our American neighbours to the south — we still find this attitude endemic throughout our society. One good example is the lack of awards available to celebrate our most successful projects and project managers.

Now, before I get myself in trouble, I do want to point out that the Canadian Project Excellence Awards (www.cpex.ca) was formed a few years ago by the firm Bay3000 Consulting Inc. to create such awards for the country. The awards have been quite successful, highlighting some significant achievements. Categories for the 2009 awards include projects that demonstrated the application of best practices, have a significant social impact, had outstanding leadership and sponsorship, improved the environment, or used technology to achieve greater efficiency. These categories cover a broad range of projects, yet still do not address certain aspects that would make them uniquely Canadian awards.

Other countries have awards similar to the Canadian Project Excellence Awards. For example, the Association for Project Management in the UK issues annual awards in thirteen categories including both awards for practitioners and academics. Practitioner awards include top program of the year, top project of the year, top project manager (and young project manager), top project management company, top overseas project, top international relief and development project, and even an award for the project or company that has contributed the most towards the development of the PM profession during the year. Academic awards include those for the top masters and PhD project management-related dissertations, and the student with the top exam mark in the country’s IPMA Level-D exam. They also have a lifetime achievement award for those giving the most to the profession.

Other countries have yet different award systems, each reflecting their strengths and different areas of focus. I believe that Canada needs a new national awards structure that reflects our Canadian values.

To start with, I believe that we should have academic awards. The profession has grown dramatically over the past decade or so, as tens of thousands of students complete degree and non-degree project management training programs at universities, community colleges, and through private training providers. A number of educational institutions in Canada offer project management certificates or degrees, and it would not be too difficult to contact these institutions to ask them to nominate their top student each year for an award. A national competition for this award would bring together local and regional PM academic programs for perhaps the first time—and unifying our country has always been one of our Canadian challenges.

A second category of awards would focus on the project managers themselves. As noted earlier, all too often in Canadian culture we fail to praise those who are successful. A national award recognizing our top project managers would help to provide focus for the profession, would identify role models, and would foster a community of our top managers as they are often too busy to attend monthly chapter meetings or other community-building events. I would suggest awards for top program manager, project manager, and young project manager (to give those just getting started in the profession something to aspire towards). Awards should be based upon consistent performance across a number of projects, plus giveback to the profession (through conference presentations, writing articles or books, participating in standards development, mentoring, etc.), with a recent focus project being heavily weighted in the mix.

A third category of awards would focus on successful projects across a number of key areas:

  • Public-Private Partnerships— A current focus of our governments where they seek to work more closely with industry to improve the efficiency of public-sector projects.
  • Aboriginal Projects— As native groups initiate projects to improve their communities, they are using these projects as a demonstration of their ability to self-govern. Awarding the top aboriginal project each year would recognize these successes and provide role models for further skills development.
  • International Development Projects—Canadians have always given generously to support those around the world who are less fortunate. Canadians are known for their international financial aid (through government and NGO programs), development and peacekeeping operations. I propose an award to celebrate the best of our achievements in this area.
  • Environmental Projects—Canada has a heavily resource-based economy which is vulnerable to environmental change and regulations intended to manage environmental risks. The Canadian government has allocated funds to support investment in environmental projects. As we struggle to shift into a more “green economy” through new technologies and process innovations, let’s celebrate these successful projects so that more companies may feel safe taking bold steps implementing change.
  • Technological Innovation—For years, Canada has been a hotbed of technological innovation. From the Avro CF-105 Arrow jet of the 1950s through the introduction of the Blackberry in 1999 and the latest health science innovations such as the development of a mineral-based cement that can be used to mend broken bones in osteoporosis patients, Canada has always pushed the limits of science and technology. An award to celebrate Canadian technological innovations will highlight our leadership in this area.
  • Non-Profit Sector Projects—According to the “Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating,” approximately half of Canadians volunteer their time to support non-profit organizations and activities. There are regional variances, but overall Canadians spend a lot of time supporting churches, charities, and other non-profit groups. This award will highlight the projects that make best use of these volunteer resources to achieve great ends.
  • Resource Sector Projects—As the cornerstone of our economy, let’s highlight the most successful projects in the resource sector, including resource extraction (mining, oil & gas), forestry, the fisheries, and agriculture.

A fourth category of awards would recognize those who go beyond the norm in giving back to the project management community to help share knowledge and experiences. I would suggest the following awards:

  • Canadian Project Management Book of the Year—Awarded to the top new book on project or program management written by a Canadian and/or published by a Canadian publisher.
  • PM Mentoring Award—Awarded to mentors nominated by their protégés.
  • Teaching PM Award—Awarded to the top speaker or trainer on project management topics.

Each of these awards could have regional finalists/runners up and then a national winner.

For the utmost credibility, such awards should not be offered by a for-profit consultancy. Similarly, as PMI chapters are legally branches of that U.S. organization, and since they each have limited geographic scope, it would not make sense to have them administer these awards. I think it would be best if these awards were offered by a non-profit, national association such as the Project Management Association of Canada (www.PMAC-AMPC.ca) or even a new organization set up solely to administer these awards.

So, now I’ve shared my vision for a new national project management awards program. Tell me what you think. By working together, we can build a national awards paradigm that would have broad-based support. With such support, who knows—perhaps some organization will pick up the task to create our vision.


Kevin Aguanno is a PMI-certified Project Management Professional (PMP), and his competence is certified by IBM as a Certified Executive Project Manager and by the International Project Management Association (IPMA) as a Senior Project Manager (IPMA Level B). He is the author of over one dozen books on PM-related topics. Find out more about agile project management in his free AgilePM Newsletter at www.AgilePM.com.

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