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Monday, June 9, 2014

PMP: The Eye of the Beholder

. . . Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man
That he didn't, didn't already have. . . .

     Among the many charms of the wonderful 1939 movie, “The Wizard of Oz” is the salvation scene for the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow.
     The three characters bemoan their perceived lacks through much of the story: courage for the lion, a heart for the woodsman and a brain for the scarecrow.
     Near the end of the tale, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz eventually solves the problems in a most magical way. He ceremoniously bestows a medal on the lion, a fake heart on the tin man and a diploma on the Scarecrow.

     They swell with pride and joy because the tangible trinkets convince them they now possess the internal gifts they had thought they lacked.
     The folk-rock group’s lyric affirms what the gentle wisdom of the film demonstrates: All the three needed was some external assurance. They already had what they wanted.
     Maybe a little like the PMP for project managers. Or even the very title “Project Manager.”

     When you call a person “Project Manager,” what exact difference does that make in the person’s capacity to manage projects?
     Actually, in certain circumstances it could have something of an effect. If you are competent in the field, and you see someone doing a superb job in handling a complex process, including multiple human issues, you might well say, “Hey, Joe, you’re a terrific project manager, you know.”
     Joe, who never thought of himself that way, stops to enjoy the compliment and then starts thinking more consciously about what he does. He may be encouraged to practice it more assertively, to tune his skills in some formal way, maybe to seek the coveted PMP (Project Management Professional certification).
     Once he can add “PMP” to his resume, he instantly becomes more valued in the job market and, often, more respected by his current employer. That’s the one who used to take Joe’s extra contributions for granted.
     Of course, this doesn’t work unless there is an objective basis for it. Some people hold the title  “Project Manager,” and they may be doing excellent work . . . but not true project leadership.

     As a matter of fact, the PMP does trigger belief. But this is not the same as what transpired with the Cowardly Lion and friends. PMP credibility is in the eye of the beholder, not the holder. It makes you a better candidate for employment in the field. The word out in the general marketplace is that the PMP is the gateway qualification for getting a Project Management  job. You see the requirement in lots of job postings by people who don't really know what it means.
          So the PMP makes me a better candidate for employment in the field. Does it enable me to manage projects better? That depends.
     I don’t manage projects differently once I have the credential. I don’t know an awful lot more than I did before, although there is a certain value in having been required to learning the 47 processes of the PMBOK Guide, organized in nine knowledge areas. The Guide is among a number of valuable resources.
     The complex network of inputs, tools/techniques and outputs in the Guide occupies the vast preponderance of the Guide’s 589 pages.
     Appendix X3 takes seven pages. It covers leadership, team building, motivation, communication, influencing, decision making, political and cultural awareness, negotiation, trust building, conflict management and coaching.
     My noncredit curriculum for professionals presents roughly that same set of skills, but the courses take 56 hours and over that time present what I consider a relatively superficial treatment of the essential practices of competent project management. No PMBOK Guide.

     By rough estimate, perhaps 2,000 people have gone through that training and related processes with my help since I got into this in 1986. Some of my work has been consultation in the workplace, some has been in open-enrollment classrooms.
     No PMP. I hold the certification, and have high regard for a colleague who presents a prep course for project managers planning to take the PMP exam. I refer anyone to Mike Curran when they ask about PMP certification.
     For me, though, the most meaningful practices of project management, for most people, exist in two interlocked areas:
     -- Human relationships: effective communication, negotiation, real teamwork, active commitment and so on.
     -- Process management: research, analysis, process development, problem solving, task definition and the like.   
     None of that means the PMBOK Guide approach is wrong or irrelevant. The Guide is an invaluable organization tool for large, very complex projects. And any project manager can benefit from familiarity with its methodology for organizing and specifying the project management process.

      My own experience has been that the challenges for most project managers are all-consuming at a much lower level of complexity, such as getting adequate organizational and management support, building effective teams and meeting deliverable expectations. It’s much more personal.
     The Guide is a good thing for anyone to know as a resource, no matter what kind or scale of project one manages.
     The PMP is another matter. It can be problematic for credential holders who are hired by people bought into the expectation that the PMP designates a wonder-worker. How can you live up to that, particularly if you’re a good test-taker who hasn’t been through the full range of project management experience?
     There’s a difference between project management knowledge and project management competence. We need it all to succeed.
     As the group America pointed out, what really matters is that you have it.      

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