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Professional Status for PMs, Yes or No?

by Hal on April 14, 2009

in PM practice, PMI

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Ever see a hornet's nest? I have. It happened after my post yesterday. I got a bunch of emails taking exception to my call for making project management a profession. One person claimed I was shilling for the PMI.1 To set the record straight, I shill for no one. Having said that, I stand behind my call for professionalism.

There are a number of avenues to professionalism. The PMI's PMP® is the best known and most criticized path. For now, I won't go into the criticism except to say, a lot of work needs to be done to make project management a full profession. There is a bigger issue. That is a commitment to career-long learning. Recognized professions take this very seriously. All have a form of continuing education units (CEUs). Members of a profession are required to maintain a level of on-going engagement in their education. That's right, required. It is one of the ways that registration or certification actually means something. Members of the profession are keeping up with the advancement of the profession. It's not a lot of time; for most professions it's about 30 hours of learning/course work/seminar attendance for every two years. Why is this important? Because the vast majority of project management people I speak with don't put in that time.

Projects can be conducted for learning.

Nothing is more important to the success of projects than the on-going upgrading of skills of the project managers. Nothing. Yet, one of the easiest ways to do that is to read books. How many books related to your career are you reading in a year? Two? One? Maybe you bought the book but didn't read it? About 300 million books are sold each year in the USA. That's about 1 book/person. Many of those books go unread. Another large amount are pulp fiction. A whole bunch of people buy 10 or more books/year. That leaves very few books that are read by people taking care of their careers. I know I'm being tough. I intend to be tough. C'mon, we need to explore the world. Books are just one of the ways that we do that.

Want to know another way? Projects can be conducted for learning. Huh? That's right, we can do our projects in a way that each of us learns what we need to learn to advance our career and profession. I know, in all too many cases, we barely get the project staff we need to get the project done. How could we possibly find the time to conduct the project in a way that every team member learns? It's actually rather easy. I'll share how tomorrow. Until then, what are your everyday actions that keep you on a path of career-long learning? Please share them with us. Leave a comment. As a profession, we need to know.

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  1. Full disclosure: I am a member of the PMI New Media Council, a group of bloggers and other "new media" people who are working with the PMI. [ ⇑ back ]

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Bill Duncan April 15, 2009 at 3:58 am

I will take the blame (credit?) for accusing Hal of shilling for PMI. My comment was prompted by his statement that he thought the PMP was a good start for professionalism in project management. I disagree with that assertion. Strongly.

Full disclosure … I am biased. PMI sued me in 2001 for, among other things, stating that the PMP did not provide assurance of skill or ability as a project manager. The fact that PMI’s own chair, Hugh Woodward, had made that same statement, didn’t seem relevant to PMI’s lawyers (details of the case are available upon request). In addition, I also lead a competitive certification program offered by asapm, the American Society for the Advancement of Project Management.

Is increased professionalism good for project management? I think that is the wrong question. What we want is increased PERFORMANCE. We want to know that a project manager is capable. The PMP is primarily knowledge-based. It does not provide assurance of skill or performance. It doesn’t even require experience as a project manager; only experience “leading or directing” project activities.

The very fact that there are ads on this page that guarantee that you will pass the test after a week’s worth of training provides ample evidence that the PMP does not assurance any level of skill or performance.

Would you want to be operated on by a surgeon with a week’s worth of training? Would you want to fly in a plane with a pilot with a week’s worth of training? Would you want to work in a high-rise office building designed by a structural engineer with a week’s worth of training?

The PMP was designed as an entry level credential: something appropriate for a non-project-manager with a couple of years of experience. As an entry level credential, I think it is perfectly adequate.

On the other hand, real professionalism suggests a minimum level of performance. The program that asapm offers requires that you provide documentary evidence of performance from a project where you served as the project manager. It requires that you pass an interview with 2 assessors to demonstrate that you understood what you were doing.

Personally, I would rather fly with a pilot with 3 years of experience as a project manager and a documented record of taking off and landing safely on multiple occasions.


2 Phil Stevens April 16, 2009 at 6:52 am


I agree that project management should be a profession. I would advocate the same thing more broadly for areas of IT. If engineers and architects are required to be certified in a body of knowledge and are held to higher standards of conduct and ethics, then why would we not require the same thing for the people designing and building our information infrastructure.

The frantic pace – and success – of hacking for profit suggests that there is something wrong with the way we are building systems. Adding some of the elements of a real profession to the IT field (or disciplines in the IT field) would be helpful in improving the situation.

Best wishes with your magazine.

3 Dmitry Zdanovich May 27, 2009 at 10:16 am

I’d agree with Bill – PMP doesn’t prove real professionalism. It proves only that a person is able to remember some information. For instance, a project manager has read PM BOK Guide several times, but s/he can’t apply this to a real project, can’t convert knowledge into skill.

4 John Schaefer June 11, 2009 at 9:33 am

From my perspective, the skill & performance of project management is in the interaction with the project team and finding ways to motivate the project team when things are not going as planned. Most anyone can follow the text book style PMI stuff and be relatively successful if engaged in a motivated and high perfomring work place. The real key that I feel PMI fails to address is conflicting resources, unmotivate team members, etc. These hidden issues of project management often require real skill and expereince leading people. Thanks, John

5 Hal June 11, 2009 at 11:33 am

The “hidden issues” are generally not so hidden. Not only does PMI miss addressing them, the mindset of doing projects with FTEs (full-time equivalent employees) leads people to act as if the only thing that matters is expertise and capacity. It couldn’t be further from the case. “Real skill” at bringing together people to function well in a temporary organization (a.k.a. “project”) invariably is the difference between good projects and everything else.

6 Paul Nanouk December 19, 2009 at 9:29 pm

As a non-PMI-blessed project manager of over 26 years dealing with projects from reorganization of local banks to software projects in the Afghanistan desert, I would simply want to proffer one concept as to why PM should NOT be a profession:

To make a process into a professional discipline would only lead the “stakeholders” to increase the complexity of the process thereby making their certification more valuable and seemingly more of a necessity. PM is a simple process, in my humble opinion, it is only those that seem to have a vested interest in making the PM process into a more complex, certification-necessary activity.

Before you flame me, ask yourself this question: if the PM discipline and all its tools, methodologies, certifications, stakeholders, and trappings which have increased in complexity, numbers of practitioners (over 350,000 by conservative estimate), and notoriety where the US Government alone by their own CBO and OMB estimates employ over 50,000 PM, then why has the number of completed projects on-time and on-budget, and that actually work, decreased by a significant amount over the same time period? (Google: DOD failed project rate and causes).

When you have something to sell, it is important to ensure the buyers develop a perceived need for the service. PM reformation is long over due, but do not hold your breathe as long as organizations like the PMI and others continue their elevated self-interest as opposed to other more important considerations. Do not get me wrong, I love competing against “PMP-certifieds” since their usually over-complicated 200+ page proposals are so easy to best with my own “2 page project management proposals.” Organizations want results not Gantt or ladder or fishbone diagrams that are usually prepared AFTER the work is done, or are usually not followed but passed between the PM-types for proof that something of value is actually taking place.

These are my humble opinions and based on my 26 years are of project management using 3 very simple principles that can be explained and implemented in an single meeting with the organization. These work for me, but maybe not for others. Thank you PMI for making me a significant amount of money over the past several years.

7 Andy December 28, 2009 at 2:20 pm

I think Paul raises some very interesting questions.

I think it’s always important to bear in mind that PMI’s, PRINCE2’s and all the other methodolgies really only provide a framework for succesful delivery of projects. Paul’s point about 200page+ proposals is entirely valid since it’s often self defeating when you’re trying to encourage the rollout of simple but effective PM processes and the business stakeholders come back and say “I don’t see the benefit of Project Managers if you’re just creating paperwork”.

It’s a difficult arguement to win when you can deliver a project effectively with a minium of paperwork as long as you go through the analysis e..g clear scope, understand RAID’s, org chart / stakeholders, objectiuves and KPI’s etc. The end result for me is best served by a 10 page PPT that can be easily digested by business folks rather than a carefully crafted 200 pager than get’s filed in the bin…

As Paul mentions what the business are interested in is delivery and at the end of the day this is what counts – will having more certification and “continual professional development” help deliver this? Not so sure it will…

8 Harvey Summers January 24, 2010 at 10:05 pm

As I holder of 8 current professional certifications, and about half a dozen expired certifications, I’m quite aware of the quality and value of certifications. Most certifications include both a testing component and a verifiable experience component. They are nothing more and nothing less than a data point that should be considered by employers. Like any profession, there are no guarantees that a person is an outstanding performer. Doctors, lawyers, and engineers — and hairdressers — have problems with their members as well.

Like it or not, the PMP has become a de facto professional certification, required by most employers. What HAL is calling for is legal recognition of the project management profession.

I question the this for 3 reasons: 1) what differentiates the PM profession other professions, making it worthy of legal recognition (principles)? 2) What is the value to the public sector granting licensure, or to industry? 3) What is the value to the PM (individual)?

Perhaps the 1st question is moot; there is little logic or principles to what states do. AS for the 2nd, a license might raise accountability (via fear of revocation of licensure) , but few project fail for reasons of project management. In fact, many PMs have little decision-making ability or control such that holding them accountable for whatever is defined as failure would be meaningful or fair.

Licensure would have the effect of reducing the labor pool, increasing salaries for a few by denying the status to many, at least in the short run. This would not benefit corporate America, and would likely have the unintended effect of increasing the rate of moving projects offshore.

Companies have the ability to judge and test PMs upon employment. Additional governmental interference in this relationship is not warranted or useful to business or individuals.

And lest anyone accuse me of holding an ideological position on this, I assuring you that I am quite pro-regulation and for government intervention where warranted.

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