I was reading earlier an article in the PM Network issue this month, that quotes Mr Mark Langley, Project Management Institute – PMI President, challenging audience to become “Project Executives” not only Project Managers. This really clicked for me and I think he hit the need right on. We need a level of project management competency that ensures leadership at the BUSINESS level of the project. This is how I understood Langley’s comments and this is the need that I see on the ground.
If one looks at what the organizations consider as the best project managers, they are are those who:
1. Understand the Project Management Knowledge
2. Know how it is applied
3. And most importantly know how to masterfully apply it or lead a project management team that applies it in a business setup.
I think the PMP certification can shed light on the first two points, but might fall short from guaranteeing the third. It is one thing to be a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) (All rights reserved to the Project Management Institute – PMI http://www.pmi.org), but it is another thing to be a competent project manager. I am a proponent of certification and believe that the PMP certification has served the industry and the project management professionals very well, myself included. However, many companies are seeing the need to differentiate between someone who has 3 years experience in project management and passes the PMP exam, and someone who can really lead the business of the project.
For example, as a PMP, one might know:
- How important a project charter is,
- When it must be developed,
- Who should be involved,
- What should be in it.
But still a PMP might not be able to develop a value adding project charter, or evaluate the quality of a project charter. Just because a project manager knows a project charter should include clear definition of the business need, does not mean that manager know how to articulate it. I have seen project charters that are a waste of time, as if they were written just to get checked off someone’s checklist. Sometimes because the project manager does not really believe in its importance, and other times because of external pressures of others who refuse to cooperate or subscribe to its development and chartering.
On top of what is required to be certified as a PMP, a competent project manager, also needs the following essential attitudes, competencies, and abilities:
- The Project Manager has the conviction that this is an essential document
- The Project Manager has the leadership abilities to use influence and resources to get others to subscribe to the charter and its development
- The Project Manager knows how to develop or ensure quality value adding content is in the charter, not just a space filler kind of information.
- The Project Manager knows how to communicate the charter and when to refer others and self to it throughout the project
- The Project Manager knows how to use the charter to improve chances of project success throughout the project
The above skills and competencies are needed for all other tools and techniques of project management including managing stakeholders expectations, developing a communication plan, managing conflict, etc.
In the big scheme of things, I see the PMP as a good place to start to acknowledge a project manager who understands how the PMBOK should be applied on actual projects. But then, there is the project manager who does not only know how, but a master of this application in real life. At this level of competency, the project manager should be tested in the ins and outs of the technique, the outcomes, and the actual development of the outcome, and how to use it. The PMP exam is not designed that way in my opinion. To give an example, the PMP exam asks questions that ensures I understand the importance of the communication plan, its main components, who should be involved in developing it, etc, but I can know all that and not be able to write a decent communication plan.
When I keep using the word masterfully, it does not mean “perfectly.” There is no black and white in the management science and organizational theory. There is always a better way, and room for improvement. So, “masterfully” means the wisdom and experience to utilize what is available to the best of one’s ability to create value, and be ready and flexible to modify as needed to meet needs and expectations.
I understand the difficulty coming up with such new certification can pause, as far as logistics, design, etc, especially when trying to apply this globally. However, I believe it must be done. At a high level, this is how such certification might look like:
1. Pass a preliminary test that shows that they have sufficient PM knowledge, leadership abilities, and experience.
2. Qualifying application, CV review, and multiple interviews including some kind of a 360 evaluation
3. Read assigned reading which will include books, papers, etc pre-selected to cover the key focus areas of the certification. There will be no one reference. Also, for tose who prefer to learn in a course setting, a training will be provided on each focus area online and classroom style, but they will be optional not mandatory. The key focus areas should include:
- Organizing and preparing for initiation
- Project Initiation
- Project Charter Development
- Securing Management Support
- Managing Client Expectation
- Cross Organizational Stakeholder Management
- Initial Project Setup
- Risk Management, beyond the mechanical structure, and into engaging stakeholders, clarity, commitment, and decision making
- Defining the project organization structure and its support structures
- Managing Stakeholders Expectations
- Scope Definition and the skill of writing a scope statement, building the WBS, and writing the WBS dictionary in way that serves the WBS purposes
- Developing a baseline at the right detail level, and additional derivative baselines for different project working levels
- Distributing work and project ownership
- Managing Subject Matter Experts and resource managers
- Project Reporting including report design based on level of reporting and stakeholders needs
- Estimation techniques and its relationship to type of work, team motivation and type, and other behavioral factors, and linking estimation with risk management and progressive elaboration
4. Attend a workshop to cover the focus areas that the certification focuses on. The workshop will allow discussions of these areas and presentation of the take home assignments in the next step. The workshop will be 5 days.
5. Take home assignments to develop necessary artifacts based on a given case study. These will be presented by candidate to panel of experts at the end of the workshop. The review will be elaborate, where a day will be assigned per candidate for the discussion and review of the candidate’s work. The work will be scrutinized and this will be the most challenging part of the certification process.
5. Final exam, not multiple choice, where candidates have to demonstrate their ability to deal with open scenarios that do not have a clear “correct” answer.
6. Once passed, the candidate will receive not only a certification, but a presentation and media from certifying body about the skills and abilities of the candidate who carry the certification. The candidate will be certified only in the areas he or she demonstrated competency in, so it does not have to be all or nothing. So, If I am competent in managing stakeholders expectations, but did not reach that level in estimating, I will get a certificate of competency that lists just the areas I covered. Later, as my competency is verified in other areas, they are appended to the certificate.
7. The certification is a lifetime certification, not subject for renewal.
I believe that the main driver for this certification will be companies who hire the certified professionals, and how easy the certification makes it to select the practitioner who can run their project as a business, not merely has the project management knowledge and how it is applied. Instead they can apply what it takes for projects to succeed and provide value.
I know that such level of complexity is difficult to achieve, but if this is what the industry needs to grow and mature, it might be necessary to overcome the challenges and come up with such certification.
For PMP to continue its success as a certification, we need a distinguishing certification that acknowledges the big difference between a three years experienced project manager who learned the structured PM approach and had a brush with its application, from the competent project manager who also knows the structure, but is a master in applying it in real world projects.