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Sunday, 21 February 2010 00:00

The PMP: Competency or Marketing?

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Student Taking the Test

After being a project manager for a couple decades, the Procedure Police finally caught up with me and I had to get my PMP®. No, not for a job, for marketing. My publisher's marketing department made a PMP a requirement for publishing my new book. My wife was aghast that after teaching courses to PMPs so they could get their educational credits and recovering multiple projects that PMPs had led down the red road to failure, that I would have to go through any process to get this certificate. In her mind, my record of accomplishment should have stood for itself. I realized the bureaucracy of the whole affair and trudged forward.

Since the dozens of books I have read, articles I have written and classes I have taught do not count as any form of education, I bought my thirty-five online contact hours as well as a two sets of sample tests. I had been warned that the test questions were tricky (not difficult) and being well versed in sly questions was critical. Optimistically, I moved forward hopeful I would learn something in the process. It did not take long, I learned why I needed to recover those projects that PMPs were running into the ground. A feeling of job security would overcome me.

The Education Provider's Role

I have to admit, I have difficulty differentiating between what the Registered Education Provider (REP®) had wrong versus PMI®. The fact that I had to think about it, though, says that PMI's REP qualification process is squarely in need of help.

Scope Creep

As an example, the one education provider had a new definition of scope creep. One of their questions was, "Which case would most likely result in scope creep?" Out of the four choices I confidently chose "A replacement architect is being placed on a project." From experience, I knew that a different architect has a strong possibility of changing many aspects of the project while bringing in his or her personal preferences. I was shocked to find their choice was "There is a threat of a strike by the construction union." Their reasoning was that the strike would require negotiation and that was not part of scope. This is true, however, the time spent negotiating is a small part of the actual impact of the strike, which is a day-for-day delay in the project. A strike is a time management issue and should be in the risk register as such with proper mitigations and contingency in case it happens. The mitigation should be to continue negotiation throughout the contract to ensure the union workers are happy and will not strike. Strikes are time and risk management problems, not scope creep.

I enjoyed arguing with the first-level mentor at the class provider and eventually getting the email from the second-level staff agreeing that things like TCPI could not be $220,000 and that the course had been corrected and I could take it again in three weeks with the corrected material. Those poor students that actually believed the course was right.

By the way, I am intentionally not providing the name of the providers. There were two education providers, both well respected names for PMP educational material. Since both had the same issues, I need to use the data to suggest PMI improve their governance over their education providers.

TCPI with Units


Puzzled and frustrated, I moved on to team building. Come to find out, team building is part of Execute. What about Initiation? Team building is required the minute there is more than one person on the project. That normally happens when the customer comes to the supplier with the initial request for service—long before initiation. Since PMI's model mentions nothing of working with the customer prior to the project, where the teambuilding needs to start (see Project Inception or Birth), the only logical place for team building in PMI's model would be in Management and Control. That is the only process group that covers the entire project. Team building is priority number one and only stops when the project is disbanded.


Confused, I looked in the index for leadership. The index shows "Leadership Skills, 240, 409." Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I looked up the references. Page 240 had one paragraph; page 409 had no reference to leadership at all. Depressing. Without leadership, how are you going to build high performance teams? So, I searched for the word and found only thirteen occurrences in the main body of text. I was losing my optimism. There were no sections on leadership in the main text, only an afterthought Appendix G (new, in Version 4) that mentions it as part of interpersonal relationships. As discussed in the past, PMI would do businesses and the profession a lot of good if they were to start teaching a lot more leadership and lighten up on the process.

Time Management

I had to focus, I was doing this to get my book published. I needed to move on to my next area of study—building a schedule. This is straightforward, it should be easy to clip through time management. The process: define the activities, good; define the sequence, good; assign the resources, uhhhh...; assign durations, nope. Assign the resources before you know when the task will occur? That makes no sense, how do I know the resource will be available for the task when the task actually occurs? You need to assign durations and then assign resources that are available at the time the activity will occur. Okay, I will simply memorize that.


Ethics should be easy, they boast of their new ethics sections that are continually improved to thwart corporate malfeasance. At this point, I realized I was in trouble. Between the mandatory and aspirational ethics, most of the aspirational ethics were well inside my mandatory bounds. I endeavored to find logic behind the dividing line. Alas, I reverted to rote memorization.

One of my purchased sample test questions asked:

Archive File Composition

"You are an expert on a certain subject and have preformed a job for a client using that knowledge. You have signed a confidentiality agreement with that client. A publisher requests that you write an article on the subject. What do you do?"

The correct answer is to write the article using your knowledge. After all, you are supposed to be an expert in the field. Alas, that is not a choice. The choices include publishing data that you got from the client. That, along with another answer, are obviously poor choices. The two choices remaining are "Say no to publishing the article" and "Ask the client to be released from the confidentiality agreement." My choice was easy. It is never ethical to ask to be released from any agreement unless it is for grave conditions out of your control. That said, I am incapable of concocting a condition where I would ask to be released from a confidentiality agreement. That, to me, is simply unethical. The correct answer was to ask for the release. I looked at the code of ethics, confidentiality is only aspirational (Section 2.2.5). I resigned myself that I would do poorly on this section.

In retrospect, should I have expected more from a group that creates the material, administers and grades the test, provides the certificate and collects money at each step of the process? (To their credit, I have heard rumor they are going to address this issue.)

Exasperated, I retreated to my homemade flashcards and memorized process after process, knowing I was going to forget them immediately after passing my test. What a grandiose waste of time. Doh, wait a minute! I need it to publish my book.

Charters without assumptions, WBSs, or stating methodologies; the inability to create actual flow diagrams of how documents move around the PMI process; convoluted processes jumping pieces of data back and forth between Execute and Monitor and Control for no reason other than for processes' sake. What is this process achieving?

Why the PMP

After five weeks of study and a thousand dollars, I passed my PMP, pleased my publisher and got a signed contract. I had accomplished what I set out to do. However, I could not help but try to understand the real reason for the PMBOK® and the PMI process. What was it teaching? I am still unable to answer that question.

I did, though, come up with the reason for the PMP. Marketing. Whether you are selling a book or yourself it is a marketing tool, it does not show competency. PMI has effectively marketed and sold their certifications to corporations. It allows corporations to have a little box to check off and blindly believe someone has the ability to be a project manager.

Maybe I should be easier on PMI, it is the corporations that bought into the PMP certification as part of employment and it is the reader that buys into the idea that an author needs a PMP to write a good book, not the publisher.

If you think this is just a rant, ask yourself why projects continually seem to fail. For more data on that, look at my article on project failure rates and how well projects success rates track to PMI membership statistics. You might be surprised.

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