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To PMP or not to PMP That is the question

My first exposure to the PMP® (Project Management Professional) certification was several years ago when I was dealing with a stakeholder over at National Institutes of Health (NIH).  Though I had worked in technical consulting before, I hadn’t worked strictly as a PM until this point.  I remember seeing this stakeholder had this “PMP” at the end of her name and I also recall how she was horrible to deal with.  She was demanding, rude, and exhibited no control over what she did.  In retrospect, she didn’t follow the PMBoK at all.  My boss at the time made things very clear to me.  He said talk to her a lot.  She liked to feel important and in charge.  I didn’t have formal PM training at the time so I treated her like I would any customer.  I was polite and engaged her, listening to not just her needs but her wants.  Wow did she had a lot of wants.

Oh did I say I wanted that button in blue?  That’s not the blue I wanted.  Be specific?  Bluer then that.  Make it bluer than that but not too blue.  No, I won’t sign a change request.  Just do it.

I tried to understand her motivations.  But let’s face it, sometime people are just miserable and mean and you have just let it go.  Because she had a PMP credential, she was suddenly justified in her actions.  I compare this with the age old question, “What do you call the people who graduate last in their medical-school class?  That answer is “Doctor”.

This person clearly was hiding behind her credential.  As far as I was concerned, she gamed the system.  She passed the test but didn’t learn the lessons.  That’s not how I operate.  But, I saw the trend.  The PMP was getting the hype from stakeholders and hiring managers.  It suggests a PMP is a prerequisite to being able to manage a project.

My motivation was different from this “paper” PMP and many others I’ve met since.  I wanted to be a great project manager.  I wanted to create things and solve problems.  I wanted to be both disciplined and personal.  So, I studied and studied, with the hope of becoming a PMP and I did it.  For those out there who think they can go get the certification and be great project managers, think again.  That’s like saying all great cooks are great chefs.  They aren’t!  Great cooks can follow directions.  Great chefs can create something remarkable out of whatever they are given.  Just because you’ve been to culinary school doesn’t make you a great chef.  If you don’t have that creativity and passion, it’s just not going to happen.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not so arrogant that I think I am a great project manager.  I am merely a student of project management who wishes to refine his craft and teach others to do it as well.  If you think getting the PMP is what you’ll need to be taken seriously, do what you have to do.  I don’t write the rule book.  I just try to play the game the best I can.  If I can help others out there, I will.

This post was inspired by Geoff Crane and the comment he made here on The Critical Path.

(Image by officiallifebydesign.com)

About Derek Huether

I'm Vice President of Enterprise Engagements at LeadingAgile. I'm super focused on results. But I also take the hand waving out of organizational transformations. I come from a traditional PM background but I don't give points for stuff done behind the scenes. The only thing that counts is what you get done and delivered. Author of Zombie Project Management (available on Amazon)

33 Responses to “To PMP or not to PMP That is the question”

  1. March 3, 2010 at 11:20 pm

    Oh, you poor schmoe. Thanks so much for the shout, but it seems to me like you’ve had enough experiences to make my comment unnecessary.

    I loved your story about that stakeholder, although I don’t think you’ve characterized her appropriately. I mean, with all her work demands, she seems to have handled them with aplomB. ITCHing as she must have been to ensure her needs were met.

    Unfortunately, people (and even entire organizations) often use certifications, processes and even contracts as tools to hide behind. As project managers our job is to deliver. Delivery is binary: you either do or you don’t. You’d think that failure to deliver would speak for itself, but as many of us already know, there are enough excuses out there to justify not only failure, but some truly appalling behaviour as well.
    .-= Geoff Crane´s last blog ..I Second That Emotion =-.

  2. March 4, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    I love the analogy of cooks and chefs in relation to project management and skill levels etc, it’s one I’ve heard alot. So here’s a question; if the chef/cook = PM, what’s the cookbook?
    .-= Lindsay Scott´s last blog ..Putting the Project Shrink on the Couch =-.

  3. Derek Huether
    March 4, 2010 at 7:05 am

    Lindsay, you’re good! You are so good! The rub here is there is no cookbook for the entire meal (project). Let’s refer to the PMBoK as a cookbook for a moment. It would list a bunch of recipes but they wouldn’t tell you the most appropriate time to use them. I could read a recipe on Velouté sauce but when would I use it? That’s what we’re dealing with. Techniques, Output/Inputs, Definitions… They are very necessary for us to understand as a basis for greater things. But, they only tell you pieces and parts. If I had to reverse the analogy and I had to choose a PM cookbook, it would probably be written by Jamie Oliver. Keep it simple put a lot of passion into it. You’ll have awesome meal.

    • March 4, 2010 at 7:12 am

      Ha! Good answer, but surely it should be not a cookbook but a menu!? I think that fits perfectly with the whole foodie project analogy :)

      Keep sharing the personal experience stuff Derek (especially the awful people you met along the way!). I can tell you’ve been hanging out with the PaperCut PM, it’s good for you :)
      .-= Lindsay Scott´s last blog ..Putting the Project Shrink on the Couch =-.

    • March 4, 2010 at 10:59 am

      I love the cookbook analogy.

      I propose that that the PMBok is a mere shopping list that tells you the ingredients you will need to cook a meal but not what to cook or how to cook it.
      .-= Samad Aidane´s last blog ..Interview with Deanne Earle, author of UnlikeBefore.com =-.

  4. Josh Nankivel
    March 4, 2010 at 7:13 am

    Great post Derek. I’ve had similar experiences and feel the same as you about the PMP.

    To Lindsay’s question, I don’t think there is “a” cookbook. Many are used and results vary from person to person. Although we cook without a book in front of us much of the time, the recipe is in our head from past experience and the
    multitude of cookbooks we’ve learned in the past.

    Furthermore, our cookbooks really aren’t meant to be followed strictly. Environments are too dynamic for that. So, they might tell us to use a cup-ish of this and a tsp-ish of that, but sometimes we double an ingredient based on circumstances.

    Josh
    http://pmStudent.com

    • Derek Huether
      March 4, 2010 at 7:26 am

      Thanks Josh!

      I think what is important is we teach the basics but then teach applied theory.
      You’re the chef, not a cook.

  5. March 4, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    Great post! My thought on the subject is that any professional certification (or even college degree) should be considered a tool for getting a foot in the door, and it says to your potential employer that you have demonstrated knowledge and understanding of the subject in which you have become certified. Once the foot is in the door, it is up to you to prove your own value through your quality of work, and no degree or certification can do that for you.

    • Derek Huether
      March 4, 2010 at 5:10 pm

      Andy, you nailed it.

      The PMP Certificate should read something like “John/Jane Doe has demonstrated that he/she has grasped the key concepts necessary to be certified a Project Management Professional. No act of stupidity on the part of the recipient, whereby the cost, schedule, or scope is negatively impacted on a project, should be blamed on this award. This award does not make the recipient an expert.”

  6. March 4, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    Derek, you have made a very valid point. I know several of my colleagues who have obtained PMP certification, but rarely follow any project management tools/techniques in their projects. As a result there is always a chaos in their projects. Their sole objective was to obtain PMP credential so that they can boast about it and get raise or promotion.

    • Derek Huether
      March 4, 2010 at 5:18 pm

      Techpot, you just confirmed my concern. What they did is exactly what I don’t want to see. Those are the people who are causing the certification to become a commodity. They are the ones who devalue what so many others worked so hard to obtain. I really wish PMI had a mechanism whereby we could report these “paper” PMPs. Until that happens, the value will continue to go down.

      • March 4, 2010 at 5:37 pm

        Not knowing too much about the ins and outs of the PMP, doesn’t the PMI have a “code of conduct” which PMP PM’s are expected to adhere to. Isn’t there anything in there about professionalism, ability to do the job, accountability?
        What exactly should the code of conduct be used for if not to be able to “report” concerns about PM’s that are not representing the PMI in the “right” way?
        .-= Lindsay Scott´s last blog ..Putting the Project Shrink on the Couch =-.

      • March 4, 2010 at 6:34 pm

        From what I see, the PMI has become pretty lax in their due diligence of applicants. Applications (which are supposed to demonstrate past capability) are not being audited thoroughly (or at all), so it just comes down to the exam, which is graded by computer. I have seen some applications recently that I would have said “omg not a chance”. They got their designation.
        .-= Geoff Crane´s last blog ..I Second That Emotion =-.

        • Derek Huether
          March 4, 2010 at 6:50 pm

          Geoff, that’s another pain point on my side. I got audited and I think everyone should be audited. It took me several months to compile all of the data necessary to submit my audit paperwork. I had to get original signatures from all of my stakeholders verifying I did what I said I did. It was painful and arduous but I had nothing to hide. Unfortunately, I had a lot to show!

          At the time, I completely hated the process. The audit process was painful. Prep for the exam was painful. The test itself was painful. Back in the Marines, I was told there were two kinds of people, Rocks and Sponges. Some absorb things easy and some not so much. I was told I was a rock. So, by jumping through all of those hoops, by passing that exam, I want everyone to be passionate about it and really REALLY want it. I don’t want people to game it, I want them to learn it.

      • March 5, 2010 at 1:41 am

        And to go out on a limb here and take a stab at PMI (and I hope this doesn’t put my PMP at risk ;)… if PMI were more diligent in auditing PMP’s, than they might lose some and lose some of the revenue from the PDU market!
        (as you can see I like the learning requirement for maintaining my PMP, but not the cost of some of those mega seminars)
        .-= Dina Garfinkel´s last blog ..A Tale of Two PM Tools, the Sequel…. =-.

  7. Derek Huether
    March 4, 2010 at 10:10 am

    Andy, you nailed it.

    The PMP Certificate should read something like “John/Jane Doe has demonstrated that he/she has grasped the key concepts necessary to be certified a Project Management Professional. No act of stupidity on the part of the recipient, whereby the cost, schedule, or scope is negatively impacted on a project, should be blamed on this award. This award does not make the recipient an expert.”

  8. Derek Huether
    March 4, 2010 at 10:18 am

    Techpot, you just confirmed my concern. What they did is exactly what I don’t want to see. Those are the people who are causing the certification to become a commodity. They are the ones who devalue what so many others worked so hard to obtain. I really wish PMI had a mechanism whereby we could report these “paper” PMPs. Until that happens, the value will continue to go down.

    • March 4, 2010 at 10:37 am

      Not knowing too much about the ins and outs of the PMP, doesn’t the PMI have a “code of conduct” which PMP PM’s are expected to adhere to. Isn’t there anything in there about professionalism, ability to do the job, accountability?
      What exactly should the code of conduct be used for if not to be able to “report” concerns about PM’s that are not representing the PMI in the “right” way?
      .-= Lindsay Scott´s last blog ..Putting the Project Shrink on the Couch =-.

    • March 4, 2010 at 11:34 am

      From what I see, the PMI has become pretty lax in their due diligence of applicants. Applications (which are supposed to demonstrate past capability) are not being audited thoroughly (or at all), so it just comes down to the exam, which is graded by computer. I have seen some applications recently that I would have said “omg not a chance”. They got their designation.
      .-= Geoff Crane´s last blog ..I Second That Emotion =-.

      • March 4, 2010 at 1:39 pm

        When I worked for a consulting firm, they were adamant everyone have their PMP, so I did all the study work and started on my application. I was so head-over-heels busy with the projects they had me on I just couldn’t put any energy towards it. I know very well how much work is involved in properly meeting the PMI’s requirements, and what high standards they’re alleged to have. Luckily for me I didn’t actually LIKE working for the consulting firm so never really did get around to it. LOL

        I think you deserve a TREMENDOUS pat on the back for getting through that whole process, collecting the signatures, and demonstrating your capability. Jumping those hoops and getting the designation is supposed to be a point of pride. It rankles me to see such endeavours watered-down by slackening off on the audit process.

        I can absolutely confirm I saw an application submitted to the PMI that contained (I’m not joking), 3 hours in planning, 2100 hours in execution, and 2 hours in closing, with no other detail. None of the references provided were ever contacted. Since the exam is computer-graded I’m forced to wonder exactly what value the PMI provides during the evaluation process. This person has a PMP now.

        To my point on your other article, since the PMI is directly responsible for the hype around the PMP and it’s importance as a measuring stick for project managers, if the rigour around evaluation has abated, then they are currently selling the public a load of crap. I think that’s irresponsible not just to the public, but to those like yourself who did all the hard work to meet the high standards in the first place.

        My two cents.
        .-= Geoff Crane´s last blog ..I Second That Emotion =-.

        • Derek Huether
          March 4, 2010 at 1:48 pm

          Awe shucks. Thanks! I would add that PMI has done an awesome job of marketing the PMP. They’ve done so well that everyone is drinking the Kool-Aid by the gallon. Unfortunately, the pool is becoming polluted and there will come a time employers will find it distasteful. The promise made will not be the promise delivered. I guess that’s when the next flavor will be released, probably by someone else. I tell ya, can I ever answer a comment with something other than an analogy or story!?

    • March 4, 2010 at 6:41 pm

      And to go out on a limb here and take a stab at PMI (and I hope this doesn’t put my PMP at risk ;)… if PMI were more diligent in auditing PMP’s, than they might lose some and lose some of the revenue from the PDU market!
      (as you can see I like the learning requirement for maintaining my PMP, but not the cost of some of those mega seminars)
      .-= Dina Garfinkel´s last blog ..A Tale of Two PM Tools, the Sequel…. =-.

  9. Joseph
    March 4, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    It’s unfortunate though because employees are put in a hard place with employers requiring a PMP for PM position, even some entry level PM positions. Until employers realize that having a PMP is not the end all be all then will experience start to count for more.

    • Derek Huether
      March 4, 2010 at 1:40 pm

      Joseph, very valid point. It reminds me of how the A+ and the MCSE certifications are used. From my perspective, passion and skills are ten times more valuable. Unfortunately, employers create these check boxes on applications in the hopes to comoditize employees. It’s an industry buzzword they no nothing about but a certification you must have to be considered. In Seth Godin’s book Linchpin, he calls it becoming a cog in the machine.

  10. March 4, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    Derek:
    Kudo’s to you to be a good PM to stay calm under pressure and stay focused on the customer while dealing with conflict.
    Leadership is now your goal with credential in hand and along the way you’ll find a few bumps and challenges along the way that will make you a better PM.
    Just a side comment; credentials provide you knowledge; a foundation if you will. Leadership will help you take any credential and through application and continuous learning will allow you to earn respect through the application of hard & soft skills. Organizational cultures will test PMs; savvy PMs learn quickly to get the job done, advocate the value of PM and earn respect one project at time. Looks like you’re well on your way…

    ~Naomi
    .-= Naomi Caietti´s last blog ..califgirl232: RT @hrbartender: The House has passed a bill awarding tax breaks to companies that hire unemployed workers (via @MarshaCollier): http:/ … =-.

    • Derek Huether
      March 5, 2010 at 9:43 am

      Naomi, thank so much. Studying for the exam made me realize where my weaknesses were. I will listen to and read anything and everything, if I think it will help my refine my craft.

      • March 11, 2010 at 6:56 pm

        Derek:
        I’m reading the book Project Leadership, from Theory to Practice. It should have some good insights; check my tweets for posting of the top ten insights from the book real soon.

        • Derek Huether
          March 11, 2010 at 7:50 pm

          Naomi,
          I’m looking forward to your tweets. Feel free to DM me with a heads up so I don’t miss them.
          I did a preview on your book and it reminds me of “Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?” by Seth Godin. Awesome book!

  11. Trevor K. Nelson
    March 5, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    Derek,
    Maybe you’d be interested in looking at the IPMA (Int’l Project Mgmnt Assoc)certifications. I think these address a number of the concerns posted by you, and by others in the comments. The certifications are a 4 level approach based on the level of management complexity, and rather than a knowledge-based exam, are obtained by providing documented evidence of “successful” project management experience (100% of applicants and evidence are audited and verified) followed by a 2 hour interview/assessment by 2 certified PM’s against a defined set of criteria. Additionally, the projects you managed must meet a minimum level of difficulty.
    The gist is that you have to be a PM, you have to be a successful PM, and you have to prove it.
    The certifications are offered in the US through the asapm, the US member association of the IPMA.

    • Derek Huether
      March 5, 2010 at 1:26 pm

      Well, it certainly does sound like it meets the necessary criteria. I think Jhaymee S. Wilson is associated with IPMA.TheGreenPM I don’t know if I’m ready for quite another certification. The alphabet soup after my name is already long enough. But, I could certainly become a proponent of these certifications. I’ll ask Jhaymee about it.

      Thanks, Trevor!

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