National laboratory encourages Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification as an integral part of providing world-class project management
U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), Morgantown WV
Should PMI certification be a part of developing a framework for world-class project management in a government organization? Are the skills required for certification applicable to government project managers? Can a government organization successfully and effectively encourage certification?
Recent experience at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) shows that the answer to these questions is, “Yes!”
A Little History
Three years ago, NETL management established a team to develop project management guidelines, assess the value of certification for its project managers, develop a list of training needs, and devise a roadmap to enhance the laboratory's project management skills (Carpenter et al., 2001). The impetus for this assessment was the realization that NETL needed to strengthen its project management capabilities by developing a common understanding among its existing project managers and establishing guidelines for new project managers. The team was to reduce to writing a world-class project management system that could be used by both new and experienced project managers and that would form a basis for consistent project management practices at NETL.
In 2001, NETL had one project manager certified as a Project Management Professional (PMP®), three actively pursuing PMI® certification as PMPs, no authorization to pay certification costs, and a workforce largely uninterested in and confused about certification. Today, NETL has 33 PMPs, 35 actively pursuing PMI certification as PMPs, and a workforce and management team aware of and interested in certification. NETL set a goal to have 90 percent of all project managers certified by the end of 2006 (National Energy Technology Laboratory, 2002, p. 89).
The team temporarily bypassed the ultimate goal of a written project management system in favor of establishing a common understanding about modern project management through training and certification. When the task of reducing NETL‘s practices to writing is ultimately undertaken, the results will be a project management system that is consistent with accepted world-class project management practices. Actually, many of those practices are already documented in publications by the Project Management Institute (PMI®) (2000, 2002).
This paper is limited to a discussion of how NETL, as part of the Federal Government, changed its culture with respect to certification, but our experiences will be useful to all government (federal, state and local) and non-government organizations wishing to encourage professionalism through PMI certification.
What is NETL?
NETL is a multi-purpose laboratory, owned and operated by DOE (National Energy Technology Laboratory, 2002, p. 8-9). NETL conducts and implements science and technology research, development, and demonstration programs in energy and energy-related environmental systems. NETL is the only DOE national laboratory that is Government-owned and Government-operated; the others are Government-owned and contractor-operated.
Research and development activities are conducted both on- and off-site through partnerships, cooperative research and development agreements, financial assistance, and contractual arrangements. Nearly 1,400 research, development, and demonstration projects in NETL‘s portfolio are conducted in partnership with industry, universities, other national and Federal laboratories, private research organizations, and other Federal and State agencies. The total value of these activities exceeds $8 billion (including a significant amount of cost sharing). NETL‘s hallmark is its ability to assemble industrial, academic, and governmental resources to create commercially viable solutions to energy and environmental problems.
NETL has more than 1,100 employees, about one half of whom are Federal. Budget authority for fiscal year 2003 is $750 million. NETL has long prided itself on its technical expertise in diverse areas relating to its mission to assure that U.S. fossil energy and environmental resources can meet increasing demand for affordable energy while seeking to limit, or reduce, environmental liabilities. This claim to technical expertise has been well founded. Typically, 32 percent of NETL Federal scientists and engineers have a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree, and 71 percent having either a Ph.D. or a Master of Science (M.S.) degree.
Project Management at NETL
Project management in a government organization can differ significantly from that in the private sector. In fact PMI has clearly recognized this by publishing a government extension to A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®) (2002).
NETL has more than 100 project managers, each overseeing more than 10 projects. Prior to award, the project manager functions as the technology liaison and strategist during the acquisition and assistance process. The project manager generates the technical specifications for solicitations and makes all technical decisions in the planning, solicitation, evaluation, and award of proposals. Upon award, a project manager is designated a Contracting Officer's Representative (COR) and works closely with the award recipient to advance the knowledge base of the technology, leading to the ultimate goal of providing maximum benefit to the public through the deployment of advanced energy systems. The COR designation is a legal authorization to provide technical direction to recipients of Government funds. After the project is completed (or the performance period has expired), the COR is involved in the technical aspects of the closeout process.
In terms of PMI project management processes, the NETL project manager's duties involve the following section of the Project Procurement knowledge area in the PMBOK® Guide (Project Management Institute, 2002, p. 55-63):
12.1 Procurement Planning
12.2 Solicitation Planning
12.4 Source Selection
12.5 Contract Administration
12.6 Contract Closeout
The high percentage of advanced degrees held by project managers establishes the subject matter skills necessary to understand the research and development projects being managed. The advanced degrees also represent formal academic achievement in a wide range of technical disciplines. However, the degrees per se do not indicate expertise in modern Project Management. The training and studying required for certification are important components of the project manager's development, which also includes “hands on” experience and other internal and external training.
NETL‘s Plan for Certifying Project Managers
NETL has established time-phased goals for the number of desired project managers earning PMP certification (Exhibit 1). NETL believes these goals are aggressive but achievable, given the education and experience level of the PMP candidates at NETL. Since most NETL project managers have the prerequisites to apply for the PMP credential, NETL has not promoted the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) program, which is also available from PMI.
Exhibit 1. NETL‘s Goals for Number of Cumulative PMPs through 2006
How NETL Encourages Certification
- NETL pays for training in the principles of project management. PMI now requires applicants for the PMP exam to have completed 35 hours of project-management-related training. As part of NETL‘s goal to have each employee complete 40 hours of training per year, NETL pays for several project management courses that are related to current work assignments. The bonus for the would-be PMP is that there are sufficient opportunities to acquire the 35 hours needed to qualify to apply for the PMP exam.
- NETL pays for advanced training in project management to help candidates prepare for the PMP exam, and also pays for the exam. Quality training is the key aspect of any successful program to encourage and realize certification. So, in addition to providing group training in the principles of project management, NETL also makes available an advanced course that provides the student with a more comprehensive understanding of the professional tools and techniques of project management. This advanced course is a great help for those planning to take the PMP exam. NETL pays for the cost of the PMP exam because it serves as the final exam for the advanced course. To date, 68 candidates have taken group training on project management, including both the basic (principles) course and the advanced course.
- NETL will pay the fee for renewal of the PMP credential. Effective January 1, 2004, PMI will implement a processing fee ($150 for non-members, $75 for members) for certification renewal (2003, p. 3). NETL recently established a policy that covers this fee, other professional fees, and the cost of the PMP exam (2003). This policy is NETL‘s implementation of part of Public Law 107-107 (National Defense Authorization Act 2002), which allows agencies to use available funds to pay for professional credentials, licenses, and certifications as well as the cost of examinations to obtain them.
- NETL involves its current PMPs in preparing candidates for certification. NETL has arranged for PMPs to give mini-seminars (1 to 2 hours) to those wishing to learn more about PMI and certification as a PMP. Mini-seminars have included, What is PMI?, Certification Requirements, The Certification Process, and The Exam. These seminars allow those who aren't sure if certification is for them to find out exactly what is involved before they commit to moving toward certification. For those who know they wanted to pursue certification, the seminars provide background and some tips for successfully navigating the process.
- NETL post the names of PMPs on the Intranet. To record progress on getting project managers certified and to recognize those who have obtained certification, NETL posts the name of PMPs on its internal website, along with progress on other project-related goals.
- The NETL Director gives updates on NETL‘s PMI status at All-Employee meetings. The Director routinely recognizes those who have obtained certification, and she talks about certification (PMI certification and certifications by other organizations) at All-Employee meetings. She also talks specifically about PMI certification. This sends the message to all employees that PMI certification is important to NETL and may encourage non-PMPs to seek certification or at least investigate the matter further. It signals that management is “on board” with the certification effort.
- NETL provides opportunities for PMPs to earn Professional Development Units (PDUs). Under current training guidelines, NETL management would like all employees to obtain 40 hours of job-related training per year. NETL pays for group and individual courses so employees can accomplish this goal. Since a large part of what we do at NETL is project management, many of the courses will meet PMI‘s requirements for PDUs.
NETL uses the online training available through the DOE Online Learning Center
(http://www.energyolc.com) and the Gov Online Learning Center (http://www.golearn.gov). Courses are offered on all aspects of the PMBOK® as well as on specialized topics related to managing projects. These courses are an excellent way to study for the PMP exam, and a convenient way to earn PDUs for renewing PMP certification.
- NETL encourages participation in conferences dealing with professional project management. Until a few years ago, NETL employees did not attend professional conferences on project management. Today, NETL employees are permitted to attend and participate in conferences such as the Global Congress-North America 2003, and ProjectWorld Boston 2003. Being aware of the latest project management resources, tools, and news is valuable to NETL as a center for world-class procurement and project management services.
NETL‘s Progress on PMP Certification
Exhibit 2 (next page) shows NETL‘s PMP certification progress. NETL had provided PMP preparation training for 68 project managers, and 33 have become PMPs. NETL has surpassed its goal of 30 PMPs before the end of fiscal year 2003.
Why Is PMI Certification Important to NETL?
It Dovetails With the DOE Project Management Career Development Program (PMCDP)
Certification by PMI is helpful in obtaining certification by DOE under DOE‘s PMCDP
(http://oecm.energy.gov/project_manage/PMCDP_ndex.html). The PMCDP was developed to meet the needs and expectations of DOE for a highly skilled project management workforce. The purpose is to provide the project management community with a common foundation of knowledge, tools, and capabilities to support and successfully accomplish the DOE mission. The Program is managed by DOE‘s Office of Engineering and Construction Management, part of DOE‘s Office of Management, Budget, and Evaluation.
The Program has four levels of certification linked to specific total project cost (TPC) as shown in Exhibit 3 (on the next page). The PMP credential satisfies PMCDP Level 1 requirements in the area of Contract Types, Earned Value Management, and Level 2 requirements in Risk Management.
DOE requires its own certification only for those project managers managing projects involving capital asset projects (U.S. Department of Energy 2000). Therefore, DOE certification of most NETL project mangers is not mandatory, because almost all projects managed by NETL involve research and development or knowledge projects.
Exhibit 2. Progress on PMI Certification of NETL Project Managers.
Exhibit 3. Project Management Career Development Program
Certification Level as a Function of Total Project Cost (TPC)
However, since NETL intends to be known as a center for world-class project management, NETL management has embraced the PMCDP. Management is using a proactive approach in pursuing PMCDP certification (as well as PMI certification) for every interested project manager. NETL believes the PMCDP will be mutually beneficial to project managers and NETL, offering continuous growth and career development as well as enhancing NETL‘s marketability. NETL wants its project managers to participate in the PMCDP so NETL can take advantage of opportunities to manage large capital assets projects as such opportunities become available.
Project Managers Can Better Specify Evaluation Criteria for Solicitations
Because of the training and studying required to attain the PMP credential, NETL project managers will better able to (a) specify evaluation criteria for solicitations, and (b) perform more accurate reviews of proposals received as a result of those solicitations. Since involvement with all phases of Project Procurement Management is a large part what project managers at NETL do, this will result in better awards being made.
Project Managers Have a Common Nomenclature and Understanding of Key Concepts
For example, the eight awardees of projects under President Bush's Clean Coal Power Initiative (CCPI), which is managed at NETL, are required to include earned value in reporting on their projects. The nomenclature used in the report is based on the PMBOK®. Thus, NETL project managers assigned to CCPI projects must have a common understanding of Earned Value Management.
NETL Will Be More Competitive When Seeking “Work for Others”
NETL is increasingly seeking opportunities to do Work for Others—provide procurement and project management services outside of the DOE Office of Fossil Energy. To accomplish this goal, it is increasingly important that NETL establish itself as a world-class center for modern project management. A significant number of PMPs will help accomplish this goal and will result in more opportunities for NETL. Furthermore, the project management skills acquired through the training and studying involved in the certification process means project managers will better manage new and different product lines and projects.
PMP Certification Is Required for Those Working on One Large International Project
DOE‘s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) awarded a total of $466 million to several U.S. companies to begin to work to shut down the last three remaining weapons-grade plutonium production reactors in Russia (U.S. Department of Energy 2003, p. 3). DOE will provide replacement fossil-fuel facilities to provide the heat and electricity produced by the reactors serving the cities of Seversk and Zheleznogorsk. The NNSA told NETL that NETL personnel (and their support contractors) must have or pursue the PMP credential to work on the project. NETL‘s role in this large international project will be to provide technical and project management support to the project on replacement fossil plants. NETL‘s project managers have extensive subject matter background in the area of fossil-fired power plants; and the recent certification initiative at NETL will produce certified project managers to staff the project.
Recommendations and Conclusions
Let's start by answering the questions we asked at the beginning of this paper.
Q: Should PMI certification be a part of developing a framework for world-class project management in a government organization?
A: Yes, for two reasons. First, the training and individual study involved to achieve the PMP credential will improve the skills of the project manager. Second, the PMP credential is respected worldwide, and thus, attaining PMI certification enhances the marketability of the individual and the individual's employer.
Q: Are the skills required for certification applicable to government project managers?
A: Yes, the skills required for certification are important to all government project managers because the skills include those necessary for professional day-to-day management of projects as well as procurement.
Q: Can a government organization successfully and effectively encourage certification?
A: Yes, the experiences at NETL show that (a) a government organization can take steps to encourage its project managers to seek the PMP credential, and (b) with the proper support and training, those project managers seeking certification can successful attain it.
Although it is nice to track the number of PMPs in the organization, the “bottom line” is the end result that certification will help achieve—more professional and consistent management of government financed projects ultimately resulting in more efficient use of the taxpayer’ money.
Carpenter, L., W.W. Aljoe, K. Cohen, D.W. Geiling, N.T. Holcombe, R. Long, et. al. (2001). Enhancing Government Talents to Mold a World Class Project Management System. PMI 2001 Symposium & Seminars, Nashville TN.
National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2002, Pub. L. No.107-107, § 1112.
National Energy Technology Laboratory. (2002). Institutional Plan FY2003 – 2007. Morgantown, WV. National Energy Technology Laboratory.
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Project Management Institute. (2000). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® Guide 2000 edition). Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.
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U.S. Department of Energy. (2000). Program and Project Management for the Acquisition of Capital Assets. DOE Order DOE O 413.3. Washington, D.C.
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Proceedings of PMI® Global Congress 2003 – North America
Baltimore, Maryland, USA ● 20-23 September 2003