PMP® performance problems

local, regional or global?

Abstract

The Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification is an international mark of distinction. Globally, the number of PMPs is growing at an exponential rate. Should we be alarmed by this growth? A PMP, like any other professional person, can have performance problems. What are these problems? How can you ensure that you are competent compared to other PMPs?

As a PMP in this era of globalization, you have the potential to make a valuable professional contribution on a local, regional or global level. Competency in local projects is not enough. Global projects are on the increase. Your PMP skills also need to increase. The PMP is an integral global resource in the current global economy. As more and more projects are global in nature, each PMP will need to be increasingly competent and trustworthy to lead international as well as global projects. Most PMPs can easily handle local projects. Some PMPs around the world are acquiring the skills to manage global projects. However, many project managers still do not possess these new skills.

Introduction

I was shocked by a story about a group of employers who said that they would never again hire a PMP. How could this happen?

Project management is our chosen profession. We believe in the mission of the Project Management Institute (PMI) and in the quality of the PMP certification. We pursue the attainment of the PMP credential because we strive to be the associated with the best and most qualified practitioners of project management. Many organizations around the world highly value the experience and reliability of the professional project manager. Several years ago, someone told me a story about a group of employers who said that they would never again hire or use a PMP in their organization. Quite frankly, I was shocked. How could anyone embrace such a negative view about a PMP? Even after much consideration and reflection, I was not able to relate to that perception. Now, many years later, I have observed enough PMP performance problems in the workplace that the faded memory of that story is percolating back into my consciousness. I think it is instructive to talk about PMP performance problems. Some of the problems are incidental in nature, but some are catastrophic. Isn't it true that we strive to be fully competent PMPs? Our goal is to deliver high-quality project management services to our clients. Our willingness to pass a challenging examination and to participate in long-term professional development attests to our quest for perfect performance. During the span of my career, with exposure to hundreds of programs and projects, I have accumulated enough evidence to indicate that PMP performance problems should be shared and examined. However, when we do this, we want to ensure healthy limits and boundaries. For example, these discussions should always be generic in nature and protect the privacy of the PMP and the associated organizations. The question in my mind is – are these PMP performance problems local, regional, or global in nature?

Project Management and the PMP Credential

What is project management? Fortunately, the profession of project management has grown and matured to the point that this question is asked less and less often. This reflects the growing competency in how other people view the profession. Most PMPs rely on the two A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) definitions of a project as “a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result” and project management as “the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to project activities to meet project requirements.” As simple as these definitions appear to be, the PMBOK® Guide consists of 388 pages to define and explain the dimensions and the applications of these concepts.

What is the PMP credential? Fortunately again, there is a growing global awareness and recognition of the PMP certification by PMI. A professional with the PMP credential is recognized as having attained a certifiable mastery of the concepts, methods, and tools defined by the PMBOK® Guide. It is assumed that the PMP has mastered the generally accepted project management practices and skills.

How do the two relate to each other? From the view inside the profession, the relation between project management and the PMP credential would appear to be a rhetorical question. Many executives and managers recognize the inseparable nature of “PM”and the PMP. However, we must always be ready to provide an explanation to anyone who is new to the profession and/or the certification.

What is the Growth and Perceived Value of the PMP Credential?

The statistics related to the growth of the PMP credential is the domain of PMI and the results are published on the PMI.org web site. The growth rate appears to be double digits year after year. In general, at the time of this writing, the number of PMI members is approaching 250,000 and the number of PMPs is typically more than 50%. In other words, most PMI members either hold the PMP certification or are working toward it. The growth rate is in evidence even at the local chapter level. My local chapter has more than 8,000 members. It is not uncommon to add 200-300 new members each month.

Why is There an Increase in PMPs?

More PMPs are needed to do the projects that drive the global economy. For this reason, there has been a rapid increase in the number of PMPs. Project managers in the past focused on local, regional, and national projects. The increase in the number of intercontinental projects is due to globalization. Globalization is a pervasive force that affects both business and culture. It influences how people live, how they think, how they behave, and how they think about people that are different from them. The process of globalization results in the global economy. In the global economy, financial transactions are often dependent on circumstances in distant places. The effects of globalization are not limited to financial transactions. They extend to governmental, judicial, and legal domains. The result is that global project management is more complex, unpredictable, and chaotic.

What types of organizations are involved in global projects? The short answer is that these organizations may be small as well as large and not necessarily commercial in nature. They include governmental organizations, military forces, multinational corporations, colleges, universities, non-profit associations, and charitable groups. Power can extend to the individual level through use of the Internet. A single individual can promote his or her agenda, create institutes, and even become celebrity bloggers. The ability to influence large numbers of people across large geographical areas is no longer the domain of massively powerful organizational structures.

Due to these factors, there is a rapid increase in the number of PMPs. This trend makes it essential that you embrace your local, regional, and global role as a PMP as soon as possible. As a result, PMP performance problems are now local, regional, and global.

What Are the Pitfalls of Such Rapid Growth?

The PMP Pitfalls are People, Processes, and Technology

The pitfalls of the rapid growth of PMPs are the main subject of this paper. The pitfalls fall into the domain of people, processes, and technology. One pitfall is that a newly minted PMP may not have the appropriate level of experience or training for the assigned project. Another pitfall is that the PMP is not familiar with the technology that is required to implement the project. Some PMPs spend most of their careers working with a single technology such as highway construction projects or grants management systems. However, other PMPs implement projects with many different kinds of underlying technologies such as in information technology (IT) consulting engagements. As projects become increasingly global in nature, perhaps the most significant pitfalls are (1) complex communications within virtual teams and (2) sociocultural understanding necessary to complete successful projects.

Embracing Your Role as a Competent PMP

As a member of the project management profession, it is vital that you recognize your competitive position as a PMP and that you embrace it. How do you do this? Where do you start?

PMP competency is necessary to be a competitive PMP.

A few years ago, a PMP (in the United States) was more tolerated than appreciated. In fact, the PMP was burdened with the task of demonstrating value. The question of the day was, “Why should we pay you a higher salary just because you earned your PMP?” Gradually, over time, executives and organizations came to realize and understand that a PMP was a valuable asset to have. The connection was made that the PMP drives return on investment (ROI). Today, the PMP certification is now considered to be a basic qualification. It is expected that a project manager have the PMP certification. As a result, the playing field for project managers continues to shift toward advanced certifications, competencies, and specialized skills.

How can we know the competitive landscape for PMP certified professionals? The first place to start is to understand the nature of your projects in your local economy and also in the global economy. Many economists believe in the existence of a global economy. They propose that local and regional economies are consolidating into a single global economy. Do you believe that there is a global economy? In my own case, I thought about the nature and substance of a model of the global economy. What would it look like? Would it be simple and elegant or would it be complex and convoluted? As I searched for answers to these questions, I met a professor of economics who had 20 years of experience at the university level. I asked him what he thought about individuals as global resources. He replied that in the past a person typically lived and worked in the same city or metropolitan area. In this scenario the individual worker would compete against a limited number of competitors for a job. This worker might be competing against a handful or a hundred. In rare circumstances, this worker might be the only qualified candidate. If the job involved paid relocation or otherwise attracted job seekers at the national level, there might be hundreds of competitors. However, in this era of globalization, the job might be competed against thousands or even millions of other qualified workers. Clearly, it is extremely important to understand whether a job requisition will be competed locally, nationally or globally.

The PMP understands that this is the nature of the resource pool in the global economy. With the continuous increase in the number of PMPs in many countries, the bar is being raised globally and this is likely to change the process to identify, select and award project work to PMPs.

The Parable of Employers Who Would Not Hire PMPs

The story about the employers who vowed never to hire PMPs again is true. It is also true that the exact details of the story are lost in time. I don't recall the names of the employers. I don't recall the name of the company. I don't recall the names of the PMPs who were involved. In fact, I am not sure that I ever knew the exact details. The person who told me knew the details. Because the story was told as true, I believe it to be true. I don't think it is an “urban legend.” The value of the story is the lesson to be learned. Specifically, employers should carefully evaluate the full skill set of a PMP candidate. PMP candidates should self-assess their skills versus the requirements of a potential job or project.

The original PMP story now serves as a Parable.

This story is now valuable as a parable. A parable is a form of narrative that serves to teach a general truth about life. A parable is part inspirational and part cautionary. The value of the story as parable is to teach us several key points:

  • The PMP should be considered a minimum requirement for project managers.
  • The profession of project management has expanded and matured to the point where a PMP should develop specific subject matter expertise.
  • The opportunity for PMP generalists is limited if not past.
  • The process of hiring a PMP or assigning a PMP resource to a project requires careful skill set evaluation and scrutiny.
  • A PMP is not necessarily competent of strong in all of the PMBOK® knowledge areas.

The story turned parable has had an interesting impact on me. When I first heard the story, I was shocked. After years of touting the PMP credential, this was the first time I heard anyone say anything negative about a person who had the PMP certification. I was skeptical. I wanted the opportunity to speak with those employers. I now know that I was in denial because I wanted to talk to the employers not the PMP employees. With the passage of time, my denial has turned to acceptance and understanding.

Now I face the shocking revelation. I can fully comprehend the viewpoint of the employers. I now see their point. I think I have finally come full circle. I have seen PMPs who were not as capable as they should have been. I have seen PMPs fail in their field projects. I have witnessed PMP behavior that was less than professional. And I have had more stories. The process of coming full circle has strengthened my complex understanding of the profession of project management and the PMP certification.

The Significance of PMP Performance Problems

PMP Performance Problems Do Exist.

My research indicates that PMP performance problems do exist and they take many different forms. They do exist locally, regionally, and globally. Because my sample size was relatively small, I do not have data that indicates how statistically significant the problems may be. Also, I do not have information about the financial impact of the problems. At this point in time, I have interesting examples of PMP performance problems.

Issues Related to the Presentation of PMP Performance Problems

The presentation of PMP performance problems requires forethought. It is important to balance the usefulness of sharing performance problem information versus the need to protect privacy at all times. I believe that it is important to discuss and analyze PMP performance problems. There is significant value in understanding the problems so that can be avoided in the future. At the same time, the ethics guidelines and rules in PMI should always be considered. These problems can be presented in a generic way.

Analysis of PMP Performance Problems

The analysis of PMP performance problems can be performed in a variety of ways: cost/benefits analysis, SWOT analysis, PMBOK® knowledge areas, project risk management, and competency frameworks. The appropriateness and the effectiveness of the analysis are related to the nature of the problem. With enough examples and analyses, it should be possible to define the full spectrum of PMP performance problems. For now, it is assumed that the PMBOK® framework may be used for this purpose.

Examples of PMP Performance Problems

Here are several examples of performance problems from around the world related to PMPs:

Team-Building – A PMP was leading a small project team on a client site. This project was a complete mess. It was behind schedule and the members of the team were ready to quit. A PMP was assigned as a replacement. The new PMP talked to the project manager and the team members in order to make a quick assessment. The new PMP discovered that the project manager did not like project management and was planning a career move to technical sales. The former PMP was quickly removed from the client site and the project team members were given assurances that their concerns would be addressed. Result: The project was successfully delivered two weeks behind schedule, but the client was satisfied and contracted for additional work.

Roles and Responsibility – A PMP was serving in the role as a delivery manager who was responsible for several concurrent projects. Another PMP serving on one of the projects resigned. This created an opening for the project manager position. The delivery manager then tried to assign an engagement manager in the firm to fill the project manager position. The engagement manager, who was responsible for new business, refused. The engagement manager explained that this role is to identify potential clients and increase new business by increasing project work. Result: The delivery manager eventually came to understand that assigning an engagement manager to a delivery role was an erroneous and short-sighted approach.

Wrong Skill Set – A PMP who was trained and experienced in mainframe technology projects was assigned to a project based on distributed systems. Because this project required some development work, the PMP set up the project plan to support a waterfall development approach. This method was inappropriate because the project required a spiral development solution. In addition, the PMP was not familiar with all of the technical issues that pertain to distributed processing. Result: The PMP was soon replaced because none of the stakeholders were satisfied with the results.

Lack of Experience – A frequent problem is a PMP who is recently certified, but does not have the extensive experience required to perform the project correctly.

Lack of PMP Skills – A PMP had been leading a project for a client and the project was literally spinning it wheels in place. The PMP was following the 80/20 rule: 80% of the project was performed incorrectly and only 20% was correctly done! The PMP decided to leave the organization for a new job opportunity. The PMP gave the replacement PMP a CD-ROM of information and one hour of face to face knowledge transfer. Result: When the replacement PMP held a “kickoff” meeting with the client, the PMP was able to turn the project around in less than three hours. The client team was grateful for the quick turnaround.

Invoicing – A PMP hands a project off to another PMP. The new PMP spends a significant amount of time trying to understand the project billing to date. The new PMP builds a custom spreadsheet to trace the project hours from inception. Toward the end of the project, the billing rep informs the new PMP that the project is out of money. The new PMP is surprised because the spreadsheet indicates otherwise. As it turns out, the original PMP had submitted an invoice early in the project that was not identified. Result: The new PMP approved hours in excess of the contract value. These hours had to be reversed out of the accounting system and the company lost revenue as a result.

Incorrect Assessment to Executive Level – Three PMPs were in a meeting with an executive. Each PMP had a different role. The meeting was to discuss the project preparations for a proof-of-concept (POC) competition to win a contract. In this case, four vendors were competing in a “bake-off” to win the work. The POC involved a complex setup of interoperable systems in an enterprise environment. The executive had authorized his team to set up a test lab. The test lab sub-project was not going well. When the executive asked if a project plan was required, PMP #1 said that the project did not require a project plan, and the real problem was “too many chiefs” were involved. PMP #2 sat by and did not attempt to correct this mistake. PMP #3 was alarmed by this incorrect advice, but was not able to respond. Result: Eventually, a new PMP was added to the team. This new PMP was in charge of the on-site activities. The on-site test was only partially successful and the vendor did not win the contract.

Lack of Management Support – In this case, a company hired a PMP to fill a project manager position. Most of the other project managers were not PMP certified. The management team made it very difficult for the PMP because they did not understand the value of the PMP. Over time, a few staff members earned the PMP. Result: The company operations remain suboptimal. The company lost significant money and time because they did not understand that project management is a profession and they did not support their PMPs.

These are just a few examples of the performance problems that may be associated with PMPs that perform projects in various countries around the world.

Conclusions

Just as it is difficult to pass the PMP examination and to practice projects according to PMP standards, it is likewise difficult to understand the full dimension of PMP performance problems. The primary conclusion is that each PMP needs to be evaluated on his or her own merits. We can learn from sharing PMP performance problems. As we have seen, some problems are more serious than others. Each problem that we identify and understand adds to our personal knowledge base. It is probably just as important to understand performance problems as it is to learn the material in the first place. We cannot eliminate all PMP performance problems, but we should be able to reduce them. As a PMP, we constantly have the choice to modify the root causes that result in performance problems. The PMP should be able to accept feedback in a constructive manner. The PMP should also have the skill to gently coach others whenever a performance problem is perceived. These two skills are quite possibly the most important skills that we maintain in our PMP tool kit.

Afterward:
Three Suggested Self-Improvement Steps to Improve PMP Competency

The following list of three suggestions serves as an aid to begin your journey toward becoming a competent PMP.

Perform a Self-Assessment

Perform a self- assessment of your PMP project management skills as a local, regional, and global resource. This self-assessment should be qualitative as well as quantitative.

Participate in the Global Community

Realize that there is a global community that is embracing project management. In the global community, the best way to participate is to volunteer your PMP services and work virtually with other people with similar interests.

Plan for Long-Term Participation

The career choice to be a PMP is a long-term proposition. No one person can ever hope to become the consummate PMP. The goal is participation, not perfection. The joy is in the journey. The first step sometimes takes a leap of faith, but every step will increase your confidence as a PMP at the highest professional level of performance.

References

Dodson, W. R. (1998, April). Virtually International: Managing Globalized Project Teams. PM Network 12(4), 29-31.

Friedman, T. L. (2005). The World is Flat. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux.

Mayer, M. (1998). The Virtual Edge. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

Project Management Institute, Inc. (2004). A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, Third Edition (PMBOK® Guide). Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

PM Network. (2006, January). Point/Counterpoint: The Global Community is Embracing Project Management. PM Network 20(1), 50-54.

Ross, A. M. (2002). Beyond World Class. Chicago: Dearborn Trade Publishing.

Thurow, L. T. (2003). Fortune Favors the Bold. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

© 2007, Roger Beatty, PhD, PMP
Originally published as a part of 2008 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Sydney, Australia

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