You want to talk about the power of being an early adopter? I’ve started looking into what it takes in order to get certified as a Project Management Professional (or PMP, which as I’ve said before here, I pronounce ‘pimp’). What a racket! The PMI board doesn’t just offer one level of certification, it offers three. The ‘Certified Associate’ which requires 1,500 hours of previous “project team” experience. The PMP, which requires -years- of working as a professional on a project team. And the PgMP (‘pig pimp?’ An inelegant solution for a clunky acronym) which requires years on top of that.
So you have to apply to the Project Management Institute. And they maintain the Project Management Body of Knowledge®. You know you’re in trouble when the manual for your profession got trademarked, and then got Registered. Anything trademarked, service-marked, or registered trademarked means “someone is making money off of this”. And make money off of this the PMI certainly does.
Certification is an interesting process. You have to garner the professional level of work. You have to take 35 hours of training classes. You have to pass a massive test. The literature (their site) talks about how PMI cert is more valuable than an academic degree because they require continuing education or you lose your certification status.
Yet Another Racket Preying Upon Professionals. (YARPUP™). If I were the ‘free time’/’motivated’ type I’d create a web banner for the YARPUP™ certification process and then present PDF invoices to websites which were in flagrant violation of extorting money in the name of “professional” credentials without having filed an ISO 5551212 form requesting permission to extort. Licensing for the YARPUP™ seal of approval would require six-figure fees paid out over the course of years.
Let’s Think About This
What is certification, anyway? Basically when you are asking for certification you are going to someone else and jumping through their hoops in order to earn a symbolic recognition of (one hopes) proficiency. In academia, we call those certifying documents ‘degrees’, and before a university or college can give one, they must become accredited through some legally recognized body that offers such empowerment. In theory it’s a nice system, but let’s face it… if Gibbs College can get accredited, then I’m sure with a little work I could gain accredation out of my garage. If I had a garage.
I spoke with a professional who said that her department insists on their Project Managers getting PMI certified. In casual conversation she likened it with passing the Bar for lawyers. Now, I’m willing to give a little lattitude when it comes to exaggeration for the purpose of making a point, and I’ll give even more lattitude when it comes to analogies. But … the Bar exam? The exam which is considered so hard that although you don’t technically have to go to Law School in order to attempt it but everyone in the U.S. *does* because they *have to* to stand a chance? The single test which presents the closest thing to a modern day meal ticket for life that exists? (Yes, I know, the 20-something law students who pass the Bar and then whine about having to actually -work- their way up the professional ladder from the bottom are out there, but all Bar-cert lawyers can hang a shingle).
The mind boggles. It really does. At the very least, with the Bar exam, I can point to hundreds of years of legal education and development of the professional criteria upon which the legal system is founded in the US. But Project Management is a relatively new system of education. What the PMI is trying to do is make an early bid to be the recognized issuer of professional papal indulgences for a profession which is ultimately based upon the meticulous application of common sense. And what’s really scary is the model that they are using to do it.
There are few professions which require formal efforts to ensure continued education and continuing professional skills. Usually, those professions are all part of the medical field, and I’ve talked to doctors who hate the requirements. They agree that it’s always best to stay at the top of their careers. This isn’t rocket science, it’s part of what “professionals” in general are expected to do — keep up to speed on their profession. But when you make it a formal requirement, you end up with a formality. My doctor-friends went off at a party once about how all they do in those required classes is show up and sleep. Why? Because the classes that are required are typically things they’ve already been keeping up with. And the legal requirement is for their attendance and exposure, not their continued mastery of the subject material. Or at least it was at the time of that party, back a decade or so. YMMV.
Let’s look at the two professions which came up just from looking at how PM certification is set up. The legal profession. And the medical profession. One from the certifying test-to-end-all-tests point of view. The other from the required-continuing-education point of view. Now let’s think about those two professions. Lawyers and Doctors. $$$$$$$$. Prestige. Popular culture’s fascination because they are the humans who do what other mere mortals cannot.
And now let’s think about Project Managers, and how they simply must stay at the exact pinnacle of their career. Think about the kinds of classes on project management techniques and tricks which are constantly being innovated all the time. Think about how absolutely crucial it is, life or death time, that Suzy in Project Management, knows the latest way to break a project out into logical steps.
Okay, I’m done thinking. Already.
Putting on Airs
I like Project Management practices and procedures. I enjoy the fact that recognition has continued to grow that there is value within corporate environments from the projectized structure. I really do like some of the material and theory behind the emerging field. And I definitely think that a real, bona fide Project Management Professional is a strong source of flexible leadership within the American Corporate culture.
And I happen to disagree quite strongly with the way that the Project Management Institute is positioning themselves in the marketplace. Sure, everyone wishes that their professions came with the same amount of mystique and respect (albeit grudging at times) that Law and Medicine command. But is it realistic? And consider the language that the PMI site uses to imply how their continued education requirements make their course of education better than an academic degree:
While nothing is required to maintain an academic degree, continuing education is a requirement for maintaining most PMI credentials. Participation in continuing education activities indicates to your peers, employers and employees that you are committed to professional development. – PMI website
Ooookay, then. Silly me, thinking that the continued successful execution of Project management duties in real world scenarios would be the only real indication of commitment to professional development needed.
Self Serving or Project Serving?
I hold the professional opinion, informed by real projects and a decade of working in project-oriented companies, that process needs to exist to serve the project goal. When process begins to serve itself, we end up with one of the quotes from CIV IV: ‘The bureaucracy is expanding to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy.’ Not sure where the original attribution of that line belongs. Project Management is certainly representative of a shift in the way that businesses go about their work and structure themselves nowadays. However, it always needs to stay rooted in common sense.
In my mind, the true litmus test for a Project Management professional is whether or not they will set aside the procedure in order to obtain the goal when such a step becomes required, or not. A true leader in the field of PMPs needs to consider all process steps as tiny evils. Those which must be endured, shall. Those which do not need to be endured, should be set aside.
As for PMI cert… well, I’ll go for it, but only so long as I’m not footing the bill myself. But once it starts coming out of *my* pocket, then it’s time for that little YARPUP™ pyramid scheme to be put to rest. Because at the end of the day, the PMI gets more out of decent professionals like myself and the other decent organizers, critical thinkers, and strategic motivators which come to the table with those qualities already developed, than we as professionals get out of the PMI cert. Certification is a nice shortcut to eliminate some explanations in interviews, but not even a test like the Bar itself removes the need for the interviews at all.