Trouble in PMI paradise?

I’d like to continue the conversation on the Project Management Institute, and open it up slightly to some broader questions about business models and public perceptions today. First, the comment that sparked this post, from Dr. Paul Giammalvo. Thank you, Dr. Giammalvo, for taking time to weigh in on this matter. And thanks to Eric Brown from, a doctoral candidate and business consultant, who also added to the discussion:

Dr. Paul D. Giammalvo // Nov 2nd 2007 at 10:35 am

Hi Pacio49.

I am a life long project manager. I hold PMP #740, a Masters Degree in Project Management from GWU and a PhD in Project/Program Management from ESC Lille.

And you know what? This December I am letting my PMP expire. Why? Because the organization is, IMPO, no longer a true professional organization, but since 2000 or so, has become nothing more than a “big business” conveniently masquerading as a “not for profit professional organization”. To my knowledge (and I try to keep up with the reseach) there is nothing that supports any claims that having more PMP’s in your organization results in projects being run more successfully. (And being in the training and consulting business, I have first hand anecdotal evidence, but no scientific research)

Secondly, initial research by Zwerman, Thomas et al in 2004, funded in part and published by PMI, stated that “project management is not now, nor is it likely to be in the forseeable future, a profession.” This was substantiated by my own soon to be published PhD research entitled “Is Project Management a Profession? If not, what is it?” Yet, despite not one but two academic research, PMI, in direct contravention to their own Code of Ethics (which apparently only applies to members and PMP’s not PMI HQ staff) continues to claim project management to be a profession.

For those interested, you can read my postings on the subject on the PMHUB or on the PMForum,

Again, as a practicing professional, my best recommendation would be to explore alternative organizations. I am impressed with the Association for the Advancement of Cost Engineering International, which, despite the name, is essentially a more technical version of PMI, HOWEVER, they have put their BoK on the internet for free downloading. Another very progressive alternative to PMI is the International Council of Systems Engineers- INCOSE,

Both these organizations have taken a more “open source” approach to project management and are, IMPO, more attunded to the professional practitioner than to marketing hype.

Bottom line- As a lifelong practitioner, I no longer believe PMI represents my professional values nor does it fairly and accurately represent those who practice project management as a delivery system.


Dr. Paul D. Giammalvo, CDT, PMP, CCE, MScPM, Jakarta, Indonesia.

Moving the question focus slightly.

I can’t argue with your credentials, Dr. Giammalvo. Anyone who has spent as much time and energy studying the Project Management field, theory, and practices in order to have achieved a doctorate in the field has to be assumed to know what they’re talking about, pending followup research. In that light, I freely admit that I’m unqualified to even continue the questions into the PMI’s practices without doing some reading that I, unfortunately, don’t have time to dive into until after this semester’s workload is finished. (Something tells me that would be a common excuse to be heard from grad students.)

However, I think we can continue the discussion on another level. If Dr. Giammalvo represents the experiences of even a small percentage of the Project Management Professionals who are either currently certified by PMI or who are investigating PMI’s practices and theoretical foundations critically, then we can begin to approach the question from the PR/business reputation point of view regarding the Project Management Institute (PMI).

Jumping the Shark?

The complaint that most interests me in Dr. Giammalvo’s comment is in the last paragraph. His ‘bottom line’ shows clearly that at one point he was aligned with the vision put forward by the PMI, but now he no longer is so. This means that there has been some kind of a change, either a change in actual practices or a change in perceptions. I think it would be interesting to figure out from a theoretical viewpoint just where the fly in the ointment is to be found. I mean, I was only idly perusing the PMI site in the thought that it would be necessary for me to go through their certification process with a potential job. In three page clicks I was rather turned off by the whole thing and motivated enough in my distaste to write a blog post about it. Dr. Giammalvo spent years studying and researching project management as a discipline and a profession, and is also less than thrilled with the PMI. We represent two different ends of the project management spectrum, since although everyone who has commented thus far is a part of the ‘graduate studies’ demographic, there’s a tremendous difference in the scope of our approaches.

I smile as I write this: It’s understandable to come to regard any subject with some negativity when you’ve spent years pursuing it. But in my own case, I literally clicked through three pages of the PMI site, scanned each one quickly, and immediately walked away with a bad impression. As counterintuitive as it might seem, I think that the PMI has more to worry about in my reaction to their practices and appearances than they do with Dr. Giammalvo. Why? Because experts know their subjects inside and out, and they will always be critical of some part or another. That’s why they’re experts. I would trust any expert less if they didn’t have at least some reservation or misgivings about some select part of their area of expertise. Dr. Giammalvo as the obvious expert here is pretty well expected to find component parts of the Project Management discipline (and the way it’s handled by the self-appointed certification body, the PMI) to be in need of serious revision or updating. But little old me? The practicing project manager who is only idly considering buying into the ‘certification’ schtick? Their “target demographic” just clicked three times and wandered off to start mudslinging.

I’d say that’s a real problem that the PMI needs to address, and quickly.

Command & Control vs. Collaboration, round 382. DING!

The PMI business model seems to be based on the outdated notions of Command & Control. There’s a real need for modern corporations to understand the message they are sending to their public based on how they are going to business. For example, the PMI doesn’t allow the PMBOK to be freely downloaded. All of this assembled knowledge in one place, and they are establishing themselves as the gatekeepers.

Let’s analyze that business pattern for a moment. What are you selling us, PMI? A book? Is that the source of your power, the control of access to the ‘body of knowledge’? Well, if that’s the case, then don’t be surprised if your customers come to see you more as a salesperson than as an expert. Because by setting up your money-making model around the *access* to the knowledge, you are tacitly pointing out that you, the company, have no intrinsic value in the process whatsoever. The PMI as a gatekeeper to the ‘body of knowledge’ actually sets themselves up as *separate from* that body of knowledge. In this model, the PMI is merely the holder of the technology, the secret lore, the guardians of the treasures of the past…

They must obviously lack the knowledge of how to use them.

Let’s look at it from this point of view. If the PMI wanted to really update their image and turn their image around, I think they should give away the PMBOK. Free downloads for all, no restriction. You *want* everyone to be working on your platform. In that way, the PMI would become a resource and associated in public perception as the true source of knowledge concerning the Project Management discipline. They would make the tools freely available, and then charge money for the consultancy and training that they can provide. The base materials are free, but the seminars and on-site workshops… that’s gonna cost you.

Putting the Cart before the Horse

When you try to establish yourself as a knowledge leader in today’s economy, you really need to focus more on how to *use* the tools and materials you have built upon. By doing so, you are practicing what you preach and putting your expertise to the test, again and again. It allows for collaboration in the sense of innovations to the ‘body of knowledge’, and it also allows for non-certified PMs to go ahead and get involved. This allows for the general profession to add to the body of knowledge, and it makes such a thing truly reflective of modern practices, not just modern practices that have finally become widespread and commonplace enough to be added to the book.

If anyone is going to stand up and be an expert to the level that you need to be in order to position yourself in the marketplace as being able to provide ‘certification’, then you really need to earn that respect. You can’t stand up and offer a certification program and then just expect the respect to follow. Especially since projectized workflows are only now becoming a typical part of corporate life. The best way to do that is to allow everyone to see what really goes into establishing new practices in the realm of project management. It should ideally be based upon the academic research of folks like Dr. Giammalvo, and the definition of what a Project Manager actually -is- should be open to the discussion and debate of folks like Eric Brown. And like any good definition, it should remain open to periodic reinterpretation.

Let us see just what kinds of skills actually separate the certified PMPs from the Project Managers ‘at large’. Inspire us by demonstrating that it’s not just exposure to the PMBOK and an annual tithe to the church of certification. Spend more time putting that knowledge to work in plain view, and less time trying to maintain the copyright and trademark usage on that ‘body of knowledge’. I regularly have to explain to my clients that in the world of the internet, the more work you do up front, the easier it is to actually get things to work the way you need them to work.

Maybe the PMI can take that down as a set of notes. It certainly seems to be part of their Body of Knowledge, to front-load all of the effort in order to keep the rewards flowing.

Iceberg, dead ahead?

In any case, this sounds like a PR disaster waiting to happen. I’d love to have the time (and the access!) to do some quantitative research on this. Take a look at the membership trends, isolate the number of lapsed memberships and try to separate out the memberships which simply lapsed due to laziness and those which were motivated by choice somehow. Do searches through the PM Forums to find posts of note which highlighted individual concerns and complaints specifically against the PMI, and try to correlate the two. Look at the records of the PMI company’s official communications and publications, changes in staffing, updates to the website, etc. Try to find some way to get at those numbers of practicing professionals (like me) who investigate the site and decide not to pursue certification.

Well, it’s a nice idea. I don’t have any real answers for the PMI right now. However, I do suspect given the feedback generated by a single afternoon’s idle posting that there might just be a PR issue that the PMI needs to take a look into. My suggestion is a complete revision of their business model, but we all know how difficult it can be to turn the Titanic around. Here’s hoping, though.


4 responses to “Trouble in PMI paradise?

  1. This is fascinating. I think the most important thing here is not the image, but the more empirical question of whether the PMP, on average, leads to more effective project management. It seems to me that if it doesn’t that may not mean as much about the *skills* measured by t the PMI, as it means about how things have changed outside of the PMPs.

    As industries have changed to more project-oriented models, and as education of management professionals have increasingly focussed on the skills of the project manager, it may just be that the non-PMPs have caught up with the population of the PMP holders…

    Of course, I think it is very hard to argue with a more open model. Though I suspect there will continue to be a need for certification in some form, as the programming industry has found (slowly), it’s hard to create a certificate that provides a clear demonstration of deep knowledge in an area. At most, it’s a low-pass filter.

  2. Maybe what we’re seeing is the direct result of global connectivity redefining prior patterns and definitions of professionalism.

    I begin to wonder at the correlation between access and professionalism. In the past, only the professionals could afford access to the tools and technology and ‘tricks of the trade’. Just possessing that knowledge, irrespective of actual talent or accomplishment, was enough to distinguish folks as part of the professional caste.

    Now, with access and knowledge barriers continuing to be knocked down by the internet and interactive communication technologies, the question of access is no longer the point of separation or definition in any profession… now you actually have to distinguish yourself on the basis of merit, and the population against which you will be compared is global.

    Separating out the men from the boys, as the saying goes.

    Or better phrased, redefining the criteria of professional mastery?

    Fascinating questions. If it is some kind of a realignment force that’s redefining the standards of professionalism, then we should be able to start tracking it through various professions. Which ones do we hear the most complaints from? Is everyone lamenting a loss of professionalism, or just certain sectors of the economy?

    If we [theoretical ‘we’] can get some of those kinds of answers, we might be able to compare the affected groups to try and narrow down different factors to determine if there are specific causal factors, maybe even get ahead of the phenomenon, or at least generate a predictive model of behavior.


  3. Excellent dialogue, colleagues!!!

    First, when all is said and done, the only thing that really matters is COMPETENCIES. And I am predicting a quick and merciful demise of any/all “certifications” which are merely knowledge based. (Like the PMP) To learn more about competencies, point your browser to the Global Alliance for Project Performance Standards (GAPPS) GAPPS has put their standards into the “public domain” under a form of GNU or “Copyleft” licensing, for anyone to use, adopt, adapt or modify.

    But getting back to competency, you do not need a PMP to be a “successful” project manager, and certainly, having your PMP is no guarantee that you are a “good” or “successful” project manager. I think most companies are starting to realize this.

    Unfortunately, IMPO, PMI has, through their marketing juggernaut, implied if not explicity claimed, that having a critical mass of PMP’s in one’s organization will result in “better” project management, which, after some 20 or so years of the PMP having been around, is proving not to be the case.

    Unfortunately, because so many “rice bowls” are commercially linked to PMI and the PMP, while many people are willing to state privately they agree, few are willing to come out publicly and tell the Emperor he is naked.

    So it was refreshing to see this blog appear, capturing the “first impressions” and not from a jaded life long practitioner and loyal member of the “old” PMI- before they became a business back in 1998 or thereabouts.

    As I perceive it, PMI, since 1998, has become more like Mary Kay Cosmetics or AMWAY than any professional organization that I have ever belonged to. Their primary purpose, instead of developing “best practices”, are more focused on self congratulatory “awards” (i.e. “Project of the Year”, “Project Manager of the Year”) than they are about helping to solve the problems of WHY so many projects are so frequently and so consistently failing.

    Bottom line- Project Management as a delivery system (which is what my research shows it to be) is not working. A good part of that has to do the fact that project management is NOT a linear process, but a complex, dynamic, adaptive system- a “living thing” if you will. Which means that the Systems Dynamics Society and the International Council of Systems Engineers (INCOSE) are far closer to the “truth” than PMI is.

    Dr. Paul D. Giammalvo, CDT, PMP, CCE, MScPM

    Senior Technical Advisor, PT Mitratata Citragraha, Jakarta/Singapore/Amsterdam

    Adjunct Professor, Project/Program Management, Lille Graduate School of Management, Paris, FRANCE

    Curriculum Development Consultant, Asset and Project Management, University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia,

    Board of Directors, Global Alliance for Project Performance Standards (GAPPS) Sydney, AUSTRALIA

  4. Great read… particular point: “Their “target demographic” just clicked three times and wandered off to start mudslinging.”

    I think also Bill Duncan’s view previously about the BOK is just that – manageMENT knowledge, not about being a better/competent PM per se. On that score, it’s apparent to me that the skills a PM has aren’t that much different than that of a business manager (i.e. general management). There’s nothing special or different than a MBA’er vs. a PiPM’er and if someone were to do a matrix on that, it’d be readily apparent how much overlap there is. Since folks spend $$$ for an MBA, why additional $ for a certification? What is exactly the added benefit to the individual, the organization?

    It’s a nice business, very successful one that brings it healthy revenue each year. But eventually, they’ll need to upscale such as with PgPM and probably one day a PortfolioPM cert but then after that? OPM cert for the masses rather than compete with CMM* (i.e. cannabilization)?

    The PMI gatherings are very nice networking events though.

    Enjoy your musings!

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