The PMP®: Why Bother?

06 November, 2013

According to Yes Minister’s Sir Humphrey Appleby, a cynic is what an idealist calls a realist, and a cynical project manager might pose the question: why bother with the Project Management Institute’s Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification? It is a reasonable question. For a practicing project manager, the overhead of taking time off to attend a PMP® preparation class and making the time to study are non-trivial. So how can you justify taking this step?

Firstly, there is a measure of truth to the assertion that the PMP® certification is not necessary. In job advertisements, the PMP® is often listed as being nice to have, but not essential. So practicing project managers can argue that they are gaining more benefit building up their hands-on experience.

However, what happens if your organization gets into difficulties? The demise of the Celtic Tiger phenomenon in Ireland has seen many well-established organizations go to the wall. So, it would be unwise to assert that you are in secure employment. These days, even the permanent and pensionable civil servants are under threat, so how would you fare if you were loosed on the job market these days?

The problem for most of us project managers is that we got into the profession more or less by accident. There you were happily doing hands-on work for your company, applying skills that had been honed over the years and suddenly you are put in charge of the next project. While some people welcome this increase in responsibility, for many the new role is very scary. These days, it is unlikely that you will get any training or support and the move is very much like jumping in at the deep end.

If you are really lucky, you will be groomed for the role and the current project manager will expose you to the processes and responsibilities of your new position. While this is great, you are likely only to learn those aspects of project management that your company uses. So, for instance, software development project managers rarely manage budgets – their team represents a fixed overhead and there are very few purchases to consider, maybe a new computer or a license for a new software package.

You will, essentially, find yourself doing whatever tasks have been done before. In other words, if your company is very quality focused, your project management role will contain a lot of quality processes. However, if formal quality assurance and control is not a major concern for the organization (usually the case in start-ups) your project management experience will not include any quality concepts.

Similarly, if the estimation process involves the project manager asking the project team members “how long will it take to do this?” it is unlikely that you will consider better techniques like Delphi or PERT analysis. Usually, novice project managers are given a GANTT chart for another project and told to adapt it with the new project’s tasks and estimates. Rarely will you get a full briefing on how schedule network diagrams work. You are unlikely to learn about leads and lags or how to fast-track or crash a schedule.

Does your company do risk management? Many organizations worry about risks at the portfolio and program levels, but do not actively manage project-level risk. If this is your situation, then you could find yourself at a loss if your new company has serious risk management requirements.

Another area that you might be protected from is purchasing. On smaller projects, any purchases involve simply submitting an appropriately signed purchase order into the purchasing department and waiting for the goods to arrive. A new role might involve understanding different types of contracts, preparing tenders and evaluating tender responses.

In other words, building up project management experience on the job is really good, but it might not be sufficient for you to state confidently that you are a project manager. This is where professional qualifications, like the PMP® come in. In your PMP® exam preparation class, you are likely to be familiar with most, if not all, of the concepts presented, but the PMP® process will integrate these for you, giving you a holistic perspective on the role.

Later, when you sit the PMP® exam, you will have independent confirmation of your project management skills. Only those who have worked as project managers can sit the PMP® exam, so this is an opportunity to test your practical, as well as your theoretical, knowledge. Returning to your day job, the PMP® might not make your colleagues look at you differently, but do not be surprised if you start seeing them in a new light – they will have changed into team members and project stakeholders. You will have to develop and manage your team and manage and control your engagements with the stakeholders.

Your new found understanding will see you challenge the status quo. If you do not do risk management, now is the time to start. If you are not looking at the quality aspects of the job, then you should begin to consider quality standards, metrics and checklists. Indeed, you will find yourself assessing your project against the ten knowledge area of the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) and looking for areas to improve.

More significantly though, if you are unfortunate enough to be laid off down the line, your PMP® will give you the confidence to apply for new positions, knowing that any new role will not be beyond you. Who knows, you might even be able to introduce project management best practices and develop project management there into a respected profession.

Your amateur days are over.

Please visit our training page or contact us directly for details of our PMP exam preparation courses, held in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway.

By Velopi Seamus Collins
 

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