Tag Archives: Mentoring

What makes a Project Manager, Professional?

The Professional Certification vs Experience Bias

Like many Project Managers, who had “earned their stripes” in the delivery of projects prior to the popularity of certifying organizations, I have often looked at the PMI certification “tags” after a signature with a certain level of skepticism. Was this really a Project Management “Professional” or just someone claiming expertise after paying a fee and taking a test? While it is true that there are many highly skilled and greatly experienced PMP‘s out there, there are also many PMP’s who present themselves as more than they really are.

The value and meaning of a PMP certification, or really any certification, has been well discussed in blog postings across the Internet and over many years. (See below for links to several of those discussions). The posting that hit the mark for me is one from 2006 by Timothy L Johnson, “Those Star Bellied Sneetches“. He sums up the issues,

[The Dr Seuss book] is about class warfare backfiring, but I see many of the same parallels showing up in the project management certification debate … especially in hiring and staffing decisions.

The presence of a PMP “star”, especially in today’s recruiting practices, is often misinterpreted as a guarantee of success and its absence, a sign of risk.

While such assignment may be misapplied, the concept of an organization that certifies the professional skills and experiences of a project manager does have merit. Companies and public agencies today have significant project needs and complex initiatives that would benefit from a skilled project manager … a project management professional.

So What Makes a Project Manger, a “Professional”?


“Skills” are the organizational structures that a PM brings to a project along with the ability to apply them expertly. Whether these structures are expressed in terms of PMI/PMBOK Processes or an ITIL Framework or some other form, these are the tools that a PM uses to build a project’s definition, plan, execution and control. Expertise in using these tools effectively is a basic requirement for a PM, who falls into the “Professional” category.

Perspective [aka experience]

Classroom studies and readings can provide an understanding of particular PMI or ITIL deliverables, but they don’t explain people or problems. Project management is not about managing “things”. Project Management is about leading and managing people / teams. When performed at a “Professional” level, Project Management utilizes experience (and the perspective can come with it) to help the project teams to be successful in their delivery.


While all adults may be expected to conduct themselves ethically, recent years have shown that it not always the case. To avoid any confusion over what is “ethical conduct”, PMI created a formal Code of Ethics and Professional Development  that is enforced under penalty of certification loss:

  • Responsibility — Taking ownership of decisions including their consequences. This includes knowing and meeting all legal requirements, reporting unethical or illegal conduct to appropriate management, fulfilling commitments and protecting proprietary and confidential information.
  • Respect — Being respectful of yourself, listen to others and protect resources entrusted to us.
  • Fairness — Being fair and transparent in decisions including disclosing conflicts of interest to appropriate stakeholders.
  • Honesty — Being honest in communications and conduct.

ITIL similarly places importance on ethical conduct, but handles the topic of “ethics” through its Best Management Practice Partnership with APM Group‘s Ethics and Standards Board.

Ownership / Quality Delivery

Finally, with a “Professional” Project Manager, there is an inherent sense of ownership of a project. Just as a gardener carefully plants a seed and nurtures it as it grows to maturity, the “Professional” Project Manager guides a project through its life cycle.

The end product (the “fruit”) may belong to the business, but the project itself is “ours”. We take pride how well our “seedling” is supported by the project tools and framework that we utilize. We may add more structure along the way (or remove some) to ensure our projects grow fast and straight. The quality delivery of the project is our responsibility as Professional Project Managers.

The Role of Certifications & Organizations

As much as I dislike the inherent inference of expertise that certification monikers indicate today, the certifying organizations do provide effective tools, structures and frameworks upon which project management practitioners can effectively build.

Certifying organizations also have the potential to further their stature by addressing the experience gap. Instead of accepting form-based experience validations, these organizations should consider the creation of modern (project management) “trade” guilds, where apprentices can learn under the supervision of experienced PM “craftsmen” and masters. Instead of discarding certifications, stronger mentoring links with seasoned professionals or structured apprenticeships should be established as part of certification requirements.

[Yes … I am a PMI-certified PMP.]


The De-valued Professional Project Manager” by Bruce McGraw, 2012, http://fearnoproject.com/2012/03/17/the-de-valued-professional-project-manager/

If you have devoted your career to being a professional PM, like I have, you are frustrated watching companies put individuals into project manager positions who do not have the experience nor the skills to do the job.

Those Star Bellied Sneetches” by Timothy L Johnson,  2006,  http://carpefactum.typepad.com/my_weblog/2006/05/those_starbelly.html

[Dr Seuss book] is about class warfare backfiring, but I see many of the same parallels showing up in the project management certification debate .. especially in hiring and staffing decisions.

Project Management – A Modern Profession” by Michelle Symons, 2012, http://www.pmhut.com/project-management-a-modern-profession

But recognition of professionalism is not just about training and qualifications – it is also about continuous professional development and the ability to demonstrate the skills necessary to competently manage complex projects.

License to manage? (On PMP and certification)” by Scott Berkun, 2006, http://www.scottberkun.com/blog/2006/license-to-manage-on-pmp-and-certification/

I just don’t believe that on their own these things signify much about the ability to perform, especially as a manager. To be fair, I doubt any exam or degree can do that, which explains my general opinion about certification programs.

Why I’m Not a PMP“, by Glenn Alleman, 2006,  http://herdingcats.typepad.com/my_weblog/2006/05/raven_young_pos.html

I guess in the end the PMP moniker doesn’t appeal to me that much. It seems to be a “gate keeping” type badge.

Goodbye “Boomers” … Hello ???

Gen-X, Gen-Y, Baby Boomers … What do they have to do with business?

According to national labor statistics, a significant portion of the US skilled workforce (manufacturing and professional) is approaching or has already reached traditional “retirement age”, 65 years old. When they retire, will the next generation be ready to take over?

This is not a statistical anomaly. It is a consequential impact of the Baby Boomers (born in the 1950s) reaching retirement age. Considering just the work segments involved in Professional, Scientific and Technical Services, the share of the workers aged 55-64 has increased by 45% over the period of 2000-2007. This statistic was one of several highlighted in a July 2010 Industry Sector Report published by The Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College. That report points not only to the problem, but also discusses some of the “organizational responses” (mitigation efforts) currently being undertaken.

The 2010 Sloan Center report described changes that have occurred from the height of the dot-com era (2000) to just prior to the current recession (2007). While the economy has shifted since 2007, the relevant workforce statistics have remained relatively constant … we are all still getting older.

Projecting the key age-shift trend from workforce distribution graph above, it is easy to infer that it is likely to continue for at least another decade. The retirement-ready workforce will continue to grow relative to its current levels and relative to other segments of the workforce.

This generalized increase in the “senior” population has an obvious cost impact on our social support and health systems. It additionally has significant potential for an impact on business. Included in this work resource population are the managers and the subject matter experts that many businesses depend on. Who will fill their positions?

In the Portland, Oregon, metropolitan area, specifically Multnomah and Washington Counties, the workforce distribution appears to be shifted even more than the national average (toward that pre-retiree group).

Worksource Oregon, in their 2008 Employer Survey for Region 2 (Multnomah & Washington counties), highlighted that more than 40% of local businesses surveyed are already responding to this shift and are planning to take (or have already taken) steps to guard against the ensuing knowledge / skill losses. Many are attempting to retain these “senior” workers with flexible working arrangements and other accommodations to encourage their retention. Several businesses are instituting in-house mentoring programs to raise the skills and subject matter knowledge of mid-level employees.

These are admirable steps taken to mitigate this population shift issue. Luckily, most businesses do have the raw (mid-level) talent who can step up to fill these gaps that would be left by the over-55 age group as they leave the workforce.

The next question is: Do these companies also have the resource pool available to backfill those mid-level positions? Unfortunately, this answer is not as encouraging.

In Multnomah and Washington counties, there are already significant skill gaps between the abilities of available workforce and the skills that employers are looking for. Job-specific experience is a requirement for more than 80% of the professional/technical job openings in this area. At this time, there is not a new population of skilled local workers ready to step up to fill the next wave of mid- and entry-level positions.

It is time for local companies to accept that this is a resource crisis that looms at the horizon. The available resource pools are small today and they will only get smaller as the years progress.

As they are doing with the impending impacts of their aging workforce, companies should also address their downstream needs for additional entry-level, skilled workers. On-the-job training programs, mentoring initiatives and apprenticeships are all steps that can have a positive impact on this resource need. The longer companies wait to start their mitigation steps, the greater the impacts can be.

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Additional information related to this topic can be found in:

Talent Pressures and the Aging Workforce: Responsive Action Steps for the Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services Sector”, a report written by Stephen Sweet, PhD and Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, PhD with Elyssa Besen, Shoghik Hovhannisyan, MA, and Farooq Pasha, MA. Published by The Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College, July 2010.