Understanding the Value of a CAPM® Certification

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CAPM® EDGE is available as a 30-Day-Deal from International Institute for Learning

For more than thirty years, I have travelled the world conducting lectures, seminars and workshops on various aspects of project management. At each location, I am inevitably asked the same question: “What major changes have you seen in your career in project management?” Program participants expect me to talk about the PMBOK® Guide, program management, portfolio management, project management leadership, the PMO, Agile, and other such topics; however, they become quite surprised when I state the biggest change has been in the way we educate project managers.

Today, while most people take project management educational opportunities for granted, it has not always been that way. As a young engineer, I observed the birth of project management in the heavy construction, aerospace and defense industries as well as in NASA’s manned space program. I then decided I wanted my career to be in project management.

I was hired into an aerospace firm desiring to be placed immediately into a project management position with the expectation of attending project management training programs. I was surprised to learn that, not only did my company not have any such educational programs, but there were no such seminars in the marketplace. Instead, employees desiring project management positions often spent the first eighteen months working in various functional disciplines in order to understand how the company functioned and integrated work across a multitude of areas. The argument was simple: project managers cannot integrate work across multiple functional areas without fully understanding how each functional area worked. The emphasis was more on understanding the organization structure than understanding the concepts of Project Management.

After almost two years, I was given the opportunity to go into project management. To this day, I clearly remember my meeting with the Vice President for Engineering when he told me that as a project manager I would be making mistakes. He then went on to say, “The first time you make a mistake, I, the Vice President for Engineering, will take the responsibility for the mistake. If you ever repeat the mistake, you will be fired.” Simply stated, I was expected to learn from my own mistakes rather than from the mistakes of others. What a pity that, as a newly appointed project manager, we did not have any courses similar to the CAPM® Certification, where we could learn from the mistakes of others rather than our own. The only training course my company had related to project management was a course on Earned Value Measurement, which was a necessity for standardized reporting of the status of the project to various government agencies. Needless to say, I did make several, often costly, mistakes and learned from them.

As the need for project managers began to grow, companies became concerned as to how newly appointed project managers would be educated in project management. The primary concern was with the young college graduates who may have had no exposure to project management as of yet. Initially, senior project managers were acting as mentors for the younger would-be project managers. Slowly but surely, seminars appeared in the marketplace on basic project management concepts. These courses were being taught by trainers with years of experience in the aerospace, defense and heavy construction industries, and most of the examples they provided in the training programs came from their own industrial experience, not necessarily applicable to the attendees’ work environment.

At the same time, some universities began teaching project management; however, there was most often just one course taught, and it was listed under engineering—mainly under civil or construction. College degrees in project management were nonexistent. Also, there were no textbooks on the subject.

So, in 1977, I wrote the first edition of my book, Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling and Controlling. I sent out manuscripts to 30 publishers and received 29 rejection letters. One publisher told me, unless there appears to be a course on this subject in the Ohio State University catalogue, there’s no market for the book anywhere in the world. Fortunately for me, one publisher took a chance on my book, and the rest is history. I have since published more than fifty books on project management, including later editions of the same book.

As time went on, companies began recognizing the need to have new employees educated in PM practices that were common to all industries (i.e. CAPM® Certification), but with examples and case studies from their own industry. Internal courses were created using seasoned project management veterans as instructors. Although some courses turned out well, many of them provided less than acceptable project management education because all the examples were from one industry, and only those PM processes specific to that industry were being taught. The people doing the training were usually project managers who were managing projects at the same time and did not spend sufficient time preparing the course material. To them, the training program was not seen as critical when compared to their primary job. These courses did satisfy some of the company’s requirements but did not provide the participants with the complete picture of project management.

PMI came to the rescue with the creation of the first PMBOK® Guide. In the mid 1980s, PMI announced the PMP® Certification, and later developed additional certifications such as in program management, risk management and Agile project management. These certifications benefited the experienced project managers by providing continuous improvement opportunities but were not necessarily appropriate for the people new to project management. These certifications mandate years of PM experience before being able to take the certification exams.

Private industry still had the problem on how to educate college graduates and new workers who had neither experience nor previous education in project management. Yet when PMI introduced the CAPM® Certification, industry saw the light at the end of the tunnel. The benefits of CAPM® Certification were now becoming apparent:

  • Employees would be trained and educated on all aspects of project management rather than just industry-specific processes.
  • The employees may be able to be assigned to just about any type of project rather than succumbing to the Laws of Restricted [educational] Choice (i.e. only projects related to their educational background.)
  • The employees would learn project management from the mistakes of others rather than from their own mistakes.
  • The employees would develop their project management skills at a faster rate.
  • The company would get a quicker Return on Investment as a result of hiring and educating the employees.
  • The company would see continuous improvement opportunities occur at a faster rate.
  • Both internal and external clients would have some degree of satisfaction knowing that these employees have been educated in the principles of project management.
  • The company could very well become more competitive in the marketplace.

There is no question about the value of a CAPM® Certification and the accompanying ROI on the education necessary to sit for the certification exam. In the future, it is entirely possible that all undergraduate project management curriculums will require or at least encourage the students to become CAPM® certified. The benefits and value are there for both the company and the individual alike.

Below you’ll find a comprehensive infographic detailing the importance of the CAPM® certification, brought to you by International Institute for Learning‘s new CAPM® EDGE course… Your On-Demand Guide to Mastering the Certified Associate in Project Management® Exam.

CAPM infographic

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Satisfying Social Needs

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Whenever I teach Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs, everyone seems to understand the two lowest levels – the physiological need and the safety need. When I would ask the class how these two levels are satisfied, the students normally agree that the company you work for satisfies these levels for you through the salary they pay you and the benefits that are provided.

When I get to level three – the satisfaction of social needs – the discussion gets interesting. I ask the class: Who has the greater responsibility for satisfying a team member’s social needs: the company, the individual, or the project manager?

Companies try to satisfy the social need but often fail as their good intentions go astray. Consider the following examples:

  • A company well known for its photography products told their workers they were allowed to use the company’s facilities for processing their own film, as long as they brought their own paper; the company would provide the chemical and photography equipment. Several of the people formed photography clubs to take advantage of this opportunity and they began satisfying their own social needs. Unfortunately, those employees who were not photography enthusiasts were very unhappy that the company was providing social benefits not everyone could use.
  • Once a year, a company sponsored a golf outing that included an elegant dinner in which the golfers could bring their spouses. Those employees who were not golfers did not attend and saw this as an ordeal rather than a social function.
  • A manufacturing company resided in a community where the majority of the people did not consume alcoholic beverages due to either personal or religious convictions. The company held a Christmas party – alcohol was provided. Unfortunately, the attendance at the party was poor. The company realized that many of the workers did not view the Christmas party as a social event. For two years, the company cancelled the Christmas party and issued all 2000 employees a company check for $6.25 each, which was the company’s contribution to the Christmas party.

The point is that some companies are successful at satisfying social needs but not for all of the employees in the company. Most students believe that the individual is responsible for satisfying his/her social needs, which can come from a religious group and church functions or joining a social club.

In recent years, there seems to be a push toward projects attempting to satisfy the social needs of its team members, especially on long term projects where many members of the team may be assigned fulltime for the duration of the project. A few years ago, I read a paper (which I am sorry I never kept) that showed workers who socialize together away from work are more productive when working together in the workplace. For project managers, this could easily increase the productivity of the team. The obstacle, of course, is finding what method works best for you. Based upon the size of the project team, the answer varies.

My personal suggestion is something I’ve spoken about before: dinner team meetings. Gather your team once a month for dinner, at a time and place outside of the office, and allow each members’ spouse and family to come. See what happens! Even though you’re meeting outside of the office, don’t be too surprised if some brilliant ideas begin to arise.

The Secret to Grabbing That Desired ROI: Dinner Team Meetings

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There are two things that strongly motivate workers on project teams: money and food. While project managers may not have any control over money, either through salary or bonuses, there is some degree of control over food. My experience is that the return on investment on the salary that people earn is often questionable but the return on investment on nourishment provided to the team can be priceless if done correctly.

In a previous post, I wrote about “What’s The Return on Investment of a Slice of Pizza to a Project Manager?” In this post I want to discuss the value of a dinner team meeting.

Nourishment can bring project team members closer together. My experience has been that, during these more informal team meetings when food is provided, adversaries become colleagues and disagreements are discussed in a free and open setting. It is also my experience that informal settings where some food is provided often make it easier for the team to come to an agreement with minimal conflicts.

But for the moment, let’s change the subject and ask a few questions.

  • Do you socialize with the members of your team outside of work?
  • Do you know the personal interests of any of the team members?
  • Have you ever met the spouses of your team members?
  • Have you or your children ever met the children of your team members?

Obviously, this looks a little like what the Japanese advocate in Theory Z. One of the principles of Theory Z is that you are more likely to get more productivity out of the team members if they believe that you have taken a personal interest in them, their likes and dislikes, and their families. Furthermore, studies have shown that workers who socialize outside of the company generally are more productive than workers who never socialize with one another other than at work. (Yes, I know you all want the reference article to this and I unfortunately do not have it.)

Dinner team meetings, with the entire immediate family of each team member in attendance, can be priceless. There are several reasons for this:

  • If you are like most people, you discuss your job at home with your family but your family has never met the people you tell them about.
  • Your spouse may not have any understanding about project management and having a discussion with other spouses can be helpful.
  • The spouses will have a better understanding about the pressure and stress that team members must endure.
  • Your family will be better able to help you manage your stress and may get tips from other spouses on how they help their spouse manage stress and pressure.

In my opinion, the cost for these dinner team meetings is negligible compared to the ROI in productivity that is possible. These dinner team meetings work well on long-term projects especially when workers are assigned full time on the project. If the company balks at the cost, then perhaps a cocktail hour after work will suffice. But in any event, there is an ROI on nourishment if done correctly.

The Grass is NOT Always Greener in Someone Else’s Yard

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Over the years, I have seen several people aggressively campaign to become project managers in their companies, and most of the time it was for the wrong reasons. The problem is that an individual’s first impressions about project management are often misleading. People seem to be enamored by what they see initially and fail to fully understand what the position entails before accepting an assignment.

Here are several situations that illustrate this misconception.

Situation #1: Paul

Paul was an excellent engineer with superior writing skills. Paul saw that most project managers were working with the marketing and sales force preparing bids for potentially lucrative contracts. After weeks of campaigning, Paul was assigned as an assistant project manager on a large project. Paul learned quickly that writing skills were only a small part of the project manager’s job. After a short assignment in project management, Paul requested to return to his former position in engineering.

Situation #2: Richard

Richard was almost at the top of his pay grade with regard to salary. Although Richard knew he would receive an above average salary increase each year because of his performance, he wanted more. He believed that project management offered greater salary opportunities, so he became a project manager without fully realizing what skills are needed to be successful. Richard eventually returned to his previous position and was branded as a failure as a project manager.

Situation #3: Brenda

Brenda, like Richard, appeared to be motivated by the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Brenda was given the opportunity to serve as a project manager. It was a rude awakening when she realized how much work was involved and how little she knew about project management, but Brenda had a strong desire to excel at project management despite the circumstances. Unfortunately, it soon became obvious that Brenda would not succeed as a project manager. Even more, Brenda’s previous position had been filled as soon as she had moved to her new position. The protection she felt she had in her previous position was no longer there and Brenda was forced to leave the company.

Situation #4: Fred

Fred had worked as a team member on several projects. He believed that project managers were the “presidents” of the projects and made all of the important decisions, so he campaigned to become a project manager and eventually was provided with the opportunity. Fred viewed this as his chance for glory and wanted show everyone how good he was at project decision making. After accepting his new position, Fred quickly became disenchanted when he realized that most project managers have very little real or legal authority to make decisions. Although on the surface it appeared that project managers were making the decisions, Fred learned that the real authority rested with the project sponsor and the governance committee.

Situation #5: Carol

Carol was reasonably well experienced working on project teams. Unfortunately, Carol’s work assignments required that she spend more time working with various team members than with the project managers. While Carol thought that she understood project management, she actually had a poor understanding of what a project manager’s job was like on a daily basis. Despite this, Carol’s desire to become a project manager was granted. She learned very quickly about the pressure and stress that project managers are under and that an eight-hour work day as a project manager was nonexistent. When the pressure and stress began to affect Carol’s home life, she resigned as project manager.

Not everyone is qualified to function as a project manager regardless of their education, experience or desire. It is imperative that people understand the role of the project manager before accepting an assignment. Failing to understanding the role could have a serious impact on one’s health and one’s quality of life.

My Most Important Project Management Best Practice

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During the almost five decades I have spent in the project management arena, I have collected many best practices that eventually end up in my textbooks. Most of these best practices revolve around continuous improvements to the project management methodology and result in updates to the policies, procedures, forms, guidelines and templates used for managing projects.

Actually, the wording “best practice” may be incorrect. It may be better to use the words “proven practice” because a best practice implies that it cannot be improved further. Proven practices, on the other hand, are subject to continuous updates.

There is one best practice that I have used over the years and have never been able to improve upon. I regard it as the “best” of the best practices, and it relates to how I run my life (related to project management, of course!). This best practice has not appeared in any of my books.

I spend a great amount of my time traveling and conducting seminars and workshops for the International Institute for Learning (IIL). We work with PMI chapters around the world and will send out brochures and e-mails about upcoming programs.

Once the announcements are made regarding the programs, I begin to receive e-mails from people I have never met, wanting to take me to dinner. I enjoy having dinner with the PMI chapter officers the night before the event because they tell me about the companies that will be attending and what their expectations are. This input is invaluable because it allows for some customization of the presentation.

Unfortunately it is other people, many who have no intention of attending the conference, who offer to take me to dinner for their own personal reasons. Regardless of how many times I ask them the reason for the meeting, they prefer to say it’s personal and we can discuss it over dinner. This is what usually happens:

5:30 p.m.: The individual picks me up at my hotel and drives me to a restaurant at least 30 minutes from my hotel. This means that I am now at their mercy for a ride back to my hotel and they have my undivided attention.

6:00 p.m.: We arrive at the restaurant, end up sitting in some remote location where nobody can hear us or perhaps even see us, and order dinner. My host tells the waiter that we are in no hurry and want a slow, leisurely dinner. This usually gets me nervous because I will be a captive longer than I expected.

6:10 – 7:30 p.m.: My host tells me about their life history from the age of 10 to their current age of usually 30-40 years old. This includes information about their family, their education, the number of courses they took, their grades in the courses, and what they learned. And as expected, a lot of it is totally unrelated to project management. This also includes facts about their employment history. If they have an unhappy home life, this portion of the meeting can run for another hour. When this happens, I am under the impression that my host has me confused with Dr. Phil. I pretend to listen attentively; while thinking about starting an IIL blog titled Dr. Phil on Project Management. Recognizing that this new blog could drive me to serious drinking and drugs, reality soon returns and once again I am clueless as to why they are telling me this. The suspense is now killing me!!!  Why am I here?

7:30 – 9:00 p.m.: For the next 90 minutes, they tell me all of the facts about their current employer, especially everything that’s wrong with the company related to project management and everything they did (or at least tried to do) to correct the situation. Of course, they are very adamant that 99.99% of the problems are because of senior management. They try to make it appear that they are God’s gift to project management and yet their company does not appreciate their efforts.

During the discussion they continuously ask me, “Didn’t I make the right decisions?” or “Don’t you agree with me?” or “What would you have done if you were me?” At this point I am getting a little nervous for fear that I may not have a ride back to my hotel. I am also fearful of giving this individual my ideas for how I would handle the situation because I have no idea what they would do with the information, or whether or not it would be taken out of context. And, once again, I am still in suspense as to the purpose of this meeting.

9:00 – 9:30 p.m.: Now we get to the real issue. Since their company obviously does not appreciate their efforts, they want to leave their company and is there anything I can do to help them find employment elsewhere? I just spent 4 hours listening to someone who wants a project management position somewhere. Now I finally figure out that my host really does not believe that I am Dr. Phil or Jerry Springer, but instead thinks that I am an employment agency. And as you might expect, they now pull out a resume from their briefcase. 

You cannot imagine how many times this has happened to me. So, what’s the best practice for how to handle this situation?

  • When people ask to take me out to dinner, I ask them one question: Why do you want to take me out to dinner? This catches them by surprise and most people refuse to answer the question and try to change the direction of the conversation.
  • If they have a valid reason, I will be glad to have dinner with them.
  • If they tell me it is a personal reason, then there’s no question in my mind that they are seeking employment and want my help. I then tell them that they can join me for breakfast in my hotel between 6:30 a.m. – 7:00 a.m. to discuss whatever they want. I make sure they understand that at 7:00 a.m. I am heading to my lecture and our breakfast meeting is over.

In 30 minutes over breakfast, all of the important information is discussed. Most of the time they decline to have breakfast with me and just send me a resume. This best practice has worked well for me for several decades. And for those of you who know me, you can give up the idea that I will have an afternoon talk show on personal issues related or unrelated to project management any time soon.

Four Easy Steps to Help Your Project Fail

Are you letting your project fail?

I guess the title caught your attention. Projects do not fail by themselves; they need help. The help they get are called people, more specifically, project managers.  Projects that fail can be called people failures; projects do not fail – people fail. When projects fail, we seem to go through meticulous pain to identify every possible cause of failure. A brief list might include:

  • End user stakeholders not involved throughout the project
  • Minimal or no stakeholder backing; lack of ownership
  • Weak business case
  • Corporate goals not understood at the lower organizational levels
  • Plan asks for too much in too little time
  • Poor estimates, especially financial
  • Unclear stakeholder requirements
  • Passive user stakeholder involvement after handoff
  • Unclear expectations
  • Assumptions, if they exist at all, are unrealistic
  • Plans are based upon insufficient data
  • No systemization of the planning process
  • Planning is performed by a planning department that may have little experience in project execution group
  • Inadequate or incomplete requirements
  • Lack of resources
  • Assigned resources lack experience
  • Staffing requirements are not fully known
  • Constantly changing resources
  • Poor overall project planning
  • Enterprise environmental factors have changes causing outdated scope
  • Missed deadlines and no recovery plan
  • Budgets are exceeded and out of control
  • Lack of replanning on a regular basis
  • Lack of attention provided to the human and organizational aspects of the project
  • Project estimates are best guesses and not based upon history or standard
  • Not enough time provided for estimating
  • No one knows the exact major milestone dates or due dates for reporting
  • Team members working with conflicting requirements
  • People are shuffled in and out of the project with little regard for the schedule
  • Poor or fragmented cost control
  • Each stakeholder uses different organizational process assets, which may be incompatible with each other
  • Weak project and stakeholder communications
  • Poor assessment of risks if done at all
  • Wrong type of contract
  • Poor project management; team members possess a poor understanding of project management, especially virtual team members
  • Technical objectives are more important than business objectives Continue reading