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

Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst

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Andy was delighted for the opportunity to manage the Quality Initiative Project (QIP). He had overseen a few projects previously, mostly small ones, but the QIP would give him visibility at the highest levels of management and would surely lead to a promotion.

The QIP was a two-year effort designed to improve the quality in all areas of project management including enhancements to every form, guideline, template and checklist in the PM methodology. Andy would be working closely with all of the functional managers looking for ways to make their project management work easier to accomplish and with a higher degree of quality.

It was time for Andy to negotiate for resources. In his mind, QIP was the highest priority project in the company, although, there were several other projects that management believed to be of higher priority. Nevertheless, Andy negotiated for the best functional resources rather than any other resources that were competent enough to get the job done. Usually, the project manager states what work should be done and the functional managers determine who from their group should be assigned. Andy, however, wanted specific people that were at the top of their pay grade. Rather than continue with “harassing” negotiations, most of the functional managers agreed to Andy’s requests for specific individuals.

Right from the onset of the project, Andy could see the morale of the team was quite low. Despite his attempts to build it up, everything he tried was failing. By the end of the third month of the project, several of what Andy believed to be his most important resources were reassigned other projects that their respective functional managers considered to be of greater importance to the company. In many instances, Andy was unhappy with the replacement personnel but had no choice in accepting them. This was not how he expected the project to proceed.

Andy began talking to the team members one-on-one and discovered the following facts:

(1) Most of the team members did not consider the assignment on the QIP challenging and believed that the work could be done by lower grade personnel;

(2) Most of the team members believed that the QIP assignment would not improve their chances for promotion and some even believed it might be seen as a demotion;

(3) Some of the resources were such good workers that they were promoted right off of Andy’s project and on to more critical assignments.

By the end of the 6th month Andy had lost almost all of the critical resources that were initially assigned to the QIP. He met with the project sponsor to see if he could get support for getting some of the critical resources reassigned back onto his project, complaining that every time a new face appears on the project, the plan seemed to change. Andy had hoped to keep the same faces on the project for the entire two years. While the sponsor understood his dilemma, they stated that he was unwilling to usurp the authority of the functional managers with regard to project staffing. Furthermore, the sponsor stated that it is unrealistic to expect the same people assigned to just one project for the entire two-year duration.

As Andy was about to leave the sponsor’s office, the sponsor asked, “What are your contingency plans for the QIP given the current staffing issues?” Andy was at a loss for words. While he had hoped for the best while negotiating for resources, he had neglected to plan for the worst.

As a side note, the last time I had met with Andy, he was in the third year of his two-year project.

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.

When You Assume…

Dr. K blog

Project management has been in existence for more than 50 years. Yet in all that time, there is still a critical mistake that we repeat over and over again: failure to revalidate the project’s assumptions.

Project managers are often brought on board after the project has been approved and the assumptions and constraints have been documented in the project charter. The charter is then handed to the project manager and the project manager may mistakenly believe that the assumptions are correct and still valid.

The problem is that the project could have been approved months ago and was just waiting for funding to be approved. While sitting on the back burner, the assumptions for the project may have changed significantly to the point where the project should no longer be considered or should be redirected toward different objectives. In either case, completing a project based on faulty assumptions could result in a project that provides no business value.

We provide project managers with software to assist in tracking time, cost, scope, risk and many other project functions. But we don’t provide them with the necessary tools to track the validity of the assumptions. For most project managers (assuming that they do this at all) it is a manual process. Input from the project sponsor is essential and there is a valid argument that this should be part of the sponsor’s job description.

In any case, assumptions can and do change. Examples of assumptions that are likely to change over the duration of a project, especially on a long-term project, might include:

  • The cost of borrowing money and financing the project will remain fixed
  • The procurement costs will not increase
  • The breakthrough in technology will take place as scheduled
  • The resources with the necessary skills will be available when needed
  • The marketplace will readily accept the product
  • Our competitors will not catch up to us
  • The risks are low and can be easily mitigated
  • The political environment in the host country will not change

The problem with faulty assumptions is that they can lead to faulty conclusions, bad results and unhappy customers. The best defense against poor assumptions is good preparation at project initiation, including the development of risk mitigation strategies. One possible way to do this is with a validation checklist, as shown in Exhibit 1.

CHECKLIST FOR VALIDATING ASSUMPTIONS

YES

NO

Assumption is outside of the control of the project
Assumption is outside of the control of the stakeholder(s)
The assumption can be validated as correct
Changes in the assumption can be controlled
The assumed condition is not fatal
The probability of the assumption holding true is clear
The consequences of the assumption pose a serious risk to the project
Unfavorable changes in the assumption can be fatal to the project

Exhibit 1: Assumption Validation Checklist

It may seem futile to track the assumptions as closely as we track time, cost and scope. But at a minimum, assumptions should be revalidated prior to each gate review meeting. This may help eliminate unfavorable surprises downstream.