Are PM Exams a benefit or a mill-stone around the neck of PM Capability?

There are two well kown exams for PM, widely and wrongly seen as alternatives. The content of their underlying (?) ‘wisdom’ is entirely different and completely complementary. For exam detractors there are several elements to tease apart: The PMBok Guide / P2 manual, the PMI organisation / APMG & Axelos/ Cabiet office TSO etc, the PMP exam/ P2 Foundation & Practitioner, the exam training, other PM exams and recruitment practices of ignoring proven capability until after filtering by initials in the resume 🙁

(Stacy Goff ASAPM’s president has written a useful analysis on the PM exams see here for the pdf)

The “PMBoK Guide” recognises its own fallibility in its title and Bill Duncan’s insistence that it could never be “the” BOK. A good starting point but the PMBoK Guide now arroganty says “The standard” – shame because that is b*ll*x its “A guide”

The impression I have of PMI is that it is a highly litigious money making machine that happens to have a PM oriented product set – this is my impression I don’t state it as a fact – and they now regard the contents of that original ‘can only ever be incomplete etc’ guide as sacrosanct. P2 IPR useage guidance also indcates that criticsm of contet isn’t acceptable

The exams themself are for me a vexed question. First the need for “exam training” is stupid and backward. Training that has to focus on transcription of a book’s view – sacrosanct or ‘incomplete stab in the right direction’ is detracting from value_add not contributing. I don’t welcome a weeks exam-cram as the right use of resources.

At least PMP requires real experine even if people fake it and the criteria are pretty wooly. The PMP’s great merit is of being open only to those with real world experience and thus says something about their ability to contextualise the knowledge which their exam results prove exists.

PMP also pushes people to know the Guide’s content – the questions may be an*l but they do test you know the book’s contents. I suggest the exam’s purpose is to allow two similarly qualified people to use the same words to mean the same concepts and start any tailoring or adaptation discussion using the same framework of process/ step sequences and groupings of responsibilities. In this way an exchange of meaning is enhanced when talking about application of PM in each specific real-world context. This is very valuable but misses a key point that is the source of my detraction – but first the P2 exam.

The P2 exam is sold as “what entry level PMs need”. Nothing could be further from the truth – the official P2 manual, the exam syllabus and thus exam cram training omits everything an entry level do-the-job-for-real syllabus covers. The knowledge an entry level pm needs is what would make the current P2 manual’s chapter 7 a book. The P2 exam is available to people without any real experience. Thus a one-week exam cram creates a “registered” person but in such a manner that what they prove in the exam has no contextualisation, what is tested is 60% or more irrelevant to the job and 80% or more forgotten in a month (I made-up the %ages, but I would argue their indicative and probably conservative).

My detractions result from the observation that both P2 and the PMBok guide reflect a supplier side mind-set: they both see project as temporary, they are both happy to define success as the conditions that get the supplier paid – yet the ONLY reason to run a project is to effect a change to the pre-project state of the world.

A project is a transition from (relatively?) stable BAU to future-state-bau. The initiative is not over until the benefits streams have stabilised in a new state. The PMBoK reflects 50 years of suppliers trying to do their 1/3rd of ‘change’ better and this has been mistaken for the scope of what is needed – it isn’t. Change management is a general management skill applied to the shepherding of capital through a transition.

Where someone wishes to become a specialist then they may focus on a sub-set of the whole. So PMs are specialist managers tuned to change, others may specialise in Civl, Marine or Software engineering. In these later cases they are performing the role P2 correctly calls a Team Manager. If PM is just looking after the expenditure side of any initiative then there is a whole discipline missing from modern management practices (oh that’s why we’ve now got a weasel-worded discipline called “programme management” – to make up for the deficiency in the definition of ‘project’ ! *doh* )

Its only by taking exception to the status quo to trigger debate and action that progress is made – of course action is no guarantee of movement in the right direction!