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What's the Story Behind Your PMP Certification?

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Long-time Voices on Project Management blogger Conrado Morlan, PMP, PgMP shares how attaining a PMP certification helped his career.

Project management practitioners like me, with more than 20 years of experience, learned about PMI and the PMP® certification in ways much different from today. 

My first exposure to PMI, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) and PMP certification was in the late 1990s. It was during a training program to attain PMP certification -- and in Spanish, no less -- at the company I worked for in Puebla, Mexico. 

My colleagues and I questioned the benefits of this certification, which at the time was not well known in Mexico. In addition, the written exam was in English. That did not make the PMP more attractive. 

I left the company before taking the exam. Yet in my new job, I discovered that the knowledge I acquired in the training program was very helpful. Without prompting, I used some of the best practices in the PMBOK® Guide, especially those related to risk and project integration.

As I progressed professionally, I moved to the United States and learned more about PMI chapters and global congresses. I became a member and a regular at chapter meetings. 

By this point -- even with eight years of practical experience in project management and applying best practices in my work -- I realized I needed to take it to the next level: earning PMP certification. Sure, professional experience and on-the-job-training are important -- but I was only recognized for that at my company. Attaining the PMP meant that the world's largest association for the profession would validate my professional experience. 

In the lead-up to my exam, I was traveling intensively for my job, and the PMBOK® Guide became my travel companion. While abroad, I visited local PMI chapters and learned about running projects in different settings. The interaction with members of PMI chapters in other countries helped me tweak my project plan. The combination of studying and exchanging ideas with practitioners internationally were fundamental for my PMP exam preparation.

In December 2005, I attained my PMP -- and I have never regretted it. Achieving the certification brought me immediate benefits. After I notified my manager, he awarded me an incentive bonus. A week later, I was selected to lead one of the most challenging projects of the portfolio. 

Over the years, I also became more involved in my community, volunteering at events such as PMI item-writing sessions. In 2011, I was honored with the 2011 PMI Distinguished Contribution Award. I'm not saying that getting my PMP awarded me recognition and experience overnight, but I needed it to get to the next stage in my career.

I still find project professionals who think the same as my colleagues and I did in the late 1990s. The most frequent questions I hear are: Why should I earn a certification or a credential, if I am a senior project manager with many years of experience? How does a certification or credential make me different? 

To these, I respond with a question (Why not step out of your comfort zone?) and a thought (What made you successful in the past will not make you successful today).

The truth is that, just like doctors, project professionals need to update their knowledge to face the challenges in today's project world. PMP certification and PMI membership give you access to share and acquire project management knowledge, stay up to speed on new trends, and join a group of global volunteers contributing toward the advancement of the profession. Most importantly, certification helps you reach the next step in your professional life. At least that is what it has done for me.

How did getting a PMP help your career? Are you still considering getting one, and why?

Foster Growth for Junior Project Managers

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How can you still use the people you currently have on your team rather than replace them?

One suggestion is to look to your junior project managers, provided that they are sufficiently skilled, to complete the work that needs to be done.

But how do you train the junior project manager quickly and sufficiently?

As project managers, we, especially those with credentials, have a strong belief in this profession and the desire to advance our knowledge and practice. Those of us who are already senior project managers have the responsibility to work with our junior project managers or team members and support them in their growth.  

As a project or program manager, you have the power to give them the tools they need to unleash their power as coordinators and junior project managers. As a project manager, you already know how to manage the project. It's up to you to help the less experienced know what they should be doing, what they shouldn't be doing and what tools they should or shouldn't be using.

For example, I worked with one junior project manager who lacked experience in working with those who were directly involved in the business operation. The solution we found was to involve her directly with the business analyst. The business analyst could help the project manager communicate her needs into "business speak." This allowed the project manager to learn, and adjust her management and communication styles.

Knowledge sharing gives junior project managers more confidence. By providing them with an experience working with you on a project, you are creating an environment that fosters growth and development and is fun and rewarding.

Are you a senior or junior project manager? What has your experience been like? How do you foster growth for junior project managers?

Managing Multicultural Teams

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In my first post ever, I talked about how the "multi" factor plays an important role in projects and how project managers must be prepared to address team issues related to this phenomenon.

As project managers in a global environment, we are now more often expected to lead multi-regional projects. This adds the element of different cultures -- both national and organizational -- that adds can add complexity to projects.

Perhaps your experience is similar to mine when working with project teams in a global environment. My multicultural project team consists of senior stakeholders, a deployment team and a technical support team. All team members have varying experience in the organization, but also can come from very different cultural backgrounds.

There can be a struggle when starting a project in a culture that you are not familiar with. How do you bring everyone together to share a common vision and commitment on the project delivery? I have learned that I need to develop strong cultural competencies to manage a multicultural project team effectively and to establish connections with the team members.

I like to use three tactics when on-boarding a new team member from a different culture:

1. Explain the purpose and benefits of the project to help establish the bond between the team member and the project objectives. Stress the importance of his or her role and how his or her local experience and knowledge will benefit the project.  

2. Discuss any concerns that the team member may have, such as with language or customs. This can also help break the ice and show that you understand how difficult cross-cultural relationships can be.  

3. Emphasize what is important to you, whether it's work ethic or communication methods, and why it's important. Don't assume that all of your expectations are globally understood.

When I manage a project abroad, one of my preferred ways to build cultural awareness is by spending time visiting popular spots where the locals meet. For example, at restaurants, coffee shops, sporting events and shopping centers, you can observe customs, traditions and behaviors.

Your observations in those settings can help to answer your questions about the culture. But it's just not observation that will help you.  People are very proud of their cultures and customs and are often keen to help you understand them. This supports the need to build a rapport with your team, whilst also building your awareness.

It's also important to understand your own culture's norms and behaviors. That knowledge helps guard against interpreting another culture's behaviors in terms of your own unexamined expectations.

As a global project manager, how do you manage a multicultural team?  

Selecting a Protégé From Your Project Team

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It is always good to groom talent internally to fill vacant positions in the company. It saves cost, effort and time -- all the important aspects of a successful project. 

I like to think of grooming a project team member as another project.

To ensure that 'project' is successful, a project manager should look for possible candidates that match certain characteristics. In my opinion, the following are among the characteristics a manager should look for in potential project managers (in no particular order):

1. Friendliness

A project manager must be able to communicate effectively. Friendliness is a good trait to have because more often than not, a friendly person is able to get information from the least communicative person.

2. Willingness to learn

Learning happens all the time in managing projects. Even the most seasoned project managers still learn something new from each new project.

3. Vision

A project manager must be focused in seeing a project through until it is completed -- or halted. He or she must have a clear vision to be able to steer the project team to fulfill the project goals.

4. Organized 

And this doesn't mean the project manager's workstation. The information that the project manager shares must be organized and structured to ensure clarity and understanding to the recipients.

5. Diplomatic

In a project, conflicts will arise -- even from something as minor as a missing network cable, for example. A project manager must be able to act objectively, as a mediator and be able see the whole picture.

6. Firm

When making decisions or providing direction, a project manager needs to be firm. Not every decision will be popular. Resistance may occur, but the project manager must stick to her or his ground.

This, by no means, is an exhaustive list of characteristics that a project management protégé must have. But I do believe these are the fundamental criteria that a project manager should possess to be effective and successful.

What criteria do you look for in a project team member when grooming him or her to be a project manager? What other characteristics do you feel are important for someone who wants to be a project manager? 


Project Skills Improvement Through Formal Plans

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It is very likely that you have some members on your project team who are more talented or experienced than others. As project managers, we tend to utilize their skills as much as possible because we know that more often than not, they will be able to produce excellent results and meet expectations. 

Nevertheless, this group of people still needs the opportunity to improve their skills and knowledge. This is especially true when an organization needs to stay relevant in the current economic conditions. 

According to PMI's 2012 Pulse of the Profession report, a critical success factor of projects was staffing the team with the appropriately skilled people. Organizations that had a formal process for developing project/program competency saw a 70 percent success rate on projects, versus a 64 percent overall average. 

Unfortunately, Pulse of the Profession also showed that in 2011, only 47 percent of organizations had a formal "talent management" process, down from 52 percent in 2010.

But we must have formal talent management processes to develop project managers and team members, and you must tailor it to the people involved. An effective project manager is only as good as the information that he or she has.

An "accidental project manager," for example, might not have attended formal project management training courses. But fundamental knowledge helps project managers achieve effective and high-quality deliverables. For this group, it would be good to start them off with proper training on the core skills they'll need to grow and succeed as project managers.

Team members who are familiar with project management fundamentals might need help developing in other areas, such as soft skills. Since 90 percent of a project manager's job is communication, maybe you will help them improve in that area. 

Have the team member sign up for a communication course, for example. Choose topics such as influencing skills, which is important in convincing clients and partners. Or, suggest courses on negotiating skills, which is helpful in negotiating a more achievable schedule.

Refresher courses could be helpful for everyone on the team. Look for training that zooms into specific project management areas, such as effective cost and scheduling control, risk management or quality control management. Aim for at least one training session every quarter. 

Do you have a formal talent management system? How do you develop your project managers?

To discuss Pulse of the Profession on Twitter, please use #pmipulse.

See more on the Pulse of the Profession. 

Tailor Your Coaching Style to Project Team Members

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In coaching project team members, project managers may forget that each person is different. Thus, the approach to engage them will be different. It is imperative to remember you are not creating a clone of yourself and that your team members may have a different working style than you.

You must have a game plan when coaching individual team members. It does not need to be written down; you just need to pay attention. Focus on the way your team members prefer to work, listen and learn. Some people like to draw when they talk or explain. Some people write everything down. Others just stare blankly but give good responses when requested to.

When you have an idea of how your team members operate, try these tips to coach them further:

  1. Identify the different ways your team members process information and engage them in that manner, on an individual basis.
  2. When you're presenting to the team, use figures and pictorial depictions on what you want to explain.
  3. Use humor to keep people interested. Dispersed doses of humor get people engaged and paying attention. It's also a great way to get new people on the team to warm up to you as the one who's going to be responsible for the deliverables. "Hey, the project manager jokes! Maybe she's nice to work with!"
  4. Encourage the team to give feedback on how they are coping with the workload and schedule. Most of the time, team members do not voluntarily share the challenges they are facing for fear of looking weak or incapable. The project manager needs to assure the team that it is important to make known the challenges since the success of the project depends on the ability of them completing the tasks.
It is important to understand your team members and then apply different coaching styles to deliver information. Include some laughter and good humor, and you'll probably find yourself with a happier and more cooperative team.

How well do you know your team members? How do you engage their interest in learning new things?
 

Coach Your Project Teams by Example

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Have you ever thought that as a project or program manager, you indirectly set a precedent on managerial style, behavior, competencies and professionalism. Unconsciously, we are showing our team members how to manage crises, deal with stakeholders and so on.
 
There are many ways that we can unknowingly coach our team members. When dealing with stakeholders, for example, project managers have the authority to set limits and control the discussion to stay on the subject. To be able to do this, we need to know the business process at both a high level and in terms of the customer's business goals.

In dealing with stakeholders, we indirectly coach our project team members to do the following things:

  1. Exercise a project manager's authority when the situation calls for it
  2. Understand the strategic direction the customer is embarking on
  3. Display at least a little business acumen and subject knowledge
  4. Communicate direction effectively with the objective of getting good results
  5. Control meetings and discussion; ensure objectives are met within the allocated time
As project or program managers, we need to tackle our day-to-day tasks strategically in order to be an effective coach and leader. Our team members observe every communication we make and actions we take.

How have you indirectly coached your team members in your projects? What examples do you set for your team members to follow?

Read more posts on coaching teams.

Empower Project Team Members

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Project teams are built of people with multiple layers of skills and competencies. A few will be selected as project leads to have less responsibility than a project manager, but more than a team member. Project leads ensure smooth task management and reporting flow, but how many of them are allowed or trusted to make decisions? What level of decisions can they make?

The key to empowering a team member lies in the project manager's ability to get to know the person's strengths and weaknesses. Some people, although highly skilled, are weak at managing customers. Some have the ability to influence but aren't necessarily good at managing time.

In one of my earlier posts, I talked about delegating work to team members as a way to help them succeed. To be able to delegate effectively, project managers simply cannot pick one person and assign him or her a task without carefully considering that person's skills.

When empowering team members, the same rules apply. In some cases, you can only see the true colors of a person through action.

First, select someone with a suitable background and competencies. Then test the person with small decisions or tasks. Check if he or she can communicate effectively by having conversations to gauge his or her ability to think and act proactively.

When you empower team members by giving them greater responsibility, you can significantly improve the way a project is managed. Deadlines that require input or quick decisions can be met promptly, for example. Customer satisfaction can be improved because a team member doesn't have to go through layers of approval. And, those empowered team members may get a confidence boost.

What decisions do you trust your team members to make? Have you experienced any negative impacts by empowering team members? Do you think empowering team members improves project delivery?

Timeboxed Meetings Foster Efficiency

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Official project meetings normally take up so much time that most see it as time wasted. How do you ensure you're getting or delivering information that you want without wasting time? How do you train your team members to be more efficient in sharing information you need?



There is one technique in agile scrum that I particularly like and have found very useful. I'm pretty sure this technique has been around for a long time, only now they have a special name for it: the timeboxed meeting.

Timeboxing is typically used when a project schedule is divided into separate time periods -- each period has its own schedule, deliverables and budget.

When you apply timeboxing to a meeting, each team member answers three questions:

  • What was done yesterday?
  • What challenges were faced?
  • What is the plan for today?
Ideally, three minutes is given to each person to answer in a timeboxed meeting. So if five people are giving updates, only 15 minutes is spent in total. Upon finishing, members immediately go back to completing their tasks. If anyone is unable to attend the meeting, an email containing answers to the three questions suffices.



In reality, having team members summarize their last 24 hours into three minutes is challenging. Without focus, and practice, they will undoubtedly fall into the trap of over-elaborating and, worse, finger pointing.

In the beginning, you might want to try five minutes per person, but reduce the number of participants. This means you will have more than one session of timeboxed meetings. As your team gets more comfortable, start reducing the time and adding team members per session.



Remember, the idea is to hold these meetings daily with the objective of sharing updated information quickly. As an added benefit, you're indirectly coaching your team members to be more focused and efficient.



As project managers, we have to determine whether a technique is counterproductive. If the idea of having a daily update meeting seems too taxing, try holding them every other day. If you feel that getting team members together at one time is difficult, improvise and ask them to send text messages or email instead.



Have you used timeboxed meeting techniques? What methods do you use to increase the reporting efficiency within your project team?

Coaching Through Process Improvements

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Being involved in process improvements can feel similar to being audited -- not pleasant. So how do you make the period of process improvements more manageable for your team members, especially when they are project managers themselves?
 
When creating process improvement initiatives, look at it as an opportunity to motivate your team members. Morale is likely low and improvements should be made. Hand-hold your team members during the process. Instead of sitting in front of them like an interviewer would, sit next to them -- be a peer. This will help them see that you're making things better, not making their lives messier.
 
For example, I'm currently spearheading a process improvement initiative where the objective is to improve the current project management techniques for project implementation. Before I even started this project, I was told that I'd face some adversity. But I have a plan.
 
I want to make the initiative as painless as possible, so I plan to turn the investigative process into a learning process -- both for my team members and myself. I will take on a student's point of view, rather than as the instructor, because I'm learning, too.

I'll also try to be more open. I want my team to share their plights and success stories with me. I'd like to construct a scenario in which my team members learn new things from their experiences, seeing the areas that can be improved or approached differently for themselves.
 
It is a common saying:  Things will get worse before they get better. Managing team members during process improvement period is like that. They will dislike you before they like you. Adversity is to be expected, but as the saying goes, impossible odds make achievements more satisfying.

What do you think a project manager should do to garner cooperation from team members during a process improvement initiative? How do you turn process improvement initiatives into a learning process? How do you manage team member resistance to change or idea makeovers?
Project managers have notoriously full schedules. As difficult as it can be sometimes, delegating is a must.
 
While more than 80 percent of our time is spent communicating, the other aspects of the job are crammed into the remaining 20 percent. If we focus too heavily on individual tasks, we will crash into our myriad deadlines.

This is where delegating becomes essential to leading successful projects.

Personally, I would rather do everything myself than ask another team member to do things for me. But this attitude can lead to significant catastrophes:

  1. I would miss my deadlines or have to sacrifice my personal time to complete the tasks.
  2. My team members will always be team members that follow instruction. They wouldn't grow in their capacity to eventually manage projects on their own.
When you delegate tasks to a team member, you're indirectly training this person to be more actively involved in the project. You can delegate to one particular team member or involve every team member in the process.

First, tell team members the information that you need and give them a deadline. Prepare a template to make it easier for them and to ensure you get all the necessary information. For good measure, I might remind them of what I need from them 24 hours before the deadline.

Delegation has a few benefits. First, you'll make your deadlines because you'll get the right information from the right sources, on time.

Secondly, team members are exposed to structured work and reporting methods, and will see the significance of the work they contribute to the project. Finally, you'll increase trust within the team because of greater responsibilities, which can enhance self-worth for team members.

What is your take on delegating? What tasks have you delegated to your team members? What positive impacts do you see from delegating tasks to your team members?

Grooming the Apprentice Project Manager

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How many of your project team members aspire to become project managers? Do you see promise in some of them for this role? How can you impart some of your knowledge and skills to help them be successful?

There are elements of project management in everything that we do. It's your responsibility as the team leader or project manager to point this out to your team members and guide them to see the connections.



A programmer might manage her time and communication, while also helping to develop a module, for example. A junior analyst may manage budget and scope while discussing the change request with the client. Show your team members how the tasks they are performing are also project management practices.

This way, team members can appreciate that the work that they are doing is impacting the project as a whole. If team morale is often low, perhaps members don't see the significance of their work. You can help change their perspective by coaching them to view their contributions differently. 



Not all of your team members will appreciate your efforts. Some of them will feel that it's an interruption of their productive time or that you're meddling in the actual work being done. But by showing the team members how their tasks relate to project management, they will see that project management is present in everything that we do.

And who knows? That skeptical team member could become your organization's next high performing project manager -- thanks to you.

What do you think? Are project team members already performing some tasks of a project manager? How do you coach your team members to become good project managers? 

Passive Versus Active Learning

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Most project management training is based primarily on passive learning: listening to an instructor, looking at slides or reading, for example. This kind of traditional education focuses on teaching, not learning.
 
Active learning, on the other hand, puts the responsibility on the student. Whether in class discussions or written exercises, they're compelled to read, speak, listen and think.

One of the most powerful active learning models is experiential learning. Participants find meaning in experience -- learning through reflection and doing. As ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius once said: "Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I'll understand."

Let's say you want to teach the importance of planning before executing, for example. Instead of just explaining it, try this lesson in experiential learning. Give a bag of LEGO parts -- the toy building bricks --  to a group of students and ask them to build a car in five minutes. When the time is up, show a slide with the project phases: initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing. Then ask them to identify which phase applied to which part of building the car.
 
I challenge you to consider experiential learning programs for project managers. They observe and evaluate the effects of a situation as they participate -- and then apply this learning on actual projects.
  
Have you tried experiential learning? What are the pros and cons over passive learning?
 

Project Management: An Organizational Competency

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Competency-based management is a tactic that some organizations are using to recruit, hire, train, develop and manage employees.

Competencies are sorted out in three categories:

Organizational competencies combine the skills, information, performance measures and the corporate culture that an organization uses to achieve its mission. All employees must demonstrate these proficiencies.
 
Job role competencies include the abilities needed to perform a specific role in the organization. A field supervisor, for example, must have similar skills to supervisors in accounting, customer care or sales. Although they are in different department functions, they must exhibit a common set of supervising skills.
 
Position competencies are specific to the position you perform in your organization. An account manager, for example, must demonstrate capabilities that include proficiency in sales. An IT support engineer, for example, must be a master supporting the core systems an organization uses.
 
It's common for organizations to think project management is a skill at the position level and that it is just for project managers.

The reality is that project management is an organizational competency. If organizational strategy drives strategic changes and those changes are executed as projects, project management must be an organizational capability rather than a job skill.
 
If project management is an organizational competency, it's required to define a training program within the organization to develop everyone's project management knowledge and abilities.

I suggest starting with an awareness meeting for all employees. Once that's completed, host specific teaching sessions for executives who will support projects and then for people who participate in projects. Both must deliver non-technical project management knowledge.
 
What do you think? Is project management an organizational competency?

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