Jag Venugopal's Blog

June 26, 2009

PMI — Project Management Advocacy? NOT!

Filed under: Project Management — Jag @ 1:47 pm

A professor of mine at Northeastern U. once remarked that as professional organizations got to a certain size, their business focus changed from advocacy of their specific profession, to paying the salaries of their employees.

While my professor was making these remarks about the ACM, I am afraid that this is turning out to be true of the Project Management Institute (PMI). PMI’s mission has turned from advocacy of project management, to perpetuating itself via sales of the PMBOK Guide, certificates, accreditation and seminars.

Back in the mid-to-late nineties, the PMI was a professional organization of project managers. They had a dedicated following (at least in my then-employer) of hard-core project managers who believed in what they did, and in the value of the PMP certification. Their main standard was the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide). This was a terse, well-written document that was available for free on the PMI web site. In addition, the PMI mailed a paper copy to each and every member as part of their membership benefits.

As the PMP exam hit the big time, so did the PMI grow in popularity. As the PMI grew in popularity, so did their zealousness to guard their crown jewel, the PMBOK Guide. Said guide was now available only to PMI members. Others could purchase it for a fee. Furthermore, the membership benefit was reduced from a paper copy to a PDF copy on CD. The PMP exam hit the big time, and a nice ecosystem built up, geared towards the PMP exam, and the training and paraphernalia needed to pass it. PMI, and the various training providers had a nice symbiotic relationship — they each needed the other to make money off the PMP.

Fast-foward to 2004. The latest edition of the PMBOK Guide was now greatly increased in girth. It was an unmitigated disaster that did not appear to have been reviewed by any well known authority in project management. I have a separate post that goes into its many sins (see http://www.amazon.com/review/RT06BMU8A0P1X/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm). It continues to be a bestseller because the PMP is all the rage. Unfortunately IT managers who know no better, consider the PMP as a benchmark of project management proficiency. Nonsense. What the PMP certifies is that you know your way around the PMBOK Guide and can successfully answer a multiple choice test. It says nothing about your ability to manage a project under real-life conditions.

The 2008 PMBOK Guide puts on more weight, and takes knowledge hoarding one step further with multiple DRM implementations. The first was a PDF plugin that was universally disliked, forcing the PMI to revert to custom watermarking. The PMBOK CD is not DRM’ed with a similar copy control scheme. When I complained to the PMI, their response was that it was “their intellectual property” and that they needed to protect it. Its almost as if the Church one day woke up and decided to call the Bible its intellectual property.

Notwithstanding the fact that the PMI’s avowed mission was to “advance the practice, science and profession of project management”, with all the added credentials, PMI’s business now appears to be:

  • Selling certificates of various kinds (PMP, CAPM, PgMP, PMI-RMP, PMI-SP)
  • Selling accreditation to training providers
  • Selling advertisements on its web site and magazines
  • Selling books that were written by uncompensated authors (e.g. PMBOK).

For IT professionals, I recommend that PMs continue to keep their PMI membership current, and horrors, take the PMP exam. The value of the exam is questionable at best, but since PMI’s marketing has convinced the IT industry to add this to any PM job requirement as a checklist item, you’re forced to have it.



  1. I like that you pointed out that having a PMP doesn’t necessarily indicate that you can lead a project to successful completion. In order to obtain your PMP, you must meet experience and educational requirements and then pass the certification exam. However, one area to clarify is that the exam covers more than information in the PMBOK. The exam is written to test your experience. Just studying the PMBOK is not enough to pass the PMP exam.

    Comment by Thomas Kennedy, PMP — June 27, 2009 @ 12:26 pm | Reply

  2. AMEN, JAG!!!!

    Believe me, you are NOT ALONE. There are many like us and all we can do it keep telling the others that “the Emperor is naked”…….

    Are you a member of Linked In? If not, you should consider joining and you will find a whole raft of like minded folks…..

    But in the meantime, keep on blogging!!!

    Dr. PDG, Jakarta

    Comment by Dr. Paul D Giammalvo — June 27, 2009 @ 2:43 pm | Reply

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