Friday, February 10, 2012

Embrace the Knowledge of those Who Lead Before Us
Guest post by Vicki James

Vicki James
My "Ah-Ha" moment came after I was on my way to becoming a project manager. I joined a project team as a business analyst in 1999 because of my experience with the business that the systems supported. This was a state government position supporting state budget processes. I enjoyed what I was doing, but had little formal training. I did come to realize quickly that I wanted to be the Project Manager. I lead all activities around requirements, user training, and help desk, but I felt I could be effective at managing the entire project.

My employer staff offered a 9-month project management certification course a few years into the position. Management was surprised when I pursued this opportunity. I was the first non-technical person to express interest in project management. I was accepted and the training was paid.

The specific course I took was good for getting practical experience with working conduct specific real projects sponsored by our agencies. I recall project and team selection day well. There was another woman, Chandra, in the class who had proposed a project and it appeared that her project might squeeze my project out of the consideration for class work. My project prevailed and team members signed on, including Chandra. She turned out to be a gracious and giving team member and a great asset to the project. We also discovered we shared a passion for bargain shopping. It is important that I bring Chandra into the story for my “ah-ha moment” might not have arrived if not for her.

The process of the project was great for learning. The course material for this specific program did not prepare for what was to come. Chandra had suggested that we both pursue the PMP once the class had completed. The what? I had not yet heard much on the Project Management Institute (PMI) or their Project Management Professional (PMP) certification. She gave me a bit more information and I signed on. Sure, why wouldn’t I want some alphabet soup behind my name to prove I can manage a project? Chandra and I decided to partner to self-study as a team. We had a deadline of September 30, 2005 to take and pass the exam before PMI implemented testing against the PMBOK 4th edition.

This is where my “ah-ha moment” came. Studying for the PMP was where I gained the most significant knowledge about what is means and what it takes to be a project manager. The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) is full of useful information on project management best practices that made sense. PMI is an organization that has been around as long as I have been alive, collecting, and refining best practices - I do not have to make it up as I go along. The processes and tools learned in studying make sense in context of the projects I worked on and I could see the opportunity for improvement. There is a defined code of ethics, equal to my own, that applies to project management. Things that I figured out on my own were part of actual best practice processes and had names. I loved it, I soaked it in, I learned.

Traditionally, I have not been good at taking test. “Failure is not an option” became our mantra. Chandra and I both passed the test the first try, just a week before they shut down testing for the 3rd Edition of the PMBOK.

I often hear phrases such as "certification doesn’t mean anything", "so you can pass a test", "just learn the PMBOK’isms but they are not real practice", "a cookie cutter approach won’t work in my case". I find this very frustrating and suspect that this comes from people who have not actually looked into what the best practices are, how they came to be, or how they will benefit projects. I would never presume that I know better than the thousands of project managers that came before me in preparing the PMBOK. As for being cookie cutter, page 4 of the PMBOK explicitly states, “This standard is a guide rather than a methodology.” I recently read, and believe, that those who seek to learn make better leaders. PMI and the PMBOK are a great foundation to becoming a great project manager.

Outside of the United States there are other organizations working on comparable standards. While I am a member and certified by the PMI, it does not matter which professional organization you follow, only that you take the opportunity to see what the collective experience of their members past and future can provide you in your own projects and career.

Vicki James

Vicki James ( is an independent consultant in Olympia, WA. She holds Project Management Professional (PMP) and Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP) certifications. Active in developing IT projects both as a business analyst and project manager since 1999,Vicki is passionate about learning and sharing best practices in project management, business analysis, communications, leadership, and organizational improvement.

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