A Project Manager’s Poker hand

Or- Ripped from Today’s headlines; PMP certification and $4 will buy you a cup of coffee!

It was late evening at my office. I was still there to take a conference call with one of our Chinese out source firms. I strode purposefully down the hallway and straight into the conference room.
I stopped short. I backed up and looked at the name of the conference room. Yes, I was in the right place. Stepping back in my mind tried to make sense of the scene before me. Hogarth was sitting at the table, his back to me. He had garters around his forearms and wore a visor. He was rapidly dealing cards around the table to the other occupants of the room.
Two more gorillas, a black swan and a pink elephant.
The sheer absurdity of the scene froze me to inaction for several moments.
“All right, everyone ante up out,” Hogarth called out.
ITIL,” mumbled the larger of the two gorillas.
Six Sigma, Black Belt,” the pink elephant said..
Slapping a chit on the table, the other gorilla declared “Prince2.”
Quietly sliding her chit across the table, the black swan almost whispered “MCSE.l
PMP,” Hogarth said.
Everyone at the table picked up their cards and carefully began arranging them. Moments later Hogarth called out, “Opening bet is to you, Winston.”
“I call two years of team leadership,” the larger gorilla said.
The “betting” went around the table. “Award winning writing”,” Paid to speak in public”, “Risk management expertise‚Ķ”
“HOGARTH!” My mind finally caught up with the absurdity. “What are you doing?”
My gorilla turned to look at me. “Oh, hi boss. Just playing poker with some of the guys.” He pointed around the table. “I told you ’bout my cousin, Winston. The elephant is Percy, from accounting, that’s Wendy’s Gorilla, Stanley and birdie over there is Wanda from IT.”
“Poker? What on earth are you using for money?” For some reason my mind had no problems with three gorillas, a pink elephant and a black swan playing poker. Instead I was trying to wrap my mind around just what they were playing for.
“Job experience and accomplishments!” He declared.
“What?”
Hogarth grinned ,”Haven’t you heard the news? A PMP certification and $4 will get you a cup of coffee?”
Certification Poker, just what does a PMP get you?
A while back Simon Cleveland, of the Miami  Project Examiner, posted a blog titled “Why is just having a PMP not enough.” In his blog he reviewed a study published in the Project Management Journal. The study surveyed Senior IT Executives and found that a PMP certification rated at the bottom of the list for considering a candidate for hiring.
The bottom?…
Yes, the bottom. Here is the list from Simon’s blog:
1. Leadership = 94%
2. Ability to communicate at multiple levels = 93%
3. Verbal skills = 87.2%
4. Written skills = 87.1%
5. Attitude = 85%
6. Ability to deal with ambiguity and change = 82%
7. Work history = 68%
8. Experience = 67%
9. Ability to escalate = 66%
10. Cultural fit = 57%
11. Technical expertise = 46%
12. Education = 37%
13. Length of prior engagements = 23%
14. Past team size = 18%
15. PMP certification = 15%
Wow… My first reading of the article had me up in arms. I was ready to storm the walls and take no prisoners. How dare they say my PMP was the bottom of the list! Then I read a LinkedIn discussion on the matter. In that discussion, one person voiced confusion on why the PMP is considered a must have in so many job requisitions and with HR. Another poster wondered how this jived with PMI promoting project management as a “certified” profession, like accounting or lawyers.  I was ready to call the million PM march on Washington (okay maybe the century PM march, do I hear a dozen?).
So I read Simon’s article again. This time I took my time. I paid attention to the listed values and the LinkedIn concerns from my fellow project managers. When I was done, I had learned two valuable things. The first is the old Netiquette adage to never immediately respond to a confrontational email or post. Write your post, then walk away for thirty minutes or more. Come back after you’ve calmed down and see if you still want to send it. You almost never will.
Of course that’s not what this blog is about. The “Aha Moment” for me came when I realized that the study was 100% absolutely right!
“Say that again?
That’s right. I agree that a PMP should be at the bottom of the list for deciding if you want to hire someone. We saw Hogarth use his PMP (well technically mine) to ante up in his job experience poker game. He didn’t use it for an actual bet. The PMP got him in to the game, but it wouldn’t win him his hand.
It’s the same for a hiring decision. A PMP certification is not the most important decision in hiring someone, and it should not be. The same goes for pretty much any other professional certification, Prince2, Scrum Master, PMIs new Agile cert ( You need a Medical Degree to be a doctor, that doesn’t mean you are a good doctor.). A certification helps get you in the door. It’s a must have on your resume and, in theory, is proof that you have the skills that the hiring manager wants. It is your ante to get into the interview game. It gets you to the table. Then you have to prove that your certification was justly earned, by demonstrating your ability in the skills. In the case of the PMP one of those key skills is the ability to communicate.
Three of the top four things on the study’s list are about communication. Eighty percent or more of being a Project Manager is about communication. Then, looking at the top of the list, the number one thing IT Execs look for is leadership. It’s not communication, though a good leader must be a good communicator. That said, I would argue that to be a successful Project Manager you must be a strong leader. If you can successfully lead a project team, without direct report authority, then you are probably a good leader.
Let’s look at two more high ranking traits; handle ambiguity and change 82% and ability to escalate 66%. These are both vital tools in a good project manager’s tool box. A dedicated PMP certified project manager should have these skills and actively cultivates them. I’d also argue that the ability to escalate is just another part of communication.
Conversely, notice where Technical Expertise rates? A whopping 46%. Leadership, communication, and adaptability (ambiguity and change) far outweigh the requirement for technical expertise.
So on reflection I think this article is spot on and fully supports who I am, as a project manager.
My PMP certification gets me to the table. It shows I want to be one of the best. I still have to prove to them that I am.
Joel Bancroft-Connors
Veteran, the project management wars
Want me to talk to your gorilla? Send me an email
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP

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