Finally! Just the prep class I’d be looking for. It fit everything I needed, namely a one stop shop that would teach me everything I needed to pass the exam and all that in just six days of intensive training. The certification was as much as mine!
I damn near leapt out of my skin and did leap from my chair. Clutching my chest I whirled about. “Hogarth!” I blurted. I swear, if I ever figure out how an 800 pound gorilla can be so stealthy, I’ll bottle it and make a fortune. “Don’t sneak up on me like that!”
“Why don’t I want you to scare me?” I asked in shock.
Hogarth shook his head. Lumbering past me he perched on the corner of my desk and pointed at the screen. “No, why are you taking a workshop to be a…” He leaned forward, squinting to read the screen “An IRATE*?”
I stood up a little taller, “That’s an International Registered ACME Technology Evangelist.”
Hogarth looked at me, “And you’re getting one why?”
“The IMP, Institute of Managing Project*s just came out with the certification. It’s bound to be the next must-have certification. Everyone is using their certification based on the MoProK*.”
Hogarth leaned towards my screen, “and it’s worth…” He blinked, putting on a pair of banana shaped spectacles to see better. “It’s worth four figures, four very large figures, to you? Do you even know anything about ACME?”
I shook my head, “Not a thing, but the prep class will teach me everything I need to pass the test.”
“Huh” he said. Levering himself up from my desk, he began to waddle from the room.
“Hey!” I said. “Aren’t you supposed to be saying something profound that makes me realize how big an idiot I’m being?”
Hogarth shrugged. “I suppose, but I need to get going if I want to make my Poo flinging certification prep class. I mean all the monkeys in accounting have theirs.”
“Hogarth, that’s ridiculous. Monkeys throw poo, that doesn’t mean you have to.”
Hogarth turned and looked at me. He smiled and said, “Something profound.”
Whoever remembers their mother saying, “And if all the other kids jumped off a cliff, would you?” Okay, good, for a minute I thought I might be the only one.
As many of you know, I’m studying for PMI’s Agile Certified Practitioner certification (PMI-ACP). I think there is a value to it, or at the very least a value to having strong proponents of Agile as certified members. I go into my own whys on this in the Potato, Pahtato Gorilla.
So, I recently attended a local project management-related Meetup. The subject of this meeting was the PMI-ACP certification. The speakers were from a local training house that currently offers PMP prep course training.
At the end of the meeting more than one person came to me and asked my opinion. At the time I demurred on any full commentary, simply saying that they had definitely figured out their target market. While I absolutely believe in tackling those unspeakable gorillas in the room, sometimes calling them out is just plain rude. So I withheld my commentary at the time. It is also why I’ll withhold any specifics on the meeting or the speakers.
So what did I think of the presentation?
It was a crass commercial that undermined the value and ideals of Agile and PMI certifications.
It completely missed why so many people believe in Agile and have been promoting the use of Agile values and principles in everyday business. Only five of the twenty four slides in the presentation were devoted to Agile itself, with the rest being either wrapper or a pitch on why you should get the ACP and how their upcoming training could prepare you.
To the company’s credit, the gentleman who gave the mini primer on the value of Agile, spoke with the passion of an Agilist. It was clear he believed in and used Agile because it worked, because it made for a better project and a better team.
I wish I could say the same for the other presenter, who provided the arguments on why one should get the PMI-ACP. Let me quote the very first bullet from the “Why the PMI-ACP is important for Project Managers?” slide.
o “Be prepared for the next big wave (after PMP)”
Everything was geared around this concept. That you needed to get the PMI-ACP because it was going to be the next big thing, because everyone was going to be doing it. As a certified PMP I cringed at how they stressed the value of PMI creating the certification. Essentially it boiled down to “They are the industry leader, so it will be taken seriously.” I’ll be the first to say PMI isn’t perfect, but to boil it down to “They are the 800 pound gorilla, that’s why you get their certification” leaves a lot of PMI’s value on the table.
I came away from the meeting feeling like this company cared first and foremost about turning out successful test passers and not practicing Agilists. None of the pitch talked about how it would make us better, how it would help the team, how it would help our businesses. It was all about “me.” Any believer in Agile knows that’s the last thing a project manager should be thinking about. Those of you who have a PMP are probably familiar with the opinions of how the PMP has become devalued by people going through almost factory-like prep courses that are designed to get you past the test, even if you really don’t have a lot of practical PM experience.
· Is PMI the 800 pound gorilla of project management certifications? Yes, yes it is.
· Is it likely PMI’s ACP certification will become a must have on PM resumes? Strong likelihood.
· Should every project manager run, not walk, to get certified at their local factory cert shop? Heck no!
· Are prep classes inherently bad? No, provided they don’t forget the bigger picture.
Agile is a set of values and principles. You can’t just certify yourself on Agile, you have to believe in Agile. You don’t do Agile because “everyone is doing it.” You do Agile because it works, because it makes for better teams.
If I ever develop a PMI-ACP prep course, it will be a course that teaches the value of Agile, not just how to pass the test.
Be the lemming with the life preserver.
* The IMP, IRATE and MoPRoK are an entirely made up organization, certification and body of knowledge intended to represent any of the hundreds of organizations and certifications in existence. I am not opposed to organizations creating a standard of practice and certifications to go with them. My issues are with those that take advantage of them instead of build on them.
Or- Ripped from Today’s headlines; PMP certification and $4 will buy you a cup of coffee!
Or- My personal Aha Moment, on the value of an Agile Certification.
I should have known communication was going to be an issue from the start. When the Director of IT clarified that he was in charge of Interactive Telemarketing and the guy in charge of the actual infrastructure was called the Director of Data Management, it should have been a clue to the coming communication issues.
“So the overall framework will use a standard five phase PLC..”
“A what?”, the Dir. of DM asked.
I smiled, chiding myself for not spelling out PLC, there I go again using alphabet soup, “Sorry, a five phase product lifecycle, concept, planning, development, verification, and sustaining.” The Dir. of IT looked confused, so I elaborated. “A structured process from strategic vision through developing and then release.”
“Oh,” the DM replied. “We call that a phased release tree and we call them Ideation, contract, coding, test and shipped.”
I nod, “Right, so the overall framework will be follow the PRT.” Drucker says, “Communication is what the listener does,” so I changed my language to fit my listeners. ” Because requirements are still fluid, we will shorten the.. contract phase and use a modified Agile, Scrum process as we move into the…”
Another question, and another explanation led to my changing my terminology to call this a “Wagile job.”
I began to have an inkling of a communication gap.
“Due to the short release schedule I propose we use one week sprints…”
“The schedule currently has the backlog grooming on…”
Two hours later I left the conference room, completely exhausted. Dropping into the temp cube I was parked in, I rubbed my face. The meeting had gone well over schedule, almost completely a result of the constant running translations that had to happen for any information to pass back and forth.
“Hogarth, that’s a banana!” I snapped.
He nodded, “Yep, it is. Good thing you guys weren’t trying to put out a fire in there. The building would have burnt down before you agreed on what to call that cylinder object to deal with fires.”
“Fire extinguisher,” I snapped.
“Nah, I was thinking about the phone handset so you could call the fire department. You really want business directors fighting a fire?”
ARE WE SPEAKING THE SAME LANGUAGE?
If you’ve hiding under a rock for the last week or so, you might have missed that the Project Management Institute has announced a new Agile Project Management Certification. For some this announcement is akin to hearing that “Big Brother” has decided he wants to install cameras in your car. To others it’s something too long in coming, after all isn’t PMI the one and true wisdom in projects? For a large, middle of the road, group the announcement has been followed by a “wait and see” attitude. Announcing something and how it will actually work are very different beasts. Announcing you’ve found life on Mars and then revealing that it is only a millennium dead microbe are two, very, different things.
With feet firmly planted in both the PMI and Agile communities, I was prepared to take a wait and see approach. To start, I wasn’t convinced that there should have been a PMI agile certification in the first place. The Program Management cert (PgMP) has been less than a stellar success. Does PMI have the credentials and ability to make such a certification have value?
But then I don’t make those decisions and another part of my brain came to the realization that much of the value of a PMI Agile cert would be in the hands of the people who pursue that certification. Like any trail blazers, they could give this new certification real purpose or they could turn it into another white albatross on the road to certification alphabet soup (professional web site developer, really?).
So until yesterday I was still trying to decide if there was an actual value to even creating a body of Agile knowledge and a certification around that. With the power of the internet at my fingers, I can easily read up on any Agile methodology, from Extreme to OpenAgile and back again. Why did we need a certification?
And then I had my Aha Moment and I realized that yes, this certification could be a very good thing.
My Aha moment came talking with Ainsley Nies about one of the “use case” studies she brought into her Agile Management class at UC Berkeley Extension. Captain “Dave”, a police officer, came to class and described how he coordinated the police response to the San Bruno Pipeline explosion last year. What he described is something nationally called the Incident Command System (or SEMS in California) and when Ainsley recounted the tale I recalled my own experience with ICS and it all snapped into place.
ICS started as California’s Standardized Emergency Management System, in the 1970’s to respond to series of catastrophic urban effecting wildfires. When the retrospectives were done, it was found that it was not a lack of resources but a breakdown in communication and management, a failure in common language, that resulted in poor ability to respond to the fires. This is not surprising for a state almost 800 miles long, paramedics from Eureka may have never even been to San Diego, much less worked with their ocean search and rescue. After 9/11, Homeland Security took California’s system and turned it into a national system that all emergency service organizations were required to learn. Today, any US emergency responder can arrive at any US disaster and plug into the existing “project.”
Why? Some weaknesses in incident management were a result of:
- Lack of knowledge with common terminology during an incident.
- Lack of an orderly, systematic planning process.
- No predefined methods to integrate inter-agency requirements into the management structure and planning process effectively
Lack of common language. ..
Lack of a common planning structure…
Lack of cross organization integration…
When I studied for the PMP, I didn’t learn great swaths of new knowledge. I’d been doing project management for years, even before I wore the official title of project manager. What I did learn was a common language and a set of common frameworks, in short a tool box and the instruction manual to go with it. How I ended up using those tools was up to me, the PMBOK itself clearly states it is a set of guidelines or common practices. Getting my PMP gave me the ability to converse with other project managers on a common basis. It also gave me a community.
And an Agile Project Management certification can be of the same value. Like an Incident Command System for using Agile methodology, it could offer a common language, common frameworks and make sure that when we all grab hold of the elephants tail, we all know its an elephant we’re holding onto and not python. It can shorten the time new teams take to come up to speed. It can mean that an Agile PM can join a firm with other Agile PMs and already know they are talking the same language.
Does my Aha Moment magically make things all rosy and bright. No, but it does tell me that this certification can be a good thing. When we can all agree that the red cylinder is called a fire extinguisher, it will make it a lot easier to put out the project fires.