Advancing your career: the new Portfolio Management Professional credential
PMI have launched a new credential recently: the Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP)SM. The pilot finished in February and at the moment you can’t sit the exam while they review the feedback from that, but you can still apply and it won’t be long before exam dates can be booked.
Credentials in general are a good way to advance your career. This one demonstrates your experience in managing organizational portfolios and could enhance your chances of getting a pay rise. Anything that means your bosses recognise that you are doing a good job and are professional in the way you go about it improves your standing at work (or if your company doesn’t value that sort of thing, help you find a company that will). PMI’s literature claims it helps make you more marketable so you may find employers starting to ask about this credential if you are going for PMO and strategic level jobs.
So, as this month is all about Portfolio Management on projectmanagement.com, I thought I’d explore the PfMP a bit more.
Is it for you?
It won’t be for the majority of people. It’s aimed at people who are responsible for portfolio management in their companies. PMI define a portfolio as:
“a collection of programs, projects and/or operations managed as a group. The components of a portfolio may not necessarily be interdependent or even related—but they are managed together as a group to achieve strategic objectives.”
You can see that this will only relate to a few people in your business, or one particular team. It’s a strategic, high level job rather than a hands-on project management job, although you don’t have to have the job title of Portfolio Manager to be eligible to apply.
What are the pre-requisites?
As with the other PMI credentials, you’ll need to meet certain criteria before you can apply. You’ll need a high school diploma or equivalent with at least 7 years of portfolio management experience in the last 15 years. Or 4 years’ experience if you have a bachelor’s degree or equivalent.
Then you’ll need to demonstrate 8 years of professional business experience. As PMI say that one of the roles of the Portfolio Manager is to establish and guide the selection, prioritization, balancing, and termination processes for portfolio components to ensure alignment with organizational strategy you’ll have to show that you’ve been working at a senior level in your firm.
What’s involved in the application process?
Your application will be reviewed by a panel of expert volunteers who are also portfolio managers. This bit takes around 4 weeks. Then there’s the exam. You’ll have to take the exam within a year of passing the panel review. It’s a multiple choice computer-based exam, so if you have taken any other PMI credentials you will be familiar with the format.
Will it help my career?
Who can say? Only you can answer that question.
On one hand, it’s a new credential so until there is a critical mass of portfolio managers holding it employers may struggle to recognise its worth.
On the other hand, getting it in the early days will set you apart from the rest of the field when you apply for new jobs.
As with any credential, having it shows that you have demonstrable skills and experience and the commitment to the profession to study for and sit an exam. I think it’s too early to tell if candidates with the PfMP credential will earn more than others in the same role but from past experience and the salary surveys from PMI it’s probably likely that they will in time.
Credentials and certificates are an investment, and it is always worth talking to your manager about whether he or she will fund your application and exam fees, or even give you time off work as study leave. They may say that they won’t fund it but you might be pleasantly surprised! I’m looking forward to watching this credential as it evolves and more people take it: as PMI are positioning themselves and project management as a strategic thing this fits well with their current focus (or at least that is how it looks from the outside).
Has anyone got any experience of PfMP credential process or the pilot? Let us know your thoughts on it in the comments.
3 Types of Complexity
At PMI’s Synergy conference at the end of last year, Stephen Carver gave a well-received presentation which included some information about the different types of complexity, as perceived by the brains at Cranfield.
He talked about what success looks like on projects and said that the level of complexity faced is part of whether a project is deemed to be a success or not. The 3 types of complexity he identified are:
Let’s look at each of those in turn.
This is the ‘easiest’ level of complexity and it involves the scale of the work on the project. A project is structurally complex when it has many stakeholders, workstreams or other elements. There is a lot for the project manager to manage and control, with many variables.
This is where the project is changing around you, for example increases to the price of steel in a construction project or stakeholders who were not identified at the outset suddenly needing to be included. It encompasses projects where there are a number of unforeseen issues or where the situation is unknowable, for example where there is a great deal of novelty perhaps in the technical set up or the way the commercials are being managed.
This is where the project suffers from hidden agendas and lots of politics. There is little transparency and at the worst end of the scale maybe even sabotage. There are conflicting priorities and resistance. Cultural IQ becomes really important for the project manager along with being able to adequately manage the people involved and creating a shared understanding of objectives and the project’s vision in order to align agendas effectively.
Stephen said that most training courses cover dealing with structural complexity but in a survey of 246 project managers who were asked which of these 3 areas they found most challenging, socio-political complexity came out on top.
Which is hardly a surprise.
“Projects,” he said, “are deeply emotional things.” Whether the Millennium Dome, for example, was seen as a success or failure is down to your point of view and the passage of time: rebadged as the O2, it’s now a very successful arena and venue. The Sydney Opera House, Concord and Terminal 5 at Heathrow were other examples he gave of projects where the definition of success was difficult to pin down and would mean different things to different people.
“If you don’t do anything, you won’t make any mistakes,” he added. “We do a lot so we are bound to make mistakes.” Unfortunately, on complex projects these mistakes tend to be in the socio-political arena and they can be very hard to undo. Not setting up proper workstream reporting, for example, might give you a structural problem at the start of your project but it’s easy enough to address that sort of complexity and put it right. Dealing with damaged egos or senior stakeholders who each think the project is going to address their own pet issue is a far harder situation to deal with.
He didn’t give any pointers as far as I can remember about being able to deal with socio-political complexity, although I imagine that a 45 minute presentation about project success was never going to have much time to touch on what project managers can do differently (better) in order to address these challenges.
What tips do you have for managing projects with this type of complexity? Is it just good stakeholder management or are there other things that you can do to deal with it successfully? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
At the PMI Global Congress EMEA in Dublin last month Terry Williams spoke about his research into early warning signs on complex projects. Last week I wrote about what causes problems on projects. One of the things his research team considered was the role that external reviews have to play in uncovering those problems.
External reviews at all points in the project are useful. These provide a sense of legitimacy; comfort that you are doing the right thing. However, they need to be well focused, with guidelines. And of course it is not enough just to do a review and create a list of issues: issues have to be acted on as well.
However in some cases it was the process of doing the review was the most useful. The interview forced the project team to defend what was happening and therefore helped them uncover what was indefensible.
Having to justify the decisions made the project team question them and this process was identified as a good tool for flagging where things were going wrong.
Barriers to identifying early warning signs
You may expect warning signs to be successfully identified and dealt with in an environment where gut feel is taken seriously and reviews are carried out. But it is not like that everywhere.
Terry also shared some of the barriers to identifying early warning signs in projects. Here are some:
I am not a big fan of organisational politics, and I often wish we could cut through the hidden agendas and just get things done. However, fast tracking projects through politics means you don't have time to assess early warning signs, Terry said.
What are the early warning signs?
As a result of their research the team was able to make lists of typical early warning signs by project stage. These are helpful guidelines for people doing project reviews - pointers for what to be looking for. The lists included:
During project set up
In early stages of project
During project execution stage
Do you do project reviews? If so, have you spotted any of these warning signs or any other signs that things might not be going to plan?
Early warning signs in complex projects
"We should have seen it coming."
Have you ever said that or felt that on a project?
Terry Williams spoke about his research into early warning signs on complex projects at the PMI Global Congress EMEA in Dublin recently. The researchers looked at how successful project assessments are in uncovering the warning signs that something is going wrong on the project.
They set out to discover what the most important early warning signs are, and what to look for in different contexts. Terry specifically focused on complex projects. "A complex project is one where you don't understand how the inputs generate the outputs," he said.
The team went in to 14 organisations and interviewed people about what went wrong in their complex projects. The issues they asked about included:
• Political processes and reasons for projects
• Business case
• Risks and opportunities
• How you learn lessons from other projects, and the difference between lessons identified and lessons learned.
This last point was interesting. A public sector project lessons learned report included the advice that future projects needed a strong leader. That's not rocket science. But when the researchers dug into the reasons why the lack of leadership had been an issue on this project they found out all the political reasons behind it, which is much more useful. Understanding the context and the narrative around the lessons is helpful, Terry said.
He cited the NASA lessons learned database which I also refer people to when I give talks - it is a great example of managing organisational knowledge.
What causes the problems?
Problems on projects are caused by all kinds of things, and the researchers uncovered some common themes:
• Overly ambitious plans
• Development of new technology
• Difficulty of stopping projects when they have gathered steam.
• People in senior roles forgetting what managing projects is like as they have moved to levels in the organisation where they have no recent relevant operational experience
Then they took a step back and looked at what warning signs came before these problems.
The researchers saw that early warning signs include 'gut feel' and non-verbal, people-related issues. "Early warning signs may be evident from people's behaviour," Terry said.
Unfortunately, project managers and executives don't always pick up on these signs, or know what to do if they notice them. And the more complex the project, the more likely they are to ignore them.
Half of the companies taking part in the research distinguished what a complex project was. They had guidelines set by the company specifying what 'complex' meant for them.
"We got this feeling that people doing complex projects define more things to look at and this takes away reliance on gut feel," Terry explained. "The more complicated guidance distracted you from using gut feel."
The more structured and complicated the organisational structure, the harder it is to allow soft interpretations of concerns.
Next time I’ll be looking at the value of using external reviews to assess early warning signs on complex projects.
Live from PMI Global Congress North America: How to Become a Program Manager
Pedro Serrador presented yesterday at PMI Global Congress North America on how to become a program manager. There are many career advantages to program management – not least that program managers tend to earn more than project managers. So if you want to move into program management, here are Pedro’s tips.
“A program manager adds more value than just project managers,” said Pedro. He said there are eight principles to being a successful program manager, and shared these from Vincent J. Bilardo, Jr.:
Moving to a program manager role requires you to deliver the goods, he said. There might also be a case for upgrading your education, and learning from others. Pedro also said that prospective program managers should put themselves in a position where they can lead and mentor others, and especially learn to delegate appropriately. “Show that you are a leader, not just one of ten project managers in the group,” he added. Look for the opportunities that arrive and take them. Finally, act the role, he explained. “If you want to become a program manager, act like a program manager. Start to structure things like programs.” If you act like a program manager, your manager will see that you are capable of operating at that level.
“Often it is beneficial to move around,” he said, when he spoke about how to land that new program management job. That could mean moving to a new initiative or to a new company. He explained that outside CEO’s earn an average of 13% more than internal candidates. However, they fail 34% of the time, compared with only 24% of internal candidates, so there is something to be said for sticking with what you know. “Moving is riskier,” Pedro said.
Pedro had some tips for what to do when you get that first program, or you choose to structure your existing work as a program (even if you don’t yet have the title):
Pedro also said that senior managers spend more time planning their own time. “You help the projects managers get on the right track and then go on to something else,” he said. Factor that into your daily schedule and take the time to plan your day (and your schedule in general). It might seem like it takes a long time but it will be effective.
“A big part of your role is to let the stakeholders know the importance of your program and you need to be able to push to have obstacles removed,” he said. His final piece of advice was to have a 30 second status summary in meetings in case the executive you are presenting to gets called away. “Know to stop at yes,” he added.