Project Management

Ethics Bistro

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We all tackle ethical dilemmas. Wrong decisions can break careers. Which are the key challenges faced? What are some likely solutions? Where can we find effective tools? Who can apply these and why? Dry, theoretical discussions don't help. Join us for lively, light conversations to learn, share and grow!

About this Blog


View Posts By:

Kimberly Whitby
Simona Bonghez
Karthik Ramamurthy
Alankar Karpe
Fabio Rigamonti
Mohamed Hassan
Valerie Denney
John Watson
Deepa Bhide
Amany Nuseibeh
Enrique Cappella
Gretta Kelzi
Albert Agbemenu

Past Contributors:

Lily Murariu

Recent Posts

The A, B, C’s of Ethics

The Traps of a Conflict of Interest

Is there something called an ethical protest?

Avoiding the Alligators While Navigating Uncharted Territory

Ethics as a competence of the Portfolio Program Project Manager: a personal journey.

The A, B, C’s of Ethics

Categories: code of ethics, Ethics

What words do you associate with A, B and C? Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie? Or Apple, Ball, and Cat? As students return to the physical and virtual classrooms, let’s have some fun with some concepts of Ethics…

What begins with A?  How about ACTION? I start with action not only because it is the beginning of the alphabet, but in dealing with an ethical dilemma: Don’t act before you have the facts.

Let’s say you are faced with an ethical dilemma: multiple stakeholders telling you how to proceed and the directions conflict with each other. You Vice President says “Don’t tell the customer about the test failure until we have it fixed.”  The customer demands “timeliness and transparency at all times.”

Using the PMI Ethical Decision Making Framework (EDMF), you would use the five-step process. Using these steps, the letter A can also stand for ASSESSMENT, ALTERNATIVES, ANALYSIS, and APPLICATION.

What begins with B? How about BULLY?

I am not talking about just a simply competitive, ill-mannered, or challenging personality. While there isn’t a single definition, a bully is someone who exhibits a persistent pattern of mistreatment. This may be verbal, nonverbal, psychological, physical. Often, this includes a degree of humiliation.

What can you do? How about using the PMI Project Bully Tool? This tool encourages you to assess bullying behaviors in the workplace context and helps you recognize if you are properly interpreting the behaviors.

What begins with C? There are so many words that come to mind: Compliance, Conscience, and Culture.

One of my favorite descriptions of the difference between compliance and ethics is from a 2019 Forbes editorial by Bruce Weinstein. Compliance is adhering to the rules and regulations, or as he puts it, “what is required of me?” Ethical leaders ask, “How would an honorable person behave in this situation?” To me, this is closely related to having a conscience. What is your internal compass tell you when faced with a dilemma?

As I’m running out of space, let me finish with ethical culture. Is it simply an environment that makes it easy to do the right thing and difficult to do the wrong thing?

This seems too simplistic. To me, an ethical culture is one in which there is a collective belief in the values of the organization and one in which individuals are empowered to speak up and take ACTION.

That brings us back to the letter A!

I could spend days just talking about the A, B, Cs of ethics!

What do you think?

What other words, phrases, or concepts come to mind?

I’d love to hear from you. In the future, I hope to address the D, E, Fs (and more) of ethics.

For more information on the above, see  for the EDMF

For information about Project Bully  see


Posted by Valerie Denney on: September 15, 2020 09:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Avoiding the Alligators While Navigating Uncharted Territory

Categories: Behavior, Change, Ethics, Values

2020 has been quite a year so far….. And we aren’t even halfway through it.  Individuals, families, friends and business entities have been stretched (and stressed) in new and unusual way.  For those fortunate to still have a project management job, the challenges are often related to communicating in the completely virtual environment.  Even in those organizations which had a distributed workforce before the start of 2020, things have changed. It was common to mix phone calls and zoom meetings with periodic face to face meetings.  Gone is the physical networking.  Gone are the physical conferences.  Gone are the trips through airport security and staying in hotels. Gone are the day long whiteboard problem solving sessions.   

Transitioning to a virtual environment requires a mindset change.  How tempting it is to find other things to do around the house when no one is looking.  How will the boss even know I cleaned the garage, or planted the garden, consulted for another company, or simply read a book unrelated to work during my normal working hours?

Is it that ethical expectations have changed?  To that I say NO!   The expectations haven’t changed, but perhaps the change that caused a slide down the slippery slope.  Let’s take a moment and reflect. The PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct (AKA- the Code) describes the expectations that we have of ourselves and our fellow practitioners in this global project management community. It consists of four fundamental values described below.

First is RESPONSIBILITY. I ask you, if you committed to completing a task and you just didn’t get around to it, are you taking ownership for your decisions?  Should there be consequences?

Next is RESPECT. I ask you, if you improperly account for the hours you worked and use the company laptop for a personal project during working hours,  are you respecting the resources the client has provided you? 

Next is FAIRNESS. I ask you, if you are consulting on another project management activity during your prescribed work hours, are you exhibiting fairness by using this situation for your own self-interest?

The last value is HONESTY. I ask you, if you tell your boss that the work is on track and nearly done when you know that isn’t the care, are you exhibiting honesty?

No one said change would be easy.  What if the new norm is a continual evolution? I, for one, believe it is.  Taking the time to look at the Code, and reflecting upon your own behavior during a time of change strengthens the professionalism of the global project management community.

Maybe Aldo Leopold (1887- 1948) said it best:  ethical behavior is doing the right thing when on one else is watching. This still rings true today.


Images are provided by Creative Commons.


Posted by Valerie Denney on: June 08, 2020 12:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Ethics and You: What If I Fail?

By Dr. Valerie Denney, PMI EMAG Member and PMP

Let’s discuss a hypothetical, but all too real project management situation. Let’s suppose you’ve been with the same company for 6 years in which time you have been assigned increasingly responsible positions including 2 years as a project manager.  You professional track record is impeccable but you’ve been left aside even if you are so ready for the next step!

Maybe your dreams will come true!  The director of projects approaches you and she want to promote you, if you agree to take the project management position on a high priority project that, well, “has had some tough spots”.  What a job offer!


Then the next morning, you receive more details from the director of projects: the project is 30% over budget on a fixed price contract, 50% behind schedule on a 14 months project, and two days ago there was a major technical failure.  Oh, and your business unit’s success (and the director’s job) depends on the project success.  What’s your second reaction? Do you still want the job? Now you know more about it, and you’ve been given more time to think about it.

At lunch you overhear one of the project team members say”there is no way to save this project from being cancelled”.  From other comments you realize that you didn’t know how the team moral can get any worse:  “The sponsor hates us and can’t wait for us to fail” another laments in frustration.  Now what?  What’s your third reaction?

SOURCEYou go back to the director of projects to discuss your concerns.  After all, you’ve been taught that open, honest communication is always the best.   You’re told it would reflect badly upon you if you don’t take this opportunity—after all it would seem that you really aren’t interested in career growth after all.  The conversation continues with comments about you “needing to step up” and “this is no place for weak players” and “she knows dozens of project managers who would jump at this opportunity if you’re not capable.”  You feel that you are being bullied into taking this position but what if you fail? Would I lose my job?  How will my family handle this, especially with a new baby on the way?

The discussion continues with what seems like a veiled positive note “you will be given complete authority to do WHATEVER it takes.”  OK, I like authority! But wait, there is more! If you are the project manager you are expected to “only bring forth solutions, and not problems”.   She concludes with “what I don’t know, can’t hurt us”. If that isn’t a red flag, I don’t know what is?  If you are not familiar with the concept of a red flag, it is an idiom or metaphor to signal a dangerous situation.

You reflect on her words and the tone.  “WHATEVER it takes”?  “Legal and illegal”?  Against company policy?  Conveniently manipulation of the truth?  Poor behavior? Flawed decisions and judgment? WHERE does this end?  Could you live with your moral self after the act? Abuse of power and authority?

Think now about the principles in the PMI Code of Conduct and Professional Responsibility.

First is responsibility:  we have a “duty to take ownership for the decisions we make or fail to make, the actions we take or fail to take, and the consequences that result.” Wow!  Am I really prepared to take responsibility for everything, even things that are outside of my control?  There is a lot of history that can’t be undone. Do I have the necessary to understand the consequences of my decisions?

Next is respect:  we have a “duty to show a high regard for ourselves, others, and the resources entrusted to us”.

Resources include people, money, and reputation among others.  Am I prepared to show respect even if I need to remove poorly performing employees? Even if I face criticism about making tough decisions? Even if I might be bullied? Even if I am told that I was selected only because no one else would take the job?

Next is fairness: we have a duty to make decisions and act impartially and objectively”. Can I really be free of self-interest?  Mine is that I can’t afford to be fired. Can I avoid favoritism and not hurt anyone’s feelings?  Are all my decisions fair, for the project, for the team, for the organization, for myself?

The fourth and final principle is honesty:  we have a duty to understand the truth and act in a truthful manner both in our communications and in our conduct”.

What if I am tempted to withhold information? Hide the facts? Bend the truth? Change the truth for beneficial gains? What if the project erodes further before it gets better? What if I fail?

Well, this is my reality! Enough about the questions, what about solutions?  There are no easy answers.

Sometimes we are faced with conflicts, and yes, ethical dilemmas.  I leave you with some thoughts for consideration and potential solutions.

1.      Know yourself.  Know your limits.  Know your strengths and weaknesses.  No one is expected to solve everything alone.SOURCE

2.      Don’t isolate yourself when in a difficult situation. Find a mentor—a trusted person who you can talk to about your concerns and alternatives to tough problems. Who can you turn to for advice and council? 

3.      Be prepared: Take a class on project management?  Can you get Project Management Professional (PMP) certification [or renew] for that continual quest to improve.

4.      Use you PMI resources: read the PMI Code of Conduct and Professional Responsibility; learn about how to deal with a bully; practice using the Ethical Decision Making Framework. 

Learn more about these through the links below, or contact PMI Ethics Member Advisory Group (EMAG). This team is an advocate of the PMI Code of Ethics, acts as Product Leader in creating tools and techniques, and facilitate stakeholder understanding and application of the Code of Conduct and Professional Responsibility.

5.      Don’t be afraid to take on a challenge.  If you really want that next career step, give it a try! Just don’t forget about 1, 2, 3 and 4 abovSOURCEe.

Remember that project management is a team sport.  You may have a tough road ahead, but you don’t need to navigate it alone.

For more information, click on the following links:

PMI Code of Conduct and Professional Responsibility (

Project Bully

Ethical Decision-Making Framework.


Source of all graphics is “Creative Commons”, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Posted by Valerie Denney on: September 20, 2019 03:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Ethics and Trust: The Case of the Miraculous Program Recovery

By Dr. Valerie Denney,  EMAG member

In this blog, I encourage you to comment on this hypothetical, but realistic case, that describes a program that had an apparent miraculous recovery.

Trust and ethics…. Two powerful, yet common words.  Do we just use the words as slogans without stopping to think about what they really mean?

“Trust, but verify.”

“In God we trust.”

“Got ethics?”

Free vector graphic: Business, Idea, Style, Concept - Free ...

Let’s begin with a simple definition for ethics:  the rules of conduct for a particular culture or group. Using a thesaurus yields words such as integrity, morality, honesty, and conscience. For trust, let’s use reliance on the ability, integrity, and surety of an individual or institution.

Covey, in his bestseller, The Speed of Trust, describes trust with all stakeholders as a key leadership competency. Project managers, as with other leaders, build trust by the manner in which they make ethical decisions- those which make the best possible choices while working within the constraints and expectations of the environment. Leadership is inextricability linked with ethical choices.

<strong>Trust</strong> Quotes - Brain Quotes

As project and program managers, we have an obligation to comply with the PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. The code embraces four global project management community values including responsibility, respect, fairness, and honesty. In context to this topic, respect is our duty to show a high regard to ourselves, others, and the resources entrusted to us. Honesty is our duty to understand the truth and act in a truthful manner in all that we do.

Consider the following situation with respect to ethics and trust.

You are the program manager of a high technology contract that has significant risk. There were a number of bumps on the program in the first 9 months including key personal issues, supplier problems, design errors, and late contract deliverables.  Since then, everything seems to be going well… at least according to your chief engineer.  Apparently program recoveries can come true!

You haven’t heard of any significant problems since this new chief engineer came to the program 5 months ago.  In fact, the weekly test metrics are excellent and far better than they were 4 months ago.  According to last week’s report, we are meeting, and in some places exceeding, the test completion plan. 

Last week a government auditor was at our facility for the annual review of the program. She and the chief engineer are good friends and served in the military together.  They go back at least 15 years. As friends, the chief engineer and the auditor went for an evening on the town. The chief engineer bragged “I have found a foolproof way of keeping the program on track.  All I need to do is estimate the results of the simple tests. I am positive everything works so actually I am being efficient and saving time and money.” The auditor gave a puzzled look, but continued the reunion that evening.

The next day, the auditor continued the review and stumbled across some problems with the way the test data was recorded.  Some of the detailed evidence seems to be missing.  A few days later, the auditor meets with you, and reveals a number of deficiencies, including issues with the test reporting.

You are shocked. How is this possible? There must be some mistake.  The chief engineer assured you that everything was great and you believed it to be true.

You meet with the chief engineer for clarification. The chief admits that there have been shortcuts, “but only on the tests that don’t really matter.  We all know those simple tests work, so why waste our time and money on a formality?”

The meeting ends abruptly. You trusted the chief engineer to be a leader and a technical expert?  You ask yourself “how could this happen?”

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What action(s)  would you take now?

What lesson(s) can we take from this scenario so we don’t encounter similar situations in the future?

In the end, performing ethically allows us to execute projects and programs successfully while acting in a manner which is consistent with our personal, company, and professional associations. Simply stated O’Brochta (2016) wrote that “ethics lead to trust, which leads to leadership, which in turn leads to project success.” This hypothetical case allows us to continue to explore this statement.

For more ethical resources please visit:

O'Brochta, M. (2016). Why project ethics matter: Leadership is built on trust. If the foundation is cracked, a project's future is in doubt. PM Network, 30(1), 29.

Posted by Valerie Denney on: August 14, 2018 01:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

"Don't let school interfere with your education."

- Mark Twain