Why PMI Should No Longer Be an Authority on Project Management

April 26, 2014 | Author: PM Hut | Filed under: Project Management Musings

Why PMI Should No Longer Be an Authority on Project Management
By Anonymous

Note: This post represents the author’s view towards PMI and may not represent that of PM Hut’s.

I pondered for a while before writing this post on whether to call it “Why PMI Should Have Never Been an Authority on Project Management” or “Why PMI Should No Longer Be an Authority on Project Management” - I eventually settled for the latter title, but you can use the former - both are true.

Now, the question is, what made me write this post? The answer is that I think we have reached a point where project management is in peril, where everything that PMI is marketing (processes, ideas, etc…) is wrong, and that PMI solely exists for the purpose of making money and getting fat training contracts and commissions for its board .

Recently, I saw an email sent by PMI to someone who just had his application approved. In that email, there was a bold, prominent statement:

THE NEXT STEP in the process is to submit payment.

…and then it struck me, PMI is a commercial business, it’s not a not-for-profit association as it claims it is. The PMI board will approve anyone’s application provided s/he pays the fees (this reminds me of a joke in the movie The Producers (1967), - “Do you think he’ll take the job?” - “Only if we pay him”, or something along these lines). I don’t think PMI’s lust for money would’ve been such an issue had they been doing a good job and actually advancing project management. Unfortunately, Project Management, under PMI, has deteriorated from a respectable, proven practice to a bugs bunny and laughable process that only works in an ideal project management environment (e.g. never)…

So how did PMI become an authority on project management?

There’s an old Arabic saying that goes like this:

People asked the first Pharaoh: “Oh Pharaoh, who made you a Pharaoh?”, his answer was: “No one tried to stop me.”

The same goes for PMI. A bunch of consultants agreed to make this for profit not-for-profit business organization so that they can sell their services and their products (mainly books, magazines, and other nonsense) - and, of course, to pay themselves healthy salaries. At that time, NASA and the DoD were the pioneers in Project Management - they were actually doing real project management (and they still are - mostly), but, to the world’s misfortune, they didn’t even notice PMI’s attempt to hijack Project Management, and so the attempt succeeded: PMI grew from certifying a few dozen people (including friends and family) to tens of thousands a year (excluding friends and family). Then, PMI, in its infinite greed, created an array of snake oil certifications and subtly recommended that their customers candidates opt for them all. PMI officially hijacked Project Management and became the authority on the profession (or the job, if you don’t think of PM as a profession).

PMI, to enforce its authority even further, has marketed the PMBOK as the definitive source on Project Management. Now let’s discuss the PMBOK a bit, from an objective perspective:

  • It is is a book that states, in each version, that most of what you have read in the previous version is wrong.

  • It is a book that tells you that Project Management cannot be managed by the book, but then again, it tells you to strictly follow the PMBOK to manage your project (or else your project will fail).

  • It defines a project management process that can never be applied in real life - except, of course, when you’re taking a PMI exam.

  • It is a book that morphed from pure Waterfall to a weird, bizarro mix between Waterfall and Agile that is zero percent applicable in real life projects, because this is what the public wants. (Oh, and while we’re at it, let’s throw in an Agile certification so we can make more money. PS: Google “Agile certification” and see PMI’s ad somewhere on the top).

Now, why isn’t anyone talking about this?

The problem is that PMI, like a very old dictatorship, has created an ecosystem that allows people vouching for its cause to benefit. There are many Project Managers out there who are PMP certified, and they don’t want to admit that their certification, in real life, isn’t worth the fancy paper it’s printed on. In other words, these Project Managers don’t want to feel that they are at the same level as those who are not certified (they have studied and paid for this certification, haven’t they?). There are also many companies that make money by 1) training people for the various PMI exams, 2) selling PDUs (which is a big joke), and 3) selling software to manage projects according to PMI’s view on project management (there are also many, many companies using that software to manage their projects). Additionally, many individuals benefit from writing books revolving around PMI’s exams and its so-called PM Process. The ecosystem is huge and the list is endless…

Is there anything that can be done?

Yes, there is. Companies should refrain from seeking PMI certified project manager because they are not worth any penny more than those who are not. This will break PMI’s ecosystem, and when that happens, people benefiting from that ecosystem will jump ship. Where to? I don’t know, but hopefully somewhere where Project Management is not a game of hit or miss, where Project Management means something other than PMI’s lame definition, and where Project Management is not practiced by certified individuals who don’t know how to manage a project.

Will that ever happen? I have no idea.

The author of this post wishes to be anonymous. This post may not be reproduced anywhere and in any medium without the explicit permission of PM Hut.

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11 people have left comments

I enjoyed reading this post and think there’s some merit in some of the ideas raised; but also think some others are worth giving some balance to.

First some disclosure: I’m a project Manager with around 10+ years experience. I’ve lead projects up to $100M / 500 people. I’m a PMP and recently joined the board of my local PMI chapter. I also have a Masters in Project Management and for that I did study NASA and DoDs manuals (as advocated in the post). I’ve studied Agile as well and am half way through my Prince2 Certificate. I take pride in what I do and know there’s still a lot for me to learn. Go to my blog and you’ll soon enough find my linkedin and decide for yourself.

At my local PMI chapter the past 5 years I’ve not yet experienced the level of self-interest described in this post. We don’t receive money from partners, volunteers and elected chapter leads are pretty unselfish in helping others for free. We have a number of PMPs around, but rarely talk about the PMBOK (mostly when we meet we talk to each other, hear about case studies, sometimes hear from academics). Most chapter volunteers claim their motivation is “to give something back”. I can’t speak to other chapters or the higher echelons of PMI; but I’m saddened if what you’ve written is true.

As to the history of PMI; maybe there was a pharaoh once; but I’ve researched and posted on the history best I could (see http://wp.me/p3Dwmv-3R) and it seems to have started for unselfish motives.

I agree that where money takes over, PDUs are a commodity, and it becomes an exclusive club about being paid more for a piece of paper this is unethical and wrong. Working together to learn, network, and help pass on learnings seems valuable. Taking pride in your profession also seems worthwhile.

I’d really value knowing more about poor experiences and how to stamp this out without punishing many well meaning people trying to help others and build their skills to benefit their employers and communities.

Not anonymous… Martin

Martin wrote on April 27, 2014 - 11:18 am | Visit Link

Well if there was a way to stimulate the evaporation of self-confidence and belief, then the author of this article has just done it for me.

Thank you so much for the enlightening script that has now completely shattered the idea that my spending of thousands of dollars on a Masters Degree in Project Management, which is heavily reliant on PMBOK and taught by various PMI members, might lead to a career in this field.

So now I am in a state of confusion as to how much credence I give to the article because it is written by an anonymous person who may just be disgruntled or a member of a competing brand, so how much weight should be given to its veracity?

As a student, I guess I have to do the research and find out for myself but with a nagging doubt in my mind, unfortunately.

Des wrote on April 28, 2014 - 8:46 pm | Visit Link

I think everyone is entitled to their opinion, and to their privacy. That said, an anonymous diatribe filled with assertions and utterly devoid of facts is entitled to nothing.

Dave Gordon wrote on April 28, 2014 - 10:32 pm | Visit Link


My name is Anonymous and I have written this post. The reason why I chose to be anonymous is because I belong to the category of people benefiting from PMI. I serve this dictatorship. I thrive in this system. I hold not one, but 2 major PMI certifications and I am making good living thanks to these certifications.

But I hate it that I’m part of this hypocrisy, and that’s why I wrote this article, to vent.

Now, let me reply to the 3 comments I have received on this post:

@Martin: Thanks for partially agreeing with me. I do think that the majority of the PMI chapters and some of the PMI members are there to genuinely help, but my problem is with the top. My problem is with those who are creating these inconsistent books and snake oil certifications and passing them as standards purely to make more money for their PM consulting businesses.

@Des: All of the reports out there claim (and rightly so) that becoming PMP certified will increase your salary. That’s a fact! But you can be sure that it won’t make you a better project manager. In fact, it won’t even make you a project manager at all. Nearly all of what you will learn preparing for the PMP exam (or any other PMI exam) cannot be applied in real life.

@Dave: I respect your comment, but please tell me where I have gone wrong in my post. Do you really believe that PMI is a not-for-profit organization? Do you really think that the conflicting and inconsistent PMBOK is a reference on Project Management? Do you not agree that PMI threw in Agile in the PMBOK just to “go with the trend”? Do you not agree that PMI is increasing its portfolio of certifications to make more money?

Anonymous wrote on April 29, 2014 - 4:26 am | Visit Link

Since you asked:

Do you really believe that PMI is a not-for-profit organization? The Internal Revenue Service is the governing body on that point. If you think they aren’t, report them.

Do you really think that the conflicting and inconsistent PMBOK is a reference on Project Management? I think it’s a body of knowledge: incomplete, debatable, and representative of common practice. It was created and is still maintained through five editions by an ever-evolving group of volunteers; I have no expectation of a single voice. If that’s what you want, I recommend Samuel Johnson’s 1755 “A Dictionary of the English Language.” It’s archaic, but consistent.

Do you not agree that PMI threw in Agile in the PMBOK just to “go with the trend”? If PMI didn’t keep up with the evolving practice of the profession, I would be appalled. Agile methods are part of that; so is stakeholder management. Fifty years ago, it was CPM. A century ago, the Gantt chart. Tempus fugit, tempora mutantur.

Do you not agree that PMI is increasing its portfolio of certifications to make more money? Three years ago, I wrote an article on the slow growth of the PgMP community - at the time, nine per month. PMI-RMP and PMI-SP have shown even slower growth curves. Now they’re introducing PfMP - another perpetual cash drain. It’s not cheap to develop a credential, a massive exam, controls, and so on, for a population only slightly larger than that of Mount Rushmore. And yet, they’ll keep ponying up for another role delineation study, rather than retire a credential achieved by so few. Walmart, they ain’t.

If your conscience bothers you, take up another profession. We’ll understand.

Dave Gordon wrote on April 29, 2014 - 10:56 pm | Visit Link

Dear Anonymous

I don’t think that Dave could have said it better. I agree particularly with his last line.

The problem with your missive is that it provides no alternatives, introduces no new solutions and disparages an entire group of well meaning and educated individuals who wish to practice their profession.

What happened to you? Did you not get accepted by PMI? Did you not have the $ to continue your membership? Did you have a disagreement with someone on the board?
Did you fail the exam and thereby not get hired for a position that required a PMP? My thoughts are that you post is fueled by some incident and not understanding that incident leaves me question your position and your assertions.

Nothing in this world is perfect, least of which is knowledge and understanding. We work together to become better at what we do. PMI and its chapters is an organization where volunteers provide services for FREE that benefit their neighbor. That there are for-profit organizations that benefit from our learning objectives is true in EVERY profession (doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers…). That we benefit from our efforts to “certify” ourselves is also true in these other professions. Does our knowledge of a profession change over time? It certainly does. Should we endeavor to reflect that in our training, webinars, publications? I would hope so.

I would like to understand more of why you would be motivated to write what you did. I hope that you can see that we are interested in the best possible knowledge at this time and that we are also imperfect. If you are not in this space, Dave’s comment is appropriate.

Tom D wrote on May 7, 2014 - 1:49 pm | Visit Link

Disagree completely. While true that I would not deploy the PMBOK verbatim, studying the principles in conjunction with my own experience has provided valuable augmentation to my knowledge base and skill set.

Having the PMP credential has not resulted in a gold mine for me, but I ran a complicated project involving several different disciplines that was very much in danger of cost and schedule overruns last year, and due at least partially to PMI / PMP practices shoring up my own existing approach, it came in ahead of schedule and under budget.

Sorry - I believe this missed the mark. It’s not a perfect system by any means, but it does have practical value.

Jay wrote on May 7, 2014 - 3:56 pm | Visit Link

Very interesting discussion. As a semi-retired PM with successful global and non-global PM experience from 1980 until 2011, and a past certified PMP I feel I can comment from a solid base of experience. The PMP certification is just that, an acknowledgement of a standard attained, a rubber stamp. There are techniques that I learned and used from PMP, but the reality is you are not allowed the investment in the process in the real world. (Private sector only, in the Public sector the budget is not an issue) Most of my work life was as an independent, the certification helped me get through the door, but was not essential, track record was essential. I do believe that PMI has evolved to a revenue generating machine, for themselves and the consultants that sell the process. I don’t have a problem with making money. Having an open mind and learning different PM techniques is essential for the individual. I have studied Agile and Prince2. Agile by definition does not have the need for the formal PM processes of PMI, I chose not to go in that direction. I believe the Agile PM should be very versed in the technologies being implemented, I am old-school, formal and Programmer don’t go hand in hand. In my opinion Prince2 is a more user-friendly project management methodology and easier to adopt & follow than PMI. But any accepted standard implies you follow a method, if the customer perceives the need for that style, you have an opportunity. Going back to reality, in all these years I was never given the investment and opportunity to implement project management across a corporation. On those occasions my project was a part of a corporate PM process implementation it failed at the corporate level. For survival and as a consequence I adapted to PM at a very personal level, doing what I was allowed, adhering to basic principles of planning, communication, measurement & accountability. I do agree with the author of the original position, PMI is way beyond what is practical and needed and has evolved to a self-sustaining business model, I am OK with that. I do however feel bad for budding PMs, the PMBOK is not easily understood or assimilated for practical use. The relief and joy of folks passing first time is a sight to behold. Unfortunately the payback may not be realized. I sincerely favor Prince2 if you are new to PM and want a process that is user-friendly and process-wise, spelled out for a kick start to your career. Certification is fine if it translates to your personal success in the workplace, otherwise it is a waste of time and money.

Pete wrote on May 9, 2014 - 9:34 am | Visit Link

@Dave, I don’t think you’re entitled to speak for the project managers out there, nor anyone else, to tell me to go elsewhere. I usually don’t go personal but your whole comment was a personal attack. I think you understood when I said that technically the PMI is not a not-for-profit organization. As for the inclusion of Agile in the PMBOK, any person who has read the latest PMBOK would’ve agreed with me. Maybe you haven’t had the chance to read it, but I did. Also, can you please tell me where are you getting your information that the non-PMP credentials are a cash drain? By the way, I didn’t see any comment on the (cheap) economy of PDUs. Yes - my conscience hurts, but I decided to say something about it while remaining anonymous, probably because I’m too weak and too afraid of losing of what I have. At least I’m trying to do something to correct the situation, instead of publicly hailing PMI and making excuses for its PMBOK.

@Tom, please read my first comment. I’m the holder of 2 major PMI certifications (not just one), I haven’t been booted out of this “exclusive” club, and I’m one among many benefiting from this farce. Most likely I’m benefiting from PMI much more than you - you who have questioned my motives without even objectively analyzing my post. Really, what have I said wrong in my post? Is the PMBOK self-contradicting or not? Is the PMP nothing more than a certification that has no real application in real life yes or no?

@Jay A broken clock is right twice a day. Maybe your project wasn’t in that a peril in the first place.

@Pete Finally, someone agreeing with me. I’m not that familiar with PRINCE2 but I did hear good things about it. At least the major PRINCE2 resources are available for free - unlike those of PMI’s.

Everybody so far, with the possible exception of Pete, failed to grasp the idea of this post. I don’t have a personal vendetta with PMI, I don’t hate those who are PMP certified (I’m one of them), I just think that PMI came up with a very wrong definition and methodology of project management, not only that, it actually marketed this wrong methodology as THE project management methodology and created a thriving economy around it. The problem is, the world followed, and many projects are now suffering because of this. If you think about it, everything in the world is now more expensive because of PMI. If a project (public or private) can be finished in 1 year but is taking 5 years because it’s being managed using PMI’s process and tools, then guess who’s ultimately paying for this.

Think about it, when was the last time you were able to manage a project exactly as PMI recommended through its PMBOK? When was the last time you were able to apply PMI’s concept of stakeholder management for managing your stakeholders without getting a slap on your wrist or without becoming the class clown? PMI’s PM process is inapplicable in real life, and that’s a fact, that, if you choose to ignore, then all I can say is that I feel sorry for you, since it means that you’re part of this big hypocrisy, same as me.

Anonymous wrote on May 9, 2014 - 1:23 pm | Visit Link

In terms of facts, it is a fact that some PMPs ask the most ridiculous questions on the Linked In groups and this fact substantiates the claim that attaining the PMP certification does not make you a project manager.
One person posting even admitted to attaining the certification without having worked as a PM - perhaps more validation is required on the things that people say about themselves

Dan Diver wrote on May 21, 2014 - 3:45 am | Visit Link

That PMI is an organization to enrich certain people is a fact. To think that this organization was created for charity reasons is absurd. I am amazed at the number of posters that react surprised by the article from Anonymous.

I do not condemn those who created and maintain the PMI, it is a very lucrative business model and they are just going to work every day and getting a paycheck. They have managed to create a brand that makes the hiring process easier and with less liability to the hiring manager.

When someone hires a PM with a PMP certification, if that PM turns out to be not adequate, all the hiring manager has to say is “I don’t know what went wrong, he is certified by the PMI…”. On the other hand, if the hiring manager gets a bad PM that is not certified by the PMI, then the hiring manager made a bad decisions.

I have hired a total of 3 PMPs in my lifetime, I know it is not an astronomical number, but out of the 3, one I had to let go within a month and the other two where completely average and comparable to other PMs with the same years of experience.

The sad thing is that generally speaking, the PMP does help you to get into the door, but certainly it is not because it makes you a better PM, it is just that you have something the other does not, and it happens to be a certification on the job you might be trying to get.

Best of luck to everyone, certified or not.

BTW - I wrote anonymous because I have worked over 10 years as a Project Manager and have quite a few PMP peers and also do visit the chapter now and then.

anonymous wrote on June 5, 2014 - 7:48 am | Visit Link

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