Episode 21 – PMI Standards and Role Delineation Study

Episode #21
Original Air Date: 11.01.2016

45 Minutes

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Our Guest This Episode: Eric Norman

Eric Norman joins the team to discuss the process of how the PMI Standards are developed and maintained. Eric also goes into detail on the value of role delineation studies and the distinction between project management and program management.

Eric is a PMI Fellow and a skilled management consultant and business transformation leader with extensive process design experience supporting a broad array of industries. Over the past twenty-five years, Eric specialized in the process of project and program management – mentoring, consulting and leading project, program and business improvement initiatives at AT&T, Sprint, Delta Air Lines, Norfolk Southern and CSX Railroads, Cox Communications and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta. He has expertise in program management, change management, strategy alignment, decision support systems development as well as software systems development and implementation using waterfall and iterative methodologies.

Eric is the recipient of several awards including PMI Fellow, Shingo Prize – International Engineering Award in Operational Excellence and PMI Linn Stuckenbruck Person of the Year Award.

Favorite Quotes from Our Talk:

"Most recently I’m working on the Certification Governance Council. The Governance Council is a subcommittee of PMI’s Board of Directors, and it oversees the strategy and governance of PMI certifications, the eight certifications. So we look historically at what has happened with the development of certifications over the course of PMI’s history. And we look out into the future five years, 10 years, 15, 20 years; and we talk about how to manage what we have currently as a family of certifications, and what does the marketplace demand coming forward."

- Eric Norman

"It’s an interesting thing that more and more people are coming to realize that project management doesn’t stop where program management begins. These two roles are parallel and partnered. And they represent different functions within an organization, but critically important functions. And they are really needed to be working together."

- Eric Norman

"The RDS is actually, it starts out being just a set of questions in areas of competence and performance. But then there’s our committees, who review the feedback back from the practitioners who are doing this, and start to group it. The activities, the knowledge areas, in the case of program management performance domains, the various aspects grow out of the role. So those things don’t just – they’re not created by the standard. They’re actually created from the role and grouped according to how people are performing the work. "

- Eric Norman

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NICK WALKER:  Welcome to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers.  This is our chance to meet with you and talk about the nuts and bolts of project management and what matters most to you as a professional project manager, whether it’s getting certified or simply doing the job of project management.  We hear from some of the leaders in the industry and draw on their experience.  I’m your host, Nick Walker, and with me are the in-house experts, Andy Crowe and Bill Yates.  And talk about experts, Andy, we certainly have one with us in the studio today.

ANDY CROWE:  This is an exciting podcast for me, Nick, and I’m not sure I’ve ever looked forward to one more than this.  So this is a real treat.

NICK WALKER:  Wow.  That is saying a lot.  Eric Norman has consulted and led projects and business process improvement efforts at AT&T, at Sprint, Delta Airlines, Cox Communications, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just to name a few.  He’s a frequent presenter at national and international trade conferences and is a recognized authority on program management practice.  Eric, welcome to Manage This.

ERIC NORMAN:  Thank you, Nick.  Thank you, Bill and Andy.  I’m thrilled to be here.

NICK WALKER:  Eric, you sort of have a unique role in all of this.  A lot of your work has been in the area of developing standards for the industry, but also in performance of a particular role.  Given your extensive background, give us a little brief overview of your current role in project management.

ERIC NORMAN:  I actually have two roles.  One is an employment-type role; the other is volunteer.  So from an employment perspective, when I’m working with clients and working with leaders, I’m focused on alignment of strategy in the organization with the delivery of the initiatives that they have.  On the volunteer side, I’ve had a lot of experience with standards, as you mentioned.

But most recently I’m working on the Certification Governance Council.  The Governance Council is a subcommittee of PMI’s Board of Directors, and it oversees the strategy and governance of PMI certifications, the eight certifications.  So we look historically at what has happened with the development of certifications over the course of PMI’s history.  And we look out into the future five years, 10 years, 15, 20 years; and we talk about how to manage what we have currently as a family of certifications, and what does the marketplace demand coming forward.  And that’s a fairly active interaction between PMI’s Global Operations Center, the staff, CEO and all the vice presidents and staff at PMI, but also the Board of Directors who oversee that staff.  So it’s a very active and interesting role; and I get to see the relationship between certifications, the performance of the role, and the standards that kind of guide that performance.

ANDY CROWE:  Eric, just to clarify, earlier you used the word “performance.”  So you’re not looking at the performance of the certification, you’re looking at the performance of the role?  Is that correct?

ERIC NORMAN:  We actually are looking – both.

ANDY CROWE:  So what does that mean?  What does the performance of the certification mean from your standpoint?  What do you track?

ERIC NORMAN:  PMI – you could think of the certifications for PMI as products.  PMI has three major components of their product set.  They have knowledgeware, which are standards and things of that nature.



ANDY CROWE:  …being a prime example flagship.

ERIC NORMAN:  Absolutely.  And it is the flagship.  The other standards, the practice standards and the guides – so the knowledgeware and the publications that PMI is also involved in.  The second big component is membership.


ERIC NORMAN:  So there is a large effort to always manage the members and their experience and those things.  And the performance of how the revenue and just like another product…

ANDY CROWE:  An adoption, sure.

ERIC NORMAN:  …of the ideas behind project management are working throughout the world.  The third are certifications.  The certifications that PMI issues and maintains are roughly, well, they’re a major component of PMI’s revenue stream.  So we look at the performance of each of the credentials as individuals, but also as a group.


ERIC NORMAN:  So that’s at the macro level.  We also look at how the standards and the credentials match the actual performance of the work…


ERIC NORMAN:  …people actually do.


ERIC NORMAN:  So when there’s a question about how a particular role is evolving, the Certification Governance Council gets involved in that and starts to work with the staff and the board about where is the standard and where is the actual performance of the role going.

ANDY CROWE:  It would almost be a relevance factor, how relevant is the credential that we’re issuing to the work actually being done, how do those two match.

ERIC NORMAN:  Exactly.  And are there some that aren’t relevant, or maybe are there some that there’s a major demand in the marketplace that PMI doesn’t have an offering.

BILL YATES:  Right, right.  The VA, for instance.

ERIC NORMAN:  Right.  That didn’t come by accident.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, right.  And Eric, the other – I’m thinking about the role that you see and that you’ve played in delineating where does project management stop and where does program management begin?  You know, that’s…

NICK WALKER:  That’s a great question.

BILL YATES:  That’s a difficult – so it sounds as if that’s part of the call, as well, is to help guide and define what is a project manager, what is a program manager, what is a portfolio manager.

ERIC NORMAN:  That is true.  We get involved in the business case and the definition of the role that’s behind the various credentials that PMI maintains.  But to answer your question, Bill, it’s an interesting thing that more and more people are coming to realize that project management doesn’t stop where program management begins.  These two roles are parallel and partnered.  And they represent different functions within an organization, but critically important functions.  And they are really needed to be working together.  And it’s a rewarding career to follow project management to its ultimate end and have a very – I’ve seen projects that make other programs seem small.


ERIC NORMAN:  And I’ve seen programs that make projects seem small.  So the idea is that there’s no one style that is you work on project management for so long in your career, and then you stop doing that and become a program manager someday.  That’s really not the way it works.  There are many people who come to program management straight from a finance background.


ERIC NORMAN:  Or from a military officer candidacy school background.  And they’ve been running programs in government for 10 years, and suddenly they’re a program manager.

ANDY CROWE:  And the skill sets, you know, they’re Venn diagrams.  They overlap.

ERIC NORMAN:  They overlap.

ANDY CROWE:  But they’re not identical.

ERIC NORMAN:  They are not identical.  And I think people are starting to realize that there’s extreme value in both.  There are program managers who just do not understand how to do projects well.  But they need with them people who can do operational things and do tactical precise things extremely well.  And by the same token, project managers really need to understand how what they’re doing fits into a larger picture.  So it’s the program manager and portfolio manager’s business connection at the leadership level that helps draw everything together and makes it work as one.

ANDY CROWE:  You know, just a thought along that.  If you spend any time around me – and that’s not always a good thing.  But if you spend time around me, I’ve started seeing the world in this two-factor sense.  And the two-factor sense, there’s a couple of ways to look at it.  But the way that I talk about it is, yes, project managers need this intense ability to focus, and focus and work on their project, and prioritize and those types of things.  They also need to ability to zoom out and look at the big picture, talk about benefits realization, figure out how this fits into the context for their organization and operations.  You know, projects don’t include operations, but yet we’ve got to be aware of them, or else we’ll get in a lot of trouble.

ERIC NORMAN:  That’s critical.

ANDY CROWE:  And so Fiedler did all this work back in the ’60s in contingency theory.  And basically I’m butchering his theory kind of intentionally for my own purposes here.  But Fiedler said, look, what made you successful over here, your success is contingent upon your ability to switch skill sets, to activate different skill sets.  And whether that be task-oriented and relationship-oriented, whether it be something else, you need to be able to make those transitions.  And you’re exactly right.  There are times when the project manager needs to close the door, hunker down, focus, prioritize, and knock all this out.  There are times when absolutely it takes just almost a 180-degree different skill set.

ERIC NORMAN:  And you rarely find – and Andy, I think that’s really a wonderful point.  You rarely find all those skill sets in a single individual.


ANDY CROWE:  But don’t you find that, as you get older, you get better at doing these things?



ERIC NORMAN:  I don’t.  I think you get better at some things.

ANDY CROWE:  Right, right.

ERIC NORMAN:  But not all.

ANDY CROWE:  Correct.

ERIC NORMAN:  And I think it would serve us well if we became comfortable with the fact that we can’t do everything, and start to refine the things that we do well, and let others who do other things do those things well.  My wife says this all the time.  She says, “You don’t find the surgeon driving the ambulance; right?”  It’s not the same role.

ANDY CROWE:  I love it.

ERIC NORMAN:  They understand each other’s role, but they don’t take each other’s role.  And you don’t, you just don’t assume that, because I’m in the medical field, I can be a surgeon.  And it doesn’t make any sense for a surgeon to be driving the ambulance; right?  It’s that same kind of idea, that focus on what you can do and know and perform well, and let others who do the other things do those well, but partner with them and respect each other’s value that you bring to the table.  It’s not one better than the other.  They are equal parts of something that are really kind of intrinsically bound together.

BILL YATES:  Sounds very agile of you.

ERIC NORMAN:  You know, I’ve been accused of that before.

BILL YATES:  But I do, you know, back on the comment you made earlier, Eric, about it’s not like we’re putting people on a conveyor belt, and they’re going through these different stages in their career.  And okay, now, you are a contributor or a technician or an expert in this particular area.  Now you’re a project manager.  Hey, in a few more years you’ll be a program manager.  No, that’s just not – that’s not the way it should go.

ERIC NORMAN:  It isn’t.

BILL YATES:  You should find your strengths.

ERIC NORMAN:  That’s really kind of the underlying theme of basically the last couple minutes of what we’ve been talking about is there is a career that is in project management that is as rewarding and as important as a career in program management.  They are different careers.  They are related, but they are different.  And it takes different practices, different mentality, different approach in each one.  And some people work better in a project management environment, and others work better in a program or portfolio management environment.  And it’s really okay to be that way.

NICK WALKER:  Eric, I understand that you are a musician.  You were a musician.

ERIC NORMAN:  I was a musician.

NICK WALKER:  Before you even started project management.

ERIC NORMAN:  That’s true.

NICK WALKER:  But there’s got to be some parallels here that I’m seeing, talking about the nuts and bolts, the nitty-gritty, the technical aspects.


NICK WALKER:  And then the big picture of seeing the musical composition.  Tell us a little bit about maybe some of those parallels with music.

ERIC NORMAN:  Sure.  An interesting question, Nick.  I feel that I’ve been quite fortunate to have a musical background because it uses the side of the brain that you don’t often get to exercise in the business world.  But I find that I do have the ability to utilize the creative side of what I’m doing because I had the discipline and the structure of what I had when I was younger and doing things in music.

What I’ve been able to see, though, is that in business and in project management and program management, learning the technique, making the work happen is like practicing.  It’s like learning your field and getting it down so that you can actually make it transparent, so you don’t see the technique, you see the outcome.  And in my world, I feel it’s really important to focus on what the outcomes are.  And your technique needs to be up strong enough so that you can actually deliver against that vision of an outcome.  And the more practice you have in your field, the easier and the more facility you have to make those things happen.

So I feel that there’s a strong parallel between an artistic or music or visual art or whatever it might – literature background, the creative side, and the creative work that we do, delivering things in organizations.  That’s really what it’s all about.

NICK WALKER:  Back to standards for just a second.


NICK WALKER:  It seems to me – is this sort of a chicken-and-the-egg situation?

ERIC NORMAN:  That’s a good question.

NICK WALKER:  What comes first, the standards or the performance?  Or is it just this cycle, this circle?

ERIC NORMAN:  Absolutely perfect question.  That’s probably the question of the day, I would think.  Many people don’t understand the relationship between a certification that they have…


ERIC NORMAN:  …the standard, the exam that they might take to pass a certification, and the work.  And it’s really interesting to see how those things evolve.  So I’ll try to make this as quick as I can.  Standards don’t just hatch out of the ground, to use your analogy, Nick.  They don’t just explode, and one day there is a standard out there.  The standard is built around the standards of practice in a particular field.

So, for instance, driving.  If we were to use driving as an example, people have been driving for a long time.  When cars were invented – actually, before cars were invented, there were horse-drawn buggies; right?  But you still had to drive them.  There wasn’t a manual necessarily around about how to drive a buggy.  But when those buggies became automated and became popular, there were a lot of them on the road, and on what were roads, I guess, back then.  And there was an idea that you needed to have some sort of rules about how to be behind the wheel of one of these things.

So there evolved this set of performance standards that people started to accept actually just out of, because we agreed to agree, that you’re not going to drive on the left side, and I’m going to drive on the left side, too; right?  We’re going two different directions.  We have to divide the space up into two unique directions that we’re all going to adhere to.  And that’s kind of an agreement, a tacit agreement between us.  But it becomes a standard of things that we begin to accept.  When that happens, it’s good to codify those things.

So what we do is we interview a lot of people who work in a particular space, like driving.  And we say, you drive on the right side of the road when you’re going behind the wheel this direction, and the people coming at you are going to go on the left side of the road.  At least in the U.S. that’s the way it works.


ERIC NORMAN:  In other parts of the world, they decided on a different agreement; right?  And in some parts of the world they don’t have any agreement at all about where…

BILL YATES:  Yeah, I think in Jamaica you can drive anywhere you want.

NICK WALKER:  Yeah, right.

ERIC NORMAN:  China and some of those countries.

ANDY CROWE:  I’ve been in some of those parts of the world.

ERIC NORMAN:  It doesn’t really matter what the roads – they’re just space.


ERIC NORMAN:  But that agreement, that tacit agreement and the rules of the road are really around how you perform behind the wheel.  And that is documented in something called a “manual.”  So you could think of our standards as documentation of how to do something; right?  This is, when you’re doing this particular role, this is the level of performance you should adhere to.  This is how it’s done.  But it has nothing to do with actually what you’re doing behind the wheel, and that’s where the standard [crosstalk] performance comes from.

ANDY CROWE:  I want to just pick up on that, Eric.  I have taught three children to drive now.  And my youngest, that was last year’s activity, is getting her [crosstalk].

ERIC NORMAN:  Congratulations.

ANDY CROWE:  Whoo, boy.  Yeah, not – let’s save that, the congratulations.  But something that’s fascinating about teaching someone to drive, and I think there’s parallels here I definitely am seeing as you’re talking, is when you start to teach the standard, there’s an immediate sense of, “I already know how to drive.  I already know this.”  You think you know it because you’ve been sitting in the passenger seat for years, or the back seat for years.

NICK WALKER:  And you can see it.

ANDY CROWE:  And you can.  You can observe it.  And really, truly, keeping the car in between the lines on the road is not that difficult.  And accelerating and braking, mastery of that is not that difficult.  And so when you first look at it, you say, I can do this.  Same thing with project management, you get into – or program, or probably portfolio, although I think by the time you get there you’ve been knocked around enough.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, you realize how dumb you are.

ANDY CROWE:  But it is easy to walk into it and say, I already know how to do this.  I’ve been on a team for years.  I’ve been writing software.  I’ve been producing some deliverable, and I’ve seen it done so much from the other seat.  And so it’s easy to take a look at that role and say, “I can do this.”

ERIC NORMAN:  And I think the analogy is perfect, that you have a lot of responsibility in your hands when you’re sitting behind the wheel.  You have a lot of responsibility in your hands when you’re managing multimillion or billion-dollar efforts for an organization.  And it just, like you probably feel, Andy, having taught your children to drive, you’re not going to get in the car with them on the highway until they’ve had enough practice.


ERIC NORMAN:  Doing that, performing the role.  So you can watch it all you want.  You can study the manuals all you want.  You could even pass the written driving test.  You could even pass the actual driving test.


ERIC NORMAN:  But until you’ve had enough practice, I don’t know many of us who would get in a car with someone behind the wheel who is a novice.


ERIC NORMAN:  And not practiced at driving on the highway.  And it’s the same thing with performance of the role in project management or program management, that there are the standards.  And a lot of individuals believe that the test for a particular credential is written strictly against, in PMI’s world, against PMI standards.  But that’s actually not the way it works.  The role delineation study is the foundation for the exam.  It actually goes back to how is this performed in the world?  And then there are examples and questions drawn against the skills and abilities and competencies outlined in that role delineation study, that questions are written to answer those things, and the PMBOK Guide and other standards are used to make the questions relevant.

ANDY CROWE:  Let’s push into this just a little bit because a lot of our listeners may hold a PMP credential or a different credential.  They are almost certainly familiar with the PMBOK Guide.  Whether they’ve read it cover to cover or not, they’re very familiar with it.  And now you’re bringing up this RDS, this role delineation study, and a lot of people may have questions about that.  So what is it?

ERIC NORMAN:  It’s actually a survey.  It’s a global survey.  For any credentialing organization, like the American National Standards Institute or any of the worldwide credentialing certification organizations like ISO, there are guidance about how to establish a standard of performance in an industry.  And to do that, it requires this role delineation study.  There’s role of delineation studies for doctors and lawyers and engineers.  And so there each role that has a certification or a license associated with it has this process that actually sits  behind it to establish what is the role that we’re actually trying to test for.  So that process interviews thousands of people around the world who claim that they are performing this role, and they find a number of attributes and aspects of that performance that say “these represent the performance of the role.”


ERIC NORMAN:  And those things are defined and written out in a role delineation study.

BILL YATES:  And this survey, is this done by PMI?  Or does PMI have some other agency do it?

ERIC NORMAN:  PMI contracts with a professional organization who actually conducts.  So it’s an independent organization who does this, not just for project managers, but they do this for all kinds of industries – the medical profession, the Department of Defense.


ERIC NORMAN:  So this is an organization that PMI will contract with to do, well, we just recently had the new PMP role delineation study.  The PGMP, the program management role delineation study will start in, I believe it’s January of 2017.  And it’s done every five to 10 years, depending on the role.

ANDY CROWE:  Yeah, so it’s not in sync or necessarily locked to the certification standard, rather, not the certification, the standard.

ERIC NORMAN:  The standard.  So the exam is really tied to the role delineation study.  And the standards, it’s interesting how…

ANDY CROWE:  That’s a big deal.


ERIC NORMAN:  …the standards evolve at a different rate.  The standards are updated every three to four years.  But they are the referent.  It’s sort of like updating the driver’s handbook for the latest rules of the road, but not changing how the work is performed.  You know.  So getting behind the wheel, putting your foot on the gas, turning the corner, moving the wheel to turn the corner, that’s the performance of the role.  The rules about when you do that may change over time.  So that’s why you see the standards change at a different rate from the role.  The role actually evolves, and it takes a number of years for the role to actually mature.  And you’re seeing that now in program management.  It’s much more sophisticated today than it was 15 years ago.  And this’ll be the third role delineation study for the program management role that we see coming.  So it’s really interesting to watch that process.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, there seems to be a cycle there.

ERIC NORMAN:  There’s a definite cycle to them.  And the certification, the credential that you get – PMP or PGMP or whatever, it maybe looks at the role, looks at the performance standards, not just in the United States, but across the world.  So there’s a U.K. standard.  There’s a Japanese standard for program management.  There are a number.  There’s government standards for performance.  So those things are taken into consideration.  And to make the exam more relevant, reflecting the role is where they actually make the changes.  And references, reference points for each question must be made.  So you can’t just say I’m writing a question, and the only reference for it is the PMBOK Guide because that becomes a very narrow view of the world.

BILL YATES:  Right.  I love the analogy that you two are playing off with the driving.  And I think of the feedback we have from students who use our materials or our content for exam preparation.  Many times they say, well, it wasn’t just the PMBOK Guide, for instance, the PMP or the Standard for Program Management.  It’s applying that.  So they place me in a scenario.  Well, I think of my two sons and driving, and a parking lot, and being in a parking lot with one son and trying to help him master the clutch.

ERIC NORMAN:  I have a very similar story, only my wife – I have a son, and I was teaching my son to drive, and it was not going well.  And my wife said, “I’m taking over.”

NICK WALKER:  Okay, yeah.

ERIC NORMAN:  And so I had a little truck, stick shift, that we were going to let my son learn to drive on.  So she basically got a chair and a book and drove on a Sunday to a parking lot, a very large parking lot.  She put the chair on the corner of the parking lot, got her book, and she gave my son the keys and said, “Go at it.”

ANDY CROWE:  Wow.  But it’s…

ERIC NORMAN:  And, truly, he learned how to drive by doing.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  That’s the scenario; right.  And we may have been in the same parking lot.  But with my son it was, again, the analogy back to projects.  You initiate a project.


BILL YATES:  It’s in the standard how to do that, how to kick it off and initiate, project charter, et cetera.  But in the real world and on the exam reflecting that, there are situations that you run into where one technique may be better than another.

Well, my son was at a dead stop, and we’re learning how to use the clutch and start.  And that’s the, you know, that feathering is the hardest part.

ERIC NORMAN:  That is it.  That’s right.

BILL YATES:  And to the analogy of the PM, how strong should I be on the kickoff meeting?  How much information do I need to share?  Am I sharing too much?  Am I giving it too much gas?  Not enough?  You know, those kind of things.

ERIC NORMAN:  That is a perfect analogy.

BILL YATES:  And I think the RDS picks up on some of those nuances and brings that into the exam.

ERIC NORMAN:  I think the relationship, what strikes me is the RDS says how you actually drive; right?

BILL YATES:  Mm-hmm.  Right.

ERIC NORMAN:  It says, “What’s the work that you’re doing?”

BILL YATES:  How many RPMs should you be at when you release the clutch kind of thing.

ERIC NORMAN:  Right, right.  And how do you make your body work?


ERIC NORMAN:  The standard is really kind of like the manual.  The thing that struck me, and I was doing this when I was doing some teaching for program managers, we started talking about traffic signals.  And we said, is the red light at the top or bottom?  Think about that for a minute.  Can you remember?

ANDY CROWE:  I think it’s at the top.  But I’m not the most visual person.

ERIC NORMAN:  Yes.  A lot of people say, well, I think it’s at the bottom.


ERIC NORMAN:  No, maybe it’s at the top.


ANDY CROWE:  Is it at the top?

ERIC NORMAN:  And it takes a – it is at the top.

ANDY CROWE:  Don’t leave me hanging, Eric.

BILL YATES:  My father is color blind.  So he’s always…

ERIC NORMAN:  He’s looking at [crosstalk].

BILL YATES:  …learned it spatially, yeah, yeah.

ERIC NORMAN:  And I have a great story about stoplight project management communications.  And one of the reasons I mentioned Edward Tufte to you…


ANDY CROWE:  Oh, visualization.

ERIC NORMAN:  …is visualization of data and how stoplights really aren’t that valuable in all cases.


ERIC NORMAN:  And I was thrown out of an executive meeting because I had a great stoplight presentation, and two of the leaders were color blind.

ANDY CROWE:  Ah, wow.

NICK WALKER:  Ah, yeah.


ANDY CROWE:  I have a question for you as we’re talking about the difference between the standard as we’re talking about the role delineation study, how those fit together for the exam.  Okay.  I understand that.  But now I’m a practicing project manager, and I know the role of the PMBOK Guide.  A lot of PMs keep that on their desk.  It’s sort of a bible, in a sense, to them.  They know, you know, chapter and verse where to look things up.  And they follow a lot of the prescriptions in there and descriptions in there.  Is the RDS valuable to a practicing project manager who already has his or her certification?


ANDY CROWE:  How so?

ERIC NORMAN:  The PMBOK Guide, if you spell it out, is the project – it’s the guide to the project management body of knowledge.


ERIC NORMAN:  So basically it’s an encyclopedia.


ERIC NORMAN:  Of things.  It doesn’t say how to do anything about what it is.  It’s what is the endpoint.  It’s the thing that gets done.  So it’s objective in the way it’s written.  And it’s attempting to kind of paint a picture of the full spectrum of project management things that you might need to think about sometime in the passage of a project.  But the actual performance of the role is captured in the role delineation study.

So that role delineation study, which is actually translated by PMI into something called an “exam content outline,” so the ECO, that people can download for free from PMI’s website, is really the representation of the role that people perform when they’re doing the work.  And I find that that is the better guide, with the PMBOK Guide or other project management documents as reference documents in your bookshelf.  But the guide really tells you what – the ECO really tells you, what’s the role that I’m supposed to be performing?

ANDY CROWE:  So the role delineation study a little more.  I’m familiar with it.  I’m less familiar with it than I am with the PMBOK Guide because I have a pretty deep familiarity with that.  But I’m familiar with the RDS and the exam content outline, as well.  When you’re going through this, how is it organized?  How is the role delineation study organized?  We know, you know, the PMBOK Guide is roughly organized by knowledge areas and processes.  And so it’s broken down that way.  And people who have ever gone through and prepared for their certification are painfully familiar with those.  How’s the RDS organized?

ERIC NORMAN:  The RDS is actually, it starts out being just a set of questions in areas of competence and performance.  But then there’s our committees, who review the feedback back from the practitioners who are doing this, and start to group it.  The activities, the knowledge areas, in the case of program management performance domains, the various aspects grow out of the role.  So those things don’t just – they’re not created by the standard.  They’re actually created from the role and grouped according to how people are performing the work.  So the knowledge areas, for instance, have evolved over time because that’s how people say they do the work.  So the ECO is really – and it’s really, what, maybe 15 pages long.


ERIC NORMAN:  It’s very much more easy to understand and comprehend and apply than something like a PMBOK Guide that is really intended to be a reference document.

ANDY CROWE:  Yeah, almost a more academic sense.

ERIC NORMAN:  And so it’s the difference between the doing and the knowing; right?


ERIC NORMAN:  And I mentioned to Bill earlier, before we started, that I’ve been working on a new book between, that is, part of the partnership, the workgroup that exists between MIT, PMI, and INCOSE, the International Council on Systems Engineers.  And there’s a quote in the book from, I believe it’s Aristotle, or at least it’s tracked back to Aristotle, that there are two types of knowledge.  It’s know-how and know-what; right?  So, and I think it’s really important to understand that the PMBOK Guide and things like it, documents around project management…

ANDY CROWE:  That is the know-how.

ERIC NORMAN:  That’s the know-what.

ANDY CROWE:  What, yeah, correct, correct, correct.  And how is the RDS, yup, yup.

ERIC NORMAN:  The roles in the RDS is much more about the know-what.  It’s…

ANDY CROWE:  I had it right in my brain.  It just didn’t come right when it came out of my mouth.

ERIC NORMAN:  But I think that’s an important distinction, that we try to meld them together all the time, and they really are somewhat different.  And the know-what is easier to communicate because you can write it down, and you can document it.  The know-how is much more difficult to impart to someone else.

BILL YATES:  Right, right.

ANDY CROWE:  It has to be done through a survey or a study.

ERIC NORMAN:  Well, you have to actually, in some cases, observe it.

BILL YATES:  Observe, yeah, true.

ERIC NORMAN:  And you have to practice it.  To get the know-how, you actually have to do it.  Using a different analogy than driving, like putting nails in wood.  There used to be basically one way to do that.  You’d hold a nail over a piece of wood and hit it with a hammer; right?  Do it enough times, and finally the nail is in the wood.  But now we have tools that do some of that.  And you have a machine loaded with nails, and you just touch the wood and done.  Right?  Totally different practice.  The outcome is the same, though.  And I think you need to be – so you can describe the difference.  But in order to be competent in one or the other, you actually have to practice doing those things.  So I think that’s the important part.

NICK WALKER:  I do love the driving analogy, though.


NICK WALKER:  And it occurs to me, you know, there’s no substitute for just doing the work.  Several years ago I was in an accident with a young driver.  And the cause of it was not something that you would find in the driving manual.  But I went away from that thinking, a more experienced driver would have avoided that accident.  You know, it never would have happened.  And it occurs to me that that analogy goes on in the workplace.  There’s just no substitute.

ERIC NORMAN:  It’s precisely the same thing.  And if we want to carry that same analogy a little bit farther, Nick, I think you can say pilots, for instance.  And when we investigate airline accidents, what do they look at?

BILL YATES:  Pilot error.

ERIC NORMAN:  Well, but pilot experience; right?

ANDY CROWE:  No, that’s what they always end up with.

ERIC NORMAN:  Right, right.

BILL YATES:  We’ll start there and then move on, yeah.

ERIC NORMAN:  No, but one of the first things they look at is number of hours the pilots and copilots have had in the air; right?  That’s, well, the depth of their experience is one of the things that I think is a very important point of any analysis.  And what they often, I mean, I don’t know any of us who would get in an airplane with a pilot who has zero hours of practical experience behind the wheel of either a ship or a plane.  And because people’s lives are at stake, they have a different standard of performance that’s much higher than ours.  If you look at business, and you start taking the analogy that the business’s lifeblood is in your hands when you’re leading programs and projects, suddenly takes on a completely different personality.


BILL YATES:  Mm-hmm.

ERIC NORMAN:  And I think, if we approach it in that way, and we say, you know, “In order to effectively perform this job I need to have some practice behind me, and I need to understand the context of what it is I’m doing to take that kind of responsibility on,” I can tell you in the government, at CDC, project managers who are not certified cannot work, cannot lead initiatives of a certain dollar amount.


ERIC NORMAN:  They’re not allowed to lead unless they’re certified.  And not just certified by PMI or PRINCE OR AXELOS or whoever it may be, but certified by the government.


ANDY CROWE:  You know what, Eric, I might get with you behind the wheel of a ship because I can swim.  But I cannot fly, so we’re not going to do the plane part until you convince me.

ERIC NORMAN:  You’re safe.  You’re safe.  I don’t fly.  I mean, I don’t fly planes, and I don’t pilot boats.  I have friends who do both, but I wouldn’t attempt it.

BILL YATES:  That’s good. I have a question for you.  You have had tremendous experience on different committees or teams that have worked on standards for PMI.  And when I look at it, you’ve been on first and second edition for PMBOK Guide; recently the Standard for Program Management.

ERIC NORMAN:  Third edition.

BILL YATES:  Third edition?

ERIC NORMAN:  There’s a fourth edition underway.

BILL YATES:  Okay, yeah?  Excellent.


BILL YATES:  And the practice standard with the Work Breakdown Structure.


BILL YATES:  Here’s kind of a rookie question.  But which was your favorite?

ERIC NORMAN:  Oh, gosh.

BILL YATES:  Which did you feel like you were really making the greatest contribution?

ERIC NORMAN:  That’s a tough question.  The Work Breakdown Structure Practice Standard, the evolution of that was really my – that’s where I started to learn how to lead international teams, multicultural, distributed, virtual teams over a long period of time.  Each of those efforts, each of the standards efforts takes about three years to complete.  Being successful in a role like that, remote with hundreds of volunteers in different parts of the world, you learn what it means to be quiet and understanding and to lead by example.


ERIC NORMAN:  But I would say my first introduction as a volunteer leading an initiative, or being part of one of those big initiatives, was with the Work Breakdown Structure Practice Standard.  When I was contributing to the PMBOK Guide, I was submitting suggestions and interacting.  And only with the second and third edition was I actually writing anything of merit.  The Work Breakdown Structure Practice Standard was the first opportunity I had to actually create some of the content.  And the second edition was where I led the development of that effort.  So it was kind of an evolution.  I learned how to lead teams and be part of something that was very important to me during that.  And I point to that experience particularly because we felt we were onto something very unique with the Work Breakdown Structure Practice Standard.  And one of the things that happens with PMI standards is that every four years they’re brought back to ANSI for certification.


ERIC NORMAN:  And typically what ANSI says is the world has moved enough from when it was published to now that it really needs to be updated.  The second edition of the Work Breakdown Structure Practice Standard was published in 2006, and it has been recertified since.

BILL YATES:  Oh, wow.  So ANSI said you’re still in line.

ERIC NORMAN:  So ANSI said what we wrote in that standard withstands the test of time.

BILL YATES:  That’s pretty monumental.

ERIC NORMAN:  And that to me is about as rewarding as it could get when you’re doing something like this.

BILL YATES:  Wow.  That’s a mic drop moment, yeah.  That’s tremendous.

ERIC NORMAN:  For me, when I heard that that was actually occurring, it truly gave me pause.  It was not something that anyone would expect.  So particularly proud of that.  But by the same token, I can say the third edition of the Program Management Standard took something that had been – its value was being questioned.  And it turned a major corner for the standard.  And I felt that we had some of the most brilliant thought leaders in the world on that team.

BILL YATES:  Wow.  Tell us about some of those.  You mentioned some of those members to me.  Describe some of their backgrounds, Eric.

ERIC NORMAN:  So we had the global leader for program management from IBM.  We had the program management chair for NASA.  We had program management leaders.  We had the global program management leader from Siemens on our team.  I was telling Bill earlier that there were 14 people on the core team that met for the first meeting at the kickoff.  And we did introductions.  You now, introductions normally take about 15 minutes a person?  Fourteen people took the entire day to get through introductions of the people who were on the core team, for the first day.  And it was really riveting.  I was last, and I really felt that I was completely out of my depth at that point.

BILL YATES:  Well, we’re out of time.

ERIC NORMAN:  Yeah, right.

ANDY CROWE:  I feel that quite a lot.

ERIC NORMAN:  But it was an absolutely riveting, brilliant team.  We had the director for program management from the University of Pennsylvania.  Just from academia, from industry, from government.  And from all around the world we had practitioners and subject matter experts we invited to comment and help shape the outcome of that standard.  And we believe that we actually spoke their voice in that edition of the standard.  So as rewarding as the Work Breakdown Structure Practice Standard is personally, from a global perspective I think the third edition of the Program Management Standard represents what PMI or what any organization who would want to have something globally stamped, thumbprinted by many people from around the world, that’s the one I would say I would point to.  And I’ve participated as a subject matter expert, as a contributor to the fourth edition.  So I know that they’ve continued that path forward.

BILL YATES:  That gives me a lot of confidence in the standards that we teach to…


BILL YATES:  …and reference so heavily.  So I appreciate you sharing that.

ERIC NORMAN:  It’s a proud moment, really, to be able to talk about those things.

NICK WALKER:  Eric, we feel so privileged to have had you here today.  And we hope you’ll come back and see us again.

ERIC NORMAN:  Thank you.  I’d love to.  I’m thoroughly honored to be among the folks that you would like to have here.

NICK WALKER:  We appreciate your expertise, your insight, your experience.  And to thank you, we have a special gift.


NICK WALKER:  That smart-looking coffee mug sitting there in front of you.

ERIC NORMAN:  Great.  I love it.

NICK WALKER:  You know, the driving manual would probably say do not use this in the car.


NICK WALKER:  But it’ll look great on your desk or at home.

ERIC NORMAN:  That’s perfect.  I love it.  Thank you all very much for having me.

NICK WALKER:  Well, thank you.  And Andy Crowe, Bill Yates, as always, thank you for your insight.  Before we go, a quick reminder to our listeners that you can earn professional development units toward keeping your PMP credential current, just by listening to this podcast.  To claim those PDUs, go to Velociteach.com and select Manage This Podcast from the top of the page.  There you’ll find a big button that says Claim PDUs.  Click there, and it will walk you through the steps to get your free PDUs.

That’s it for us here on Manage This.  We hope you’ll tune back in on November 15th for our next podcast.  You can visit us at Velociteach.com/managethis to subscribe to this podcast, to see a transcript of the show, or to contact us.  And tweet us at @manage_this if you have a comment about the podcast or a question for our experts.  That’s all for this episode.  Talk to you again next time.  In the meantime, keep calm and Manage This.

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