Episode 69 – Answering Your Project Management Questions

Episode #069
Original Air Date: 11.16.2018

31 Minutes

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Our Guest This Episode: Andy Crowe and Bill Yates

Andy and Bill tackle your questions in this episode of Manage This. The questions include, “How do I manage difficult stakeholders?”; “What are some common challenges on consulting projects?”; “Is Agile truly being used or are companies implementing smaller quasi-waterfall projects?”; and “What certifications are best for me?”
We appreciate your feedback, and we’ve dedicated this episode to your questions. Andy and Bill offer their insight, stories, and professional advice.

Andy Crowe is the founder and CEO of Velociteach, an award-winning project management training company. A writer and speaker, Andy is the author of The PMP Exam: How to Pass on Your First Try, The PMI-ACP Exam: How to Pass on Your First Try, and Alpha Project Managers: What the Top 2% Know That Everyone Else Does Not.
Bill Yates is the Executive Vice President of Velociteach. Before joining Velociteach in 2005, Bill managed projects in the utility industry providing financial and accounting software to gas, electric and telecommunication companies. Bill worked with a number of well-known organizations, including Pacific Gas & Electric, BellSouth, AT&T, Duke Energy, Verizon and Qwest.

Andy and Bill share their career stories and the relatable challenges they have experienced as PMs. Join us as they talk about some of the issues that are important to you as a professional project manager.

Favorite Quotes from Our Talk:

“I would start out not focused on the letters after my name, not focused on the alphabet soup, but focused on the fundamentals of project management and learning it.”

- Andy Crowe

“A lot of times we just want to talk. We don’t want to listen. But sit down and get that information, elicit it from them, talk to them. It makes a big difference.”

- Andy Crowe

“I would say these consulting-type projects are not for the weak at heart.”

- Bill Yates

“Sometimes we feel like we’ve been given this power. We’ve got to get it done. But we have to ……… understand their side, walk a mile in their shoes, see why they have resistance.”

- Bill Yates

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The podcast by project managers for project managers.

Table of Contents

01:00 … Meet Andy and Bill
04:07 … The Evolution of the PM
06:40 … Managing Stakeholders
12:42 … Common Challenges in Consulting Projects
19:24 … Technology Development and Non-IT Workgroups
23:10 … Is Agile Truly Being Used?
26:22 … Recommendations for New PMs/PMO Role in Agile
31:20 … Starting out in Project Management
33:02 … Wrap Up

ANDY CROWE:  But I would start out not focused on the letters after my name, not focused on the alphabet soup, but focused on the fundamentals of project management and learning it.

NICK WALKER:  Welcome to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers.  This is our time to talk with you about what really matters to you as a professional project manager.  We want to encourage you, to challenge you, to give you some new ideas and perhaps a fresh way of looking at the profession.

I’m your host, Nick Walker, and with me are the two guys who make this podcast happen, Andy Crowe and Bill Yates.  And Andy, today we’re actually going to hone in on some questions that we’ve gotten from our listeners.

ANDY CROWE:  I like that.  We’ve gotten some good feedback from our listener community.  And I’m looking forward to diving into that.

Meet Andy and Bill

NICK WALKER:  I think it would probably be a good idea, though, to maybe learn a little bit more about you two guys.  I mean, we’ve gone for so long talking to different guests, learning about them.  But who is Andy Crowe and Bill Yates?  Andy, you are an author, a speaker.  You’ve done so many things.  How did you get into this?

ANDY CROWE:  And I’m also an existentialist, so that’s a really interesting question that you’re asking.  Who am I?  Why am I here?

You know, Nick, I have been doing this a while.  I’ve been managing projects really since the late ‘80s; but technically, formally, with the title since the early ‘90s.  And seen a lot of changes come through.  You know, when I started, it’s funny because I was there, you know, for the birth of Microsoft Project, and we all thought this was amazing.  And that turned out to be a really interesting thing for project managers because it could reformulate a schedule.  It could do things like that.  But it didn’t make people better project managers.  Just like handing Microsoft Word to a writer is not going to make them a better writer; handing a good microphone and an amp to a speaker isn’t going to make them a better speaker or a better communicator.

And so, you know, when I started with this, the tools that were coming along were useful, but they also just enabled a lot of bad practices.  So I put my career and my energy into learning project management, learning how it should be done, probably learning enough to be really dangerous because then I had a hundred different ways to do something that probably just needed a simple solution.

I’ve written a few books on project management.  I’ve written a couple of test-oriented resources for the PMP Exam, “How to Pass on Your First Try,” and the PMI-ACP, which is the Agile Certified Practitioner exam, “How to Pass on Your First Try.”  And then “Alpha Project Managers,” which is my favorite of the three.  It’s not the one that’s been the most commercially successful of the three, but it was the most fun to really get in and research the practices.  It’s called “What the Top 2% Know That Everyone Else Does Not.”  And it looks at the practices that make some project managers successful and maybe sets them apart from their peers.

NICK WALKER:  We’re looking forward to tackling some of the questions using your background and expertise in getting into some of these things that our listeners have asked us.  But let’s meet Bill Yates.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.

NICK WALKER:  Bill, we’ve heard your voice.  We’ve sort of gotten to know you a little bit through the podcast, but tell me a little bit about your background.

BILL YATES:  So who is this guy; right?  I joined Velociteach in 2005.  Prior to that, I really cut my teeth in project management with financial projects for utilities.  So these are gas, electric, and telcos, mostly throughout the United States.  And these were nerdy, high-data, high-intensity type projects that really taught me a lot about the need for rigor, the need for process, the need for project management.

The Evolution of the PM

What’s interesting to me, you talk about the evolution, Andy.  I remember early in my career, project management was something that we would not call ourselves a “project manager.”

ANDY CROWE:  Yeah.  That was a bad word because it was overhead.

BILL YATES:  It was.  Exactly.

ANDY CROWE:  And the client wouldn’t pay for it.

BILL YATES:  Yes, yes.  So you would not show that on an invoice.  And so it was almost like kind of a hidden secret of, yeah, we’re doing these other things.  I think it’s actually project management, but we don’t want to show this to the client.  This is just an expectation.

ANDY CROWE:  My, how times have changed.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, yeah.  So even through my career, it went from something that we would actually do kind of in the back of the office to something that we would actually put in our proposals to clients for new opportunities.

ANDY CROWE:  Well, I’m going to argue something or suggest something that in some ways that hasn’t changed.  And here’s why.  And we’re going to touch on some Agile questions.  I got a sneak preview of the questions.

BILL YATES:  Right.

ANDY CROWE:  It was like the debates where you get to see them in advance.  But I think some of the rise of Agile – and believe me, I’m a fan of Agile; okay?  But I believe some of the rise is because there is no project manager.  And organizations, some people in organizations still gnash their teeth at the idea of paying for a project manager.  They want that PM to be coding, they want that PM to be laying bricks or doing architecture or whatever.  They don’t want to pay a PM to manage GANTT charts and work breakdown structures.  So Agile does away with the PM.  There is no PM, and it makes it easier.

BILL YATES:  Others, they want one person to hold accountable.

ANDY CROWE:  Well, that’s – yeah.  And I agree, you know, we talk about having one head to pat and one butt to kick.

BILL YATES:  Yes.

ANDY CROWE:  And that’s a good model, you know, in a lot of ways.  But Agile definitely doesn’t do that.  You’ve got the whole team to pat or kick, appropriately.

BILL YATES:  That’s true, yeah.  Nick, one of the things that I’ll probably – I took a sneak peek at some of these questions, too.  Much of the work that I did prior to joining Velociteach was at the customer’s site.  So we did a lot of external projects.  Some of the questions that listeners brought in to us were, hey, you know, how do you relate to customers, how do you deal with stakeholders and that kind of thing.  I’ve got plenty of scars, plenty of stories to tell in that area of mistakes that I’ve made, or our team has made.  So hopefully I can help some people out by sharing our bad stories, and they won’t make the same mistakes.

NICK WALKER:  Yeah, that’s what we’re all about here is trying to prevent disaster.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, yeah, getting better, even if somebody else has already shown how not to do it.

Managing Stakeholders

NICK WALKER:  Well, let’s jump right in.  We’ve been able to use the Velociteach Facebook page to elicit some of these questions.  And one of the questions that people seem to have a lot about is managing stakeholders, negative stakeholders sometimes, you know, winning them over.  Let’s talk a little bit about how maybe we do that.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  “Stakeholder” has a broad definition; right?  Just to make sure we’re talking about the same thing.  A stakeholder is anyone who holds a stake in the project.  What’s interesting, and I know Andy and I have shared war stories on this before, there are times when you are super excited about the project that you’re a part of or that you’re leading, yet there’s some real opposition.

There are things, I mean, by definition, project brings about change.  It changes the status quo.  And some people are firmly entrenched in that status quo.  You’re going to disrupt something that’s a part of their job or even a part of their identity.  So you’ll have negative stakeholders, people that are against you that you have to identify and then really dig in and say, okay, why are they against us?  What is it about this project that’s causing them fear, uncertainty, and doubt?  Does this resonate with you, Andy?

ANDY CROWE:  It does.  So I’ve had a couple of interesting things that come to mind with that.  First one was I was working with a pharmaceutical company that we were working on an enormous IT project, and I was the PM.  We had a stakeholder that was head of one department who was fundamentally against this project.  She was not happy at all about it.  And she dug in and really put in a lot of friction into the process.  Now, that one has a happy ending because ultimately I worked really hard to engage her and to get her opinion, to document it.  And it took weeks to get her engaged.  But finally she bought into the idea of the system we were creating.  She got to put her processes into it.  She got to put her opinion and have her fingerprint.  So that was a happy one.

I was managing a project for one bank that was buying another bank, years later.  And actually it wasn’t that much later.  But a short time after that I was managing this project.  And one person took me aside, and he was a subject matter expert in a domain, kind of the head of a domain within that.  And he took me aside, and he said:  “I have been advocating for the system you’re doing for years, and nobody’s listened to me.  So one of two things is going to happen.  Either you’re going to do it and get credit for it, or it’s not going to happen.  Nobody’s going to listen to you, either.  But either way, I’m not helping you.”  And he was openly hostile.

BILL YATES:  Wow.

ANDY CROWE:  Now, that one didn’t have as happy an ending.  I had to really work hard and, ultimately, to marginalize the guy.  I mean, there was no way to win him over.  At least it wasn’t within my tool belt.  I tried everything I could.  And outside of that environment, nicest guy you’d meet.  Inside that environment, openly hostile.

BILL YATES:  Oh, yeah.  He had a history.  Man.  At least he came forward and let you know.  That’s one of the scariest things for me with project teams is when we’re whistling, going to work every day, feeling like we’re making good progress, and then there’s a hidden force that we haven’t uncovered yet that is undermining our efforts.

ANDY CROWE:  Right.

BILL YATES:  And then further down the road we realize, oh, we thought we had support here, but we’re not getting it, and here’s the impact that it’s having.

ANDY CROWE:  Right.  And so, you know, ultimately I had to sit down with his boss and with her boss and kind of explain the situation.  I’m getting zero cooperation.  In fact, I’m getting open resistance.  And they were kind of like, well, we know, you know.  He’s about to retire soon, you know.

BILL YATES:  Right, right.

ANDY CROWE:  But he was the only one who had the information, too.  And so it was really challenging to try and work around this guy.  That was really, I think, the only time somebody has just been openly hostile to my project and tried every way they could.  Now, a lot of people deal with that much more regularly.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.

ANDY CROWE:  You know you may be building a building somewhere where people in the community don’t want that building.

BILL YATES:  Right.

ANDY CROWE:  You may be putting an assembly line in place that’s going to put people out of work, or automation tools in place.  So it does happen.  It’s just been fairly rare for me.

BILL YATES:  I recall hearing – there was a project manager talking about a certain project in the Atlanta area, and it involved this really large bridge that was being constructed.  And it was an area that was being developed that everybody in the public was very excited about.  So he and his team are thinking, this is going to get tremendous support.  We’re already hearing it.  We’re getting positive press, et cetera.  Then they had an open – they had, like, an open mic session, a public forum.  And there, that’s when folks showed up who were very against it, very loud.  And of course the press was there.  So that made for an ugly engagement for him.  But sometimes we get surprised by that.

ANDY CROWE:  Right.  I think, you know what, Nick, I think the best thing you can do – and the real question was how do you win negative stakeholders over?  If they can be won over, I think the way is engage, engage, engage.  People want communication.  They want to feel like they know what’s going on, they want to register their opinions.  And they want to be heard.

BILL YATES:  Yes.

ANDY CROWE:  And a lot of times we just want to talk.  We don’t want to listen.  But sit down and get that information, elicit it from them, talk to them.  It makes a big difference.

BILL YATES:  It really does.  That’s such a strong point, for us to listen as project managers.  Sometimes we feel like we’ve been given this power.  We’ve got to get it done.  But we have to understand those and understand their side, walk a mile in their shoes, see why they have resistance.

Common Challenges in Consulting Projects

NICK WALKER:  You know, this question leads into another issue that a lot of our listeners are concerned with.  And that is common challenges.  I mean, a lot of these things you’re talking about maybe, are they common to all projects?  Or are there other things that are common that you’re going to see again and again and again?

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  Oh, man, we could talk forever about this.  We have to start with stakeholder analysis; right?  We’ve talked about the need for that and identifying those who are against us, those negative stakeholders.  But, you know, many of the experiences that I had were involving external customers where we were onsite at the customer’s location, whether it was a Pacific Gas & Electric or an AT&T or Verizon, whoever it was.  And there we’re working, and usually in their headquarters, with their financial department.  And there’s just so much to be aware of.  You know, so for many project managers they talk about putting on the consulting hat and how different that is when they’re working with another department internally, or an external organization.  So there are many challenges with that.

And Andy, I know in my experience there were – I certainly had my growing pains professionally.  And then when we brought new people onto the team, there were similar growing pains that we had to, you know, it was those who had been down there and made some mistakes.  We had to kind of walk them through expectations.  Simple stuff like when you’re on the customer’s site, how do you behave?  How do you communicate with customers?  What do you do when you’re working there late at night?  Those kinds of basic things.

ANDY CROWE:  The typical consulting model.  And to all the consulting project managers out there, I’m lighting a candle for you guys.  Well, it’s a tough gig, and I’ve done it.

BILL YATES:  It is.

ANDY CROWE:  I loved it.  I loved it because you get to go get a variety of problems.  You get to see a variety of industries.  And if you’re up to the task, then you pick up things at every engagement.  You pick up something new that you can carry back.  However, the trouble with that model is, and the challenges with that model, are you’re probably working with a team that you haven’t worked with before.  You’re in an organization where you have little to no authority at all, you know, just almost nothing.  And now you’re in there trying to implement change.

BILL YATES:  Right.

ANDY CROWE:  And so some people are really good at that.  Some of these guys, the way they talk, the way that the head partner in a consulting firm will even communicate is just impressive.  Some of them are really challenged.

BILL YATES:  Yes.

ANDY CROWE:  And so, you know, the typical model, Nick, what they’ll do is you have somebody at the top who is really sharp, really good, knows their game.  And then you have a bunch of associates.  And the associates down at the bottom are kept in that organization by convincing them that one day they’re going to make their way up this pyramid to the top.

BILL YATES:  Right.

ANDY CROWE:  And they give out lots of titles, and it’s a very interesting business model.  But from that standpoint, yeah, there are a lot of common challenges.  And the common challenges are there may or may not be an organizational methodology that you have to follow.  You may be going in with your own methodology, and it may actually just be the project manager that you’re assigned to this month.  Some of them, they’re not all created equal.  Some PMs are really good at handling situations, handling stress, handling that dynamic environment, communicating with customers.  Others are not.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  Andy, I know one of the expectations that some organizations put on the project manager in these consulting-type engagements is, hey, I want you to do some sales while you’re there.

ANDY CROWE:  That’s right.

BILL YATES:  And for many they’re like, okay, wait a minute, I didn’t sign up for this.  What do you mean I need a – there are actually expectations on me to sell follow-up business?

ANDY CROWE:  Well, and they may not even tell them that overtly.  They may just build it into their comp plan.

BILL YATES:  Exactly.

ANDY CROWE:  So that then you find out, you know, now you have all these incentives.  So now the PM is not just there trying to deliver some product, service, or result.  Now the PM is there trying to ensure job security going forward.

BILL YATES:  Right.  Yeah.  That’s tricky, tricky stuff.  And for the project manager who feels like maybe they’re in a situation like that, you have to keep asking questions.  I love your analogy.  There’s somebody at the top for these different projects.  Ask why.  Look and see, what do you think – “Hey, Lisa, if you’re at the top, what led to your success?  Why do you think you’re here?”  “Because I really deliver value.”  Or “I deliver value, and I sell more value.”  You know, what is it that has gotten them there?

You know, Andy, another thing that I think about with these consulting-type projects, this goes back to that first question about negative or difficult stakeholders.  One of the things that we would often have to overcome with the consulting-type projects, we’d show up, and there was history.  We’re walking into a client engagement.  We’re excited about it.  Our sales team has sold this engagement.  We’re going to install our software for this utility.

The folks that we’re actually working with, the customers, they’re looking at us like, okay.  They’ve kind of got the hands on the hips, or they’re looking and going:  “All right, here’s another one of these programs that management’s shoving down our throats.  I’ve got to learn this new software now.  We’re going to create all this mess with IT.”  So they’re resistant.  And trying to get at that and understand why, again, walking in their shoes, trying to understand the fear, the uncertainty, the doubt that they have and why is a big part of that consulting process.

I remember, Andy, there was one particular – I remember this one client vividly.  I’m not going to say who it is.  But when we first showed up, there was no trust.  And we’re like, what happened?  I’m literally thinking the sales guy must have done something really bad here.

ANDY CROWE:  Right.  I’ve never heard of a sales guy overpromising or…

BILL YATES:  Overpromising anything, right.  I’m thinking, oh, boy, I’ve got to take a look at this contract to see what happened.  But it turns out they had had a bad history with a top consulting company, one of the big four at the time, because the big four, they had their top consultant.  But then they had a number of minions.

ANDY CROWE:  Right.

BILL YATES:  And they had a history…

ANDY CROWE:  The associates, yeah.

BILL YATES:  Yes, those associates would come in and bill the client and basically learn on the job.

ANDY CROWE:  Oh, yeah.

BILL YATES:  And these guys were – they just told us straight up:  “We don’t want to be teaching you our business.”  And we’re like, okay, wow.  So then we started to understand where that history was coming from.  So it’s tricky.  But I loved the – to me, every engagement was exciting because there were new challenges like that, that you would uncover.  So I would say these consulting-type projects are not for the weak at heart.

Technology Development and Non-IT Workgroups

NICK WALKER:  We have a question about technology development.  And the question is:  “Does the technology development model work for non-IT work groups?”

ANDY CROWE:  That’s an interesting question in and of itself.  And I’ll tell you why, where my brain goes with that.  Let’s rewind far back in history, and let’s go back to a time – let’s go back to the Renaissance, the real, the actual Renaissance, you know.  So you go back to the 12, 1300s, all the way up through the 1500s, in Rome.  And it’s really interesting to look at how projects were done there because what would happen is a wealthy patron, somebody from the Medici family, somebody like that, one of the Popes, would bring in skilled craftsmen, and the fascinating thing was the skilled craftsmen were really, really inexpensive.  So they could bring in an amazing artist for a little bit of money.  What cost a lot of money was the raw materials.

So now, in order to supply them with paint, well, that was difficult to get because you had to perhaps travel to somebody who was an artisan who did it, or to have marble quarried and mined and shipped in.  That was a very elaborate process.  And so under that model, and this model persisted for a long, long time, that labor’s inexpensive; materials are super expensive.  Now look at IT, and look at where we are now.  A developer, a good software developer, and there’s a concept called a “full stack developer,” and that’s someone who can basically do anything from the highest level scripting language all the way down to the lowest level coding.

BILL YATES:  Got all the skills.

ANDY CROWE:  Yeah.  Everything in between.  Understands the full stack.  To hire one of those people is going to be really pricey; okay?  Very expensive.  However, you can put them on a $2,000 computer, and they’re moving electrons all day, and there’s almost no resource cost past – it’s the labor now.  So it’s inverted.  This whole model has flipped upside down, and it’s changed the dynamics.

But here’s the problem, Nick, is one of the – so people who know me know I’m a fanatic about Japanese management.  I just am.  It’s the way my brain works.  It’s what I was raised on and what I was steeped in.  And Japanese management, one of the things they do is just-in-time.  Just-in-time inventory.  But Bill, there’s an advantage to just-in-time.  There’s a couple.  One is you don’t have your supply chain full of stuff that you don’t need.  But what’s another?

BILL YATES:  Well, it keeps your costs down.  It drives your quality.  It forces you to focus on quality.

ANDY CROWE:  That’s it.  It forces you to focus on quality.  Now, this craftsman only has a very limited inventory of materials.  So he or she has to be really careful with those materials.  They have to treat them as precious resources.  Okay?  It’s almost like going back to this Renaissance model again.  The trouble is, now it’s cheap to put a programmer, well, it’s not cheap for the labor, but the parts are almost insignificant and inconsequential.

So to answer your question, that model is risky.  The technology development model in general is risky, and it’s risky because it encourages waste.  And that’s something we don’t talk a lot about because technologists, you know, when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.  And so we’re big fans of technology.  We want to apply this to everything.  The trouble is it creates a wasteful environment, especially where resources are important, where the physical resources matter.

Is Agile Truly Being Used?

NICK WALKER:  All right. You guys ready to get into Agile?

ANDY CROWE:  I’m ready.  I love Agile.

NICK WALKER:  Well, we have I guess what is sort of a basic question, and that is:  “Is Agile truly being used?  Or are companies implementing smaller waterfall projects instead?”

BILL YATES:  I laughed when I read this one, Andy.  I thought, this sounds like a conspiracy theorist.

ANDY CROWE:  Yeah, yeah, yeah.

BILL YATES:  We’re doing Agile, wink, wink, wink.  Yeah, I think the answer here is yes.  Companies are absolutely finding a lot of value following Agile methods.  What’s been interesting is Andy and I have spoken with folks recently, looking at the – those who were either personally or on their project team, they’re faking Agile.  By that I mean they’ve read enough or they’ve been exposed to Agile, and they said, okay.  But they grew up doing traditional or doing waterfall.  And so that’s kind of intriguing to me is when people are either putting things on their résumé that are not maybe 100 percent accurate in terms of the experience they’ve had with Agile; or, even more interesting to me, they’ve got a team that they say they’re going to use Agile methods, but they’re really not.  They’re slapping some things together.

ANDY CROWE:  We’ve encountered that with a vendor recently that we’ve been dealing with.  And they call themselves Agile, and it’s just not an Agile process.  Now, it’s funny, though, because have you ever dealt with somebody who’s maybe like really, really a rabid purist in a particular topic?  Maybe it’s their diet,  maybe it’s their exercise.  Maybe – whatever.  And they’re always trying to establish themselves as a little bit more devoted to whatever it is.

BILL YATES:  Right, mm-hmm.

ANDY CROWE:  You’ve never met anybody like that, have you, Nick.

BILL YATES:  Never.

NICK WALKER:  You want names?

ANDY CROWE:  And those people also exist in the Agile community.  So if you have any non-Agile practice that creeps in, man, they’re quick to say, well, you’re not really doing it.  You’re not really a devotee to scrum.  You’re not really, you know, this isn’t extreme programming.  That’s not the way it works.  The trouble is, it’s very difficult to implement pure Agile unless your organization is supportive of pure Agile.

BILL YATES:  Right.

ANDY CROWE:  If they don’t, if your organization has any traditional management practices, where those two meet can get really wonky.  And it’s tough to be purely Agile.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  I recall a conversation we had in this room with Tim Kelly.  Their organization was rolling out SAFe.  And they had to get their highest ranking, their top management to really buy into it – understand it, buy into it, and then be out there sponsoring it, really putting the word out.

ANDY CROWE:  Well, and people will nod and agree with you in meetings, but then they go right back to the practices they’ve been doing.  So, yes.  We definitely see organizations here doing some cool things with Agile, and definitely implementing it.  But, you know, is it pure enough for the purists?  Probably not; you know?  I’m sure that there are very few organizations that are doing it that would make the real strict purists happy.

Recommendations for New PMs/PMO Role in Agile

NICK WALKER:  We’ve got somebody, and I want to read this question verbatim because they’re asking something very specific here that goes along with this.  This person says:  “I am just starting down the path of a project management career, trying to transition from IT tech services to a PMO.  I just got my PMP, thanks to your book, by the way,” he says.  “I’m learning that IT in general is very interested in or going to the Agile PM practices.  To further my career, do you recommend PMI-ACP or Scrum Master or both certifications, until I can gain real-world experience?”

ANDY CROWE:  All right.  There’s some alphabet soup in here.  So we know what the PMP is.  That’s a Project Management Professional.  Bill, what’s a PMO?

BILL YATES:  A Project Management Office.  So it’s interesting, the person, the reader, or the listener said:  “I’m transitioning from IT tech services to a Project Management Office.”

ANDY CROWE:  Right.  So a PMO in a lot of organizations offers guidance, offers oversight, helps set standards for projects.  That’s a fascinating thing.  A good friend of mine, Dennis Bolles, has done a lot of research on PMOs and on the challenges they face.  And his research has been rather eyebrow-raising, that a lot of PMOs struggle.  A lot of them have trouble finding their voice in the organization.  And really I think the ones that succeed, succeed because they’re in a pure support role.  They support projects.  The ones who try and control projects, they don’t…

BILL YATES:  They’re going to get a lot of resistance.

ANDY CROWE:  Well, they do get a lot of resistance, yeah, before they get dismantled.

BILL YATES:  Right, right.

ANDY CROWE:  But this is an interesting question.  Bill, how would you answer?  Do you recommend PMI-ACP or Scrum Master?  And this is a Part B to this question that’s not written down.  But what’s the role of a PMO in an Agile organization?

BILL YATES:  Yeah, that’s a great question.  Back to Part A.  With PMI-ACP with the Agile Certified Practitioner from PMI, I think you have to have 1,500 hours of experience with Agile projects.  So one of the quick points to this particular question is you’ve got to have experience in order to get the PMI-ACP.  That’s not true for the CSM, though; correct?

ANDY CROWE:  No.  Certified Scrum Master’s easy to get.  Let’s just be honest.  It’s an easy certification.  I don’t know career value-wise where it would fit in the chain, but it’s easy to get.  It’s quick and dirty.

BILL YATES:  Right.  Yeah, yeah.  So the advice that they’re asking for near the end of the question, to me, is I would say try to find, try to get some experience.  Find some opportunities to use Agile practices.  Be a member of a project team that’s using Agile, or a contributor, or maybe a SME, just participating in that.  And then see if it really resonates.  See if, okay, I like this.  This is me.  This is who I am.  And then go deeper.  Look for opportunities to manage those types of projects, and then pursue those certifications.

ANDY CROWE:  You said a “SME.”  Is this a Captain Hook thing?  Was that the guy’s name, his right-hand henchman there?

BILL YATES:  Yes, Subject Matter Expert.

ANDY CROWE:  Oh, yeah, Subject Matter Expert.  Got it.

BILL YATES:  Or Captain Hook’s henchman.

ANDY CROWE:  Well, but back to the question about what – how do you think a PMO should relate to the Agile groups within their organization?  What do they do?

BILL YATES:  Well, I think there’s a lot of opportunity there because we see so many hybrids, and I would think a lot of confusion, especially for those who’ve had a lot of experience with waterfall projects.  There again, they need to be reminded almost weekly, what’s the difference in how this Agile project should be running versus this other?

ANDY CROWE:  Right.

BILL YATES:  Because like you said, Andy, there are deep ruts.  The more experience we have, the deeper those ruts are for traditional practices.

ANDY CROWE:  So reminding best practices, going through those Agile rituals, if you will.  There’s a good opportunity to sort of facilitate this scrum of scrums.

BILL YATES:  Yes.

ANDY CROWE:  All of these things.  But Agile is about servant leadership, not top-down direction.

BILL YATES:  Right.

ANDY CROWE:  And so, if the PMO comes in and says, you know, here’s your checklist, and I’m looking over your shoulder, and I walked into the last meeting and everybody wasn’t standing up and, you know, whatever it is, it’s not going to go well.

BILL YATES:  Right.  But what a great opportunity for them to – it’s almost like a Center of Excellence; right?  They get to identify what’s working for Agile, what’s working for traditional.  And then let’s identify talent.  Who’s best for one versus the other?

ANDY CROWE:  Honest question.  Have you ever seen that done right from a PMO level in an Agile organization?

BILL YATES:  No.

ANDY CROWE:  I haven’t, either.  And so, yeah, it’s a good challenge.  I mean, if you’re in an organization where that is going well, and you really do have a Center of Excellence, send us a note because I’d love to know more.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.

ANDY CROWE:  I’m fascinated with that.

Starting out in Project Management

NICK WALKER:  We’ve got a lot of questions here, and there’s no way we’re going to get to them all in one podcast.  We are going to deal with these questions again in a next podcast.  But can we wrap up just maybe with a general question here?  One of our listeners wants to know just about project management certification in general.  He says:  “I want to complete the project management certification as I want to start a career in PM.  Please guide me.”  What sort of guidance can we give?

ANDY CROWE:  I wrote a book on it.  Well, and so that’s an interesting question because the PMP is not for somebody looking to get into project management.  It’s for somebody who has established themselves as a PM.  Same with the PMI-ACP.  So those are not entry-level credentials.  They’re supposed to be for someone who’s spent some time there.  I had a funny thing, Nick that somebody asked me one time.  They said:  “Hey, I’ve read your book cover to cover.  I’m taking the exam tomorrow.  Do you have any last-minute tips for me?”  I thought, I wrote a whole book.  It’s not like I saved one or two out.

NICK WALKER:  Right.

BILL YATES:  Right.

ANDY CROWE:  And I thought, okay, well, since you asked, I’ll give you the real advice.  But no.  You know what?  First of all, some of the best project managers in the world are not credentialed.  They’re just really talented at what they do.  And so the credential is supposed to add onto that, and it’s supposed to be something that kind of attests to that person’s capability.  But it doesn’t make you a better PM by itself, just getting it.  Now, I’m a big fan of the credentials.  They’ve been good for a lot of people, and they do say something about what that person’s done.  But I would start out not focused on the letters after my name, not focused on the alphabet soup, but focused on the fundamentals of project management and learning it.

Wrap Up

NICK WALKER:  Well, we are going to continue this conversation in a future podcast.  But let me just say to the listeners, thank you so much for these questions.  This is really a – I think this is good stuff that a lot of people need to know, want to know.  And if we didn’t get to your question, we’re going to try to do that in a future podcast.  So stay tuned.  We’ll get to them eventually.

In the meantime, don’t forget to collect your PDUs, Professional Development Units, toward your recertifications.  You just earned some by listening to this podcast.  To claim your free PDUs, go to Velociteach.com and choose Manage This Podcast from the top of the page.  Click the button that says Claim PDUs and click through the steps.

That’s it for us here on Manage This.  We hope you’ll tune back in on December 4th 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 any questions about our podcasts or about project management certifications.

That’s all for this episode.  Thanks for joining us.  Until next time, keep calm and Manage This.

 

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