Advice for a Freshly Minted PMP

A few days ago, I got an email from a project manager who had just successfully passed his PMP exam, and while I answered his mail I had to think back to countless students in my classes who asked me about the same predicament over the past few years.

It always touches me to see the sincere desire project managers have to make a positive difference for their companies and the obstacles that often stand in their way. Therefore, I want to share the ensuing e-mail exchange with you in the hopes that some of you may find some useful advice here:

An excerpt of the email I received:

“I am the first person in my company to get PMP certified, and it was great experience for me.  My company was very excited for me, even though they really knew nothing about PMP.  The problem I have now, is that we don’t have a PMO (they wouldn’t know what a PMO is), and our company operates nothing like PMI has taught me.  And everyone says they want “improvements” until it comes time to actually change.  So, I am kind of a PMP out on an island in my company.  Do you have any advice how one single project manager can change the way a company does their business? Thank you for your reply.”

My answer:

“First of all: congratulations on passing your PMP exam. It’s no mean feat and you and your colleagues can rightly be proud of your achievement!

However, I can understand your frustration, now that the brave new world of PMI and the reality at your company clash. To start with, I need to be honest and tell you that unless management has the will to sponsor some serious changes in the way they do business it will be very hard to shift practices at your company. Project management as a grass-roots movement takes a long time, much effort and disappointment. This does not mean that your hands are tied, though.

Here’s a couple of things you can do by yourself or with some of your colleagues who may be willing to listen to you and collaborate with you, and you do not need a fully-fledged PMO to see some immediate results.

1. Find yourself a champion

Look around management and leadership in your company; can you identify someone who may be willing to sponsor and spearhead some changes in your organization? If you can think of someone, approach them and discuss – with a clear outline of things you would like to do – and see if they would be a champion for you. Be prepared to discuss “return on investment” for any such actions.

For example, I helped a company last year to firm up their PM practice. One step was to teach them to scope projects properly before committing to a Fixed-Price Contract with their clients. On one project I was able to save them $500.000 they would have underbid and lost otherwise!

2. Every journey starts with a first small step

Review the things you can tackle within your control. You may not be able to put in place a PMO, but perhaps you can start doing good risk analysis on your projects. Build yourself a risk register using the steps from the PMBOK and work with your team and stakeholders. Once you show progress and success, others will want to know how you did it and you can start gathering “followers”.

Once that practice is established, work on introducing something else, for example performing Lessons Learned sessions and storing the documentation centrally so your colleagues can use it, too.

Success will draw people to what you do and you can spread the word.

3. Stick your neck out

Now this is tricky advice, because I do not know how much you can insist on things being done the right way without being labeled a “troublemaker”, but if you are being asked to run your projects in a way that will jeopardize results, e.g. arbitrary deadlines and budgets that don’t match the scope, try to convince people to follow the process.

Your knowledge as a PMP will allow you to point out the consequences of ignoring basic PM processes and describe what will happen. However, only you know your company culture and assess how much you can say without personal consequences. I trust your good judgment there.

I hope these three areas of advice will open some avenues for you to make a positive difference.

The best of luck on your endeavor.”