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Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater

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Last time, I wrote about the fact that there is a tendency to look for silver bullet solutions to the all too frequent failures of project management.

When silver bullets don’t work there is a negative reaction against them. Unfortunately this is sometimes quite extreme and the solution in question becomes treated as a cause of failure as opposed to a solution that hasn’t been applied properly.

One example that vividly illustrates this is the question of knowledge based qualifications such as APMP and PRINCE2 Practitioner.

In the late 1990’s there was definitely an upsurge in popularity of these qualifications. Much of it was driven by the recruitment industry that needed simple badges for use in initial candidate selection. Many people sought to gain the qualifications to improve their CVs. The tipping point came when it ceased to be an advantage to have them on your CV but became a disadvantage not to have them. That’s when they became commodity products and really took off.

This kept the recruiters happy, but those responsible for projects soon realised that there was a tendency to think “have qualification will manage” and that wasn’t working. Why this came as a surprise I don’t know. The likes of APMP etc. are similar in academic level to GCSEs and while I have ‘O’ levels (that’s GCSEs in old money) in chemistry and French I am neither a chemist nor a linguist. Why would an APMP make me a project manager?

The fact that I am neither a competent chemist nor linguist is no reflection on the value of the corresponding GCSEs. It just means that I chose a different path for higher education and experience. My inability to hold a conversation in French is not a reason to discard French GCSE.

The objections to APMP, PMP, PRINCE2 Practitioner etc. are, in some quarters, lurid bordering on the fanatic. Commentators maintain they should be banned because they don’t create experienced project managers. Of course they don’t, they were never meant to, any more than GCSE Chemistry makes someone a chemist.

The problem is not that the qualifications are inadequate – it’s the perception of what they represent that is misguided. Knowledge based qualifications are an early stepping stone to becoming a competent project manager, just as my ‘O’ level maths was an early stepping stone to becoming a competent engineer.

So to all those naysayers, please stop babbling on about the inadequacy of knowledge based qualifications. What we should all be doing is ensuring that they are understood for what they are, and more importantly, making sure that the rest of the stepping stones are in place to get from an APMP all the way through to RPP.

Stop trying to throw the baby out with the bathwater.


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  1. Paul Naybour
    Paul Naybour 15 August 2014, 02:08 PM

    Adrian Another fantastic post by someone with real experience in this area. Stepping stones is a concept that brings back memories from a few years ago. I think the reluctance to go beyond APMP, PRINCE2 and PMP may also have something to do with organisational behaviour in project delivery organisations. As you know it is really hard to get organisations interested to do anything more advanced. At meetings with our direct contacts in client organisations we all agree that it is really important to the next level, but in all but a few organisations further development does not happen. I think it is because either the costs are too high or the process too complex and time consuming for very busy senior project managers.  I am really looking forward to the refresh of the A-C level qualifications from the APM. I hope these will be more cost effective and practical for project managment organisations to implement, even if they do have very little involvement from training providers like Parallel. 

  2. Patrick Weaver
    Patrick Weaver 15 August 2014, 07:42 AM

    Knowledge alone is not enough but you are in big troublle without it! To be effective in any sphere of life you need to be capable of applying knowledge effectively to achieve an outcome; this is competency. However, to be really effective you not only need to be capable of being competent, you need to be willing to act, to use your capability effectively.Effective (ie, competent) managers need to know what should be done, have the skills to do the work and be willing to actually do the work. Knowledge without capability is useless. Capability without knowledge is non-transferable at best, at worst dangerous.Even knowledge is complex: project management knowledge falls into three parts: Conceptual knowledge is learned from a book and forms the core element of examinations such as  the APM, PRINCE2 and PMP (ie, a knowledge of generally accepted good practices that are applicable to most projects most of the time). Procedural knowledge takes the conceptual theory and places into a methodological framework; the conceptual idea can be applied using tools or techniques. Applied knowledge uses these two knowledge underpinnings to support the logical application of the knowledge within a specific context.My beef is with the HR departments and agencies that see having proof of conceptual knowledge as being the end of the selection process - the qualifications should be seen as a starting point, you have the basic knowledge needed to start learning how to manage projects effectively.And as with any skill or knowledge, a formally taught, rounded knowledge framework is far better than picking up bits of knowledge (some good, some bad, some dangerous) on the job.  On-the-job is where you start building on the conceptual knowledge framework.  For more on this see:

  3. Sonal Shah
    Sonal Shah 14 August 2014, 06:50 PM

    Adrian I am so glad to read your blog.  Over the years I used to repeatedly in my project work hear people thinking once they had Prince2 qualification that they were a 'project manager'.  Even in my junior days I had this and understood you were no where near being fully fledged within the profession. It seems over time this perception of any project management qualification is still being misunderstood.  They are a great 'stepping stone' as you quote but certainly not the 'be all and end all' to prove or show full competency.It is quite sad as a profession Project Management is still much to be recognised so I believe we have a way to go unlike other professions such as medicine etc.  As a community we can help by sending out positive messages and not get into the debates of inadequacy of our professional qualifications.