How to protect project management from incompetent and unethical experts?

Today, I could not get this out of my mind, so I want to share; excuse the venting. It is posts like the one we will discuss here (and the responses to them) that are genuinely pushing me to reconsider continuing in project management.

I will not bore you with all of the details, and I will not provide specific links to maintain the privacy of those involved. If you are curious enough, maybe you can probably find the resources that I am referring to in this post.

Something to reflect on before the case

Keep in mind, this is one case but daily there is one like it. Before reading, I have to humbly explain that this is not about ego or opinions. People can have differences of opinions on things where there are no facts. Opinions are judgments which we might agree with or disagree but if we disagree that does not make them wrong. However, in the presence of facts (as we view it from different angles), then there is right or wrong. So, if you tell me the earth is flat and we know this is wrong, then if we say, no the earth is not flat it is a ‘sphere’ that does not mean we are being negative or criticizing. Unfortunately, in project management, whenever we state facts or offer alternative opinions, then all of sudden we start to hear about “closed mind”, or offering “immature criticism”, or “being negative”, and so on.

Time for the case

An article, the starting point

There is an article, here on LinkedIn, with a title that says something like this (I changed the arrangement of words) a complete guide to PM methodologies. So, what is wrong with such a post:

  1. The article listed many “methodologies” but discussed #Agile, only.
  2. The cover image of the post is something about Agile or Scrum; does not align with the article title or “objective”.
  3. Many, or most of the “methodologies” listed, are not project management methodologies at all; they are approaches that could be used on projects or in a particular type of projects, maybe for development phase or something like that. I do not want to debate what is a methodology here; we have many blog articles on this subject; refer to http://blog.sukad.com.
  4. One of the “methodologies” listed is “PMI’s PMBOK methodology.”
  5. After the list of the methodology, there is a discussion on Agile. So the title said a “complete guide” but the article was a list and a discussion of Agile.

The Discussion

I noticed that the writer of the article is in digital marketing, not project management. So I asked her if she read the PMBOK Guide. Her response is classic:

Yes. I’m guessing you’re asking because the PMBOK® is a more of a framework and set of methods and best practices rather than an actual methodology. And that is actually what we highlighted in that specific section. Thank you for your enquiry!

Can anyone guess how many errors or ethical issues in that response?

  1. If the author, and her company, know that there is no “PMI’s PMBOK methodology” then why list as a methodology?
  2. Does the author (and her company) know the difference between PMBOK and PMBOK Guide? More on this in the video that will share below.
  3. In the response, she said, “PMBOK® is a more of a framework and set of methods.” (the bold is mine) What methods? The guide is clear to say that professional can use any – ANY – methodology to supplement the guide. It also lists four TYPES of approaches (not methods) that can be used. There is no single chapter in the guide that presents a specific method.
  4. She also said “… set of … best practices”; what best practices? Again, the guide itself clearly states that it is about “good practices” not best. Do you think there are differences between good and best practices?
  5. The last sentence in her response: “And that is actually what we highlighted in that specific section.” Great, so there are more details; apparently, there is a “complete guide,” so off we go following one of the few commercial links.

A video related to this topic, click here.

The section from the complete guide

Sorry, I will be posting a longer quotation this time.

PMI’s PMBOK methodology is used mainly in USA, Canada, and the Middle East. It sets the baseline for project management’s best practices, processes, and techniques. Its status as a methodology is debatable because it’s really a reference guide that establishes the universal benchmarks of project management and not an actual method.

On this debate, Name of a Person from Name of a Company observes that “The approach described in PMI’s PMBOK Guide is not a methodology. It’s a set of best practices. In real life, it would be inefficient to implement such an approach to a full extent.

Remember what she said to me in her initial response, they know it is not a methodology, but the first sentence here starts with “PMBOK methodology”. It must be in error or a typo. Alternatively, do you think it might be justified because of the second sentence?

But using words like “methodology,” “best practices,” does repeat more than once. However, wait, “Its status as a methodology is debatable.” I am indeed lost, is it or is not? There is a debate on this, by who? The owner of the guide, PMI, clearly state that it is NOT a methodology. So who are we debating now? Refer back to my introduction regarding opinion versus facts.

Then, of course, we have this X expert telling us it is not a methodology but “a set of best practices.” Why best practices again? Some might think we are picking on words, but if the guide is clear about its purpose being “good practice” and people insist on using the term best practices” that means one of two things, (1) either they did not read or understand the guide and its intent (a sign of incompetence), or (2) they are lying to support sales and commercial gains (ethical issue).

In closing this section, I am sure some of my friends and colleagues, including the author of the original PMBOK® Guide, Mr. Bill Duncan, will entirely agree with this sentence from this X Expert: “In real life, it would be inefficient to implement such an approach to a full extent.” Really? Can we not implement the guide to its full extent?

Let us clarify a point here – full extent does not mean every letter from the 800 (+/-) pages of the guide. To us, full extent means the core concepts; the processes, the knowledge areas, etc.

Then back to “inefficient”; we must ask why is it inefficient to implement the guide? Is it a buffet if we eat all of the food we get sick or something?

Have anyone worked on REAL significant project, and delivered a successful outcome, without implementing the processes of the guide and more? We even post that the PMBOK® Guide is not enough, and we need to supplement it, but this X Expert thinks we cannot implement it to the full extent.

A side discussion

I posted this part of the quotation (repeated from above) on LinkedIn to see the reaction. “The approach described in PMI’s PMBOK Guide is not a methodology. It’s a set of best practices. In real life, it would be inefficient to implement such an approach to a full extent.” One respondent agreed with the “experts” and said “Why would anyone want to implement the guide to the fullest extent? If you are ill, do you go the pharmacy and take every drug you see on the shelf?” I asked this person to provide clarification, but no response yet.

Obviously, this person thinks that if we need to manage projects we can select from the menu, maybe select one process only to manage the projects. Or maybe two or three processes (thinking of his pharmacy analogy).

I know that many people will probably agree with “expert” or the “pharmacy” guy, and if you agree, I ask you to really think hard, which group of processes would you take out and not use if you are indeed managing a project, end-to-end, concept to closure? Even if it is a small project — stay focused, we are looking for managing a project and not a piece of the project. What processes would you skip and still have a good chance of a successful outcome?

Closing Comments

AngryI kept the discussion here on the points related to the PMBOK Guide. I could write another post or two about the many other errors in the article on the “complete guide” that initiated this whole discussion.

The danger in these types of posts is that they use trendy words and terms and in less than two days, a misguided article like the one we are talking about is crossing the 250 likes and maybe already more than 60 shares. So there are at least 250 people think this is a good article; despite the fact that almost every sentence or paragraph has a fundamental error of facts.

Is this what project management has become? I do not mean only the unethical and incompetent posts but the reaction to them is part of the problem. Do people know the difference between popular and good or great? We realize that many professionals do not, this is why we engage in these posts, to try to debate, discuss, highlight good, bad or ugly because we need to learn. The irony is that even when most of the responses to the articles are corrections to fundamental errors, you still get people jumping and supporting the original post without any comments on the respondents’ answers. Do these people bother reading the discussion?

If this is project management today, then I will restate something I said in a post; it is time to go into the falafel or hummus business.

I will leave you with two questions to ponder:

  1. Is it even professionally ethical to mislead like this?
  2. What can we do to protect project management from imposters like these?

Please share your thoughts, especially if you do not agree with our position!

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About Mounir Ajam

Mounir Ajam is eager to awaken the giant of project management within individuals, organizations, and nations! He is an experienced executives with global experience working on projects from the United States to Japan and in between. He has been privileged to work on multiple small projects and mega projects. Mounir is an author, volunteer leader, speaker, consultant, executive coach, and entrepreneur who is open for further learning and sharing.
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