PM Articles > Carl Pritchard > I'm a Project Manager and a Professional... REALLY!

I'm a Project Manager and a Professional... REALLY!

By Carl Pritchard

Most people don't go through life saying I want to be a wishy-washy, something-in-between go-fer and administrative aide. Most want a life goal. They want a target. They want respect. As children, many opt for firefighter, police officer, doctor, scientist, or military officer as their target of choice. Why? People respect those individuals. A 2015 Harris survey (PDF) put those people at the top of the list of respected professions.

Look at the jobs at the top of the list. These are individuals with responsibility. These people make serious decisions. They work hard to garner the respect of others and take professional risks to maintain their roles. They also represent some of the best aspects of project managers in any aspect of the profession (traditional, Agile, adaptive) by virtue of how they treat their own profession.

As project management rolls into its latest level-set in Q3 2017 with the release of the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, 6th Edition, it's a great moment to pause and reflect on what this update affords us as professionals in terms of standing firm on best-practice PM principles. This latest update is a healthy reminder that we need to be professionals in the same vein as those at the top of the Harris poll. What attributes do the professions have in common?

  • They respect themselves
  • They respect the rules and protocols of their profession
  • They understand the latest practices and why they've changed
  • They respect history

Respecting Ourselves

We need to look in the mirror and genuinely value the nature of the work we do.

As project managers, we sometimes see ourselves as glorified "go-fers" or supporting administrative staff. No matter how we see ourselves (or how others around us see us), we need to be the ones who look in the mirror and genuinely value the nature of the work we do. The moment we sacrifice critical steps like project planning on the altar of expediency, we disrespect the very nature of the work that we do. The thought of a military leader failing to review troop strength, capability and the environment before battle is ludicrous. We give our military more credit than that. We should do the same for ourselves.

Respecting the Rules and Protocols

It's notable that scientists neared the top of the Harris Poll list. Having worked with dozens and dozens of scientists, I've listened to their pained war stories as they talk about trashing entire data sets because of a single incident of data corruption. They didn't want to dump the data. They had to. They respect the science far too much to allow it to be impugned by bad data. Scientists know the rules.

So do we. We know when a project is not going well. We know when tasks are not completed on time. We know when there's a chance to skirt past some of the processes without anyone noticing. And we don't do it, because we know it's wrong.

A client recently indicated to me that they wanted to be Agile, but that they couldn't have daily meetings, couldn't dedicate a full team, and couldn't keep the same team members on the endeavor over an extended period of time. My reply? You want to adopt Agile, except for everything in it.

Some managers are trying such practices without great effect. It's not working because they're not using the processes that make Agile work.

Adapting to the Latest Practices

With the advent of PMBOK Guide® 6th Edition, the playing field is being partially leveled. Those who never adopted PMI's practices before now have an opportunity to do so. When the new guide is released later this year, new interpretations of existing content will begin to surface. This is an opportunity to truly shine. It also gives us the opportunity to defend the practices we hold dear.

In a recent visit to my family physician, I asked about a particular new drug protocol for a problem I've had for years. He explained the nature of the new protocol, why it was not for me, and why my existing approach was right. Imagine if he had said, "Never heard of that. Can't imagine it's better." My sense of his professionalism would have sunk to all-time lows. Instead, he built my trust by knowing about the new approach, even though he didn't adopt it.

We have similar opportunities with PMBOK6. Love it or hate it, we need to know what's in it so we can make the case for the new or the old.

Respecting History

Sometimes, the old is the best approach. Organizations that created their project management processes decades ago shouldn't spin on a dime every time a new version of the PMBOK Guide is released. But they can be professional in their respect for what aspects of the latest and greatest have survived the decades.

If we, as professionals, expect the respect of our peers (and would actually like to show up on the Harris Poll someday), we need to treat our profession—and the practitioners thereof—as other professionals treat theirs. The next time someone asks "What do you do for a living?" we should be fully loaded with answers that reflect our role—not as go-fers or administrators, but as those who move society forward and get things done.

Not all comments are posted. Posted comments are subject to editing for clarity and length.

Carl always provides great insight, commentary and guidance on our profession. He has a knack for getting to the point in the most cogent manner. I'll never look at a fire fighter or police officer without thinking of trying to measure myself up to them as a PM.

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