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Interview with Max Wideman – His view on PMBOK, PMI and PM world

Dec 13, 2006

 How is your experience and working relationship with PMI in the past and now?

I enjoyed the Institute more when it was run almost entirely by volunteers for the benefit of the members. I don’t find that to be the case today. I make a point of not contributing to the technical exchanges for two reasons: Firstly, because I don’t like the copyright restrictions imposed on contributions, restrictions that I believe to be inhibitive of quality work. That is not to say that the Institute has not done a lot of good work, it has. It is to say that it could do a lot better. Secondly, because they probably would not take any notice anyway and I should lose the unfettered right to my own material.


Do you think that a PM whose entire career was IT can manage a construction project (or the other way around, a civil engineer who career was entirely in construction can manage an IT project?)

It is possible, but the nature of the product and therefore the types of people and the way that they need to be managed are very different. Not everyone is able to make that transition comfortably. Those who can and do are quite few amongst the population at large. That hurdle is in addition to the need to have a credible understanding of the technology involved in each case.

What do you think about PMP certification, why?

All else being equal, if I had a choice between hiring a PMP or a non-PMI member, I would choose the PMP simple because of the exposure that person would have had during his or her studying. A PMI member but not a PMP may or may not have had the required exposure. As to the certification process itself, there is no doubt that it has led to a booming consulting industry. Whether the designation means that you can manage a project seems to me to be questionable. Passing the PMP exam is a question of knowledge, managing a project is a question of competence.

Please tell us about a project that you are involved

No projects of significance on hand at this moment. It’s much easier to stand around and criticize, er; I mean, provide consulting advice.

If today you were asked to write PMBOK what would you do?

Start writing . . . More seriously, I would keep it simple and dispense with all those “ins” and “outs”, except for one. The rest have already served their purpose. I would explain that project management is a process, the most important element of which is the project life span through which this process evolves. I would explain that the project life span and an appropriate technological methodology are closely related but not the same thing. I would then describe the eight knowledge areas and how they contribute sub-processes and how some of these sub-processes are more important than others.

In particular, I would make it clear that scope and quality are two separate variables and moreover product scope and project scope are two different things, and likewise with quality grade and quality conformance. The first of the two in each case determine what the product will be like and the second two how it will be built. The inputs are the management plans and resources. The output is the product (or deliverables). Time and cost are not the outputs but simply the consequences of the management of the inputs. They provide the metrics for judging the efficiency of the process.

It’s that simple. Why do we have to make it so difficult?

Max, how would you make PMBOK really useful?

I just printed my copy of the PDF file single sided. Three hundred and eighty eight pages come out at about two inches thick. I have found that this makes it into a wonderful door stop.

Do you think the PM profession is a well respected one? (Vs. medical, legal)

The presumption in this question is that PM is a profession. I don’t consider that project management is a profession. Rather it is a very important discipline, one of several falling within the overall domain of general management that itself has only recently been recognized as a profession. That is not to say that project managers and their teams are not professionals – you can be professional without being a member of a profession. Medical practice and the law are on a different plane simply because they offer a personal service and interface more closely with the public. It follows that it is unlikely that project management will ever become a “profession” in the general public’s sense of the word.

What about the PM designation?

I’m not clear on this question. If you mean the designation of being a project manager, the reality is that unless or until “project manager” is a protected label by regulation or statute, then anyone can be designated as a project manager. Being called a project manager sounds impressive and is cheaper for the company than giving a raise in salary. Consequently, people labeled project manager are two-a-penny – which is why you often find several project managers all working on parts of the same project. So, when you are confronted with any new situation always ask the question: “Will the real project manager please stand up!”

If you designed a course syllabus for PM what are the subjects/knowledge areas that you would include? Interestingly, I think that the four core functions of scope, quality, time and cost, plus the four facilitating functions of risk, human resources, contract/procurement and information/communications has stood the test of time pretty well. You don’t necessarily need all of all these knowledge areas on all projects all the time, of course, but all the same it is well to have a good grounding in all of them.

If you could start all over again, what profession would you choose?

With the experience and knowledge of hindsight, I would certainly do some things a little differently, but by and large I would do it all, the same all over again.

Max, do you have any message for members of PMHUB?

For those in, or entertaining the idea of getting into project management, it is very important to establish whether you are really cut out for it. Project management is stressful and you do have to move from one to the next. You cannot expect always to have a steady stream of projects to keep you busy and handed to you on a plate. The world economy and its projects are simply not like that. That means you have to take charge of your own career, a good idea anyway, and be quite clear on where you want to go. As in any project, it will not always work out the way you hoped for, but having a good plan is a big help.By my reckoning, some 30% of the working population is not suited to project work of any kind and those people should seek careers elsewhere. For the rest, the work is exciting, satisfying, and full of opportunities.

Max, thank you very much for agreeing to spend the time with PMHUB. Wish you the best this Christmas

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