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John P. Reiling, PMP: PMP Exam Prep: Don’t Ignore the Code of Ethics!

There are many hard core topics you need to master as you prepare for the PMP exam. It’s easy to dismiss the Code of Ethics! After all, if you remember to just “do the right thing” you will be fine. Not so quick! You may be by passing a great opportunity.

I have always been a proponent of putting into practice what you are learning as soon as possible. The idea is that you truly master a topic when you use and come to “own” it. This is true whether the topic is leadership, earned value, learning the project management processes, or learning the various project management knowledge areas in the PMBOK guide. It’s also true beyond the realm of project management…

That basic premise is where the Code of Ethics actually becomes an opportunity for you. But first, before exploring the opportunity of the Code of Ethics, let’s explore further into putting into practice what you are learning.

It’s not always easy to put into practice what you have learned. It’s good to actually have a project – but we don’t always have the right project for everything, and it can be hard to apply every concept to every project. But usually there is a way to “fake” it. It just takes a little imagination.

Say, for example, that you are mastering some concepts in the area of earned value. It may be that you are not actually practicing earned value at all on your project at work. But the trick is that you could be! You need to pretend…and find a place to apply it. What if you were totally in charge of the project? Alternatively, what about a project at home, or a project perhaps in your volunteer activities? Find somewhere that you can, even if it’s a bit of stretch, to apply that concept of earned value…and follow it all the way through.

When you do this, I truly believe that you master the concepts and come to won them. If nothing else, the simple engagement of looking for a place to apply earned value will help you to think more deeply about it and to better understand the topic.

Now let’s consider where ethics can help you with this experiential learning…putting into practice what you are learning.

First, ethics is not black and white. If you look at any situation and try to think through what is right and wrong, you will begin to confront the gray areas. And this will help you understand the nuances better. Continuing with our example of putting earned value concepts into practice, think about the ethical implications. At what point do you think you are computing earned value accurately? Are there any inaccurate or misleading implications of what you are computing? Is there a place where placing effort on eared value calculations is “over-analytical” and does not provide value? Are there ethical implications to continuing?

Ethics forces you to struggle with the reality of the situation…to think it all through. Now let’s say that you have your earned value calculations…and they point to a potential issue. Is it your responsibility to investigate the issue more closely…so as to provide more in depth information to advise management and stakeholders and your team of the situation? What would you investigate? What do the numbers mean? How far do you go? This can be a great driver!

Considering the ethical perspective puts you in the middle of every situation. No matter what aspect of project management, there will be gray areas, and they will require choices. You need to weigh alternatives at every encounter, in every challenge. In so doing, you are practicing ethics…and integrating ethical considerations with all of that hard knowledge you gain as you prepare for the exam.

Preparing for the PMP exam is tough. To bring it all to life for yourself and claim “ownership”, it’s always great if you can find areas within your own realm of projects – work extracurricular, or imagined – and apply the concepts. The area of ethics lends itself well to this – not just because of the topic of ethics itself, but because if forces you to confront reality in situations involving all aspects of project management. As a result, I suggest you use ethics as a tool to help you pull all aspects of project management together in a way that helps you to take ownership of the material, understand the nuances, and put yourself into the middle of situations with shades of gray.

John Reiling, PMP

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