An interesting question raised by one of our readers. Published here April 2001.


Musings Index

Standards for Very Large Projects

Of course it depends on what you understand by "very large projects", what kind they are and where they are located, but it is an interesting question raised by one of our readers. Ralf Konrad of T-Nova NA writes from San Mateo, CA, in part as follows:

"I'm currently very interested in getting some detailed information about IPMA and PMI. The reason why I'm interested in these organizations is that I'm working for T-Nova North America, a subsidiary of T-Systems and that's a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom. ... I'm responsible for a study of T-Systems to analyze and describe the differences between IPMA and PMI. [We have] a diversity of cultures [one of which] is in the training and certification of Project leaders and the used standards for project management. Some units have been using IPMA, some PMI. One of the challenges is now to unify the different standards and certifications. For the future we'll have to clarify which standards, training and certifications might be better for our company.

"Should we use the standards of one organization only, either IPMA or PMI? Is it possible and useful to combine the standards of both organizations, like taking the best-of-breed of every organization? Should we use them concurrently without changing anything? Which organization, IPMA or PMI has the better standards for managing very large projects, the better standards in the field of telecommunication and information technology, [and] the better training and certification for project leaders?"

These are tough questions and very real issues for global organizations. Our view is that the Project Management Institute ("PMI") and the International Project Management Association ("IPMA") have adopted different positions. Here is our take on each.

First let's look at PMI. PMI promotes a Project Management Professional ("PMP") certification that does not accredit project managers per se, but rather that one is involved in project management and has some understanding. We believe that this level of accreditation has been rather blown out of proportion as the PMP is accredited against a standard that is simply PMI's view of generally accepted practices. On the other hand PMI has made the PMP a marketing necessity as more and more international companies find it useful to add "PMP" as a credential in their search for project management competence. (More information here: )

The IPMA position, on the other hand, is a quintessential European common market approach that emphasizes national organizational accreditation of project management practitioners designed to reflect the sensibilities of each country. It embodies a set of useful levels of accreditation from Project Management Practitioner, through Project Management Professional, to Project Manager, to Project Director. Each level brings a valuable understanding of the corresponding credentials required and qualification involves a peer review interview. (More information here: )

Stripped of marketing hype and copyrights notwithstanding, no organization has an absolute lock on the knowledge content of the project management discipline since it is, in fact, the sum of the generally understood facts and experience of the people who work in the field. Indeed, except for the project management principles collected and published by Max Wideman, there is no theoretical underpinning to justify any set of good practices, let alone the current buzz on "Best Practices". These are very much determined by the technology of each type of project and the cultural environment in which the project exists. Nevertheless, the documents that are published by the various project management organizations do provide an excellent listing for reference purposes, and useful learning, whether national or global.

Of course we would like to see some more globally accepted qualifications that reflect progressive levels of both learned knowledge and practical competence in the project management discipline. Unfortunately, in the prevailing atmosphere we do not see that happening.

Bottom line, our recommendation to enquiries like Ralf Konrad's is that until such time as there exists a real global standard, you should adopt that part of each that best suits your organization's purpose. However, your training program would be well advised to include enough of PMI's Guide to (their) body of knowledge for company people to study for and receive PMI's PMP certification. But the organization's push should be towards achieving progressively higher levels of staff competence in the discipline along the lines suggested by IPMA.

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