Does Knowledge Want To Be Managed?

This topic was inspired during a trans-Atlantic air travel dialogue with a young lady seatmate whose job responsibilities included Knowledge Management in an alternative energy company. We explored, and brought together, a range of the relevant terms and disciplines involved with knowledge acquisition, assimilation, retention, and application. Upon my return, and reflecting on the unresolved parts of our discussion, I scheduled an interview with Knowledge. This was more difficult than I thought, even though I had long-ago attributed traits of anthropomorphism to her. Finding Knowledge was easy. Getting dedicated time to interview her was the difficult part. Her? Of course, Knowledge is feminine in gender. Some men don’t really understand more than Facts, the younger step-brother of Knowledge.

Our Interview with Knowledge

My first question was the title of this posting. She asserted that “No one ever asked me!”  Then, she explained that many of those purporting to “manage knowledge” do have some insights, but most do not understand the entire story. And she pointed out that Knowledge is only one member of her large family of Intelligence, and some of her senior siblings are even less-understood than she. For example, her Grandmother is Wisdom. Finally, she asserted her deep concern that there are whole industries, educational systems, software support, and even certifications based on just her part of her family.

While some, such as Peter Senge, come close to deep understanding, many of his followers only grasp the obvious parts. And, especially disconcerting to Knowledge was her belief that man has had few new insights about her for several thousand years, since the illuminations in China, India, Greece and Egypt. The interview, while wide-ranging and deep in content, was a firehose blast of perspective, all absorbed in a 15 second interview. Ms. Knowledge had other pressing commitments elsewhere.

The Taxonomy of Data

The interview led me to reflect on my own journey toward Knowledge and the rest of her family many years ago. In the 1970s I performed presentations to various professional groups. One of my favorite presentations, especially for groups involving data and information systems, was The Taxonomy of Data. I did not invent the concept; I had read something in 1974 that inspired me.

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We Bring Back Our PM Pills!

We first offered our PM Pills in 1983, and they were a popular hit! They were merely candy in pill bottles, with tongue-in-cheek labels. Even six years after our first release, we occasionally saw the bottles on our clients’ office shelves. We also released a series for IPMA (the International Project Management Association), and they were very much in-demand.

The Talent Series

The latest release is based on our recent series of articles, webinars, and blog posts on Project Talent. You can see our latest article, Acquiring, Developing, and Retaining Project Talent, here on our website. Inspired by the four Talent Areas in our Talent Tetrahedron–in our chart, they looked like M&Ms–we ordered the right colors, printed labels, and filled the pill bottles.

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Exploding the Myth of PM Best Practices

PM ChangeAgent Commentary by Stacy Goff.
What are the Best Practices in the world of project and program management (PPM)? Are there a few immutable truths that are transferable across nations, organizations, industries, cultures, and project teams? I often see assertions promoting PM Best Practices. This despite my belief that the phrase is an oxymoron. That our discipline is not yet mature enough to have universal best practices. This article recaps discussions on best practices in my years as a PM practitioner, then as a consultant.

My opinions about PM Best Practices go back to the early 1980s. In that era, as a PPM consultant, I frequently encountered executives, line managers, project managers, and other consultants. They expected to hear my handful of easy-to-implement “PM Best Practices.” In that era, I often made recommendations for improved effectiveness, but I called them “Competitive Practices.” And I usually sought, uncovered, and identified those smartest practices from within their own organizations. I understood over thirty years ago that one organization’s best practices could be a scourge for others. Here’s why…

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Five Foundations for the Advancement of Project Management

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff.
On July 4, 2011 we noted IPMA-USA’s ten-year anniversary. We reflected on our intentions, progress, and achievements in our first ten years—and then, looked ahead at the next ten years. This article focuses on our intentions; but we cannot help but mention our progress. We have helped to advance the practice of project and program management (an ongoing goal). And, we have inspired others to follow our lead: They are now also promoting (their own interpretation of) most of our Five Foundations (see below), and many of our innovations.

We founded IPMA-USA after having been among the key drivers of success of other professional organizations. One example is Project Management Institute (Institute in the rest of this article). Many of us remained members of that great organization, and still do to this day. But we felt it was time for change. And what are project managers, if not change agents?

The Need For Change

Factors in 2000-2001 contributing to the need for change were many. A handful of them became our rallying points. They were also ingredients for our analysis in deciding whether to found a new organization, or to continue working to improve existing ones.

  • PM advancements, innovations and their sharing had significantly slowed;
  • Intellectual Property Ownership issues discouraged involvement of the most-talented practitioners;
  • Training and learning funds appeared to be shifting from project and program performance improvement to test memorization;
  • Association governance moved from member-driven to organization-CEO controlled;
  • Emphasis shifted from all pm sectors to favor Information Technology;
  • Levels of engagement shifted from advanced interaction of long-time practitioners to mass-training of simple subjects to newcomers.

Our Founders

A group of long-time pm practitioners founded IPMA-USA. We came from a variety of backgrounds: Practicing project managers; Managers of project managers; pm consultants and trainers; educators and authors. Some were founders of chapters and officers of other organizations. The average pm industry experience of the founding group in 2001 was around 20 years. Some had been involved for 35 years and more.

Most had earned the Institute’s certification (Lew Ireland wrote its first exam). And we realized that a lot more is needed than an exam to accelerate needed organizational results from our discipline. Many of us worked internationally, so we had a grasp of the status of pm practice in many other nations of the World. Thus, this dedicated group set out to advance the practice of project and program management in America.

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Knowledge, Performance and the Opposable Thumb

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff.
Last month’s article, where we interviewed Knowledge, and gained many new insights about her and her family, must have been an interesting one. It received even more “hits” than normal, and not just from spammers… The time viewers spent on the page was also higher than most, a good indicator of perceived value—or maybe they were trying to figure out that strange anthropomorphism of Knowledge. I’ll cover a few loose ends on the themes we covered, and finish with the importance of the Opposable Thumb.

Discoveries at the NASA Knowledge Forum

I took last months’s article with me to this year’s Knowledge Forum. I shared the article with Larry Prusak, one of the key people in Knowledge Management (KM) practice. After reading the article, he sent a polite email. He suggested that the data to information to knowledge relationships are more complex than my simple assertions. I agree, and will leave it at that. After all, that was a 30+ year-old story.

At the NASA event, I saw a difference between my naïve understanding, and these really bright people in KM practice. And, there were some striking parallels. For example:

  • My perspective about Knowledge is on the individual side: How individuals grow, develop, and improve their performance. I realized that KM is much more oriented to the organizational accumulation and sharing of knowledge.
  • They view Knowledge along the lines of a complete Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning. At the higher levels, you are dealing with synthesis. They are speaking of “Big K” Knowledge, not drill-and-test memorization—“little k” knowledge. That was a big aha for me.
  • My former KM biases were based on this: Much of my time spent in helping project teams (and organizations) succeed, I spend overcoming the flaws of “little k” knowledge. This is manifested by people who memorize enough to pass an exam, rather than to learn how to apply the topic in a project.
  • In the NASA event final exercise, participants worked in teams to identify ways to improve the success of organizational KM. During that session, I had another aha! moment. We were all identifying exactly the same actions, These are the ChangeAgent actions I have coached executives, project management offices and functional managers in for years. In what context? To help organizations adopt and adapt project management methodologies—to improve organizational PM performance.

The Take-away

The take-away: Project Management and Knowledge Management have many strong parallels. And, success in improving one in your area will also help in improving the other—for those who are so inclined. We saw exactly the same pattern with the successful Quality movements of the 1980s. Here is an example of the mutual reinforcement of KM and PM: Lessons Learned are one of the greatest opportunities for sharing knowledge in any organization. And yet, in many cases, they are merely recorded—then the same “learnings” are repeated in project after project, over again. That shows nobody learned anything. With a KM approach that actually institutionalizes applied prior knowledge, all projects will benefit, and performance will soar.

This is one reason why the best PM methodologies have a unique project kick-off action: Review the Lessons Learned from similar projects, including those with this team, this technology, and this customer. This might be a good KM policy for you to implement in your organization, if you do not already follow this savvy practice.

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Overcome the Double-Whammy of Executive Grief Over IT and PM

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff.
An intriguing article in the 1st Quarter, 2010 CIO Insight magazine summarized the results of some major research. The research was completed by Valuedance and Harvard Business Review. The article, Not So IT Smart, was filled with (appropriate for the magazine) insights. What stood out was a significant perception gap about performance on a range of key factors, as perceived by Business and IT Leaders. We would urge you to read that well-researched and well-written article—unfortunately, the article is no longer available.

The Executive’s Grief over IT

I recall the challenges of 35 years ago, when it appeared that Executive Managers just didn’t get it. Get what? The proper use of what we called Data Processing. Then we changed its name to Information Technology. Perhaps we thought that relabeling the same behaviors would change things. Of course, there were savvy, Executives who knew how to make DP the centerpiece of competitive advantage. But those appeared to be in the minority.

Most of us hoped that those Execs who refused to even use a keyboard would soon retire. Their successor would eventually become the visionary strategic leader, and bring us out of our wilderness. But for most, it never happened. The criteria listed as differing perceptions in the above-referenced article are much the same as they were over 30 years ago.

Which could lead one to a conclusion that it is not those Executives at all, but a young and immature practice. A practice that still focuses too much on the latest technologies and the detailed last half of the life cycle.

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Who Really Manages Your Projects?

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff.
In many organizations today, there exist competent and experienced Project Managers, Senior Project Managers and Program Managers. We refer to them all as PM or PMs in this article. And, they all have the responsibility and authority to deliver the organizational changes and benefits.  Senior Managers, Executives, and internal and external customers expect those actions of the PMs. They are a credit to their organizations. The Managers and Executives are incredibly effective, and their organizations (Government and Enterprises) thrive as a result. We shall call this phenomenon Exhibit A.

IPMA’s* Advanced Project and Program Manager certification program, is perfect for these competent and performing practitioners. And IPMA-USA’s PRO program, Performance Rated Organization, is a perfect match for the Exhibit A organizations.

And then we have the other organizations, that we shall call Exhibit B. In the Exhibit B organizations, project success usually depends on several layers of Managers, rather than the nominal Project Managers. These other layers are directing or controlling Time, Cost, Scope and Talent (and other factors). They leave the PM to be a mere implementer; despite his or her best efforts. The result: Poor PM Performance, and Executive Managers, who blame the practice of PM, rather than their misplaced authority.

Who Sets Time, Budget, Scope and Talent?

Some of those Exhibit B organizations depend more on team heroics than deft management. Too often, Project Managers are identified after timelines and budgets are set; scope is never quite “nailed down”. Not only that, promised talent never appears, while cherished talent disappears. Much to the chagrin of PMs, requests for some flexibility somewhere are met with the classic excuse: “we just have to do more with less”. This almost always results in delivering far less with less.

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What Got You Here is Wrong for Performing Here!

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff.
This article is for those who are “moving up” in their project-oriented  organization, and for those who wish to. Not that everyone must do so. In fact, some of the most-competent, highest-performing contributors are those who are so good at what they do—and receive the recognition needed to sustain it. So good, that they have no desire to do anything different. For the rest of us, however, there can be both excitement and danger in “moving on up”. We explore some of those factors here.

From Team Member to PM

Team Members who are high-performers sometimes have the opportunity to “move up” to Project Team Lead or Project Manager. The expectation is that your high performance will “rub off” on others. Sometimes that works, sometimes not, depending in part on your interpersonal skills. Or, or as the IPMA ICB (Individual Competence Baseline) terms them, your Behavioral Attributes.

The challenge for this high-performer: it is easier to do the toughest jobs yourself than to coach others through them. Not only that: high-performers can become addicted to the adrenalin rush of significant accomplishment. They may feel starved by the delayed trickle of appreciation they receive as a Project Manager. Why? Now, your organization just expects that level of accomplishment from you.

The actions that brought you notice and acclaim as an individual contributor? They are the wrong things for you to focus upon as a Project Manager. Instead of brilliantly achieving, you must now carefully delegate, coach and nurture. Not at all the same set of competences, are they?

From Small, to Medium, to Large PM

Often, the progression as a Project Manager is to move from Small Projects, to Medium, and then to Large ones. And yet, the most-important competences that you demonstrate in Small Projects are the least important in Medium projects. Then in Large projects, they significantly change again.

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Is Project Management Strategic?

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff.
On the surface, this is one of those questions with an obvious answer: Of Course It Is! However, the question goes much deeper than that, and deserves more exploration. The topic came up in a discussion with a friend and associate, Alex Jalalian (hailing from Iran and Canada) at last Fall’s IPMA Council of Delegates meeting. Alex is studying for a Doctorate in Strategic Project Management. While I encouraged him in his pursuit, the question came up: What books, research, and indeed, published practices support such a discipline?

One source that came to mind was the Cleland/Ireland book, Project Management, Strategic Design and Implementation (Fifth Edition). We like this book because its topic spans from high-level strategic positioning to detailed steps and relationships in successful projects. But perhaps we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Are Project Managers Strategic?

That is a different question than the one above. Strategic vision and thinking must occur in the project environment for project performance to be maximized. But that thinking may not necessarily come from the Project Manager (PM). Sometimes it is best if it does not. Such as in cases of massive organizational transformation. In that case, a Sponsoring group should manage the Strategic Vision, and drive for change. They should reinforce the vision and sustain the change, once the PM goes off to another series of projects.

Some Project Managers are strategic, and some are not. This depends on their preferred style, the size of their projects, and the nature of the projects. It is also affected when others in the organization also participate in their role. It is affected by the training they receive, and the rewards given for applying needed traits. An essential factor: whether the PM is even capable of doing so. We believe the answer to this question is that some are, some are not. Perhaps a more important question is, can your Project Manager be strategic, when needed?

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A More PROfessional Way to Assess and Maximize PM Performance, part 1

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff.
The publishing this month of the Exposure Draft for PRO, Performance Rated Organization, is a key event for IPMA-USA. It is also a step forward for projects for the USA, and for improved PM Performance. You can see the background, the link to the Exposure Draft, and the audiences for this tool at the PRO section of the IPMA-USA website. This posting shares more perspective about PRO, why we developed and introduced it, and to acknowledge our team members.

Many organizational assessments for project management already exist. We studied the strengths and weaknesses of the best of them as part of our initial research. We found many that were very useful, and some that could be useful, but were far too difficult to apply/ We saw quite a few that could produce great insights, but required too much effort, distracting key staff from their priorities. Most were proprietary, and few were based on any accepted standard. As usual, some appeared to be merely a way for consultants to find work in your organization.

Many of the Organizational PM Assessments are based on a Maturity Model approach, similar to the Capability Maturity Model. It was originally pioneered by the US Defense Department and Carnegie Mellon University. This approach is useful because it can offer a logical sequence of improvements. Otherwise, an organization desiring an assessment might be overwhelmed by dozens of expensive initiatives, with no way to evaluate them.

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Role and Rigor in PM Certifications

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff.
We have received some interesting reactions to our recent posting about Role and Rigor in PM Certifications. Some assert that we place the IPMA Level-D certification too low on the Rigor scale. Others are concerned about whether the average reader can decipher which “Other PM Certifications” are reflected by that basketball. Still others are shocked, shocked, SHOCKED, that their popular certification might be labeled an Entry-level certification. Or, that they are not really certified Project Managers, but instead, certified in project management.

Who is perpetuating this confusion? One answer: Some PM training providers, especially those engaged in Entry-level certification preparation. Read through ads in magazines, on websites, or even in blog and social network postings. In marketing, they might guarantee that you will pass an exam in a week or refund your fees. Some lead you to believe that you are being certified as a Project Manager. These providers have clearly not yet joined the ranks of IPMA PM Competence Enablers. They do not understand the difference between exam-cram methods and improved PM Performance! After all, certifications in project management knowledge and Advanced certification as a Project Manager are two different markets.

The myth is propagated by some practitioners. Having earned their knowledge-based certification, they mistakenly believe that they truly are Certified as a Project Manager. In fact, there are LinkedIn groups filled with those misled and mistaken souls.

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Evaluating Role and Rigor in PM Certifications

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff.
We see a wide range of opinions, analyses, and presentations that fail to clearly show the differences between PM certifications. This is true for Project Management certifications in the USA, and for those around the World. Certifications from IPMA (International Project Management Association) are particularly misunderstood. This may be because they address specific roles and competence-oriented factors that other PM certifications do not. The purpose of this post is to explain the IPMA PM Certifications, and to clarify how they differ from other PM certifications.

Role Of Certificant

When we speak of Role, we are discussing the primary Role of the certification candidate. Entry-level PM certifications use knowledge-based exams about project management, and do not depend on the PM’s Role. Advanced certifications engage professional assessors in interviews to assess competence in a targeted Role. Some people fill multiple roles; in that case, the Role is the one selected by the candidate as their basis for certification. This is only important in the case of Advanced (higher-Rigor) certifications.

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Building the Future of Project Management

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff.
This week (October 12, 2009) marks the introduction of a new book, Project Management Circa 2025, published by PMI®. Dr. David Cleland worked with Dr. Bopaya Bidanda to recruit chapter authors and to edit this major achievement.

They asked 28+ PM practitioners to expound on intriguing aspects of PM practice for the next 16+ years. Chapter topics include national, international, sector-specific, and government entities.

Many of the chapter authors are from USA; we have been preparing our readers and customers for the future for many years. Authors whose names you’ll recognize include Lew Ireland, David Pells, Tim Jaques, Jonathan Weinstein, Stacy Goff, and others.

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What Is a PMO, and What Flavor Is Yours?

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff.
What is a PMO?
A Project Management Office is a formal or informal group that accepts responsibility for governance of one or more Projects. Or, rather than governance, it may provide support and/or mentoring, with the purpose of improving PM Performance. Similar groups can perform these functions for Programs, although those are usually more formal, with more authority. 

What brings this topic to our blog at this time is the PMO Symposium 2009, November 8-10 in Atlanta, GA. It was produced by the PMI® PMO SIG (Program Management Office Specific Interest Group). This event was one of your best opportunities this year to tap into the burgeoning world of effective PMOs.

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Revving Up the Competence Enablers

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff.
IPMA-USA’s Competence Enabler program has been a key tool for my consulting practice since we developed it. We originally called it the Most Valued Provider program. Then, Donna Fitzgerald coined the more-likeable Competence Enabler name.

Competence Enabler Purpose

Its purpose is several-fold:

  1. Develop a PM Vendor group that understands how to Demonstrate the Competence Difference. In turn, help match participants with PM practitioners who wish to explore and develop that difference.
  2. Identify those rare PM Vendors that have the competence, capacity and desire to actually improve PM Performance. They do so, not only in basic knowledge acquisition, but in competence and performance development.
  3. Establish a support system for PM Vendors that assess and help improve individual and organizational PM Competence. Based, of course, on IPMA’s competence standards.

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Managing Small Projects

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff.
Curt Finch recently shared an article, What Mismanaging Small Projects Will Cost You. This topic is on my “to do” list, so I’m glad Curt brought it up. Curt is CEO of Journyx, and his article is great; see it here.

What Is a Small Project?

I ask this question every time I kick off one of my workshops, Small Project Management. The first time I asked the question in a class was at an Aerospace/Defense company, and a grizzled old Engineer said, Sonny, a Small Project is anything less than a Billion Dollars”.

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Report: 3rd Annual UT Dallas PM Symposium

PM Commentary, by Stacy Goff.
IPMA was well-represented at the 3rd Annual University of Texas at Dallas PM Symposium August 13-14. The theme was Managing in a Changing World. Organizers and sponsors are UT Dallas, the Dallas Chapter of PMI®, and PM World Journal. This was the most interesting US conference I have participated in this year. I presented twice, and IPMA Secretary General Veikko Välilä also presented twice. One of our presentations was in a PM Career Management track, and the other was with Veikko in a Panel discussion about The Future of PM.

In the PM Career Management track, our paper, Essential Insights in Meeting the Rising Demand for PM Performance, was embraced by the audience. They resonated with the theme of moving beyond PM knowledge, to actions needed to increase skills, improve behavioral attributes, and align with enterprise strategy. The intended result, increased PM competence and ultimately, measurably improved PM Performance. A now-familiar theme to most of our members and friends, this was new perspective for many in this audience, and as a credit to their experience, they were excited by the prospects.

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Understanding the Competence Difference

PM Commentary, by Stacy Goff.
Some people don’t know what we mean when we say, in IPMA, “Discover the Competence Difference.” And yet, would you want incompetent performance in your organization, your government? Or, even in your yard service?

Understanding Competence

So while most people clearly understand incompetence, too many fail to understand the competence difference when it comes to Project Management. From one of our presentations, and repeated in a June article, Closing the Gap, the Competence Difference is clear from the following scenarios:

  • Would you fly as a passenger in a plane piloted by two “Air Academy” graduates who passed their final exam, but have never taken off or landed a plane (not even in a simulator)?
  • Would you consider “going under the knife” for brain surgery by a Surgeon who has attended all the classes, read all the books, passed the exams, but has never wielded a scalpel?
  • Would you allow a Lawyer to represent you in a criminal case, who, while having passed the bar exam, has never practiced before a jury?

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The Elephant in the Room

PM Commentary, by Stacy Goff.
In the World of Project Management, any discussion about PM Societies must consider what we call The Other Organization. That’s tthe elephant in the room. Many IPMA-USA members are also members of the other organization. In fact, a handful of our members can take credit for helping make it the success it is today.

Why Do We Need IPMA?

If it is a great, successful organization, why does the USA need IPMA? We are often asked that when we staff booths at major Conferences. There are several answers. First, any discipline that is dominated by just one strong provider is a discipline that is in decline. Part of the reason we started IPMA-USA was to increase the rate of advancements in Project Management that slowed during the 1990’s.

Second, we saw the need for Advanced PM certifications, that actually assess and certify Project and Program competences. This initiative has taken our volunteers three years to deliver. The good news: by the end of 2009, our suite of Advanced, Performance-Competence-based certifications will be complete. Certifications for Project Manager, Senior Project Manager and Program Manager will be available. There are more reasons why the USA needs IPMA. But they will be the subject for some later posting.

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Blog: We Build Change Agents

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff.
stacyProject Managers are the Change Agents who build tomorrow. Why do we say this? Because we can, and we do! In addition to my consulting firm, I work with our industry’s professional organizations to create beneficial change. I do this both for their members, and for society; thus the wide-ranging set of topics in this blog.

Key to beneficial change are two professional organizations, IPMA and IPMA-USA. IPMA is the International Project Management Association, the world’s first professional association for project managers. It is a unique federation of national associations. IPMA-USA is the USA’s member association of IPMA. 

IPMA members range from young Project Managers to the experienced thought leaders of PM practice. We cover the gamut in experience. Our efforts improve the Competence, and therefore the results, of Program and Project Managers, and their initiatives, stakeholders, and organizations.

The IPMA Certification Program, based on IPMA’s 4-L-C, Four-Level Certification program, is the envy of those who desire PM success.  Our Certifications use advanced assessments, with professional assessors, to verify Competence as the centerpiece of your PM Practice.

Learn more about IPMA-USA at the organization’s website. And learn more about IPMA at its website. Meanwhile, if you have comments about our blog posts, I’d love to hear them! Please use our Contact Us page.