I’m a software development and technology manager – so why did I get a PMP certification?

Last week, I earned my Project Management Professional (PMP) certification. It wasn’t easy. The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) is about a thousand pages of material, and it is dense. And frankly, it includes some stuff that is not directly relevant to my current position.

I am in the software development and technology management field. I was a programmer and software engineer for more than 20 years. For much of that time, I wasn’t only a developer. As the need and opportunities arose, I became a technology problem solver, an IT generalist, a cloud computing engineer, a business analyst, a database manager, an offshore development team leader, and more. I wrote less code as time went by.

In short, I moved from programming into management, and being a technology manager, for development or networks or systems, is also, by another name, a project manager. This transition is not a natural move for a lot of software engineers. There are things developers pick up by working on a team and in a company, but they don’t know the “why”. There are other things where coders just don’t get the opportunity to see the “how” either. Project management involves many skills and knowledge you don’t get while you are coding.

How do you keep a project on track? How do you control the scope of your work? How do you stay in line with business strategy? How do you measure the work you are doing? What are good KPIs and why? How do you make Agile projects work in a traditionally waterfall organization? How do you keep your stakeholders interested and involved (but not too involved)? How do you measure risks to your project and plan for it?

While my move into management seemed gradual and natural to me, I also realized that there are some gaps in my knowledge, including some of the stuff I mentioned above. I wanted to know how others approached these things, and what the current thinking and trends are in managing projects. I wanted to be prepared for my next challenge.

The folks at Project Management Institute (PMI) have been thinking about all of this for decades, and they have been gathering information, advice, and best practice into the PMBOK® Guide and the Agile Practice Guide.

PMI isn’t the only place to get the information I wanted. There are plenty of videos on YouTube, LinkedIn Learning, and other platforms. There are books and seminars, too. The advantage of PMI, and the PMP certification in particular, is that it is an accepted collection of best practices that is recognized across industries and nations. And earning the PMP certification is a way to prove to myself and others that I put in the time and effort to seek out and learn these things.

I should say that, during my reading and studying, I felt that some of the stuff in the PMBOK® Guide is needlessly complicated for anything other than the largest of projects. The PMP exam is weighted toward waterfall project management, which I would argue is less important for the majority of projects in the software world. I understand that agile will be a larger focus for the 2021 exam. I hope that is true. I have worked on development projects in both waterfall and agile environments, and I agree that both need to be covered.

I especially dislike how processes are broken down into ITTOs (Inputs, Tools & Techniques, and Outputs). I’m sure the committees that worked on that structure put a lot of thought into each and every process. However, as a student, the items listed in each category seemed redundant and arbitrary, which was frustrating. I understand the 2021 version of the PMBOK® Guide has been changed. Perhaps it will make more sense to me.

Even with those quibbles, I learned a lot by studying for the exam. I acquired information in areas where I had less experience, and as I had hoped, I found the best practices I was looking for. I also validated things I already knew and practiced.

All in all, I found the certification process challenging and rewarding. I don’t yet know if having the PMP certification on my resume will open any doors for me, but I do know that I will be able to use the knowledge I gained in many ways in the future.

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