Which project management certification?

Which project management career / certification to pursue?..that is a million dollar question which every professional face, at some point in time of their career.  The social media is quite misleading as new certifications are popping up every other day. This discussion is to clear the clutter while deciding on which project management certification to pursue for those who wants to advance their project management career.

Broadly speaking there are two major streams in project management;

  • The Agile project management
  • Traditional project management

Both streams are valuable, and complementary.  Which one will give you the fastest return on investment depends on;

  • The industry to which you belong to
  • The industry where you want to spend your future
  • The country where you will be working

Decision#1 – Choosing between Agile stream and the Traditional Project Management stream

Before choosing the streams, it will be better to understand what is agile or adaptive project management and the traditional project management. Agile comprises of a family of frameworks like Scrum, XP, SAFe etc. The similarity across all these frameworks is the iteration spanning not more than 30 days. The total road map of the product is split into multiple iterations (sprints) not exceeding 30 days. Every sprint starts with a sprint planning meeting and ends with a sprint review. All these frameworks recommend a daily stand up meeting to quickly review the status of the project. Though it is much more complicated than this, as an introduction this much knowledge is sufficient. Agile frameworks are ideal for projects where requirements are continuously evolving and the technology is also new to the team. Hence, they are best fit for new product development.

If you want to know more about agile using scrum, click here

The traditional project management frameworks like (PMBOK, PRINCE) revolve around the famous Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) life cycle. They are ideal for projects where the requirements are frozen and are very difficult to change. For example, in construction projects, the engineering discipline does not allow for change hence requirements must be frozen upfront.

If you want to learn more about traditional project management, click here

So, unlike many, I am not interested to discuss which one is better. It depends on the nature of the projects you are handling. While for some projects agile is the best fit, for certain others traditional project management is best.

  • If you are working on EPC (Engineering, Procurement & Construction) intensive projects, then select the traditional project management stream.  Most of the construction projects falls into this stream.
  • If you are working on new product development projects where requirements are evolving and the technology is also new, then select Agile stream. Most of the I.T projects falls into this stream.
  • If you are from the construction project back ground, or intend to build your project management career in the construction industry, then choose the traditional project management stream.
  • If you are from I.T projects, or R&D projects or intend to build your project management career in I.T or R&D then choose the agile project management stream.

The globally well known certifications for project managers

Traditional project management certifications 

Agile project management certifications 

  • Certified Scrum Master (CSM), by Scrumalliance
  • Professional Scrum Master (PSM) by Scrum.org
  • Agile Certified Practitioner (ACP) by PMI-USA
  • Scaled Agile Frameworks (Safe)

If you are from the information technology domain, it is better to with any one of the agile certifications straightaway. The certified Scrum Master (CSM) by Scrumalliance is expensive and has the early starter advantage, where as PSM is not that expensive, and at the same time it is very authentic, because it is coming from Ken Schwaber’s Scrum.org. For those of you who do not know Ken Schwaber, he founded scrum along with Jeff Sutherland, and both of them together developed the scrum guide, which is the most authentic documentation on scrum, becuase it is coming from the founders. The syllabus for these two certifications (CSM and PSM) are the ScrumGuide, and upon completion of the certification process, one will have the proficiency to play the role of a scrum master (project manager, in the traditional forms).

Then we have the PMI-ACP certification. The syllabus for this certification is a cocktail of all the frameworks available out there and calls for;

  • Complete understanding of  SCRUM
  • A very good understanding of Extreme Programming
  • Some key concepts like earned value management, risk management, communications management from the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK)
  • Complete understanding of Agile body of knowledge

After getting anyone of the agile certifications, then try for PMP credential. Without a proper understanding of the ten knowledge areas of PMBOK;

  • Integration management
  • Scope management
  • Time management
  • Cost management
  • Quality management
  • Communications management
  • Human resource management
  • Risk management
  • Procurement management
  • Stakeholder management

one will fail, when it comes to real life project management. More than that, while the future holds good for the Agile, many customers insist on PMP’s to manage their projects. If you are from the I.T background, these two certifications are mandatory. Start with agile, and then graduate into PMBOK. Both complements.

If you are from any other domain, other than I.T, then the options are either PMP or PRINCE2 or the AACE certifications.

Since the origins of PRINCE2 are from U.K, it is appreciated there, and the rest of the world is with PMP. So, based on where you are, and where your customers are, you have to decide.

AACE Certifications

Please post all your additional queries as comments to this page, and I will reply.

Sprint Planning Meeting Guidelines

A well managed sprint planning meeting provides amble opportunities to discuss divergent views before converging on the best. This facilitates dialogue among the team members, which adds tremendous opportunity to learn from each other. This co-learning results in enhancement of the capability of the team. This in turn translates to better productivity.

This blog post examines the fundamental guidelines to sprint planning meeting effectiveness based on my hands on experience as an agile coach. I will be updating this list further as when I gain more insights about conducting effective sprint planning meetings.

Last updated on 25/May/2020

Sprint planning meeting guidelines
  1. Duration of the sprint planning meeting – For a thirty days sprint we need eight hours for effective sprint planning. If that is the case, how much will it take if the sprint duration is two weeks?. The most common answer is ‘4’ hours. Believe me, sprint planning will take a minimum of 5 hours even if the sprint duration is 5 days. That is one of the reasons why very short sprints are not very effective. Plan for 5 to 8 hours for sprint planning meetings.
  2. Time boxing of the sprint planning meeting – As already discussed, the sprint planning meeting is time boxed into 5 – 8 hours depending on the sprint duration. The sprint planning meeting is further split into two logical halves of equal duration. The first segment is for selecting the sprint backlog from the product backlog. The second segment is for decomposing the sprint backlog further into the activities that need to be performed to build those features. and the second segment is for preparing the sprint back log.
  3. The Participants of the sprint planning meeting – The attendees are the scrum master, the product owner / product manager and the development team comprising of professionals with the required skills to build the product. Additional parties can be invited to provide additional business domain or technology domain information and advice, but they are dismissed after this information is provided.
  4. Product backlog readiness – Product backlog readiness is one of the key success factors for effective sprint planning. The product owner must prepare the product backlog to sufficient detail to enable the team to estimate the work. As a generally followed good practice, it will be useful if the product owner can prepare the user-stories at least for the features he/she is planning to schedule into the sprint.
  5. Product manager availability – It is always advisable for the product manager to be present during the sprint planning meeting. In the absence of either the product owner or the product backlog, the scrum master is required to construct an adequate product backlog prior to the meeting and to stand in for the product owner, provided he has the capability and product vision.
  6. Sprint backlog – The goal of the first segment, or first 4 hours of the sprint planning meeting is for the team to select those product backlog items that it believes it can commit to turning into an increment of potentially shippable product functionality. The team will demonstrate this functionality to the product owner and stake holders at the sprint review meeting at the end of the sprint.
    • The team can make suggestions, but the decision to what product backlog can constitute the sprint is the responsibility of the product owner.
    • The team is responsible for determining how much of the product backlog that the product owner wants worked on the team will attempt to do during the sprint.
    • Time boxing the first segment to 4 hours means that this is all of the time that is available for analyzing the product backlog. Further analysis must be performed during the sprint. Large-grained, high-priority product backlog with imprecise estimates might not be thoroughly understood during this part of the sprint planning meeting and might result in the team not being not able to complete all of the product backlog that it selects.
    • The second segment of the sprint planning meeting occurs immediately after the first segment and is also time boxed to 4 hours.
    • During the second half of the sprint planning meeting, the team;
      • Identifies the activities that need to be performed to construct the features agreed upon during the first half of the sprint planning meeting.
      • Estimate the effort required to complete these activities
      • Validates with the available capacity and productivity to ensure that the team can build what is committed.
    • The product owner must be available to the team during the second segment to answer questions that the team might have about the product backlog.
    • It is up to the team acting solely on its own and without any direction from outside the team to figure out during the second segment how it will turn the selected product backlog into an increment of potentially shippable product functionality. No one else is allowed to do anything but observe or answer questions seeking further information.
  7. Sprint Planning Meeting Output – The output of the second segment of the sprint planning meeting is a list called sprint backlog, of tasks, task estimates and ‘volunteered work’  that will start the team on the work of developing the functionality. The task list might not be complete, but it must be complete enough to reflect mutual commitment on the part of all team members and to carry them through the first part of the sprint, while the team devises more tasks in the sprint backlog
Some of the key challenges of sprint planning meetings
  • Under the pretext of lack of time, some of the senior members does all the estimation work and thrusts that upon the rest of the team.
  • Lack of involvement of the team – Many team members do not participate well during the sprint planning meeting. At the same time I have seen many participating well as well. The root cause for lack of participation is lack of preparation. Still I remember the youngest engineer (had just 3 months work experience) who got introduced to me as ‘The most valuable engineer’ by the scrum master. He used to contact the product owner weeks before the sprint planning meeting to collect the probable features the product owner is planning for the next sprint. Then he starts R&D work on those features. By the time he enters the sprint planning meeting, he has a very good idea about the work that need to be performed to build those features. That is the right way to go.
  • Insufficient preparation by the product owner prior to the sprint planning meeting. Because of this, very often the product owner is unable answer the team’s queries regarding functionality. Even though the scrum guide does not say anything about this, based on my experience, it will be better if the product owner could prepare the user stories for the features she is planning for the sprint before getting into the sprint planning meeting.
  • Absence of the product owner during the sprint planning meeting. In this scenario, quite often the team will get struck during the sprint planning meeting due to lack of details.
  • Insufficient clarity about the reason behind doing a size based estimate (story points), before arriving at the effort. Unless one have in-depth understanding of the scrum framework and empiricism there will be ambiguity between size estimates and effort estimates. Why cant we jump into effort estimates directly?. I will soon write a blog post to explain this in detail.

Planning meeting with remote teams

  • Send the proposed sprint backlog in advance to the planning team so that they can prepare well before coming to the meeting.
  • Play poker online

How to conduct effective daily scrum meetings

Properly conducted daily scrum meetings or scrums is the most important, most recurring ceremony within the scrum framework which has the power to drive things forward. That realization drives me to update this page at regular intervals.

Last updated on 25/May/2020.

The daily scrum meeting is time boxed to 15 minutes regardless of the number of team members. This automatically restricts the team size to be less than 10, so that each person gets at least one and half minutes to update the status of his / her work to the rest of the team. Very long, daily scrum meetings is a waste of time in the eyes of the team members, and demotivates the team members in the longer run. Hence it becomes imperative to manage the daily scrum meetings (also known as daily scrums), according to the scrum meeting guidelines.

  • Fixed venue and time – Hold the daily scrum in the same place at the same time every work day. The daily scrum is best held first thing in the day so that the first thing team members do on arriving at work is think of what they did the day before and what they plan to do today.
  • Full attendance – All team members are required to attend. If for some reason a team member cannot attend in person, the absent member must either attend by phone or by having another team member report on the absent members status.
  • Promptness – Team members must be prompt. Remember, the only thing non-negotiable in scrum is ‘time’. So, be on time, to start the meeting on time. Making others wait for you is not a good indicator of ‘mutual respect’, which is one of the pillars of scrum framework. The the daily scrum starts at the appointed time regardless of who is present. There is no room for habitual late comers in scrum teams.
  • Circular Team formation – Scrum teams are self organizing, hence there is no room for command and control. In order to protect the teams from command and control freaks, the teams must stand in a circular formation, so that there is no boss – subordinate relationship. In a circular formation, there is no room for hierarchy.
  • Auto starter mode – Once the circular team formation is done for the daily scrum meeting, someone in the formation should start the meeting without waiting for any command from the top (scum master / product owner). Once the meeting begins the meeting proceeds in a counter clockwise direction or on a clockwise direction from the starter of the meeting. Be consistent with any one of these patterns, so that unwanted repeated reminders and instructions can be avoided.
  • Focus – During the 1.5 minute individual window for each team member during the meeting, each team member should respond to the following three questions only:
    • What did I do yesterday regarding the project?
    • What am I intending to do between now and the next scrum meeting?
    • What are the challenges I am facing and need support?

Other points

  • Team members should not digress beyond answering these three questions into issues, designs, discussion of problems, or gossip. The scrum master is responsible for moving the reporting along briskly, from person to person.
  • During the daily scrum, only one person talks at a time. That person is the one who is reporting his / her status. Everone else listens. There is no side conversations.
  • When a team member reports something that is of interest to other team members or needs the assistance of other team members, any team meber can immediately arrange for all interested parties to get together after the daily scrum to set up a meeting.
  • Chickens (observers who are not part of development team) are not allowed to talk, make observations, make faces or otherwise make their presence in the daily scrum meeting obtrusive.
  • Chickens stand on the periphery of the team so as not to interfere with the meeting
  • If too many chickens attend the meeting, the scrum master can limit attendance so that the meeting can remain orderly and focused.
  • Chickens are not allowed to talk with team members after the meeting for clarification or to provide advice or instructions.

Those who cannot or will not conform to the above rules can be excluded from the meeting

How to conduct effective daily scrum meetings (stand up meetings) while working remotely?

  • The rule number one is to have a fixed start and end time for the daily scrum meetings, so that participants can plan their days work better.
  • If the bandwidth permits, have your cameras on, so that participants can see each other during the meeting.
  • In a co-located team, it was easy to decide who will speak when. In a virtual meeting the team will have to establish a norm for it.
  • Time management of a virtual meeting is critical. Scrum master and the team members must ensure this.
  • If the team is multicultural, there must be orientation on cultural aspects so that communication is effective.

Symptoms of dysfunctional scrum meetings (daily stand up meetings)

Here are the symptoms of dysfunctional daily scrum meetings one can observe without intervening with the team’s work;

  1. Long stand up meetings which far exceeds the allocated time of 15 minutes
  2. The scrum master / product owner standing on one side, and the rest of the team standing on the other side facing the scrum master / product owner.
  3. Scrum master / Product owner asking questions and giving solutions to the team even when none asked for help.
  4. Combining scrum meeting and the problem solving together
  5. Some of the key team members on mobile or on other urgent work
  6. Switching into sprint review mode
  7. Half the team sitting down and half standing up during the meeting
  8. Team members waiting for the scrum master to start the meeting
  9. Discussions digress into non sprint related topics
  10. Insufficient attention
  11. Frequent meeting cancellations
  12. Frequent rescheduling of meetings

Reference : ‘Agile project management with SCRUM’ by Ken Schwaber


We Believe in…..

Processes, tools and good health over individuals and interactions

Completing work on time over time of work

Collaboration over competition

Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value on the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

Inspired by Agile Manifesto and the present day environmental factors.

To achieve sustainable productivity, we will…

  • Focus both on work from home and workout from home
  • We earn our salary. Hence we will do at least seven hours of focused productive work
  • We cherish our time, as well as others time
  • We will hate meetings without agenda, start time and end time
  • Every day we will learn something new
  • We will continuously strive to upgrade our skills
  • Every day we will talk to positive people and cut overs selves off from negativity
  • Every day we will have quality family time
  • Will sleep seven to eight hours every day
  • At least once in a week, we will meet and interact with other professionals
  • We will help those who need help
  • We will innovate our own career through periodic Pivots.
  • We will continuously focus on building our own brand.

Contribute to this through comments….