Rules often say a lot more than they intend to. On one hand they describe what to do and what not to do, but they also reflect the motive or intent of their creators and also reflect what the problems that creator is facing. Because of their importance rule creators spend a fair amount of time on them and because of this one can interpret or in effect read the rule backward and understand the motivation of the creator.
For a simple example of this let's look at one of the changes that PMI is making to the PMP certification criteria. From a document that lays out the changes that are going to be effective as of September 30, 2005 we find that
"Candidates will have three opportunities to take and pass the PMP examination within their one-year eligibility period. If candidates do not succeed on the third attempt, candidates will have to wait one year from their third unsuccessful attempt before being permitted to test again."
To restate it simply. If you don't pass in three tries you face the penalty of waiting 1 year to try again for this "important" certification. Clear? This is a new penalty for those who have trouble passing. OK, Let's start deconstructing.
First, this was in a memo sent out to all of the PMI® Registered Education Providers (REPs). One can presume that they are the ones most interested in this. My previous posts have shown that some of these providers make a business out of PMP Exam cram courses. These courses pay some lip service to broad project management education but are actually guaranteeing that you will pass the test on the first try. Different prep providers actually compete with each other based on how little time you need to actually spend studying project management. What do we learn from this? We learn that PMI endorses and supports this sort of activity.
Second, we can look at the time penalty. Why would you put this in place? What behavior does it drive? The most obvious result is that it creates a situation where it is important to get it right the first time because the penalties for failing are high.
Who does this benefit? Well, it does not particularly benefit the candidate. 3 times seems fairly arbitrary. The candidate is trying to get the certification for their own benefit so why try and limit them? It does not seem to benefit PMI much unless their testing sessions are so congested that "good" candidates are being prevented from taking the test by those who are taking it for the 4th and 5th times. I'm not aware that this is the case. It does benefit them in the short term by getting those who were on the fence about scheduling their exam to now jump to make sure they take it before the rules change in September. This may have a short term financial benefit to PMI, and cynically speaking, a long term one if they can keep changing rules from year to year.
It is obvious that the main group which it benefits is the exam prep providers who now find a larger pool of applicants - people who feel the pressure to pass the exam in a minimal amount of time. With the penalty of waiting a year, the "guaranteed" pass offered by a prep service becomes much more attractive.
So, from one rule (and the way it was communicated) shows that PMI has no qualms about people cramming for the test and instead drives them towards consultants who provide such services. I'm at a loss to understand how this benefits the discipline of Project Management. Knowledge of Project Management can be advanced by deep study and understanding of project management issues, ideas and techniques. Promoting a "cram and take the test before you forget" approach to learning project management is just wrong. The only motivation I can see is that PMI and the associated ecosystem of consultants and trainers are just in it for the money. This is sad to say the least. I believe this approach to certification is doing a disservice to the profession.
I welcome the comments of any PMI representative or registered education provider about this issue. Let's discuss it.