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Cornelius Fichtner: PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct

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Don’t steal, don’t cheat, and don’t lie. This short sentence pretty much sums up the PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. It describes the expectations that we have of ourselves and our fellow practitioners in the global project management community. It articulates the ideals to which we aspire as well as the behaviors that are mandatory in our professional and volunteer roles. The purpose of the Code is to instill confidence in the project management profession and to help an individual become a better practitioner.

You cannot find the Code in the PMBOK® Guide. Instead, it is part of the PMP Credentials Handbook at http://www.pmi.org/pdf/pdc_pmphandbook.pdf. Just like the PMBOK® Guide, this is a “must read” for anyone studying to take the PMP® or CAPM® exam. Unlike the PMBOK Guide, where memorization is necessary to pass the exam you will not be asked to recite from the Code during the exam. Instead, expect several scenario-based questions where you have to show that you can apply the Code. For instance: “You have just arrived in London where you will spend 3 days with a vendor reviewing a proposal. The vendor calls you in your hotel room and invites you to dinner. What do you do?”

Let’s take a look into this document. Upon creating the code, the PMI found that there are 4 values which project managers around the globe identified as being important: responsibility, respect, fairness and honesty. These values have become the foundation of the code and each of them is discussed at length in a separate section. For each of these values the Code lists aspirational and mandatory standards. The aspirational standards describe the conduct that we strive to uphold as practitioners. Although adherence to the aspirational standards is not easily measured, conducting ourselves in accordance with these is an expectation that we have of ourselves. The mandatory standards establish firm requirements, and in some cases, limit or prohibit practitioner behavior. Practitioners who do not conduct themselves in accordance with these standards will be subject to disciplinary procedures before PMI’s Ethics Review Committee. However, even though we have this distinction of aspirational and mandatory standards, for the PMP exam consider everything in the Code as mandatory.

The code applies to you both as a PMP Aspirant and later on also as a PMP. First, as a PMP Aspirant: When you apply for the PMP Exam you will be asked to sign the PMP Candidate Agreement and Release form. In it you state that as a PMP Aspirant you will comply with the Code. This means, for instance, that you don’t cheat on the PMP exam. And once you pass the exam the code also applies to you as a PMP. Now you should exercise Responsibility and take ownership of the decisions you make or fail to make, show Respect to yourself, others and the resources entrusted to you, apply Fairness when making decisions and act impartially and objectively, and finally, employ Honesty in both your communication and conduct. If we all manage to live up to these high standard from the code, we will improve the respect towards our profession as well as enrich today’s business world.

Here are two more examples of applying the value of “Honesty” to your work: First, as a project manager you may be working on-site for your client and you may have access to proprietary and copyrighted material or information. The confidentiality of such intellectual property that you have access to, must be maintained. And second, let’s look at status reports or press releases that you provide. The information that you as a PMP provide in these documents must be accurate and truthful… however difficult it may be to define the word “truth”.

Applying the code in your daily dealings with work colleagues and your colleagues in the professional organizations will also set you apart. The code can assist you in making wise decisions especially, when you are faced with difficult situations when you might be asked to compromise your integrity and values. Sticking to the code will show others that you are an upstanding, ethical project manager. Take this a step further. If your colleagues know about you in this way, this will be part of your reputation. And being honest and ethical makes finding a new job much easier, than if you had the reputation of stealing, backstabbing and lying.

Let’s come back to that dinner invitation from earlier. Would you accept or would you decline? I would accept because going out to dinner with a vendor or partner is normal social behavior and will not jeopardize your objectivity on the project. However, if the vendor offers a free Caribbean cruise to you then you should decline and notify your superiors.

Next to the PMBOK Guide the code of ethics is one of the more important documents on the exam. That is why we have a whole episode of the PrepCast that explains the code to you and gives you real life examples of how it applies to your work on a project and what you should do in a given situation.

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