It’s Your Shield — Use It!

Voices on Project Management guest blogger Frank Gorman is a senior transformation program manager for Altisource in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, USA. He is currently a member of PMI’s Ethics Member Advisory Group (EMAG) and was a member and chair of PMI’s Ethics Review Committee (ERC) from 2006 to 2013. Mr. Gorman participated in the Ethics Standards Review team for PMI. He also writes and speaks on Ethics to other professional organizations and businesses.
Read his thoughts on ethics below:
Ethics is a set of rules that guide or govern behavior. As with most professions, PMI has promulgated a Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. If you’re a PMI member, credential holder or supplier, the code guides how you interact with peers and employers in the marketplace. It requires that you be honest, to be fair and to treat others with respect.
The Code obviously protects those whom we serve in a project or program capacity. It creates a level playing field for all practitioners when coupled with PMI standards. What may be less obvious is that the Code also protects you.
By being enveloped by the Code, we are protected from being required to act outside of its boundaries. By having standards and a Code of Ethics, we are a profession and enjoy the benefit of being in a profession and being more highly valued in the marketplace. The Code protects us as a group. In a way, you can say it is an effective defense shield for our professional reputations.
Hundreds of thousands of PMI members and credential holders worldwide have bound themselves to our Code as a condition of becoming a member or credential holder. Some sources estimate that there may be millions of other persons in the marketplace who are functioning as project managers, some with the job title and some without. These individuals have not formally bound themselves to the Code.
How can we support these individuals? You can take it upon yourself to watch for opportunities to guide your co-workers or clients when situations present with ethical ramifications. Show them how our Code applies and helps. Send them a link to the PMI Ethical Decision-Making Framework, which helps with the decision-making process and walks them through an analysis.
Is it easy to approach your colleagues about ethical issues? Maybe it will be uncomfortable for you and require personal courage, but remember that you are protecting yourself, the profession, the client and other stakeholders.
Some ethical situations are fairly easy to see — a conflict of interest or an illegal act. Other situations are less obvious and harder to resolve, such as an issue of divided loyalty. Consultants can easily find themselves in a situation where the best interest of the client is not in the best interest of the consulting company.
My engineer friends have a story they like to tell to exhibit this issue.
A candy company gets complaints from consumers because occasionally a package is produced and sold with no candy in it. Management hires an engineering company to come up with a solution that will prevent this from happening. The engineering company’s project manager assembles his or her team to work out a proposed solution. The most experienced engineers come up with a design that will weigh every package and have an arm that will mechanically reject empty packages before they are boxed and shipped. The project will take 10 months and cost the client about $1 million dollars (with a respectable profit for the engineering company.) The client will be ecstatic because complaints on this issue will fall to zero and enhance their market share.
At the end of the design meeting, a new engineer just out of school approaches the project manager and says, “Couldn’t the client get the same result by installing a fan on the line after the packages are filled to blow away any empty packages before they are boxed and shipped?”
If you are the project manager, you now have a dilemma. What is the ethical way to proceed?
I can sense that beads of sweat are breaking out on your forehead. Both solutions are 100 percent effective in accomplishing the client’s objective. One solution makes your company lots of money and gives work to the entire team. The other solution garners a minimal consulting fee and creates very little work.
I have a similar story in my own background. I was the Program Manager for the construction of a large manufacturing plant. The plant was to be an automated plant producing goods subject to governmental inspection. Due to an oversight in initial planning, and a change in governmental regulations, we discovered that the manufacturing processes were going to have to pass licensing a year before the plant’s data center was to be completed. To complicate matters, all of the goods to be produced in the first year of operation were pre-sold with committed delivery dates.

After several weeks of brainstorming, we discovered that there was an almost empty commercial data center less than a quarter of a mile from the plant site. We decided to build our test systems in the rented data center and produce our tests for licensing. The plan was to take the test systems out of commission when the real data center was ready. The cost allocated for the plant’s data center was approximately 12 million euros. In an offhand conversation with the commercial data center manager, I discovered that the owners were willing to sell this data center for 1 million euros. Because ground had not even been broken on the plant site for the Data Center, I recommended that my client buy the commercial space and save millions of Euro and many months on the schedule. In doing this, I was undercutting my own fees by a substantial margin, reducing my company’s profit and denying local firms employment. In my opinion, it was the correct recommendation. I also made the suggestion, as an alternative, that the commercial space could be purchased as a redundant data center providing failover capability. Ultimately, the client chose a middle ground and retained the commercial space but as rented and not purchased. For me, I saw my responsibility, as an ethical PM, to present all options for the client.

The views expressed within the PMI Voices on Project Management blog are contributed from external sources and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of PMI.

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