top of page
  • Writer's pictureBill Holmes

Project Management Ethics and Professional Conduct – Part 2

“There are two types of people in this world, good and bad. The good sleep better, but the bad seem to enjoy the waking hours much more.” Woody Allen

“People who try hard to do the right thing always seem mad.” Stephen King, The Stand

We are going deeper into the Project Management Institute (PMI)® Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. I have previously discussed some of the theories applying to the broader discussion of “Ethics”, explained how the PMI code is organized, the standards and who they apply to. All quotes below are from the PMI Institute Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct, and a link to that document can be found here: https://www.pmi.org/about/ethics/code

My earlier articles can be read at: www.projectmanagementforum.net

Remember that the purpose of the Code is to instill confidence in the project management profession and by extension instill confidence in the project.

When I teach Project Management Professional classes, I explain that many of the ethics questions present as situations where you are required to determine the correct action given a specific fact pattern. For example, if you were trying to get goods through Customs it would be unethical to pay one of the border guards a bribe of $100. However, if the organization required a $100 fee to get through, that would be OK! In both instances you are paying $100, but the circumstances are different.

The first standard is “responsibility”. PMI definition is: “Responsibility is our duty to take ownership for the decisions we make or fail to make, the actions we take or fail to take, and the consequences that result.”

I differ with PMI on the Aspirational and Mandatory definitions for this standard. PMI says that the aspirational standards are (abbreviated), to make decisions based on the greater good, we accept assignments we can do, we do what we say we will do, when we make mistakes or omissions we report them, we protect proprietary information and we uphold the code itself.

Except for the first one (which is wildly open to interpretation), how can any of the others not be mandatory? If you don’t adhere to these, you are effectively lying!

A comment about accepting assignments we can do. The full verbiage is: “We accept only those assignments that are consistent with our background, experience, skills, and qualifications.” You may accept “stretch” assignments if you disclose any issues that may impact the project. I think a practical extension of this ties directly to the project chartering process. There is a point in the project where the Project Manager (PM) “accepts or rejects” the project. If the PM believes that the project is doomed to failure, they should tell the sponsor that!

I don’t view that as a binary “accept/reject” decision, rather I use the logic behind this standard to add nuance to the discussion with the sponsor. Just as I should disclose the impact that my level of expertise may have on project, I should explain to the sponsor the circumstances under which the project would be successful! This is a great opportunity to set yourself up for success by negotiating specific assignment of critical resources, getting contract support, adding time to the schedule, etc.

The mandatory Responsibility Standards are (abbreviated) obey laws, rules, etc., report unethical or illegal activity, bring ethical violations as necessary, only file ethical complaints when substantiated, and don’t retaliate when someone raises concerns.

You should not participate or enable any of these behaviors either.

The requirement to report ethical complaints only when substantiated has several implications, including the requirement to not file a complaint until you have all the facts. If you do file a complaint and it turns out to be false, you yourself could be subject to an ethical investigation!

Be transparent and honest and you shouldn’t have any issues with this standard.

Next: Respect


Have you ever done anything, and immediately after it happened asked yourself “how could I be so dumb?” Where I live the temperatures have been in the teens with high winds, and my pellet stove chose this week to have an auger fail. The auger is what feeds the fuel, so that is a problem. On Friday night I disassembled the stove and removed the auger, and while I was doing that I decided it would be a good idea to clean the stove. I got my shop vac and cleaned out the hopper and the ash holders, then reversed the vac and blew out the exhaust pipes. All good, and I should have stopped! I then got the bright idea to vacuum out the exhaust blower (which blows the smoke out through the chimney). It never occurred to me that the soot particles would be so small that the filter wouldn’t catch it, so imagine my surprise when a cloud of soot shot out of the vacuum and into the house! What a mess, and we will no doubt be cleaning it up for days. I won’t make that particular mistake again….


bottom of page