PMP or Six Sigma

Lean Six Sigma Logo

PMP, Project Management Professional, a certification offered by Project Management Institute (PMI) has been a popular demand in new IT jobs, since 2009. The demand is driven by more and more IT professionals getting the certification and by more and more IT tasks being worked as projects with a limited life cycle of 3 months to a few years. However, in this blog, I would like to point out some false impression people have about PMP, and describe the reasons why I favor Six Sigma certification over PMP certification.

The major recent IT hiring pattern is that “PMP certification is a must-have requirement for IT project managers.”

PMP certification only certifies “academic” or “technical” skills of project management. Lots of PMP training companies can help you to get the certification in a week with money back guarantee. On the other hand, project management (PM) is actually an important course of most of academic management programs in the United States. What people learn from the fast-pace trainings do not actually stick well, compared to the PM courses offered by those academic management programs, because the academic programs are much comprehensive and allow for sufficient time for learning. Hiring managers should not give their hiring priority to PMP certification over academic trainings and work experiences.

Some people may argue about the PDUs, credits of PMP, required by PMI annually. Well, PDU requirements are very loose, compared to the ones offered by the academic programs. PDU requirements still focus totally on technical skills, which the PMP certification covers already. Disappointing examples that I have been seeing are:

  • PMPs develop project plans with no due dates and no deliverables.
  • PMPs no longer pursue PDUs after they received their certifications.
  • PMPs eagerly attend seminars only to maintain their annual PDU obligations.
  • PMPs do not use their technical skills to manage projects and continue their old styles of fire fighting instead.
  • PMPs work on technical skills only without paying attention to any of the important PM “soft” skills.
  • PMPs treat projects as given and seldom look at projects from out of the box (or a project). They seldom question the real value of a project before they start to work on it, whereas other projects should deserve more attention and resource.
  • Some companies hiring only candidates with PMP certifications are not growing and are still behind their competitors; some of them even went bankruptcy.

Therefore, PMP certification is not a must-have job requirement. It can help, only IF the job candidates do not have academic trainings or comparable work experiences.

On the other hand, Six Sigma employs the following DMAIC methodology.

  1. Define the problem, the voice of the customer, and the project goals, specifically.
  2. Measure key aspects of the current process and collect relevant data.
  3. Analyze the data to investigate and verify cause-and-effect relationships. Determine what the relationships are, and attempt to ensure that all factors have been considered. Seek out root cause of the defect under investigation.
  4. Improve or optimize the current process based upon data analysis using techniques such as design of experiments, poka yoke or mistake proofing, and standard work to create a new, future state process. Set up pilot runs to establish process capability.
  5. Control the future state process to ensure that any deviations from target are corrected before they result in defects. Control systems are implemented such as statistical process control, production boards, and visual workplaces and the process is continuously monitored.

Project management is one of the tools, that Six Sigma uses to manage its projects to meet deadlines, and control cost and resource. Because Six Sigma and PM are different, we cannot really compare them side by side. However, I would like to point out that Six Sigma is the real skill to help companies with the following examples, compared to PMP. Hiring manager should give six sigma skills higher value than PMP.

  • Six Sigma asks questions about Voice of Customer. It ties your projects directly to a company’s revenue and profit. It requires people to look at the overall picture of a company in the “Define” phase and question which project would bring the maximal break through to a company before projects are worked on.
  • Six Sigma is a break-through technology. It uncovers the force to change the landscape of your business instead of focusing on the low hanging fruit of your revenue tree. It depends on measures of your process and data to uncover the break-through force, not working blindly to get projects done in time and within budget only.
  • Six Sigma focuses on “improvement” and “control” to ensure your project results are sustainable so your projects will continue to bring revenue and profit to companies even after the project ends.

Finally, I would like to add the following PM “soft skills” in addition to the Six Sigma, which remain as existing gaps in PMPs today.

  • Emotional Intelligence: The ability to pick up on events and interactions (both verbal and non- verbal) and to process those inputs in the context of the project plan.
  • Adaptive Communication: The ability to articulate one’s ideas—whether orally or in writing—to a range of individuals, groups and cultures using the most effective communication techniques for each group.
  • People Skills: The ability to quickly build and maintain positive relationships with team- members and stakeholders.
  • Management Skills: The ability to serve, motivate and focus a team and to foster collaboration among team members.
  • Flexibility: The willingness and ability to change one’s approach to project management and/or course of action in response to business needs.
  • Business Savvy: Knowledge of the organization’s business, strategy and industry. Ability to understand a strategy and align tactical work around that strategy.
  • Analytical Skills: The ability to think through problems and decisions.
  • Customer Focus: The ability to understand the end-user or end customer’s needs and the drive to ensure that projects meet those needs.
  • Results-Orientation: The ability to get things done efficiently and effectively.
  • Character: The project manager should have an appealing personality and a strong moral and ethical character.

In summary, the combination of Six Sigma and PM soft skills would bring actual value to a company.

Open Source or Commercial Software for Your Company?

Since the recession in 2009, companies start to pay attention to open source software to cut down IT spending cost. However, due to the nature of open source, most companies are still not “open” to run their business with open source software. They have concerns about their business impression to their customers, upgrade, and on-going support of the open source software despite the fact that open source software has grown to be better than commercial software and is more widely available to meet increasing business need. In this blog, I would like to point out many advantages of open source software over its commercial counterparts.

During early years of open source software development, people in all backgrounds, cultures, and countries look for solutions to their problems and challenges. Some people look for solutions to improve their life; some people look for opportunities to try new ideas and technologies. In addition, the advancement of Internet and Information Technology provided better tools for these people to communicate and collaborate easily beyond physical boundaries. They also provided productivity tools for improved testing and automation. As a result, open source software has become more robust, powerful, and secured, and provides us another alternative to commercial software.

An open source software community today involves the work from the following groups of people / volunteers:

  • Users: There are users asking questions, reporting problems / bugs, validating bugs, proposing solutions, testing codes, creating documents, and improving codes and documents. These people are driven by interest and passion to contribute their talent with free use of the community software.
  • Developers: There are dedicated developers moderating the changes from users to ensure software roadmap is followed and quality is maintained. Most of these developers are volunteers but they may get paid, if donation is available.
  • Product / release managers: They are dedicated managers handling testing, build, and release of the software. They also handle the management and the communication among users and developers.

The idea of open source development is to promote innovation and problem solving, while providing the software to its community for free. Although donation to the community is encouraged, the donation seldom provides a constant stream of compensation. Interest, passion, and problem-solving are still the major driving forces to the open source development.

On the other hand, with the advancement of open source development, more and more startups begin to provide commercial version of the open source software to business and general public for profit. These startups provide value added services by adding much comprehensive testing, platform support, (commercial-grade) customer support, packaging, and documentation to the open source software. As a result, the commercial version of the open source software is no different from its commercial counterparts.

In addition, the open source software has a much larger user base and much larger and diversified talent pool, compared to its commercial counterparts. Therefore, sometimes, the commercial version of the open source software is even better than its counterparts.

The following summary provides the advantages of the commercial open source software over its commercial counterparts.

  1. Open architecture. Open source software has open architecture design in place in order to allow easy development and easy troubleshooting by a community of users and developers. As a result of such simple (open) design, open source software offers the following benefits over its commercial counterparts:
    • easy to use (short learning curve),
    • easy to maintain (reduced maintenance cost),
    • easy to customize to meet your special business need,
    • easy to integrate with your existing applications / systems,
    • better performance (running faster), and
    • making best use of your investment (high utilization of software features).
  2. Reduced software licensing cost. Open source software is a lot cheaper than its commercial counterparts, because it was created by a group of volunteered developers. This eliminates the bulk part of the labor cost of its commercial counterparts.
  3. Newer technology. Most creative features come from open source software, because a lot of developers experiment their idea in the open source software first, whereas commercial software does not introduce new features unless they are stable / mature. Commercial software is increasingly behind open source software in terms of technology, due to the increasing R&D cost and the limited talent pool of commercial software.
  4. Comparable or better production support. Open source software eliminates most of its development cost by relying on volunteered developers. As a result, commercial open source software can focus more on testing, platform, packing, and production support. Therefore, these commercial open source vendors can provide the same or better production support than their commercial counterparts.
  5. User forums. Open source software development involves a very wide group of users and developers. It is very likely that, when you run into a problem, someone already faced the problem and provided a solution in user forums.
  6. Security. Open source software uses the same over-the-shelf security components as used by its commercial counterparts. As a result, open source software provides the same or better level of security as its commercial counterparts.
  7. Faster patching. Open source software is constantly developed, testing, and released. Bugs are usually fixed quickly and their fixes are available faster than the similar schedule of its commercial counterparts.

If you are interested in exploring open source software, you should check out the biggest repository at

US Homeland Security and Six Sigma

TSA body scanner

Dallas Morning News reported a study conducted by the Oxford Economics on March 2, 2010 about the Lost Decade of the Travel Industry:

A study for the U.S. Travel Association estimates we lost $509 billion in travel exports between 2000 and 2009. In a decade where the nation’s trade deficit was more than $5.5 trillion, we lost a chance to reduce the deficit by $270 billion just from international travel. The study by Oxford Economics found the number of international travelers was up nearly 200 percent worldwide in the last decade but fell 9 percent for the United States.

The study shows that money was left on the table and US missed the opportunity to collect them to reduce its deficit. The study does not include the cost of adding those security personnels and equipments after 9-11. In this blog, I would like to point out a common misunderstanding of quality control by using the news article as an example of the Six Sigma, namely, the choice between strengthening the overall security versus solving the root cause of a security problem.

If we treat the homeland security as a six sigma problem and assume the defects are the terrorist acts to the US, the lost in travel revenue and the security cost combined become the cost of quality control (QC), namely, the cost of catching defects, if they are not detected in the first place. The referenced article shows that combined cost is huge and represents a huge spending of tax payers’ money.

In Six Sigma, the cost of quality control increases dramatically, when the control is placed away from the root cause of the defects.

Funnel View of Quality Control Cost

Funnel View of Quality Control Cost

Six sigma emphasizes the prevention of defects in the first place instead of spending money on quality control. Quality control is never the best place to stop the defects.

Taking the 2009 Christmas bomber as an example, the root cause of the incident was the failed communication in US intelligence agencies and the failure of the visa black list. Instead of (or in addition to) fixing the root cause, the recommendation was to add many expensive body scanners at airports to stop bombers from entering the US. If the intelligence were fully analyzed and the visa black list were carefully determined, there would be little need to add those body scanners. A great deal of money would be saved. Personal privacy would be preserved. And, international travel would be much convenient.

The addition of body scanners may strengthen the “overall” security but the cost and social impact are too great to ignore.

This example shows a common mis-conception of quality by emphasizing too much on quality control. Adding inspection in the first place without addressing the root cause simply adding cost. This action has a short-term effect to prevent defects. However, it is never a long-term fix to defects; it is just a patch to the quality issue. To stop the defects permanently is to never let them happen! This is the spirit of six sigma.

One-Page Data Warehouse Development Steps

Data warehouse is the basis of Business Intelligence (BI). It not only provides the data storage of your production data but also provides the basis of the business intelligence you need. Almost all of the books today have very elaborated and detailed steps to develop a data warehouse. However, none of them is able to address the steps in a single page. Here, based on my experience in data warehouse and BI, I summarize these steps in a page. These steps give you a clear road map and a very easy plan to follow to develop your data warehouse.

Step 1. De-Normalization. Extract an area of your production data into a “staging” table containing all data you need for future reporting and analytics. This step includes the standard ETL (extraction, transformation, and loading) process.

Step 2. Normalization. Normalize the staging table into “dimension” and “fact” tables. The data in the staging table can be disposed after this step. The resulting “dimension” and “fact” tables would form the basis of the “star” schema in your data warehouse. These data would support your basic reporting and analytics.

Step 3. Aggregation. Aggregate the fact tables into advanced fact tables with statistics and summarized data for advanced reporting and analytics. The data in the basic fact table can then be purged, if they are older than a year.

Some people run out of their disk storage, when they perform only step 1. Most people get to only Step 2 without realizing the full potential of BI. Only when you complete Step 3, you are able to have the full capability of doing BI for your business.