Project Management

My PM book, and more questions than answers.


Two days ago (previous post to this, let me know if I’m simply harping on a point), I mentioned an exchange between a certain certifying body and myself.  Rather than restate it all here, please reference that post for more details.  I thought my response to them would be the end of the story.

I thought wrong.

Ever intuitive and mindful for a good debate, I never expected one from the organization’s representative, but she was kind enough to respond back citing chapter and verse of policy. Two items in specific:

1.  Turn-around time for review.  For all I know, she may be the only person doing it.

2.  The costs for attribution in their current cafeteria form, and rather counter-productive to any profession advocacy (and when I release my book and you can buy it, you’ll see that I challenge the profession to step-up).

So for point #1, the turnaround time was clearly stated.  ’Tis true.  I came in around the high side of that timing.  However, their rationalization is amusing at best.  In response:

“while we do strive to improve our processes, they are consistent with other permissions services with major US publishing houses.”

Hang on.  Publishing house? Did I read that correctly?  While they’ve published practice standards and some other over-priced reference materials, it would be difficult to suggest that a professional organization is on a par with Simon & Schuster or McGraw-Hill or J. Wiley.  That’s a bit over the top.  It’s also a poor litmus test, since publishing houses move at a speed just shy of “reverse”.  Having done and dusted that, let’s move on to the other question raised by the response.

“Many non-commercial uses are granted permission for certain materials at no cost, however the fees for commerical use of (our) material (as in a book for sale) go towards the development of creating new books and future editions of the works requested.”

Call me dense, but let’s examine that point for a moment.  This is a supposedly not-for-profit organization with hundreds of thousands of members worldwide, each of whom pays around $120 a year for membership.  They make money from every certification well into the hundreds of dollars, and retail their own practice standards and reference texts at a fairly inflated retail rate. If an organization is being run prudently, it would stand to reason that the margin of profit on each book sold, plus the money for membership (members get a magazine each month…maybe) suggests that there should be more than enough cash available just from the sale of books at high margin, let alone membership, credentialing and re-certifying credentials.

Is anyone else thinking something doesn’t quite add up?  I’m thinking of an old beer commercial from the 1980′s using the concept of people saving money, and ending with a tagline of “so what did you do with all that money you should have been spending on beer?”  This just feels the same way to me.  And given the number of project management texts on the market that call reference to those standards, this is simply a cash cow.

Call me crazy, but the costs of any published works should long since have been recouped, and much of the information that populates practice standards comes in the form of best-practices and thought-leaders who contribute those dialogues, theories, and other newly found approaches back to the profession.

Come to think of it, that was my purpose in writing my book too.  But I digress — my point is that the cafeteria pricing model seems an egregious abuse of the organization, and serves only to reflect poorly back on organizations who spend more time looking for new revenue streams than promoting the profile of project management in the professional world.    I’m left very unconvinced by this.  It’s that sort of practice that gives true non-profit or not-for-profit organizations an undeserved reputation, and suggests that further active scrutiny may be in order.

Based on the response as read and understood, because I’m publishing a book that will obviously be sold to recoup the costs of time, effort, and publication, while at the same time potentially being a good reference and promotional tool for that third-party, the taxi meter starts running. This is not sour grapes, but something for us to truly consider.

Nice business model if your goal is turning a profit.  Very questionable if you’re a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization.  You be the judge.

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About Andrew Buck

Andrew Buck is the editor-in-chief of, and a lifelong appreciator and aficionado of fragrance. He's also the author "(Not) PMO-in-a-Can", a practitioner's perspective on project management, in addition to several articles on the topic. When not writing or discovering new scents, he is a technology manager in New York's Wall Street financial sector. You can read more about him on the "About" page, or say hi to him on Twitter @scentrist.
  • Bill Duncan

    Andrew — you forgot to mention that virtually all of the work on the standards documents is done by volunteers. And the last time I looked, these folks had north of $150,000,000 in the bank (spare cash, not total assets).

    You might consider taking a peek at “Mistakes Were Made (but not by me).” Good explanation of why and how we justify our own personal stupidity.

  • Andy

    I completely agree, Bill. My intent was never to “rake it in” by publishing a book on the profession. I was shocked, however, at the approach of an organization who has more than enough ready cash and requires anyone who effectively promotes that organization to ‘pay by the word’ under the premise that the publication of their work costs money. In the interest of transparency, I’ll discuss my own costs of doing business for each book I sell.

    I receive between a percentage of the net from each sale, depending on the sales channel. That covers the time and energies that went into the authoring and research of the book. Had I agreed to the usage terms that were proposed by PMI, the profits from around the first 300 copies of the book would have been PMI’s alone before I could begin seeing any return, and all would have required annual renewal.

    I priced my book at around $18 USD because I wasn’t looking to become wealthy from writing. I compared that to a similar length book published by PMI, which was priced at around $50 USD. When you consider that I have covered my per copy publication costs at under $18 USD, it’s more than reasonable to question what justifies the other $32 of price. Now consider that both the UK Office of Government Commerce (OGC, the gatekeeper for ITIL) and SEI-CMM (CMMI’s gatekeeper) charge nothing for authors to help promote adoption of their standards (both only require signing of a release without author cost, both fast-tracked the process), you can draw your own conclusions.

    I will certainly take a gander at your reference. Thanks as ever!