Trying to follow the golden path

The Greeks didn’t really “invent” ethics, but they certainly argued over the issue more than anyone before or after them did. Indeed, one man’s view of ethics resulted in our first top-flight courtroom drama (Trial of Socrates) which preceded Law and Order by a few thousand years.

PMI (Project Management Institute), of which I’m a member, also expects its members to follow a member Code of Ethics. Well, as much as I have to admit that I’ve not always followed the golden path, ethics does play a part in my approach to project management. What follows is the PMI’s Code of Ethics’ five guiding principles and my own interpretation of how they should be followed.

I will maintain high standards of integrity and professional conduct: Don’t lie about what you can’t do. To me, a professional is someone who has a set of skills and receives money for applying those skills. I basically feel that I’m good at, and have experience with, training others in project management and helping them set up project offices so that they can continue to improve their results. Full stop. When someone asks me if I can put together a software development methodology for them and they will pay me $100,000 to do it, my heart flutters.It can’t be that hard, I’ll think to myself. But all that comes out of my mouth is “no.” Interestingly enough, people usually expect a consultant to say yes, and when we say no, they tend to want to talk more about what we can do. Could ethical behaviour be good for business?

I will accept responsibility for my actions: When you screw up, say so. If someone didn’t get value for my work, then it’s my fault – I’ll do it again, hopefully in a different and better manner. In one case a client paid me anyway and said that we could work it out over the long run. Six years later I’m still working with that client (and I’ve given them many freebies along the way).

I will continually seek to enhance my professional capabilities: Listen to other people. Books and courses are fine, but it’s really people who are the greatest source of information. A new book on critical chain analysis may or may not be useful. However, someone who has had a project go south on them because a senior manager slashed their budget can make me think in a whole new way about risk management. My next project will then include a deeper analysis of the key stakeholders and their possible actions.

I will practice with fairness and honesty: Tell your team, sponsor and client what is really going on. Perhaps more importantly, do it early and do it often. When people know about a problem they can often offer good solutions and start to work with you, not against you. Machiavelli is an old Italian who essentially left us with the idea that to get ahead, one has to be devious. However, being devious tends to lead to long term problems. For example, there’s an old saying in the consulting business, “You can’t go wrong by hiring Andersen.” ‘Nuff said?

I will encourage others in the profession to act in an ethical and professional manner: I’m doing that right now aren’t I?

Ethical behaviour has personal and professional rewards and can result in a base of happy, satisfied, long-term customers.

Tim Rudkins, a member of both the Canadian Information Processing Society and PMI, has an IT focused PM practice in the Toronto area. He can be reached at