Is project management certification valuable?

Introduction

“Certification is a must!”

“Certification is valuable!”

“Certification nice but does not add significant value!”

“Eliminate the accidental project manager – certify them”

“Certification is required”

There are too many arguments and positions on the value of certifications so what is reality, if there is one? The reality is limited to one fact: there is no agreement on the value of certification; at least in the domain of project management.

What Do We Know

What we know is that there are numerous project management certifications, such as PMP, RMP, PRINCE2, MSP, IPMA (four levels), CCC/CCE, PSP, EVP, CPM, and numerous others with all kind of acronyms. We also know that some are specialized in a topic or project management function; some are more popular; and some are more valuable. Which is which and how do we define value? Here is where the debate starts.

A few more questions:

  • Should human resource managers and executives use professional certification as a filter to screen candidates?
  • Is certification an indicator of excellence or a proof of expertise?
  • Are the ‘certified’ individuals able to play an active role in transforming organizational performance?
  • Is project management certification contributing to enhancing organizational performance?

We can post many more questions here and to answer them effectively and fairly, we are likely in need of a large volume instead of a short article and we need numerous contributors to make the case for-and-against. Once again, what is clear is that there no consensus in the project management professional community on the value of certification, or at least on the value of some of the common and even popular certifications.

What Are The Common Views?

We can categorize the most common views per the following:

  • Some professionals, training providers, and even professional associations will defend the various introductory certifications (credentials) and continue to promote them as “expert” level certifications and use terms such as “best practices” and “master project management” … The level of promotion is directly link to the benefit of the promoter and can often border the unethical behavior; or at least misguided.
  • Other professionals will attack these introductory certifications (credentials) as worthless, or use terms such as: “paper certifications”, “technical ___”, and my favorite “can recite the standard verbatim but cannot manage a hot dog stand.” Here again, this practice can be unethical if the attackers have competing products and/or have hidden agendas; so they try to lift their products by attacking the competing products.
  • Other professionals are in between and will offer a somewhat balanced view, with open and clear position and transparency of their affiliations.

It is quite difficult and might be inappropriate to judge the various professional certifications and we will not do so; this is a huge topic and we are not qualified to offer such judgment. However, in the area of project management we do have extensive global expertise to allow us to offer a professional opinion although likely controversial.

What Is Our Position?

We will state the following:

  • Most, if not all, certifications requires significant effort to achieve and do result in gained knowledge.
  • For those with proper experience, a certification may add significant value since these professionals can put a formal knowledge structure to what they have been practicing on the job.
  • We think that most will not argue with this statement: some certifications have significant value, others do not, and it is important to realize the difference.
  • Some certifications had good value but have lost it or are losing their value although their numbers continue to grow. Sound like a contradictory statement and maybe it is but we will argue otherwise.
  • There is a huge gap in practice and awareness on the value of certifications in the market. This is usually the result of overzealous marketing, and as we mentioned earlier on bordering unethical behaviors.
  • Unfortunately, some professional associations are more concerned with growing their numbers rather than clearly communicating the true value of each certification they grant. They might not put the necessary screening effort to ensure qualified individuals earn the right certification.
  • Some certifications are introductory or early career but they are ‘sold’ as expert level.
  • Some are general certifications for someone with project management experience (although limited) but are ‘sold’ as project manager’s certification.
  • Most introductory certifications have good value as introductory level but not they are necessarily an indicator that the holder of such certification is an experienced project manager.

The Question of Value

Due to some of the factors that we mentioned earlier, many technical professionals with limited or no experiences in project management are obtaining these certifications. Some of them do not even know the difference between a project life span and process groups, or a project plan and a schedule, or even the difference between a change and a variance.

The above scenario is leading to contradictory market perceptions:

  • On one hand, quite a few recruiters, human resources managers, and executives are using certification as a filter for screening employment candidates since they believe that these certifications are of a “great value” and indicators of “expert project managers.”
  • On the other hand, for those of us who truly understand the value and limitations of these certifications, the action of professional associations granting these certifications create a situation of “mistrust” in the market and in the credential. We also lose respect for these commercial practices and lack of responsibility.

Our Recommendations

For human resources and recruiting managers and executives, we offer the following advice:

  • Do not take certification as proof of expert level performer
  • Check into the certification requirements to help you understand if this is a basic level or a senior level or an expert level
  • Do not take the certification holder for granted … review the CV, challenge the person, ask the difficult questions, go beyond soft skills and ask the hard project management core questions (if you are hiring for a project management position)
  • Does the certificate holder have project management experience or technical experience working on project; do not trust the professional association to verify this for you since they mostly depend on online applications with limited audit or verification

The Action

It is important to recognize that some professional associations might not be in the best position to address these concerns and we need an alternative. The alternative is to focus on educating the global community, educating recruiters and executives on the value of certifications.

How can we do that?

Through this article, we urge professionals and project management thought leaders to join us and launch an initiative under the title “Protecting Project Management: What Executives Need to Know”; this is like a consumers protection initiatives.

What do you think?

Can we play a role here? How can we be effective in creating the necessary awareness in as unbiased approach as possible?

More in future articles!

Disclaimer: The author manage an organization that offer certification training – so as we said we see value in certification but we also believe that organizations need to have the right awareness and they can decide for themselves what work and what does not!

 

SUKAD offers courses on the PMBOK, CAM2P Model, PRINCE2, Capital Projects, PMO, Case Studies, Risk Management, Project Success. We offer our programs for the public in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, UAE, Lebanon or for private clients wherever they are.
  • Pingback: Certifikace PM – důkaz odbornosti nebo pouhý list papíru? – PMCONSULTING()

  • Pingback: Is project management certification valuable? | PMinside()

  • Mounir/Bob,
    Are you aware I updated my scoring model?

    http://pmworldjournal.net/article/project-management-credentials-compared-an-update/

    I was able to fix many of the anomalies from the 2010 version but there were no profound changes……

    Also added some new credentials…… Eventually, I would hope that the IT folks step forward and compare their credentials as well. I have a suspicion that the IT sector in general does not have the rigor as the construction credentials have, but that is just a hunch right now…

    BR,
    Dr. PDG, Jakarta, Indonesia
    http://www.build-project-management-competency.com

    • Dr. Paul

      Do you have the model on a website that you own? If yes – would you allow us to add a page on our knowledge portal with a summary of your model and link to your website?
      Alternatively, can we post on our knowledge portal? Your model is highly valuable and would be great to have it.
      Regards

  • Shashi

    Mounir, agree with your thought process. Giving this topic a risk spin from a Human resource/recruiting manager’s perspective, below is how I look at it.

    Risk event: Not having a PM experience And Certified
    Impact: Certification has no or hardly any value.
    Mitigation: As you mention Mounir, review the CV, challenge the person, ask the difficult questions, go beyond soft skills and ask the hard project management core questions (if you are hiring for a project management position).
    Risk elaboration: Individuals in this category are either having a job or are looking for a job. They aspire to be a PM. But they continue to do what they are doing which is not PM roll. For them these certifications do not add value, and have heard some of them say “oh anybody can get certified and it is of no value. I cannot apply it in my job or job-search”. This is mainly because they are not in PM roll and are not expected to do what a normal PM is supposed to be doing, day in day out.

    Risk event: Experienced PM And Certified
    Impact: Certification has high value add. There is a possibility of overusing the strength so gained.
    Mitigation: Individuals in this category should be more cognizant of the Enterprise environmental factors and Organizational policies in place for managing the project. Should be careful while tailoring the project management processes while carrying out the project.

    Risk event: Experienced PM And not Certified
    Impact: These individuals feel that certification is not required. All that needs to be known is learned from experience. May have a tendency to under-rate good PM’s with certification. May also be following PM processes which are skewed to the organization they are working in.
    Mitigation: Individuals in this category can highly benefit by getting certified and understanding the value of keeping them abreast with latest in the field of Project Management.

    • Interesting spin Shashi – cannot see we are in alignment on all points but I like your approach. Thank you

  • Mounir,

    While you talk around the certification issue you miss an obvious distinction between all of the certifications. There are two kinds: knowledge-based (for example, PMP, CIPM and IPMA Level D) and competency-based (for example, IPMA Level C, IPMA Level B and IPMA Level A). Having attained a knowledge-based certification has nothing to do with competency to perform. Having attained a competency-based certification establishes your ability to perform. But how you will actually perform on a given project is not guaranteed!

    A history of successful projects is the best assurance of future success. The British Computer Society developed an experience-based professional certification that I have always held up as exemplary of an effective model.

    Bob

    • Hi Bob

      Thank you for input.

      My article deals with the subject of certification in a generic way without going into the different types of certifications and assessing the value of each one. Dr. Paul D. Giammalvo has done a detailed study comparing certification and that is an extensive and excellent study. In this article – we wanted to trigger professionals and executives to think about certification and not just to trust any without knowing what the certification offers.

      Regards

      • Mounir,

        You clearly accomplished your purpose. I am very familiar with Paul’s work and his position. His dissertation does an admirable job of analysis of the available certification approaches.

        One of the problems that bothers me most is that PMI is the 800lb gorilla in the room and has lured executives into a false assumption that the PMP establishes competency. It doesn’t and many have learned that the hard way.

        Bob