What are the common issues with the PMP certification?

In the last article we posted in response to a blog on “Take The PMP Exam Now Before It Gets Harder“ and we offered our professional opinion on what is wrong with such titles. Based on what triggered that article and other issues we observe, we decided to re-blog some old articles that we had published on project management certification, particularly, the PMP. We will also post on project management training providers and the “business” of not-for-profit.

Why this article and related articles?

  • To raise the awareness on issues related to project management and PM training – the good, bad, and ugly.
  • To Protect project management from the abuse of some. It is like a “consumer protection”. We know no one appointed us for this role but we are entitled to offer our opinion.
  • This is not meant to be a criticism to any one, any organization or certificate holder but as direct critiques for the practices that are, in our opinion, hurting good certification and project management.

PMP Status and Background

It is a well-known fact that the PMP (Project Management Professional) certification is globally recognized and highly popular. It is the most popular project management certification and even considered the most important IT certification. Why IT? Let us answer this later.

We also know that the PMP has value, but we need to understand that value along with the PMP limitations and what the PMP stands for or should be demonstrating to organizations and hiring managers.

To be transparent, the author of this post achieved his PMP in 1998 but have issues with how PMI, its chapters, and providers, have transformed this certification since that time. In our personal view the PMP, a good certification, is degrading in value and respect although it is still highly popular; primarily because the way it is “sold“. Consequently, the PMP value has a direct impact on degrading PMP Training.

The Major Issues with the PMP

Issue 1

The PMP is meant to be an introductory level – project management – certification. Its requirements are primarily 35 hours of project management education (equivalent to 1 course in university) and 4500 hours of project management experience (little more than 2 years on a full time basis). We are sure that most (or at least many) would agree that 1 week of PM education barely scratch the surface of project management. Also in most organizations the first two to three years are still considered the “learning years”.

The issue?

Some providers, even PMI and some of their chapters, (directly or indirectly) promote the PMP as an expert level certifications using terms like “Master Project Management”, “Proven Expertise”, “Demonstrated Competence”, and “able to lead and direct projects” … among other similar statements. We know many PMPs, either personally or from their CVs and profiles, that do not have any project management experience; some with 1 or 2 years out of college and have certification. How? We have no clue.

Issue 2

The PMP is being “sold” as a project manager certification, which is obviously not the case. The PMP stands for Project Management Professional and not Project Manager Professional. There is nothing in the requirements that say the applicant must be a project manager … only that they led project management tasks. Yet some advertise it as “Led and directed projects successfully“. There is a huge difference between leading project tasks, leading projects, and successful performance.

One more question from the above, how do we demonstrate “successfully” in the application or exam? PMI claims that the PMP is “demonstrated competence” how do they measure competence if the PMI staff do not have any evidence whatsoever that the candidate has actually managed a project before? Which lead us to the next point.

Issue 3

The third issue is not with the PMP itself but in the way it is administered by PMI.

PMI claims that the PMP is “demonstrated competence” how do they measure competence?

The PMI staff reviewing PMP applications do not have any evidence whatsoever that the candidate has actually managed a project before so how can they certify “demonstrate competence” and “successfully”?  All they know what a person tell them … and assuming the person did not lie – what  the person is telling them is:

  1. That he/she has 35 hours of project management training; a friend could have trained them – so there is evidence of qualified training
  2. That he/she has 4500 hours of experience in leading projects … again – assuming the person did not lie all we know that this person clocked 4500 hours on project related activities … and the projects could have been failure (report on success rates on technology projects shows only about 30% of project are successful).

To make the above situation worse, it is unfortunate that many candidates are not working as project managers or leading projects, they are working in technical roles, and some are not even technical leads. When we raise concern with PMI we do not get anywhere due to “privacy” concerns. So unless, we can PROVE something, the code of ethics and “professional and social responsibility” is down the drain.

Now the above assumed the person did not lie … but we know many people who are 1 or 2 years out of college and their experience was limited to working in the computer lab in the university or an accounting trainee or sell/install off-the-shelf software … etc. etc. etc. How did these qualify?

These are what I call the Karate Kids Syndrome (this will be for another article).

Issue 4

PMI is too secretive about many things related to the PMP and, personally, we do not see a good reason why. When an organization hides non-private information then we must wonder why. For example:

  1. The passing score is now a secret; it was not a secret a few years ago. Before 2005, it was 68% then briefly raised to 81% when the exam changed in September 2005, then dropped to about 61% at the end of 2005. About 3 years ago – the passing score became a secret, why? We can only speculate that the passing score is not a set number, and it is variable (like grading on a curve). Refer to the next point.
  2. The percent of people passing on the first time, or second time is another secret? Why? The only thing PMI publishes is that certification practices recommend passing rate should be between 45 and 75%. Based on unofficial information we had from PMI managers (in the past) is that the percent passing is over 70% (so on the high end of the range). What we “hear” (and cannot prove or disprove) is that passing rates is about 90% or more in North America and less than 70% or even less than 50% in some parts of the world … Therefore, an average of 70% is logical.
  3. PMI refuses to publish statistics, beyond number of PMPs, and do not publish numbers per countries or cities, why?

Is the exam discriminatory? Could it be that PMI do not want to publish the passing scores and rates (points 1, 2, and 3) because the exam is indirectly discriminatory or geographically/language biased? Where people fluent in a Language can score well, and those with lower fluency struggle, even to finish the exam? To avoid speculating on these questions we (and others) have asked PMI to publish the passing rates globally and by country but they continue to refuse.

In addition to secretive practices, let us address other administrative matters:

Audit: we understand that only 5% (or at least less than 10%) of applicants are audited and if they are audited they only have to show paper proof of what they said online, which is sending paper proof that they took a course and their degree if they have one. Also they submit a letter – supposedly from their manager – but is anyone validating this?

Personally, we have been training for the PMP for 10 years and we have not heard of one person failing the audit or PMI actually talked to their managers to verify the experience. In other words, this is audit is a formality and not to verify experience … I know the code of ethics says we should not lie on the applications so is this enough protection for the credential?

Closing Comments

In the introduction,  we said that our intent here to create awareness of practices, the good, bad, and ugly. We repeat the same here and clarify further:

  • The PMBOK Guide is a good standard and is the result of excellent effort of volunteers and volunteer leaders for many years.
  • The PMP is a good certification and has (or had) excellent value … but also has limitations … some PMP are experts and leaders and some PMP do not know the difference between a tool and a technique
  • We clearly stated that our issue is NOT with the PMP but with the way it is “sold”; like in our last post the complain is after July the exam will be harder because there are a few more pages in PMBOK 5th ed. versus 4th ed.
  • We have used the word “sold” more than once because it is our view the PMP is becoming a commodity … we would have liked to use the word “promoted” but maybe that was true before 2005

For many years,  we have tried to influence a change from within PMI, as a member, volunteer, even volunteer leader including global roles with PMI, but with no tangible results. We are hit with one road block after another and most of the time with no reasons given except policy statements. We asked for PMI to do more audit – not approved. We asked for certifying trainers – nope. We asked for PMI to check for references or actually make a few calls … no. When I see wee here I do not mean Mounir Ajam – many of these requests came from the PMI Advisory Group which i was a member in from 2005 to 2007.

PMI talks about Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility so we are exercising our responsibility here in communicating what we see.

Hiring managers need to understand the value and limitations of the PMP and other certifications.

The bottom line, project management is extremely valuable to organizational success and certification has a definite role in enhancing such a success … so we cannot afford to let a degrading PMP and a degrading PMP Training slowly but surely destroy the strategic value of project management.

We welcome responses and challenges to what we post here. If you are reading this via LinkedIn or Facebook, please go back to the source blog and comment there so the various comments would be consolidated in one place.

  • Frank Wright

    A nice post & related topic about Project Management Professional Course Training which is very beneficial for project managers & other professionals.

  • CitizenPeace

    I’ve sat for many various types of national and international board exams in various fields and have passed all the first go around. However, I took the test twice within two months apart with significant re work. I passed the two sections i failed the first time and failed two sections I passed the first time. I wonder if the PMI made PMPs retake the exam and lose their credentials for failing why not allow those who pass all 5 sections in say 2 or 3 tests be considered passing. Does showing proficiency one day due to some secretive arbitrary and most likely biased scale make a PMP? As an accomplished project manager in a major aerospace company, I must wonder as to the credibility and the lack of transparency of the PMP exam. The 200 questions are a stretch to finish in 4 hours without a break even for an english speaking American. I find these self imposed standardized designations are self serving and its not too much to say most likely for more profit than providing a legitimate service. I believe there should be a full investigation and possible class action suit of the PMI as any secretive organization would be who makes unsubstantiated claims without proof.