Project management and certification at a crossroad

In the last article we discussed the first opportunity for project management growth and sustainability. Today we discuss another opportunity (or two interdependent opportunities). We also realize that this post is contentious so we ask that you read and evaluate before you judge.

Opportunity 2: project management is at a crossroad

Building on the earlier opportunity, we think project management has reached a crossroad. 

Great things have happened, but at a price.

For example, there has been damage to the credibility of certain certifications, and even though they remain highly popular, we believe their popularity is due to the wrong reasons not true value in term of professional practice. This damage also affects the emerging profession, as a whole.

Just a few weeks ago, we noticed this quotation from the CIO online magazine, “Just because someone has the title of “project manager” does not mean he knows how to manage projects as manyDilbert Cartoon CIOs and other IT executives have learned the hard way.” (Schiff 2013)

This cartoon from Dilbert provide a similar scenario (copyright is to Scott Adams).

Why are we at a crossroad?

Project management practitioners and researchers have an excellent opportunity and a responsibility to arrest further damage, repair what damage already exists, and build toward a better future. In addition, professional associations have a clear responsibility to put the emerging profession first, even at the risk of an impact on their growth in terms of income and membership. They must trade revenues and popularity to offer creditability and authority.

If we do not see the crossroad, pursue this turning point, and continue on a risky path, a path of growth in numbers and not effectiveness, can we accept the consequences? If we want to sustain and grow project management and its effectiveness than the professional and business community cannot afford the consequences.

Opportunity 3: Professional Certifications

One of the reasons we are at a crossroad, as we mentioned in the earlier point is project management certification. We raised project management certification as a challenge, and here we raise it again but as an opportunity.

The essence of this opportunity is that professionalSUKAD Proposed Project Management Certifications certifications need to support the future evolution of project management, rather than continue past and current practices, which as we claim, is damaging project management.

The opportunity is to move away from certifications as a commodity with limited value, to their holders becoming capable agents of change. To achieve this, certifications, and the process of obtaining one, must be stringent enough in order to gain a true organizational acceptance and not just acceptance as a fashionable trend.

The proposal to transform certifications into an opportunity rather than a challenge builds on two main principles.

  • The first principle is that certifications must represent different levels of expertise, similar to what is in the market now but with more distinction and clarity of capability at each level.
  • The second principle is the link to industry or business sector, due to the need for specialization within project management. This is related to challenge number 4 that we wrote about on 1 April 2013.

The proposed project management certification model

First, we use the term model since this is not a standard approach or a specific method, yet! It is a proposed model for organizations, government, and even professional associations to consider.

Second, we propose a four-level approach:

  • The first level certification (or credential) is the foundation level. Some professional associations offer such a credential; PMI – CAPM; APM Group – PRINCE2 Foundation, IPMA – Level D. This would be a ‘learner’ credential and appropriate for a team member or a new comer into project management; someone without experience but with a knowledge base. It is satisfactory if this credential is generic and not industry specific.
  • The second level is a certification that must be experience and competency-based. We suggest that for this certification to be effective it has to be linked to the job of project manager. Some of the existing certifications today come close to this. However, we think that most of what exists[1] is not appropriate in term of years of experience and requirements. We think that IPMA Level C is the closest certification to what we present here. This would be a ‘professional’ certification and appropriate for a project manager. Starting with this second level, there can be generic versions and other versions linked to an industry or business sector.
  • The third level requires advanced expertise or subject matter expertise, depending on the industry or application area. We suggest combining competence with proven performance in addition to an exam. We can validate proven performance on the job. We think that IPMA Level B is the closest certification to what we present here but not the same. This would be a ‘senior project manager’ or ‘subject matter expert’ certification. It is the author’s opinion that this certification must have a link to an industry or business domain, which is where we differ from IPMA.
  • The fourth level fulfills the need for a master level certification: a ‘subject matter expert’ or ‘subject master’. The holder of such a certification would be recognized as a leader or an authority in his or her domain.

Please note that although there are similarities to IPMA certifications, these four levels should not be confused with what IPMA, the International Project Management Association offers. There are similarities, but they are not the same. As noted, there is a requirement for industry-specific certifications at levels three and four, and possibly at level two.

Specialized Project Management Certifications

For example, we see a need for specialized certifications for the following domains:

  • Capital investment projects (resulting in the construction of a facility),
  • Software development projects,
  • Information and communication technology projects,
  • Defense projects,
  • General government projects,
  • Educational projects, and
  • Possibly others.

These would be at Level 2, 3, and 4. On the other hands, many business domains such as marketing, advertisement, media, human resources, training, and similar domains might not need a specialized certification; a common generic one is satisfactory. Further, for these domains, three levels might be satisfactory and this is perfectly understandable[2].

If you like to read more about this, you can download our white paper on the subject.


[1] Not all associations’ certifications require experience and in some cases, the amount of experience is insufficient.

[2] For more information about this certification model, review the author’s white paper outlining this proposed approach. He presented this model at a 1-day conference in 2012 organized by GAPPS (the Global Alliance for Project Performance Standards), the British University in Dubai, and supported by SUKAD. This is the link to the white paper: http://knowledge.sukad.com/project-management-white-papers

  • I have worked hard for my certification, it provided me the stepping stone to develop and hone my PM skill set to be of greater value and standardized to a point that I could adapt to any industry. I do agree that what should follow the base PMI Cert, should be the more specialized industry cert so that the base skills can be focused on a particular industry. I see PMI taking that first step somewhat, by taking on the Agile certification. But how do you propose that the specialized certifications get created? As you suggest in your article, there are those in our industry that claim to be PM’s but aren’t really, So we have to look to a governing body like PMI to vet the experts out into the forefront. The cost of these specialized certifications should not be as high as the base either.

    • Dear Michele
      Thank you for your post and contribution. I totally agree with you on certification (PMI or others) that is something to be proud of and a “stepping stone”. For many projects, certifications such as CAPM, PMP, PRINCE2, IPMA are good and generic enough! The challenge is do they have enough focus on certain domains when or if necessary?

      By the way PMI agile is not a project manager or even a proper project management certification the way I understand it – what I understood is that it is an Agile Practitioner certification.

      • I believe you are right in regards to the Agile Practitioner bit for PMI, Agile is another technique that can be used as a PM, but was relating it to a way that PMI is trying to branch off into other areas. But we do need to get more tools in place to help PM’s mold their expertise into specific industries or knowledge areas so that when you are put into situation to manage a telecommunications project, you understand what it takes to successfully manage a telecommunications project. It’s not necessarily being technical, but understanding the business, risks, issues, benefits, and the like of a telecommunications project.

        • Michele – we are in agreement. By the way – about 10 years ago PMI launched 3 or 4 certifications that were industry or area specific but they cancelled them within months.

  • This comment is By Dr Steven McLaren PhD on LinkedIn:

    Totally agree. the profession has reached a high level of evolution. The markets that use our services are many and varied. Specialised Project Management Certifications are now essential for credibility and to maintain a high standard in competencies

    • It is great to see others recognize the need for special certifications in project management and not only generic.