Is PM certifications the only way to add value?

There is an interesting discussion going on ProjectManagement.com, under the title “How do you determine your next certification(s)?”. It is a good discussion and offers the perspective of many professionals. However, I am the only one who has suggested an alternative approach.

Before, I go on, what do you think?

Is project management certifications, especially the most popular one, the only way to add value?

Now, in term of value, we can think of two aspects:

  1. Adding value to the individual, and
  2. Adding value to the organization employing that individual.

Value to the individual

We have all seen some marketing, including false marketing about obtaining a certificate, like the PMP(r) will lead to promotions or raises or at least xx% percent salary difference versus non-PMP. All of these claims are offered without real tangible, independently verified proof.

Even when we ask individuals who achieve those certifications if the achievement led to any tangible monetary value, like a bonus, raise, promotion, even recognition or reward, and the answers are overwhelming, NO.

Sure, studying for certification adds knowledge, knowledge could lead to improving performance but unfortunately, experience and observations have shown that some of those certified individuals might know how to recite the PMBOK Guide but they do not understand some of its core concepts and definitely do not know how to apply it on real projects, in the real world.

A link to the past on this topic. Another link. Finally, one more link.

Value to the organization

In the PM.com discussion, I made the following points (modified here):

Personally, I do not really think highly of certifications, especially the most popular one. The problem is not the concept of certification but they way they are administered and offered where the focus is to pass an exam rather to really learn real – practical project management. 

What I am trying to say, if you need a paper to prove something, go for it.

However, you can learn much more by:

  • reading and applying;
  • teaching your colleague a project management concept;
  • research, write and present on project management topics;
  • Identify weak areas in the project management practice in your organizations and find solutions.

My point is this: for those who want to continue working with the same organization, finding solutions for weak, or non-existing formal practices will get you more recognition and further advancement. For example, in a career management four stages model (Dalton-Thomson Model), one of the key messages to help professional move (advance) from a “colleague” (one of the guys) to a leadership role, is to help in mentoring others and solving organizational problems or enhancing weak areas of practice.

The responses

One response challenged my position with this:

“Good advice from a theoretical point of view , but out there in an interview , apart from having knowledge of Project Management and /or Agile practices , you have to show the certification to back it up …”

My answer: “if I have confidence in my ability, I will challenge the interviewer to test me and test PMP or other applicants with real practical scenarios (not multiple choice questions) and let them observe who can demonstrate practical-applied know-how.”

Another response focused on “Certifications are necessary and always will be. It’s a short way to confirm at least a rudimentary level of specialization”

My response, I wish I could agree for the reasons mentioned in more than one post. There is even a joke among some professionals on social media that talks about “paper PMPs”.

Here I have to add, as an interviewer – hiring manager – is my project management level of know-how is so weak that I cannot judge a person except via the paper they have?

Ahhh the medical comparison

Then you get a response to support that certification is “necessary” versus my point that it is not and here it is “I hope you don’t say that on your next doctor’s visit.”

I have always have fun with people who compares the PMP certification (or any PM certification – but usually it is the PMP) to medical board accreditation. I honestly, do not know how to respond to some of these claims but here is one way:

  1. First, we are talking about PM, not the Medical field
  2. Second, Medical certifications have to go through an extremely challenging process and even with that there are bad doctors and if they screw up their licenses are stripped and in some countries even jailed
  3. Third, in project management, many (or some) lie on their applications, the audit process is a joke, there is no evidence presented to verify qualification, and if you screw up, at worst you do not get a raise or a promotion or you go look for another job.

Even engineering certifications are extremely challenging in comparison to PMI certifications.

Closing comments

The main question in the PM.com post is asking about how you determine your new certification(s) and this is a valid question and many professionals like this and they accumulate certifications; for good reasons or for vanity.

It seems, on that thread, that I am alone in offering an alternative approach to LEARNING and ADDING VALUE to organizations.

To summarize, what I have suggested is the following, to add value to your organization and to learn real – practical project management, there are alternatives and certifications is not the only way. Sure certifications are OK and could add value but, again, it is not the only way.

Do you agree, disagree, or not sure? I like to hear your comments

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2 thoughts on “Is PM certifications the only way to add value?

  1. Nah Wee Yang

    I came across this article from your LinkedIn post, and read it with great interests. And I don’t think you are alone in this school of thought. I share your view point.

    Project management is about solving practical problems in workplace, and PMBOK Guide is a collection of tools, techniques and practices gathered from practitioners and structured them in a way that would help people getting their project work organised. What I am trying to say is… the PMBOK Guide is constantly lagging behind the “real world problems” all the time, and it is “us” the practitioners who are solving these real world problems in real-time, and shaping the PMBOK Guide as what it is now!

    From your article, it seems there are some fundamentally flawed job interview processes. Yes… I have came across many people (and trainees in my PMP classes)… that they didn’t get the job at the final stage of interview due to the lack of PMP in their resume. But I feel there are other things to worry about beyond just getting a PMP:

    1) Maybe the problem is with the candidate… that he/she unable to sell himself well enough to earn the job position. There might be room for improvement for the candidate in communication, presentation, influencing, or maybe portraying confidence.

    2) Maybe the organization assessing one’s value based on “face value”… certification, image, brand, etc, instead of intangible value like integrity, experiences etc. This is a quick and lazy assessment. So probably it’s good not to work in organisations / dept with such culture.

    And to advertise having a PMP would lead to certain salary increment is totally irresponsible BS… It’s a marketing gimmick and I don’t think anyone should take this seriously. I think anyone who go for any professional certification is to fulfil one’s desire for knowledge and be a better person rather than all these superficial things.

    Just to put things in perspective… PMP is a personal development achievement, and it is NOT a validation of a person’s experience in PM. On top of that, I would consider PMP as the “door opener” to explore other business opportunities and personal challenges.

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