Does a PMP Certification Matter?

Interesting article here.

The Strengths and Weaknesses of Project Management Certifications

Some experienced project managers who aren’t certified are bothered by the increasing importance of certifications. These project managers believe that the employers who require them are making uneducated assumptions about the credentials and the impact a certified project manager can have on a project.

Independent project management consultant Spivey, who has 17 years of project management experience but holds no certifications, says employers tend to overvalue credentials like the PMP.

When a project manager has a PMP certification, he says, it creates an expectation among employers that a PMP will complete a project smoothly. What’s missing from that assumption, Spivey adds, are the leadership and governance components of projects that are so critical to their success, but that certification exams don’t, in his opinion, adequately measure. These include: how decisions get made, how project managers motivate and inspire people working on the project, and how they influence buy-in. (PMI’s Langley says the PMP exam poses scenario-based questions designed to evaluate a project managers leadership skills.)

“Just because you have a PMP [certification] doesn’t mean you have that [leadership] ability,” he says. “The PMP is a good indicator that a person has been able to pass a test, but it doesn’t mean they’re the right person to implement and execute a project in every organization.”

Spivey’s opinion is based on the PMPs he’s hired and worked with over the years. Some have been excellent project managers, he says. Others “couldn’t find their way out of a wet paper bag with a flashlight and a knife.”

Erik Hamburger, who runs his own project management company Ambidexter Management, says good project managers need to bridge what he calls the knowing and doing gap.

“Knowing what you should do as a project manager and being able to do that in the real world are two completely different things,” he says.

Hamburger, who says he has a love-hate relationship with certifications and whose own Prince 2 certification has lapsed, is particularly critical of PMI’s PMP certification.

“You can become a PMP without ever having managed a project end to end, which is kind of scary,” he says. (Hamburger is a former board member of his local PMI chapter in Canada.)

PMI’s Langley says project managers vying for the PMP credential “would not have to lead every project end to end,” he says. But at a minimum, they have to “lead and direct” all the processes in five domain areas of project management: initiation, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing.

“Just being a team member on a project is not sufficient,” says Langley. “You have to lead and direct against each of those domains.”

Other requirements for earning the credential include three years or 3,500 hours of project management experience (five years if an applicant doesn’t have a bachelor’s degree) and 35 hours of project management education. Project managers also need to fill out an application documenting their education and project management experience, which PMI says can take as much as eight hours. Finally, they need to pass a four-hour, 200 question exam.

Langley says between 60 percent and 75 percent of applicants pass the exam.

Certification cynics may downplay the importance of project management credentials, but the ones interviewed for this article characterize the process for earning the PMP as rigorous.

“It takes a lot of preparation and practical experience,” says Spivey.

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