Greetings Project Managers!

I often get asked, “should a project manager (PM) become certified as a Project Management Professional (PMP) by the Project Management Institute (PMI)?” There are several ways of approaching this, but let me give you some background before getting into specifics.

PMI is just one organization that promotes project management certification and it is the most widely recognized PM certification in the US. In addition, there are graduate degrees and certification programs available at a growing number of universities as well as another certification called PRINCE2. I don’t have the exact figures, but PRINCE2 has very similar numbers worldwide when compared to PMI.

As far as which certification is better, I don’t believe one is necessarily better than the others. After all, project management has been around for thousands of years and most of it is based on common sense. As an example, the pyramids of Egypt weren’t created by accident. They were projects. Now, they may have been built with slave labor, but you can’t deny that a lot of thought and organization went into building them.

What organizations like PMI and PRINCE2 (technically PRINCE2 is not an organization, but a method developed by the UK) bring to the table is a common framework to ensure everyone is on the same page. Project management certification ensures that a project manager has a very basic understanding of how to manage things like Scope, Quality, Planning, Scheduling and Control. When an organization implements project management and trains its project managers, it is creating a common language around project management and sets expectations about what it wants from its PMs.

So, when does it make sense to pursue certification, and what certification is best?

If you are a consultant (or work for an organization that provides consulting services), you should become certified. I would recommend either PMI or PRINCE2, depending on where you are planning on working. If you are working in the US, you should pursue PMI certification. If you work in Europe or the Middle East, you should do some research in your local area as to which certification is most sought after. The same can be said for China, Korea and Japan. Although my best guess is that PMI would probably be the better certification for Asia.

If you do not want to get certified because you’ve “been doing it for awhile,” and you know lots of certified project managers who can’t manage projects, you are about 7 years behind the power curve. Even though your argument is valid, as a consultant, you need to be certified because it has gone mainstream. If you are in your 50s or 60s, you don’t want to start losing ground to people in their late 20s or early 30s who are certified. Take my advice…. go get certified.

If you are not a consultant, you have to ask  yourself if the time and effort to get the certification will actually enhance your chances of getting a promotion or a raise. In many organizations, a project management certificate from a reputable organization or a university will work just as well. Each program is a bit different. You need to weigh the cost of the program against the benefits.

In some organizations, it doesn’t matter at all if you have a certificate or not. I know of relatively few organizations, including government (federal and state), that actually have a career path for a project manager. In cases like this, you are not making the best use of your time and money.

For the unemployed, a PMP certification MAY give you a slight advantage when looking for your next job. BUT – the certification alone will probably not get you anywhere by itself. Most (but not all) companies want experience in the field first, and then look to see which qualified candidates are certified. It certainly wouldn’t hurt, but you need to realize that there really isn’t a “field” called project management. There are project managers in IT, Construction, Telecommunications, Wedding Planning, Government, Event Planning, Industry (Chemical, Power, Automotive etc…) – BUT, just because you are a certified project manager, that doesn’t necessarily mean you are qualified to work in ANY industry.

There is an adage that I think describes project management and PMs:

Project management easily crosses industries, but project managers not so much…

All the best!
All the time!

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