The case for certification
by Ross Foti
“The time to pursue certification is when you recognize that you're no longer an engineer, network designer or IT expert—when you understand project management is a profession, not just a role,” says MaryGrace Allenchey, PMP, assistant vice president, PMSI-Project Mentors, Atlanta, Ga., USA, and chair of PMI's Certification Board.
The worldwide accepted standard is the Project Management Professional (PMP®) designation offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI®), Newtown Square, Pa., USA. However, other global project management associations, including England's Association for Project Management and the Australian Institute of Project Management, offer their own certifications (see “A Project Management Certification Primer,” p. 48).
Following the 1978 Seminars & Symposium in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, PMI set out to formally establish a worldwide standard for a rapidly growing profession.
The first PMP exam was given in 1984 for only about a dozen people, but the program gained momentum in the late 1980s. In the last three years, PMI has realized tremendous growth in the number of those seeking PMP certification. In 1997, the Institute qualified 4,500, and, by the end of 2000, that number jumped to 18,000 worldwide.
This surge can be explained by the evolving workplace. More business-to-business customers are expecting firms to have certified project managers in their organizations.
“The whole grounding of any certification program is to verify that an individual has demonstrated an acceptable level of knowledge and understanding about generally accepted practices, principles and procedures,” says Paul Grace, PMI Certification Program manager, located at PMI Headquarters, Newtown Square, Pa., USA.
“It's a form of consumer protection—there's an expectation that because you are certified, you should be aware and understand generally accepted principles that can be used in providing project management services.”
The majority of current PMP seekers are in information technology, information systems and construction, says Grace, adding that there is a particular driving need for expertise in these project areas. “I think these industries are realizing the importance of project management principles and processes—the discipline that should be applied,” he says.
“If you look at the project failures in these areas, you'll notice that PM experience is lacking.” IT projects fail about 86 percent of the time, according to The Standish Group, a research firm in West Yarmouth, Mass., USA, and 31.1 percent of projects will be canceled before completion. Further, Standish reports that 52.7 percent of projects will cost 189 percent of their original estimates.
Sage Study Tips
“The typical person who fails the PMP® exam is someone who has project management experience in one company and takes the exam cold,” says John Adams,Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, N.C., USA. “That person soon finds out that his company has its own project methods.”
To successfully achieve the PMP designation, test takers must have a broad global sense of project management and be conversant with common terminology. “You must be able to look at project management from both sides, the company's point of view and the client's,” Adams says. To prepare for the examination, he offers these tips:
■ Talk to PMI members and PMPs to gain insight into universal project management thinking. While best practices change slowly, application of those practices through software and communication technologies are constantly evolving.
■ Attend local PMI chapter meetings. PMI has more than 170 chartered, nine student and 60 potential chapters dispersed over 45 countries. Chapters offer face-to-face contact with peers working in project management.“One way or another, you must study the field. There are thousands of courses oriented around project management, but a chapter will offer the best workshops.”
■ Look to PMI's Publishing Division for project management textbooks, including the PMBOK® Guide. “The best way to prepare is to get hold of the PMBOK® Guide, go through it in detail three times and then go through the glossary. If you can carry on a knowledgeable discussion of each term for two minutes and you understand the relation of those terms to other concepts, then you're probably ready to take the exam.”
For more information on PMP Certification, visit the PMI Web site at www.pmi.org or call Headquarters at +610-356-4600.
“Some people fall into the role of project manager by default and without experience,” says Grace. “They may have the technical expertise but not the ability to organize teams, schedule activities, identify and manage risk, and develop a project communication plan.”
Certified project managers enable organizations to operate in complex situations with more varied projects. As more organizations diversify globally, they are assured that their PMPs will employ standard project methods and procedures.
A PM Certification Primer
Many institutions offer project management courses and specialized “certificates” that demonstrate that students have completed a project management curriculum, but this is not the same as an independent professional certification program with international standards. Four different worldwide organizations have come up with their own comprehensive interpretations for what certification encompasses.
The Project Management Institute (PMI®),Newtown Square, Pa., USA, views PMP® Certification as recognition that an individual has the minimum knowledge necessary to function as a project management practitioner.
In order to be certified,a candidate must satisfy education and project management experience requirements,agree to abide by the PMP code of professional conduct, and pass the certification examination. Those who earn the designation must continue to demonstrate their commitment to the profession by undergoing a renewal process every three years.
The Association for Project Management (APM), Buckinghamshire, U.K., offers the Certificated Project Manager (CPM) designation, which is meant to recognize an individual already experienced in project management. CPM, accepted in the U.K. and Europe, is part of a two-stage project management qualification.
The Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM), Sydney, Australia, offers the RegPM program, currently available and recognized only in Australia. The certification was launched in April 1997 as a competency-based workplace assessment program based on the Australian National Competency Standards for Project Management (NCSPM).
As a nonprofit, Swiss-registered organization, the International Project Management Association (IPMA) has developed a four-level program that builds on other associations’ certifications. The program is meant to encourage project managers to continue to develop professional competency with a worldwide focus. This certification is recognized in Europe, and the IPMA is striving to gain global acceptance.
The net result is a worldwide business culture focused around how projects are organized, managed, approved and conducted. “Companies are driven by time, quality and finances, and when PMPs are working on a project, they can focus on the project, rather than having to learn project management,” Grace says.
The need to successfully complete projects in a highly competitive marketplace has led a number of global businesses—AT&T, IBM, National Cash Register and Hewlett Packard, among others—to establish career paths that require PMP certification. This can be both a blessing and a curse, according to Allenchey. “A certified staff essentially gives businesses a market edge, allowing them to promote themselves over their competitors, and assures that they will produce quality deliverables,” she says. “Many organizations require certification because it will guarantee experience, but it does not mean that a candidate will internalize project management. A PMP does reach a higher level of competency, but an individual should also want to pursue project management as a career.”
The Future of PMI Certification
This year, PMI® completed a first-of-its-kind role delineation study—a detailed job description of what a project manager does and how. As part of this research, a series of competencies were identified. The results of the role delineation study serve as the basis for the PMP® certification test outline. “Based on our input, there is no need for a ‘super PMP,’ but there is a real need to identify that a person has an understanding of specifics in the industry,” Paul Grace says.
To demonstrate if PMPs have an understanding of project management for their industries, PMI has developed a new certificate program called Certificate of Added Qualification (CAQ). CAQs will be developed in a number of industries, including Information Technology, Capital Projects and Automotive Product Development. “[CAQs are] also useful for those who want to transition to that industry,” Grace says.
In addition, as more companies expect employees to develop along a career path, a Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) program is being established. This designation is for practitioners who provide assistance to and work with PMPs on projects—it will essentially verify that the practitioner has demonstrated an acceptable level of project management knowledge, Grace says. “[The CAPM] can also function as a graduated career path credential for those who eventually want to become certified PMPs.”
Both the CAQ and CAPM programs are expected to be ready by January 2002.
PM Network September 2001