The value of PMP® certification

Concerns of Project Managers

J. Davidson Frame, PMP, PMI Director of Certification

Preject management certification continues to grow exponentially. When I became certified in February of 1990, I was designated Project Management Professional No. 342. Since the certification program began six years earlier, this meant that the Project Management Institute had been certifying an average of roughly 56 people per year-not a very impressive figure. As of June 1994-four and a half years after I achieved certification-PMI had certified an additional 2,300 Project Management professionals! A review of the rate at which people are applying to take future offerings of the certification examination suggests that this trend will continue into the foreseeable future.

An obvious question these statistics raise is: Why has certification grown so strongly? I believe that there are several answers to this question. Some have to do with improved administration of the examination. Here people such as Barbara Pattinson (the Certification Manager), Debbie Bigelow (PMI's Executive Director), and PMI member-volunteers make it possible for us to administer the exam to 800 people at a single sitting at sites throughout the world! Others have to do with efforts to market project management certification through the production of a high-quality video (Bill Derrick and AT&T deserve mention for creating a first-rate promotional video), the creation of a fine brochure (Jenny Strbiak and Gerry Ostrander were key players here), and the consistent promotion of certification from PMI's headquarters (PMI's Marketing Director, Karen Condos, gets much of the credit for this).

What I would like to do in this article is to focus on three key factors that I believe have collectively contributed to most of the growth of certification: (1) the growing awareness of the importance of project management in helping organizations to survive in turbulent times; (2) the commitment of organizations to developing and measuring the project management competencies of their employees; and (3) the commitment of local PMI chapters to promoting certification. Together, these three factors indicate that much of the growth of certification is attributable to the fact that people perceive that its value is great.


Those of us who have been actively managing projects for many years have always believed that the project work we do contributes significantly to the achievements of our organizations. To a certain extent, however, we have felt that we were prophets without honor in our own land. No one else seemed to acknowledge the significance of our efforts.

All this changed in the last decade, however. Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, the importance of project management was validated by respected management thinkers such as Peter Drucker, Charles Handy, and Tom Peters. Peters, in fact, gave project management a very substantial boost with the publication of his 1992 book, Liberation Management. In this work, he suggests that organizations that master the principles of project management—Asea, Brown, Boveri and EDS are two examples he highlights-are the organizations that will thrive as we approach the second millennium.

What management thinkers and practitioners find appealing about project management is its ability to adapt to chaotic environments and its employment of cross-functional teams to deal with complex problems. In an era of downsizing, outsourcing, flattening, and inverted pyramids, rigid hierarchies are out and flexibility is in.

With the growing awareness of project management's importance, there has been a parallel increase in pressure to professionalize the discipline. When we review the early history of well-established professions such as medicine, law, and engineering, we see that the first steps toward professionalization often entail the creation of a body of knowledge and the development of examinations to ascertain whether individuals have mastered it. This is where the project management discipline is today.


The intense competition that most organizations face today requires that they “do more with less.” This is largely the message embedded in the reengineering efforts that many organizations have experienced since the middle 1980s. Bureaucracies are being cut to the bone. Employees are being assessed according to the perceived value they contribute to the organization's undertakings.

In this environment, it becomes important that organizations establish ways to determine who has the knowledge and skills that will enable them to survive and thrive. Here is where certification becomes important to them. Through well-constructed certification efforts, it becomes possible to determine the extent to which individuals have mastered the core competencies needed to function successfully in a brutally competitive world.

In the earliest days of project management certification, there was limited corporate commitment to the certification effort. Notable exceptions to this were companies such as CRS Sirrine, Fluor Daniel, and Niagara Mohawk, each of which encouraged small groups of its employees to pursue certification.

The big breakthrough came in 1989, when AT&T's Federal Systems Division committed large amounts of financial and training resources to shepherding its employees through the project management certification process. Soon after, other business units from AT&T's commercial operations made similar commitments to certification. As a consequence of this commitment, thousands of AT&T employees began upgrading their PM knowledge and skills. To date, hundreds of AT&T's employees have become certified PMPs. (Details of AT&T's focus on project management certification can be found in the October 1990 PMNETwork.)

The last four years have seen other companies begin committing resources to the certification of their employees. Some of the better known examples of this are IBM, EDS, Citibank and Asea, Brown, Boveri. Organizational interest in project management certifications not restricted to the private sector. For example, the Canadian Department of National Defense sponsored more than 100 of its employees to sit for the examination. Over 50 instructors and students from the renowned Defense Systems Management College (U.S.) have sat for the exam.

Clearly, when organizations support groups of 25,50, 100, or 1,000 people to become certified PMPs, the ranks of those taking the examination begin to swell. This is what we are encountering today. In all likelihood, the trend will continue. What we are now encountering is the classical growing snowball. As more men and women become certified, certification's visibility increases. With increased visibility, managers and training directors become aware of one approach to strengthening the competencies of their employees. Marketing and sales managers view certification from a slightly different perspective: they see it as a tool to gain competitive advantages in the marketplace. They want their project professionals to look into it because they see their competitors' employees achieving certification.


A third major cause of the growth of certification is tied to the grass-roots efforts of local PMI chapters to promote it. Pioneer chapters that launched intense marketing efforts to boost project management certification included the Southwest Ohio, Northern California, Mile-Hi, Savannah River, and Houston chapters. Each of these chapters developed training programs to assist chapter members to prepare for the examination.

The successes of some of these programs were immediate: a number were able to get 30-70 people to participate in several weekends of preparatory training and to sit for the exam. Soon, many other PMI chapters began to emulate the pioneers. In 1992, PMI's Council of Chapter Presidents (CCP) funded a project to create a workbook that would provide local chapters with material that they could use in their training efforts. This enabled smaller chapters to begin to promote project management certification at the local level.

There were a number of beneficial spinoffs associated with the local chapter activities in this arena. One obvious spin-off was that the chapter-supplied training generated substantial revenues for the local chapter. Another was that chapter-supplied training enabled individuals to prepare for the examination on their own. This is important to men and women who work in organizations that do not actively support project management certification.


The dramatic growth of project management certification is not an accident. It clearly reflects a growing awareness of the value to individuals and organizations of assessing the project management competencies of project workers. Individuals find that in preparing for the examination they develop some mastery of the core knowledge needed to execute projects effectively. They also find that certification makes them more competitive in a tightening labor market. The value of certification to organizations is that it enables them to direct the training efforts of their employees along productive lines, as well as to measure the project management competencies of their workforce, In addition, organizations increasingly perceive that project management certification offers them competitive advantages in the marketplace.

As Director of Certification, I find that PMI's certification effort faces a number of daunting challenges created by its success. One is that those of us involved in administering the certification program must scramble to deal with the sheer growth in the volume of business. This volume has increased by more than 1,000 percent in four and a half years. When only 50 to 60 people achieved certification per year, it was possible to manage the program with part-time job assignments and volunteer contributions. Today, however, we have reached the point where more than 2,000 people take the examination in a year. Ad hoc management does not work with this level of activity.

A second major challenge is to ensure that the growing importance of the examination is reflected in its quality. Back when I took the examination in December 1989, questions were printed with a 9-pin dot matrix printer whose ink ribbon desperately needed replacing. Answer sheets were barely legible photocopied scoring sheets. Exam questions were filled with spelling errors, split infinitives, and dangling participles. Over the years, the more egregious shortcomings were corrected little by little. With the completion of PMI's new Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, we have an opportunity to overhaul the examination dramatically, to make it a first-rate assessment instrument. In fact, the overhauling effort is currently under way and a dramatically cleaned up version of the exam made its first appearance in October 1994.

Many people have contributed to the development and success of the Project Management Professional Certification Program and the preceding Ethics, Standards, and Accreditation and PMBOK development efforts. We salute all of those as well as the 2,630 individuals who have completed all their requirements and been awarded their PMP Certification, as listed on the following pages.

Dr. J. Davidson Frame is PMI's Director of Certification. He is also professor of management science at George Washington University and director of its International Center for project Management Excellence. Dr. Frame is the author of two project management books: Managing Projects in Organizations (1989) and The New Project Management (1994).

PMNETwork • November 1994



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