Aug 11

Is a Project Management Certification Worth It?

At the outset, I’d like to make it clear that I’m not taking a dig at the Project Management (PM) certification providers or certified PM professionals. I also congratulate those who have taken the time and effort to get a certification in PM. Being certified would mean that they have fulfilled the criteria of a certain number of minimum working hours in leading projects along with passing a form of test. Back in 2001, my then colleague had told me that the situation in Dubai was based on the principle “Experience will get you the job but certification would get you the money”. It’s been a decade since his saying and things have obviously changed. Aside from the personal feeling of achievement, what compels people to get a specific certification?  Is frequent mention on the job boards a valid reason for a certification?

I’ve been managing projects for several years and my employers till date didn’t really push or required me to get certified. However, their new vacancies would always mention the requirement or preference of PM certified professionals. I must confess that I did and still at times ponder over getting PM certified. Managing multiple personal and professional projects at a time didn’t help my cause to move the PM certification process up my priority list. Some colleagues complain that majority of the certifications only demonstrate test-taking skills. The others complain that it’s hard to get stakeholders to agree to best practices when so many people are self-taught.

Based on my experience and interactions with PMs, I haven’t been able to see a notable difference in a certified PM being any better than an experienced non-certified PM. Having certain acronym (like PMP) against your name is a nice thing to have, but it does not really give an indication of how good a PM the individual would be. There is neither a distinction with a person who has passed with 61% to another with a passing score of 90%. In short, Real experience & its smart application is the key!

I was reading a blog from Brad Egeland, a seasoned non-certified PM professional who has received several awards for his PM work, wherein he applauds PM certification providers and also blogged on how PMI could triple their income using the scenario below:

  • 91-100% correct answers = PMP Black Belt
  • 81-90% correct answers = PMP Brown Belt
  • 71-80% correct answers = PMP Green Belt
  • 61-70% correct answers = PMP Yellow Belt

Imagine if an individual took the examination and got 90%, what would be the likelihood of him/her repeating the examination to get one more up to attain the Black Belt? Needless to say, employers would again rephrase their vacancy postings by advertising PMP Black Belt professionals are preferred to apply. This said I’d love to be the first to assess PMI’s profit levels & industry reaction if the above were to be implemented!

Irrespective if you are PMP or Prince 2 certified (I am not even getting into the debate of PMP v/s Prince 2) or even not certified, I’d just say that at the end of the day the organization wants the project delivered on time, within cost and expected quality with its agreed scope. Yes, we need to incorporate the different elements of Project Management to ensure we manage our stakeholders, expectations, risks, etc… but at the same time we should not give the impression that PM is about dozens of documentation based deliverables. We should evaluate each and every artifact on its merit for every single project.

There are many PM methodologies out there however based on my experience – these are best when tailored to fit for your needs. As a recent example with one of my past employers within the Media industry, we deployed a PM-lite methodology for the organization. The refined approach fit well with the organization and is being well received from their traditional PMP approach. I’m not saying that one is preferred over the other, but in reality the organization wants quick results and we shouldn’t let non value added activities and/or deliverables eat up project delivery time. With all due respect, whenever I’ve tried to inculcate or influence the above notion, many of the narrow minded and boxed PM professionals (certified or not) would create an issue and try to force those non value added documentation. Remember it’s not about “us” and “them”; it’s about “we”.


I hope I haven’t offended anyone. Once again, I’m not against PM certifications and hopefully one fine day it would make it up my priority list. I would classify a PM certification as a “nice to have” and definitely not a “must have” and definitely not as a criterion for organizations to screen candidates.

[pullquote]“Skills are more important than a piece of paper”.[/pullquote] Hopefully, organizations start deploying smarter screening mechanisms to shortlist potential candidates as opposed to blindly discarding individuals based on paper.


1 ping

  1. Anas

    Real experience is most important, but a certification is the cherry on the top. If I had to choose between two equally qualified candidates, I would definitely lean toward the one with the certification – not necessarily because I think he will do a better job, but because he’s taken the efforts to get certified. All things being equal, that could be the decider.

    By the way, kudos to the new clean look of your blog, love it!

  2. Ed Jobs, PMP

    Getting certified is just a proof of efforts which will open the door to interviews for project management positions. At the end of the day, it is the work attitude and aptitude that counts. Delivering results is the most important job for the project manager, not getting the certification. But the knowledge gaining by pursuing PMP or PRINCE2 certification would help one to do a better job.

  3. Bharadhwaj S.K

    Quite True! At the end of the day, it’s the skills and acumen in handling a project team is what that matters. Certifications would be an added advantage-but they would never undermine the important asset of having a working experience in team handling. At a certain level-PM becomes more of a skill, a subtly assertive skill.

  1. My journey to achieving PMP | Noaman Sayed

    […] 11th, 2011: As a result of my post titled “Is a Project Management Certification Worth it?”, I was involved in several constructive talks and was even hinted by few individuals that I […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>