project management certification

PMP Certification or Education

I’ve seen several social media system users post in project management community forums that they want to get into (or are in) the project management field and are looking for the best path forward.  Project Management Professional (PMP) seems to be at the core of the discussion without fail.  Project management certification seems to be a one size fits all.  The good thing is that continuing education is always investment into your own career and employers take that to heart.  What if the PMP certification were free and anyone could take the test at any time in their career?  I doubt that its luster would continue but consider companies like Google who place their training, tests, and certifications within reach and free.

PMP warning

The project management field is rapidly changing with system and tool development at an all-time high.  Capterra recently pulled some statistics together and one, in particular, stood out.  “Even at corporate giants such as IBM, only 56% of project management specialists hold a certificate”.

project certification myth busted

Source: Wrike via Capterra

This isn’t surprising for professionals who have been in program and project management teams for a long time.  A PMP certification is only as good as the company who hires you wants it to be.  It’s nice to have the PMP credentials but what counts when it comes to choosing project management as your chosen career?

About half of organized Project Management Offices (PMO) have some form of formal training for project managers.  While PMP certification is helpful, many resources get customized training where it matters.  At the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the same phased methodology approach is regurgitated into the Project Management Business Process (PMBP) where each resource utilizes the PMBP dashboard and process library.  Which training do you think the aspiring project manager that supports USACE should take?  PMP or PMBP?  I would bet on the free one.

Don’t get swept up into the winds of certification.  It’s expensive, you have to have a certain amount of hours of managing projects, and studying for a multiple choice test does not mean you will manage projects better.  It means you’ll have a toolbox that has more tools.  This is especially true if you manage technology projects because that constant shift in information systems means that the tools you use are always changing and being able to transform rapidly is a precious skill.

In 1984 the Project Management Institute (PMI) first created the PMP credentials after the PMI organization formed in the sixties.  What sprang from aerospace, construction, and defense industry call for standardization thus organized the drive to certification for project managers.  Let’s do the math.  The PMBOK guide (what you need to study for the exam) is only in its sixth editionThirty-four years and only six versions to a world-wide standard in project management.  One of the keywords in contemporary business is rapid delivery, speed to delivery, flexibility, constant change.  How do those keywords align with a call for standardization?

One of the corporations I worked for had their flavor of project management training that had about twenty-five online courses that took about three hours each.  The project manager certificate was awarded by the company after you tested out of the class.  So you can work for a company that will provide you training, take a PMP boot camp or training course, or you can focus on other skills that will come in handy when managing projects.

The skills you need to be a project manager

Communication and leadership skills are ones that will set you apart from all other project managers.  Knowing how to lead a project is much different than managing one.  These two skills are essential for driving your excellence and kicking the career into overdrive.  There are two skills discussed in Andy Crowe’s book about a study done on 800+ project managers that is a convincing argument for them.  Those qualifications, not certifications, drive you to excellence when you decide to start managing programs, global projects, and enterprise efforts.

Project managers spend a lot of time communicating, and they understand that each communication has a target, method, and delivery. Are those three things the same in every organization?  No, and so you should consider that a one-size fits all certification isn’t going to prepare you for those differences.  Not only that but think how new project management systems are becoming social media like in their collaborative approach, and that will continue to change rapidly.  Keeping up with technology sometimes has more skill power than theory!

Education versus certification

The PMBOK guide only has six editions since 1984 and the annual fee to join PMI is USD$129.00.  By the time you or your company invest in the cash to pay for the PMP and keep downloading those PDFs you leave gathering dust on your hard drive, you could have had some serious soft skill training.  When was the last time you searched for project related problems and then ended up paying anything for it?  Check out this infographic to help you think about investing in a PMP.

You aren’t going to be a project manager forever!  In fact, you may find something later that makes you want to lean towards other paths (especially in the technology field).  Should you get a degree in project management?  Probably not unless you know today that it’s precisely what you want to do.  If you aren’t sure and are wrestling with a decision then maybe finishing your degree in Information Systems would be an excellent middle ground because you will be managing projects related to that subject.  If you’ve completed your bachelors and are wrestling with the decision for further education or certification then examine the why.  Ask yourself why at least five times and keep answering.  If, at any point, you say, “Because I’ll get more money.”, Start over.  You are wrestling with the decision because of non-obvious answers, and as long as you are committed to self-improvement, the money will follow.

Jobs with PMP requirements

So you think that without the PMP you won’t get a job.  I’ll tell you from experience you aren’t going even to get an interview with 99% of the companies that 100% require it.  You will find your next job just like most of us do and that is networking.  If by chance, you do land an interview based solely on the hundreds of times you clicked apply on LinkedIn, then that is your opportunity to get more information about the organization and understand if it will be a good fit for you.  Before you go talking about PMP certification with a future employer, do your homework to see how ready you are to take a PMP exam.  If you don’t have any project management experience, then ask about it!  This is something you ask about in the interview about gaining it as you build knowledge, then having the employer pay for prep, PMI membership, and an exam.

If you do have experience or are a seasoned project manager, then that interview is your moment to negotiate a time frame you believe you could complete the study and take the exam.  A prospective employer will appreciate that you may want to choose a time frame you think is doable.  Or maybe, like me, you believe experience and formal education are weightier, and you can demonstrate examples of how you manage projects that don’t necessarily fit into the PMBOK way.

Myth of the 20% pay increase

Some studies say you can expect a pay increase if you attain the PMP.  If you work for a company who hands out 20% pay increases for passing a test, please send me an email right away.  Otherwise, consider the above scenario where you are interviewing with a company who prefers a PMP, but you don’t have one.  You tell them that you will be ready for the PMP exam in some months, but you expect X% pay raise.  I seriously doubt you would be taken very seriously.  That is why this is a myth.  Use Google, Glassdoor, or if in the US, use the Bureau of Labor and Statistics to nail down what the average pay grade for your education and experience and then negotiate that 20%! Like most in the workforce, your only chance to negotiate salary is when you are in the hiring process.  After that, you own it, and 20% pay raises come with promotions; not exam passing scores.


Make your next move on additional learning based on what you like and are passionate about.  Don’t stress over project management certfication.  Do you love everything there is about project management and want to become one of the top stars in your organization, then by all means, have the employer get you certified.  If you are wrestling with the decision, then you should put your money into soft skills like communication and leadership.  If your concern is how something looks on a resume or gets you something you don’t currently have I believe you should visit the five whys and decide on your next move.  This doesn’t diminish the power of having a PMP that some experienced professionals have already achieved.  Having the PMP credentials for many industries can be a benefit, but newer managers need to examine the fluctuation of job roles and how technology has shifted the landscape.

Infographic showing PMP certification against other methods


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