The dualism of the PMP credential and challenges with any knowledge-based certification

According to the April 2009 statistics released by PMI, there are over 336,000 active PMP-certified professionals.  A few  years back, this number exceeded the total number of active PMI members.  While there is arguably a global demand for an even greater number of qualified project management professionals, there is no doubt that some percentage of active PMPs are not sufficiently qualified to be able to successfully manage even a small low-complexity project.

A possible source of this is the dualism of PMI’s purpose.

On one hand, PMI strives for excellence.  This is evident in many aspects of their certification program: having a Certification Governance Council, using an audit process and having highly skilled PM practitioners regularly review, refine and add to the pool of exam questions.

On the other hand, PMI plays a strong advocacy role in increasing the visibility and credibility of the profession, and like any up-and-coming religion, it needs an army of missionaries “talking the talk” – hence, the need for knowledge-based certifications with all the inherent weaknesses of this qualification method.

I am not attempting to critique PMI – given the duality of their purpose, it is logical, and based on the current process to achieve the PgMP credential, they are aware of the value of experience or performance-based certifications.  However, having received my PMP credential almost a decade back  with extremely limited study materials, I cringe when I see how much easier it is to achieve this credential now.  The size of the PMBOK Guide may have doubled (or tripled) since then, but the quantity of training aids have increased exponentially.

I have noticed that the “jump the shark” moment for most competencies or credentials is when recruiters begin to mindlessly use it to filter applicants for roles – I doubt you’d argue my assertion that we’ve already reached that stage.

Categories: Process Peeves, Project Portfolio Management | Tags: , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “The dualism of the PMP credential and challenges with any knowledge-based certification

  1. Web Jedi

    “there is no doubt that some percentage of active PMPs are not sufficiently qualified to be able to successfully manage even a small low-complexity project.”

    Actually, until proven, there is doubt. Such is the nature of logic and reason.

    You put forth no actual number. Your argument implies this is a significant number. I would really like to know what data you have to base this assertion on, and how you gathered it.

    “I cringe when I see how much easier it is to achieve this credential now. The size of the PMBOK Guide may have doubled (or tripled) since then, but the quantity of training aids have increased exponentially.”

    An increase of training aides may increase the speed of training, but does not the lower the difficulty of the material. That’s absurd.

    Just because people are learning faster does not mean they are learning less. In fact, young people are learning more efficiently, and converting more of the rote information into working knowledge. This is due to early exposure to technology and we should expect to see this trend to continue. They are better, faster, smarter, and more knowledgeable than you or I were at the same point.

    The process for obtaining a PMP way back in the late Jurassic Period was nowhere near as detailed as it is now. How is it that the PMBOK triples in size and yet is the same level of complexity??? That makes no sense.

    IMHO you are just upset there is a lot of new competition.

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    • kbondale

      Thanks for your feedback – the premise of my article was that knowledge-based, exam-supported certifications are more prone to abuse than experience-verification or board-based certifications.

      Here is some anecdotal evidence that supports my cynicism with such certifications:

      1. I’ve worked with a number of clients who had PMP-certified project managers on their staff who might have understood “hard” PM theory, but lacked the “soft” skills needed to facilitate project success
      2. Most recruiters are using it as a simple method of filtering candidates – 10 years ago, most had never heard of it
      3. There is a “PMP Certification For Dummies” guide – surely a sign of “jumping the shark”?
      4. Scott Adams ran a string of Dilberts focused on PMP-certified project managers in mid-2008

      The PMP certification process has remained virtually unchanged since 2000 – you fill out an application (mine was on paper, today its online). PMI reviews the application and audits a percentage of submissions (there were significantly fewer applications ten years ago). You received a deadline to take the test and studied for it (back then, there were only a couple of REP’s offering courses, and only a handful of study aids through the PMI bookstore) and then took it.

      The point of my article is not that the PMP certification offers no value – if someone has the right experience and skills, it will complement this experience. However, given the significant number of PMP-certified professionals, it is very likely that there are many people that are paper-certified but not qualified to lead projects.

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