Project Management Certifications – Which one should you get?


As many have noticed, the landscape of project/program management is now inundated with a whole slew of different certifications that are available. Some of these certification types are exclusive to project management itself, while others span other areas as well, such as business analysis or functional management.

With so many options available, the invariable question to be asked by anyone within the project/program management scope is the following:

Which certification (or certifications) are right for me?

To answer this, its best to itemize the different certification types and their offerings, so that someone looking to expand their scholastic skill set can better gauge which options suit their career path in the best way.

Primary Project Management Certification Types

1. PMI-Based Certifications

The PMI (Project Management Institute, www.pmi.org) is the staple organization for individuals within the field of project and program management. It has been in existence since 1969, servicing all disciplines and organization types with its baseline Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), which is the common framework from which project manager’s derive their knowledge.

The PMI Institute actually maintains several certification types, with the most common and well-known one being the ‘PMP‘. For thoroughness, all different offerings provided by the PMI will be itemized:

Project Management Professional (PMP) – This is the most common and well-known certification type offered by the PMI institute and is also (arguably) the most sought after certification within the realm of project management. Attaining this certification is basically an indicator that the credential holder has the competency and experience to lead and manage projects.

One thing to note regarding the PMP: for those completely new to project management, you will likely need to attain a more junior certification before progressing onto the PMP. Based on the current criteria listed on the PMI website, the current baseline minimum requirements are:

  • A four-year degree (bachelor’s or the global equivalent) and at least three years of project management experience, with 4,500 hours leading and directing projects and 35 hours of project management education

-OR-

  • A secondary diploma (high school or the global equivalent) with at least five years of project management experience, with 7,500 hours leading and directing projects and 35 hours of project management education

For those already in the field of project management, this certification is the most highly recommended. Note that it requires completion and successful passing of a certification exam (which is non-trivial) before the accreditation is given. Studies have also shown that project/program managers who have the PMP certification under their belt get paid, on average, roughly 10% more than their peers who did not attain the credential.

Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) – This is essentially the entry-level certification for individuals within realm of project management. Basically, the certification indicates that the individual has the fundamental understanding of the knowledge, terminology and processes of effective project management, but does not currently have the experience. The certification is a good segway for anyone looking to either start in project management or is looking for a career change.

This certification, being more entry, is also easier to attain, with the baseline requirements currently being listed as:

  • A secondary diploma (high school or the global equivalent)

-AND-

  • At least 1,500 hours experience OR 23 hours of project management education.

(Note that the PMI website will list off what relevant education is considered acceptable by their standards) The CAPM also requires the completion of an exam to demonstrate competency.

PMI Scheduling Professional (PMI-SP) – This is a mid-level credential specifically targeting the scheduling aspect of projects and programs. It essentially recognizes the individual’s unique expertise and competence to develop and maintain project schedules, while still possessing basic skills in all areas of project management. For individuals who have a position that is more schedule focussed, this certificate may be a good asset.

The current requirements for this credential are:

  • A four-year degree (bachelor’s or the global equivalent), with at least 3,500 hours of project scheduling experience and 30 hours of project scheduling education.

– OR –

  • A secondary diploma (high school or the global equivalent) with at least 5,000 hours of project scheduling experience and 40 hours of project scheduling education.

Like all other offerings from PMI, a certification exam must be passed to attain the certificate.

PMI Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP) – This is also a mid-level certification that specifically targets the risk management aspect of projects and programs. The credential recognizes the individual’s unique expertise and competency in assessing and identifying project risks. In many cases, this is a credential that may be utilized by business analysts and those that are part of the scope planning and risk assessment process of a new or existing project.

Being a mid-level credential, this certification has the following requirements:

  • A four-year degree (bachelor’s or the global equivalent), with at least 3,000 hours of project risk management experience and 30 hours of project risk management education.

– OR –

  • A secondary diploma (high school or the global equivalent) with at least 4,500 hours of project risk management experience and 40 hours of project risk management education.

And as before, an assessment exam must be passed to attain this credential.

Program Management Professional (PgMP) – This is the highest form of certification offered by the PMI institute in the realm of project/program management and is also the most difficult to attain. It recognizes the most advanced experience and skill of program managers and is globally recognized as the staple certification for senior individuals in demonstrating their competency to oversee multiple, related projects. Those attaining this credential will often have attained one or more of the aforementioned PMI credentials (most likely the PMP) before moving on to this certificate.

Being the most highly regarded credential offered by PMI, it is also the most difficult to attain, with the current requirements being listed as:

  • A four year degree (bachelor’s or the global equivalent), with at least four years of project management experience and four years of program management experience.

– OR –

  • A secondary diploma (high school or the global equivalent), with at least four years of project management experience and seven years of program management experience.

As before, a competency exam must be passed to complete the certification. It should also be noted that the audit and review process for this credential is also much more involved and many applications are rejected due to lack of combined experience or the programs they manage are not deemed complex enough. To date, less than 500 individuals worldwide have achieved this certificate. So if one does attain it, the credential will most definitely set them apart from their peers in the project and program management world.

On a final note, in reference to all the aforementioned certifications from PMI, the credentials themselves must be maintained in the form of PDUs (Professional Development Units) which can be attained through classroom programs from various accredited institutions. Consult the PMI website for more information on how to maintain your certifications and which PDU programs are valid.

2. Scholastic-based Certification Programs

Virtually every university and college nowadays has some form of specialized ‘Project/Program Certification’ credential that individuals from all walks of life can take. Generally speaking, these are usually professional courses designed to be done quickly (usually through a week’s worth of training or something along those lines), as opposed to the standard semester based classes.

The number, type and quality of these programs varies from school to school. In general terms, much like degree programs, the more highly regarded the college or university is, the more likely the program they are offering will be beneficial and rewarding to the individual taking the courses. Note that many of these programs can carry and inherently high cost, so choose wisely before committing to any scholastic program.

The good news in regards to many of these course-based offerings from colleges and universities is that the curriculum will count as PDUs towards attaining or maintaining one of your PMI credentials. So it pays to make sure that you are choosing a study program that comes with that added benefit. Most universities and colleges offering these options will specifically stipulate how many PDUs are attained through completion of their credential.

3. Additional Certification Types

In addition to the PMI and scholastic based certifications available, there are also some more specialized certification types that a project manager may wish to explore, depending on their specific career requirements and goals. Some of those additional certification types are itemized below:

Certified SCRUM Master (CSM) – This is a very common certification for project managers who specifically reside in industries that utilize the Agile (or Lean Agile) methodology for their internal processes. (For further reading on SCRUM and Agile, consult the Scrum Alliance website at: http://www.scrumalliance.org/)

Agile has become a hot topic, especially within the world of software development. Without going into tremendous detail here, the Agile process itself is meant to focus on reducing the ‘waste’ of the more common waterfall process model and instead focus on a very rapid, iterative approach to product rollout.

The usage of Agile varies from organization to organization and many specific flavors of Agile exist. Depending on your own personal preferences or your company’s specific process goals, attaining this certification will be an asset in allowing the project manager to become familiar with the nuances of the Agile development model, so that they may apply that knowledge to their day-to-day activities.

The credential itself is relatively easy to attain and usually just involves a two-day seminar based learning annex. A follow-up ‘test’, which is more a formality than anything, completes the process.

Six Sigma Certification (Black Belt, Green Belt, etc.) – While Six Sigma itself is not a project management certificate per se, it is something that many project/program managers (along with business analysts and functional managers) will strive to attain. Basically, the six sigma process is a business management strategy (originally pioneered by Motorola) that is specifically designed to improve product quality.

For those that still remember bell curves, a ‘sigma’ is a standard deviation away from the center of the primary curve line. Two sigmas would be two standard deviations. And so on. The rational is that by the ‘six sigma’ or six standard deviations from the center, you are at the 99.99966% percentile. What this translates into is that your product will be statistically free of defects. (Less than 3.4 defects per million units)

The concept is designed for environments where the cost of producing certain products is inherently high. As such, quality standards must be equally high or there will be an unacceptible number of faulty units produced, thereby cutting into profits.

Six Sigma certifications come in a variety of forms, generally referred to as ‘belts’, following the color scheme familiar with those in the martial arts world. The ‘black belt’ and ‘master black belt’ certifications being the highest form offered.

The certification process for six sigma is pretty involved, requiring classroom time and exams. So the project manager wishing to attain one of these certifications should be mindful of the intrinsic sunk cost in time and effort. If one is planning for a position where this credential is required or is thinking of utilizing it for their own personal projects, it may be worth pursuing.

Information Technology Infrastructure Library Certification (ITIL) – The ITIL is a specialized set of concepts and practices for those in the Information Technology or Information Technology Services Management realms.

ITIL gives detailed descriptions of a number of important IT practices and provides comprehensive checklists, tasks and procedures that any IT organisation can tailor to its needs. Because of its specialized nature and more narrow focus, it is less common within the project management space. However, if one is in the IT realm, this certification could be a valuable asset in a continuing career within that space.

There are several ‘levels’ of certification available in ITIL within its subset types. The ‘v2’ certification is broken down into three levels, Foundation, Practitioner and Manager. Note that these are now being deprecated in favor of the ‘v3’ type with the following: Foundation, Intermediate, Expert and Master.

The certification scheme is modular within ITIL, with different levels being a stepping stone to a higher certification. Each level is assigned a number of credits (along with corresponding exams) that are then used to step into the next level.

As mentioned earlier, the choice of pursuing ITIL depends on whether or not the individual resides in that sector. So if one is within the IT space or is looking for a career transition, ITIL may be a thing to consider.

SAFe Program Consultant (SPC) – The Scaled Agile Framework or ‘SAFe’ as it is commonly known is an Lean-Agile based framework specifically designed to scale in large-scale enterprises and corporations. SAFe marries the concept of shorter development cycles with the ability to create a modular solution capable of functioning effectively in a large enterprise. One of the main benefits of SAFe is that it fosters collaboration between teams more effectively than a standalone SCRUM process by creating specific teams and groups of stakeholders that monitor and interact with various facets of the overall business structure, being able to span the portfolio, program and team layers in a structured fashion. The actual framework for SAFe can be accessed at the following URL:

http://www.scaledagileframework.com/

The primary certification associated with SAFe is the ‘SAFe Program Consultant’, or ‘SPC’ as it is commonly known. Individuals attaining the SPC certification have demonstrated knowledge of the framework itself in a working environment and have also been trained to provide coaching on the framework to others. These individuals can function as change agents in a corporation that is adopting the SAFe methodology in their enterprise.

**Conclusions**

As one can see, there are a myriad of different certification types available to the project manager to allow them to improve themselves both professional and scholastically. The choice of certification will depend on several factors, the most important of which are their current skill level, years of experience, career path aspirations and working sector. There are other certifications not mentioned in this article that could also be reviewed. The decision to pursue a credential is a personal choice and is something that needs to be considered in advance to derive the best cost-benefit analysis to the project manager. The right certifications can open doors, but choose wisely. Going down the wrong path can be a time waster if a certification is chosen that is not easily applicable to your current role or your career aspirations moving forward.