Designing a Certification Program: How to Certify (1)

PM Certification commentary by William Duncan, IPMA-USA Certification Director.

I’ve left this for last since it is the hardest issue to address. In fact, I have several books on my shelves that cover how to assess competence, so trying to answer that question in a few hundred words does seem more than a bit presumptuous. So please think of this entry as an introduction or an overview. If there is interest, I’ll get into more detail later.

First, remember that competence is intangible. You can’t see it, touch it, feel it, or smell it (although I have heard that incompetence has a distinctive aroma). Because competence is intangible, we must infer it from some type of evidence. Thus “how to certify” is fundamentally a question of what kinds of evidence will you require and how will you evaluate it.

In this regard, there are two broad schools of thought. One is input-oriented and the other is output-oriented. The input-oriented folks look at the characteristics of individuals who have been successful in a particular role, and then infer that someone else with those same characteristics will be successful as well. Here are some simple examples:

  • Most successful professional basketball players are tall, so we infer that height is an aspect of basketball competence.
  • People who do well on the Law School Aptitude Test (LSAT) tend to do well in law school, so we infer that someone who does well on the exam will be a competent law school student.
  • Exam-based certifications assert that competence is a function of knowledge, and they infer that someone who can pass a well-constructed test will be able to apply their knowledge in the real world.

As you can see, the input-oriented school tends to be predictive in nature. It asks, “are you likely to be successful?” rather than asking, “have you been successful?” Since there are so many potential factors involved in being competent as a project manager, we elected to adopt the output-oriented approach. We look for evidence of actual performance as a project manager.

Your Comments?