Designing a Certification Program: How to Certify (2)

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

Recapping from “How to Certify (1)” … certification is about assessing competence. Competence is intangible so it must be inferred from some kind of evidence. That evidence can be input-oriented or output-oriented. At IPMA-USA, we have decided to focus on outputs or results.

Why? Simple logic. If someone has already done the job successfully once, there is a much better chance that they can do it successfully again.

After looking at a number of alternatives, we decided to use a performance based competency standard (PBCS) as our measuring stick. Lots of reasons:

  • PBCS have been around for well over 20 years.
  • They are the preferred approach to competency assessment among most Human Resource Departments.
  • They are used in government-sanctioned competency assessment programs in countries such as Australia and South Africa.

We became a founding member of the Global Alliance for Project Performance Standards (GAPPS) and worked with GAPPS to develop a PBCS that would be compatible with IPMA’s Four-Level-Certification. Some of our assessors were initially skeptical, but they were won over the first time they did an assessment.

Explicit, pre-defined criteria provide a higher degree of validity than any other approach currently in use. A comprehensive set of questions enhances inter-rater reliability.

Not only that, but the candidates themselves were equally delighted. One of my favorite comments came from a Level B (Senior Project Manager) candidate: “Wow! I actually learned something in the process of being assessed!”

The GAPPS standard is available for FREE from

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