Designing a Certification Program: When to Certify?

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

In looking at when to certify, we are not addressing season or time-of-day. We are looking at in a project manager’s career to certify. In this case, we went along with Jacqueline Susann and decided that once was not enough.

Our first certification, for the very start of a possible career in project management, is Project Associate (IPMA Level-D®). This is an exam-based certification that requires only six-months of experience working on projects. The exam has two parts: multiple choice questions to verify the candidate’s knowledge of project management fundamentals, and several short answer questions to verify understanding of key concepts. Reviewing the USA-NCB should be helpful, but any introductory book or course on PM fundamentals should be adequate as well. By design, you should not need any special “exam prep” courses to pass our test.

Our second certification comes after you have made a commitment to the discipline. This certification requires three years of full-time equivalent work as a project manager with real project management responsibility for reasonably complex projects. We use a version of the CIFTER table developed by GAPPS to assess project management complexity. You can find full details about the CIFTER on the GAPPS website ( as well as an article about it on the IPMA-USA website.

This second certification is IPMA Level-C®. In addition to satisfying the experience requirement, you must also provide documentary evidence of your performance as a project manager. Preparing your evidence usually takes about 4-6 hours. Finally, you must demonstrate that you actually understood what you were doing and why by providing satisfactory answers to questions from two experienced project managers during a face-to-face interview.

The third certification (IPMA Level-B®) is for much later in your career when you have become a Senior Project Manager. Typically, you must have been managing projects full-time for over six years in order to qualify. The process is essentially identical to that for IPMA Level-C with one major difference: the management complexity of your projects must be significantly higher.

And if the practice of project management hasn’t driven you crazy, we’ll soon have a fourth certification for old hands who have experience as program managers.

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