Designing a Certification Program: Who to Certify?

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

I recently revised the presentation that I give about PMCert’s Certification Program to include a few slides about the factors to consider when designing a certification program. I’ll provide a brief narrative of those slides in a series of posts here. If anyone wants a copy of the entire presentation, write to me care of IPMA-USA.

The basic factors should be familiar to all of you: who, what, when, where, why, and how. Some of those are easier to answer than others. Let’s start with “who.”

When I asked that question at the conference where I first used the slides, I was met with a degree of incredulity. “Why, project managers, of course!” most in the audience said. But there are many others who can affect the success or failure of a project: sponsors, team members, customer, clients, users, program managers, resource providers, and contractors to name just a few. In many application areas, there are also cost estimating specialists and full-time, professional schedulers who can make or break a project. And let’s not forget the senior managers who decide which projects to approve or cancel, or the project portfolio managers who provide recommendations to the decision-makers.

Maybe a less-than-competent project manager could still succeed if all the other stakeholders were competent?

Nonetheless, we decided that our initial WHO would be project managers. But that is still a rather wide range of possibilities. How do we decide who is a “project manager” and who isn’t? Just looking at titles doesn’t always help:

  • In defense and aerospace, a project manager is often called “program manager.”
  • In many IT organizations, the person with the title of project manager is often a controls clerk who collects timesheets and prepares status reports while someone else deals with problems and makes decisions.
  • In many construction projects, the owner and each of the various contractors will have a “project manager.” In the spirit of the old TV show To Tell the Truth, “will the real project manager please stand up!”

So we decided to ignore titles: if you manage a project, we will consider you a project manager regardless of your title. Unfortunately, we’re now faced with the Clinton-esque question of what does “manage” mean? PMCert decided that you manage what you are accountable for. When we get to the discussion of what and how, we’ll come back to this issue.

Simple, no?

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