Designing a Certification Program: Why Certify?

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

This might sound like a simple question to answer, but it really isn’t. There are many possible reasons:

  • Because individuals want a credential that will help them get a new or better job.
  • Because individuals want something to brag about.
  • Because hiring managers want a tool to “screen out” some of the resumes they get.
  • Because line managers want a way to “prove” that their staff is skilled.
  • Because line managers want a way to “prove” that their PMs are more skilled than those of their peers.
  • Because line managers want a way to help them decide who to promote.
  • Because buyers of services want to know that their providers are competent.
  • Because sellers of services want a competitive edge.
  • Because professional organizations want to make money.
  • Because professional organizations want to limit entrance to the profession or discipline in order to increase the salaries of their members.

Some of these reasons are more altruistic; some are less. And each reason has the potential to influence the design of the program. For example, if you want to help someone get a new or better job, marketing the credential may be more important than the quality of the assessment process. If you want to assess promotion potential, you will be looking at different factors than if you are evaluating a candidate’s ability to do their current job.

At the same time, there is a lot of overlap and there are some feedback loops. For example, if the certification program does what it claims to do, then everybody wins:

  • Certified individuals will find it easier to find new and better jobs.
  • Hiring managers will feel comfortable screening-out non-certified individuals.
  • Buyers of services can be more confident about the level of competence of their providers’ staff.
  • The sponsoring organization can make a lot of money …

Sorry. Had to mention that last one. Project management certification today is big business. The world’s best known certification has generated an estimated $150,000,000 (yes, seven zeros) in “profits” for its sponsoring organization in the last 10-12 years. Two lesser known programs have generated substantial income for their sponsoring organizations. Several major international enterprises have developed their own internal certification programs because of the selling advantage it provides. And certification preparation is big business. Stop by any LinkedIn project management group and you will see that a huge percentage of the “discussions” are actually advertisements for certification preparation products.

So … why is IPMA-USA doing this? One major reason: we felt there was a crying need for a performance-based credential. Our founders were disappointed with the quality of the certification programs in the market, especially those available in the USA. We wanted to develop something that would actually assess a candidate’s performance, not just their knowledge and experience. We wanted to develop a credential that was based on verifying that the candidate had actually worked as a project manager. On verifying that the candidate could provide evidence of successful performance.

I think we’ve succeeded. We have clearly built a better mousetrap. Now the question is … does anyone else care? Here’s the question I’ve been asking: Would you rather go to an interview saying “I got a D- or better on my exam and no one evaluated my experience,” or “I’ve got two skilled project managers who questioned me in detail for 2 hours about over 50 explicit performance criteria and found me competent.”

Your Comments?