From LinkedIn: Which Certification Best Represents…

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

This is an extract from a recent post of mine in a LinkedIn discussion group. Thought some of you here might be interested.

The question asked was this: which certification option best represents the holder’s skills, knowledge and abilities as a Project Manager?

Full disclosure … I have not been a big fan of PMI’s certification program since about 1998. Our differences led to a lawsuit in 2000 that cost me over $100,000. If anyone wants details of the suit, please feel free to contact me directly.

To begin, there are really only three internationally recognized options worth mentioning. In alphabetical order:

  • Global Alliance for Project Performance Standards. GAPPS doesn’t actually certify, but it does provide a performance-based competency standard that is used by others.
  • International Project Management Association. IPMA and its member associations have been certifying individuals as project managers since the late 1980s.
  • Project Management Institute. PMI’s Project Management Professional was introduced about the same time as IPMA’s program.

Here’s how I view the various approaches. In the interest of fairness, I’ll reverse the order.

PMI’s approach lacks rigor. The experience requirements are drawn too loosely, and the quality of the experience is never considered. It’s not even clear that someone must have worked as a project manager in order to sit for the exam. The education requirements do not ensure knowledge since it seems that a significant percentage of applicants meet the requirement through exam prep courses which emphasize how to pass the exam rather than how to manage a project. The first time pass rate for native English speakers who take a prep course appears to be well in excess of 90%, so it wouldn’t appear that the wholly multiple-choice exam itself is very difficult either.

IPMA’s approach is far more rigorous. IPMA requires the same amount of experience as PMI, but itrequires that the experience have been obtained as a project manager. IPMA’s exam includes short answer essay questions in addition to multiple-choice. Finally, it also requires a written report describing a project you managed and an interview with 2 assessors that typically lasts about 2 hours. The main weakness in the IPMA program is the lack of defined criteria to justify the decision. IPMA’s assessors are all experienced project managers, and based on what I’ve seen, they do an excellent job, but if anyone challenged a negative decision in court, the lawyers would be the only winners.

The core of the GAPPS approach is the most rigorous with over 50 defined performance criteria that must all be met in order for a candidate to be assessed as “competent.” Another plus is the CIFTER which is used to assess project management complexity. Weaknesses include the fact that GAPPS only requires a single assessor (as opposed to IPMA’s 2), and that it allows the organizations that use its standards to set their own length-of-experience requirements. One more plus: the standard itself isFREE. Anyone can use it.

At IPMA-USA, we’ve blended the GAPPS and IPMA approaches to deliver what I think is the best of both worlds: a challenging exam and defined performance criteria assessed by two experienced project managers.

Your Comments?