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  • Sandy Lawrence

Certification Soup for Project Management

Got a taste for getting a Project Management or Agile Certification? Cull the Herd!

The Project Management (PM) profession has certainly exploded over my lifetime; in fact, over my parents’ lifetime. The construction of the Panama Canal started in November 1906 and was one of the first major, modern military project management efforts[i]. Since the 1950’s and the advent of computers, project management has taken business by storm to organize, report, and schedule all aspects of building something. Since then, it has become clear why there’s an ever-increasing need for PM standardization and methodology.

The first Project Management Institute (PMI) Project Management Professional (PMP) certification exam was taken October 6, 1984 – I had just graduated college. When I sat for the PMP in 2005, there were only a few organizations that offered a standard or a methodology in project management.

Since 2005, I acquired three other PMI certifications: Program Management (PgMP ), Portfolio Management (PfMP), and a new micro-cert, Organizational Transformation I. I took full advantage of the PgMP and PfMP to advance my career as a DoD contractor. In retrospect, I would take these exams again given the goals I wanted to achieve professionally; they certainly helped me get there.

The list of PMI certifications has grown to nine, not including the new micro-certs. Certifications cover career ladder advancement (like the PgMP and PfMP), but they also cover specialty areas in project management such as Risk and Scheduling. The biggest impact on project management certifications has occurred with the explosion of the Agile framework. The increased usage of Agile over the past 15 years has taken the project management field by storm and challenged how work should be completed, especially in a software or programming environment. There are many different varieties of Agile today that share unique qualities of iterative development and continuous feedback during the project and/or software development lifecycle.[ii] This has, in my opinion, over produced a market of certifications.

Certification selection was easy back in 2005. But what about now? PMI is no longer the only standard or certification body for Project Management. Based on the research I’ve conducted collecting certifications for the Transitioning Military Project Manager books, there are over 13 corporate bodies that offer a standard or methodology, and accompanying certifications. And the number of certifications these bodies offer? One hundred and sixty-two! I have found over 162 certifications a person can choose from to show mastery and knowledge of the project management profession. This list is available here. You have certifications for certain disciplines or groups; you have certifications for coaches, leaders, trainers, masters, architects, consultants, engineers and cybersecurity. You have mastery levels of I, II, III or A, B, C, D. This is certification soup; and it is not for the soul. It is messy and doesn’t leave a good taste for those who want to choose the best certification to help push their career to the next level.

Here is a brief breakdown (a few overlap):

1. Specialty = 54%

2. Agile = 36%

3. Project Management = 17%

4. Government = 6%

There are a number of subgroups within the Specialty category, too many to list here. But suffice it to say that this is the group for industry specific (government) and categories beyond true-blue project management and anything Agile. The variety has gone way beyond the need for expertise clarification and mastery. The real culprit is the mass producing of Agile certifications. There are certification organizations out there specifically dedicated to the field of Agile, but to whose benefit? In my opinion, this has gotten completely out of hand. For someone interested in the PM field, how does one choose?

While I can appreciate variety, people always ask me what I think about a certification from company X? In these situations, I always respond to their question with 1 or more of my own questions. For example:

? Why are you interested in the certification? What will it offer you?

? What are your career goals? If you are transitioning into project management, a highly regarded organizational certification is your best bet.

? Have you heard of the certifying organization? If not, probably no one else has either.

? What do you feel will be your ROI? Will this certification benefit you if you change jobs or companies?

? Do you see yourself working for an Agile or Traditional project management style organization? This is really important as if you go down one path it will be hard to switch back and forth. Also, many who are tried-and-true “Agilest” scoff at traditional project management – and vice versa. Most importantly, you need to understand the actual work being done in your organization. Many companies throw out a mix of certifications on one job requisition, asking for either Agile, Scrum, or Project Management certifications. These certifications present completely different areas of expertise and are for different organizational setups. This means a few things: the company doesn’t know what they are doing; the Hiring Manager has not clearly communicated their criteria; or the recruiter does not know what to ask for. This has DANGER written all over it; especially if you are investing time and (a lot) of money for a certification.

For me, I like simplicity. A great starting point for someone looking at project management as a career choice is to gain a junior or non-experience certification; doing so will help immensely in mastering and understanding PM terminology. With experience, you can gain expertise with next level certifications, such as Program or Portfolio. If you go the route of Agile, there are so many to choose from – I believe the industry is waiting for 1-2 vendors to survive the gluttony, cull the herd and thereby narrow the focus for what is actually needed and where to get it.

[i] The Transitioning Military Project Manager, 2nd Edition. Page 48. [ii] The Transitioning Military Project Manager, 2nd Edition. Page 63.

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