Considering PMI certification

You want to talk about the power of being an early adopter? I’ve started looking into what it takes in order to get certified as a Project Management Professional (or PMP, which as I’ve said before here, I pronounce ‘pimp’). What a racket!  The PMI board doesn’t just offer one level of certification, it offers three.  The ‘Certified Associate’ which requires 1,500 hours of previous “project team” experience. The PMP, which requires -years- of working as a professional on a project team. And the PgMP (‘pig pimp?’ An inelegant solution for a clunky acronym) which requires years on top of that.

So you have to apply to the Project Management Institute. And they maintain the Project Management Body of Knowledge®. You know you’re in trouble when the manual for your profession got trademarked, and then got Registered. Anything trademarked, service-marked, or registered trademarked means “someone is making money off of this”.  And make money off of this the PMI certainly does.

Certification is an interesting process. You have to garner the professional level of work. You have to take 35 hours of training classes. You have to pass a massive test.  The literature (their site) talks about how PMI cert is more valuable than an academic degree because they require continuing education or you lose your certification status.

Ex-squeeze me?


Yet Another Racket Preying Upon Professionals. (YARPUP™). If I were the ‘free time’/’motivated’ type I’d create a web banner for the YARPUP™ certification process and then present PDF invoices to websites which were in flagrant violation of extorting money in the name of “professional” credentials without having filed an ISO 5551212 form requesting permission to extort. Licensing for the YARPUP™ seal of approval would require six-figure fees paid out over the course of years.

Let’s Think About This

What is certification, anyway? Basically when you are asking for certification you are going to someone else and jumping through their hoops in order to earn a symbolic recognition of (one hopes) proficiency. In academia, we call those certifying documents ‘degrees’, and before a university or college can give one, they must become accredited through some legally recognized body that offers such empowerment.  In theory it’s a nice system, but let’s face it… if Gibbs College can get accredited, then I’m sure with a little work I could gain accredation out of my garage. If I had a garage.

I spoke with a professional who said that her department insists on their Project Managers getting PMI certified. In casual conversation she likened it with passing the Bar for lawyers. Now, I’m willing to give a little lattitude when it comes to exaggeration for the purpose of making a point, and I’ll give even more lattitude when it comes to analogies. But … the Bar exam? The exam which is considered so hard that although you don’t technically have to go to Law School in order to attempt it but everyone in the U.S. *does* because they *have to* to stand a chance? The single test which presents the closest thing to a modern day meal ticket for life that exists? (Yes, I know, the 20-something law students who pass the Bar and then whine about having to actually -work- their way up the professional ladder from the bottom are out there, but all Bar-cert lawyers can hang a shingle).

The mind boggles. It really does. At the very least, with the Bar exam, I can point to hundreds of years of legal education and development of the professional criteria upon which the legal system is founded in the US. But Project Management is a relatively new system of education. What the PMI is trying to do is make an early bid to be the recognized issuer of professional papal indulgences for a profession which is ultimately based upon the meticulous application of common sense. And what’s really scary is the model that they are using to do it.

Continuing Education

There are few professions which require formal efforts to ensure continued education and continuing professional skills. Usually, those professions are all part of the medical field, and I’ve talked to doctors who hate the requirements.  They agree that it’s always best to stay at the top of their careers. This isn’t rocket science, it’s part of what “professionals” in general are expected to do — keep up to speed on their profession. But when you make it a formal requirement, you end up with a formality. My doctor-friends went off at a party once about how all they do in those required classes is show up and sleep. Why? Because the classes that are required are typically things they’ve already been keeping up with. And the legal requirement is for their attendance and exposure, not their continued mastery of the subject material. Or at least it was at the time of that party, back a decade or so. YMMV.

Let’s look at the two professions which came up just from looking at how PM certification is set up. The legal profession. And the medical profession. One from the certifying test-to-end-all-tests point of view. The other from the required-continuing-education point of view.  Now let’s think about those two professions. Lawyers and Doctors. $$$$$$$$. Prestige. Popular culture’s fascination because they are the humans who do what other mere mortals cannot.

And now let’s think about Project Managers, and how they simply must stay at the exact pinnacle of their career. Think about the kinds of classes on project management techniques and tricks which are constantly being innovated all the time. Think about how absolutely crucial it is, life or death time, that Suzy in Project Management, knows the latest way to break a project out into logical steps.

Okay, I’m done thinking. Already.

Putting on Airs

I like Project Management practices and procedures. I enjoy the fact that recognition has continued to grow that there is value within corporate environments from the projectized structure. I really do like some of the material and theory behind the emerging field. And I definitely think that a real, bona fide Project Management Professional is a strong source of flexible leadership within the American Corporate culture.

And I happen to disagree quite strongly with the way that the Project Management Institute is positioning themselves in the marketplace. Sure, everyone wishes that their professions came with the same amount of mystique and respect (albeit grudging at times) that Law and Medicine command. But is it realistic? And consider the language that the PMI site uses to imply how their continued education requirements make their course of education better than an academic degree:

While nothing is required to maintain an academic degree, continuing education is a requirement for maintaining most PMI credentials. Participation in continuing education activities indicates to your peers, employers and employees that you are committed to professional development. – PMI website

Ooookay, then. Silly me, thinking that the continued successful execution of Project management duties in real world scenarios would be the only real indication of commitment to professional development needed.

Self Serving or Project Serving?

I hold the professional opinion, informed by real projects and a decade of working in project-oriented companies, that process needs to exist to serve the project goal. When process begins to serve itself, we end up with one of the quotes from CIV IV: ‘The bureaucracy is expanding to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy.’ Not sure where the original attribution of that line belongs.  Project Management is certainly representative of a shift in the way that businesses go about their work and structure themselves nowadays. However, it always needs to stay rooted in common sense.

In my mind, the true litmus test for a Project Management professional is whether or not they will set aside the procedure in order to obtain the goal when such a step becomes required, or not. A true leader in the field of PMPs needs to consider all process steps as tiny evils. Those which must be endured, shall. Those which do not need to be endured, should be set aside.

As for PMI cert… well, I’ll go for it, but only so long as I’m not footing the bill myself. But once it starts coming out of *my* pocket, then it’s time for that little YARPUP™ pyramid scheme to be put to rest. Because at the end of the day, the PMI gets more out of decent professionals like myself and the other decent organizers, critical thinkers, and strategic motivators which come to the table with those qualities already developed, than we as professionals get out of the PMI cert. Certification is a nice shortcut to eliminate some explanations in interviews, but not even a test like the Bar itself removes the need for the interviews at all.


11 responses to “Considering PMI certification

  1. What an interesting post.

    I passed the PMP exam in Dec 2006 and am still amazed that people think I’m a better project manager now because of it. I do absolutely nothing differently now as a PMP than I did before I got the cert but because those three letters people are more willing to hire me.

    Project Management is much more than following a process…it is more about communication and leadership than process. A lot of PM’s don’t understand that and the PMI ‘body of knowledge’ surely doesn’t discuss it.

    Feel free to email me if you have any questions about getting through the test.

    Pointer: I used Rita MulCahy’s PMP Study Guide to prep for the exam for about a week before taking it. The most interesting thing about the book was the following comment (paraphrased):

    “in order to pass the PMP test, forget everything you know about project management in the real world”.

    THAT is the problem with this certification (and most certifications). It doesn’t measure what you are capable of…it measures how well you memorize topics.

  2. Thanks for the input, Eric. If things proceed with this opportunity, I will certainly be heading down the PMP cert route, so I’ll happily look into Rita MulCahy’s book.

    The bit about memorization over skill mastery is just fine with me. I’m good at memorizing, but I’ve developed my own style as I’ve been thrust into the middle of Project Management duties over the course of my career. My experience with certifying and accrediting bodies is that they look for a much narrower criteria of mastery than life/work/”real” world experience not only allows but requires. I always hate getting dinged on the technicalities for technicality’s sake.

    Thanks again for the input.

    Check Eric out at folks. A fellow grad student (although he’s on the doctoral track) in the Information realms, and apparently a certified PiMP. 😉

  3. It’s hard being a PiMP. 🙂

  4. Hi Pacio49.
    I am a life long project manager. I hold PMP #740, a Masters Degree in Project Management from GWU and a PhD in Project/Program Management from ESC Lille.

    And you know what? This December I am letting my PMP expire. Why? Because the organization is, IMPO, no longer a true professional organization, but since 2000 or so, has become nothing more than a “big business” conveniently masquerading as a “not for profit professional organization”. To my knowledge (and I try to keep up with the reseach) there is nothing that supports any claims that having more PMP’s in your organization results in projects being run more successfully. (And being in the training and consulting business, I have first hand anecdotal evidence, but no scientific research)

    Secondly, initial research by Zwerman, Thomas et al in 2004, funded in part and published by PMI, stated that “project management is not now, nor is it likely to be in the forseeable future, a profession.” This was substantiated by my own soon to be published PhD research entitled “Is Project Management a Profession? If not, what is it?” Yet, despite not one but two academic research, PMI, in direct contravention to their own Code of Ethics (which apparently only applies to members and PMP’s not PMI HQ staff) continues to claim project management to be a profession.

    For those interested, you can read my postings on the subject on the PMHUB or on the PMForum,

    Again, as a practicing professional, my best recommendation would be to explore alternative organizations. I am impressed with the Association for the Advancement of Cost Engineering International, which, despite the name, is essentially a more technical version of PMI, HOWEVER, they have put their BoK on the internet for free downloading. Another very progressive alternative to PMI is the International Council of Systems Engineers- INCOSE,

    Both these organizations have taken a more “open source” approach to project management and are, IMPO, more attunded to the professional practitioner than to marketing hype.

    Bottom line- As a lifelong practitioner, I no longer believe PMI represents my professional values nor does it fairly and accurately represent those who practice project management as a delivery system.

    Dr. Paul D. Giammalvo, CDT, PMP, CCE, MScPM, Jakarta, Indonesia

  5. Thanks for weighing in on the matter, Dr. Giammalvo. I will certainly have to take a look at your posts and papers on the matter.

    Was there a turning point, do you think, where the PMI jumped the shark, or do you think this was always just a cash cow for the Project Management Institute founders?

    Too much to say in just comments. Time for a response post. 🙂

  6. Pingback: Trouble in PMI paradise? « Graduate Interactive Communications

  7. Good point, Bill. I’ve been engaged in primarily Project Management duties ever since I stepped into the interactive side of the house. But my title hasn’t been “project manager” in any way until my present job. The skillset was still important, fundamental, even, to the job at hand.

  8. As I study for the PMP examination, I cannot help but notice the obvious nature of the PMI and I have a real problem with it. The PMI is one heck of a cash cow.

    For those that don’t know, the PMI rakes in money at every turn. On the flip side, they have minimal financial outlay. Let me explain…

    As you know, the PMI requires PMP’s to earn PDU’s. As such, PMP’s typically sit through classes. Who teaches these classes? Other PMP’s. How much are those “instructors” paid? NOTHING. They are earning PDU’s for teaching the classes. So we have a self-proliferating cash cow. People pay to prepare to get certified, they pay for the exam, they pay for the credential, and they continue paying to remain certified. Then the PMI goes so far as to suggest that all Project Managers get certified so the pool of people paying into this pool forever grows. It’s a brilliant business model and I wish I thought of it first!

    Just know that “not for profit” does not mean “non profit”.

    • So true, so true. Those comments look to be the exact same comments I put on Wikipedia over a year ago. Since then, they’ve been removed unfortunately.

  9. I am glad to read other comments that reflect my opinion. I just took a 4 day boot camp and took the test the following day. What a crock of you know you what. I failed the PMP exam! It has nothing to do with real PM work…only what PMI thinks is important….like what processes are “inputs” to other processes. What a bunch of crap. Most of the test is made up of subjective questions. Hmmm….my college exams didn’t consist of subject questions…why….because the answer was real….NOT an opinion. I agree with others that the PMI Certification is a major league racket and cash cow. I don’t think it’s worth the paper it’s written on.

  10. I have been working on or managing projects for about 25 years. I joined an office at a government organization that was going to manage all of their projects using the PMBOK and all people in the office are going to get the PMP.

    After the first month I could tell these folks had not worked on or managed any “real” projects. In fact, many admit it. They completed the application using any task they can elaborate as a project to get the experience needed. A couple got audited but made it through.

    So, now some have passed and telling all they are professional Project Managers even though they have no more skill than memorizing processes out of a book. There is a little problem with that. When questioned about an issue on their project (they are really doing tasks) they can’t answer it because they know nothing of what is really behind those processes that they memorized to pass the test. That not only makes the office look bad. It also says the PMP is not worth the time to take it. The other problem is that you end up wasting a lot of time trying to fit work into processes that makes no sense. You don’t know any better because you have never really done it. However, you can say you are doing Project Management. Smoke and mirrors…

    I learned project management skills working on projects, managing project teams, taking classes, taking a university program, etc. I always looked up to PM’s I worked for and strived to be the best I could be with the goal of being a Project Manager that was respected as they were. The title of Project Manager is being sold out and I have seen a trend to now use the title Project Director instead.

    I am approved to take the PMP and will. If someone else pays to keep it current so be it. If not, it will expire and get filed.

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