Project Management: Is PMP Certification Worth It?

Posted by Brad Egeland

This is one of those topics that might draw some emotions from individuals so let me first tell you my situation and my thoughts. First, I’m not PMP certified, but I was headed in that direction…more on that in a moment. I applaud those who have taken the time and effort to get certified. In my experience and interactions with PMs, I’ve not seen any instance where a PMP certified PM was any ‘better’ than an experienced PM. Real experience is always the key. Project management certification means you passed the test, but it does also mean that you have training and some experience for certain and that you have the drive and dedication to get it done and achieve the certification and that’s a project in itself.

I was a PMI member back in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s when I worked at Rockwell Collins. It was something they provided for their PMs, but pushing for actual PMP certification wasn’t something they cared about. I was also managing up to 20 live projects at a time so I had no opportunity to move forward with the certification.

When I came to Las Vegas, a company I began working for in late 2004 did think it was important and wrote a clause into my hiring agreement calling for a $10k bump in pay within 6 months if I acquired my PMP certification. Naturally, I jumped on that idea and started to document my training and experience so that I could sit for the test. Unfortunately, some issues at the top of the company – which I will write about very soon in another article to be entitled “You Think YOUR Project is in Trouble!” – caused that organization to shut down and with it went my $10k incentive to get certified. Now it was time to find another position…fast.

I digress. Back to the topic at hand. Is PMP certification worth it? I personally think that the PMP designation after your name is a nice thing to have, but is no indication of how good a project manager you are or will be. Having PMP certification means that you have the proper amount of experience and training to sit for the test, and then that you correctly answered 61% of the answers on the exam. 61%.

Employers

The most frustrating thing about the PMP certification to me is the weight that employers place on this designation when looking for Project Managers. I hear this again and again from PMs looking for work. To these organizations, it’s an easy screening mechanism for their HR personnel. Unfortunately, that will screen out PMs with many years of very busy and successful management of projects who worked for organizations that placed no emphasis on PMP cert and therefore didn’t pay for PMI and the tests or PMs who just didn’t have the time it takes to document the info and sit for the test. That is wrong.

PMI

I’m not trying to knock PMP certication completely and I definitely applaud the efforts of the PMs out there who have successfully studied for and attained the PMP designation. However, I think that PMI has done a very good job of ensuring their own financially viability with this certification. If they wanted to take it a step further, they could easily triple their organization’s income if they were to create different levels of PMP certification. Let’s consider this scenario:

  • 91-100% correct answers = PMP Black Belt
  • 81-90% correct answers = PMP Brown Belt
  • 71-80% correct answers = PMP Green Belt
  • 61-70% correct answers = PMP Yellow Belt

Imagine if you took the PMP exam and got 90% right….how much would you pay or how many times would you gladly retake the test to get 91% or above and achieve black belt certification? Employers would be jumping on this and start requiring a certain level of certification or they won’t even consider you. PMI’s profits would soar.

PMI Processes / Real Life

PMI bases everything on the following 6 separate, but overlapping processes:

  • Initiating
  • Planning
  • Executing
  • Montoring
  • Controlling
  • Closing

These are great and there are PM and project activities that occur within each phase. However, here’s a frustrating thing for me. I write for a website that is designed to help out project managers with real-life tips culled from experience. I wrote a detailed article on each of the 8 phases of a general project management methodology that I use. I then wrote one article that contained a “quick guide” to this methodology. It outlines what the purpose of each phase is, what activities happen in each of those phases and what deliverables are generally expected out of each of those phases. This quick guide I wrote can be used by an inexperienced project manager to very quickly setup a project schedule shell for their project in MS Project or a web-based project tool like ProjectOffice.net.

However, when I published the article, I received a comment from someone saying that they had no idea what it was I was documenting…they couldn’t see past the 6 PMI processes. The 6 PMI processes won’t setup a project plan for you…they just tell you the ‘duh’ of what is involved in managing a project. They don’t tell you what phases need to occur and what you need to deliver and get signed off in order to be successful. In other words, they don’t give you real-life experience to help someone with. The concern was that this person read my quick guide and didn’t even understand it.

Summary

This article will probably offend some. Remember, I’m not saying PMP certification is a bad thing at all. I sometimes wish I had my PMP cert. But what is bad is that employers are quickly screening out experienced individuals up front for much less experienced PMP certified project managers. It should be a ‘nice-to-have.’ It’s a test, not real life and it should not be an in-or-out screening mechanism but I’m hearing repeatedly from PMs and organizations that it is. That’s frustrating for our industry. And it’s sad that it’s become such big business.

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Related posts:

  1. The Misconception of PMP Certification
  2. Is PMP Certification Worth It? – My Analysis So Far
  3. February Survey: PMP Certification
  4. February 2010 PMP Survey Results
  5. The Job Market, Project Management, and Other Thoughts

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231 Comments to “Project Management: Is PMP Certification Worth It?”

  • Hi All

    We must all bear in mind that things are changing in this world.Not long ago our old folks used to study degrees for 3 years.Check out now the very same qualifications can be attained during three weeks and to make it even worse “online”.It does not matter you have a degree in business management.You have 20 years of experience plus your degree in your file, I got my project admin cert and PMP cert backed with 3 years experience I can guarantee you that if we are called for an interview I will take the job with my eyes closed and handcuffed.PMP,PRINCE2 are just like facebook and google you just cant live without them.If you need to survive in this industry you better pull up your sleeves and start researching about this certs.
    As for the author please do not mislead people.

  • I wrote an article about the value that I believe a PMP provides here: http://clevergems.com/is-a-pmp-worth-it/

    You bring up some valid points in your article. I agree in that sometimes employers can place too much emphasis in a PMP for job placement. Although much of the PMP exam was not relevant to me (and probably not relevant to everyone), there were parts that I believe certainly strengthened my project management capabilities. I think you get what you put into it. Some people can study “just to pass” so that they can apply to jobs with PMP by it. Others can strive for the PMP black belt principle and really apply the concepts learned to their jobs to help truly make them a stronger PM rather than pass a test.

    Disclaimer: I am PMP certified.

  • I dont’ have a PMP, but I work as a Sr. Program Manager – I feel PMP is waste

  • Maybe I have not earned enough yet….but this is what I think…

    Forget about PMP certificate and let’s go back to high school certificate or graduation degree.

    Suppose I have a real time experience or knowledge that a high school or matured graduation degree holder/ educated should have and I don’t have certificate or degree. How long a company or employer would have to take to really know about me before they give me job?

    Any job posting requires your basic certificate and degree to minimize their efforts with verifying your level of understanding and skills to do the job.

    Similarly, what I think is that the employers try to save time in their screening etc processes assuming that a PMP certified person would at least know about project management concepts hypothetically (don’t foget PMI looks for 4500 hours PM hours, and thye grade over average or average the certified people). Now then they say ..let’s check rest his/her practical experience in a couple of rounds of in-person interviewes.

    I too support PMP is more of theory test. Someone may not have real projects experience, but studied very well can pass and get proficient in all process groups. However, this certainly helps employers to some extent validating any cantidate about his project mgmt skills.

    I just cleared PMP certification day before yesterday. Honestly..I found little easier than I had expected and I was done with my exam half an hour early also.

    I liked the idea to differentiate the PMP certified people in different levels (belts) based on their scores as currently PMI provides certification to all who scorred in the range of 61-100%. Further, I would also add if any mechanism possible for PMI to assess PM’s practical knowledge as well part of PMI certification program that would really identify true world level PMs (globally).

    At the end, I think it would not be right to say that PMP is waste or time (as it is worth for the employers first of all when they need PMs quickly in shortage of time) secondly, think about PMP certified people who at least learned the project mgmt concepts hypothetically when they stuied to get certification, but now when they do their next project they will do better pracically. In another words PMP added value to those new PMs or their organizations. Similarly, when we got high school certificate or degree, we better implemented our earned knowledge in our life after we got those certificate or degree.

  • This is part of the age old debate. How valuable is a credential (formal education)? So the easy answer is all things being equal, I as a hiring manager would prefer someone who took the time and effort to go through the credential or education process. Since you can never have an all things equal situation, I would recommend that as an experienced PM it does not hurt to have the PMP and in fact it can help you as you have a formalized process to learn. The only situation where there is a definite question is when you have very little experience but were able to satisfy the entry requirements and pass the exam. I know several managers who because of their experience with less than seasoned PMs who have their PMP feel the PMP has little value.

    Like anything you need to do your homework when you hire. The PMP designation should be looked upon as additional polish but should never be the sole criteria.

    Note: I am a PMP

  • The PMP’s I know are worthless. But I am sureit helps some.

  • I thought the following statement was pretty interesting…

    “…worked for organizations that placed no emphasis on PMP cert and therefore didn’t pay for PMI and the tests… PMs who just didn’t have the time it takes to document the info and sit for the test”.

    I would say this. If you’re serious about a career in, say, medicine, you’re going to put forth the effort and time to do whatever it takes to get into that career. I would say the same is true for project management as a profession. And, make no mistake, it IS a profession. There are numerous schools offering PhD level degrees in the subject, and even more schools offering Masters and Bachelors level degrees, so this is becoming a highly trained and specialized field, and the PMP is defacto standard certification to demonstrate one’s knowledge and experience.

    If you are serious about your career, it makes sense to put the money up yourself to continue your education (if your employer won’t/can’t) and put the time in for studying and preparing for the exam and to document your experience. I think this is part of what makes this particular certification so valuable. There are rigid standards to even qualify to sit for the exam.

    As for me, I do hold a PMP. As well as two Master Certifications in project management from Villanova University. I took the time and the financial risk to acquire the education necessary to further my career and have reaped pretty significant rewards for it and I often advise others to do the same.

    Just my opinion….

  • PIMBOK guide itself developed (put their experiences) by experienced PM’’s and based on that guide conducting test,is not correct. The above” worth it” analysis is makes sence and nice.
    To my knowledge PMP certification is addon ,and not mandatory and is guide to follow.

    Think Question?

    Is PMP certified engineers, execution project well?
    is PMP Not certified engineers, is not executing project well?
    Some one making money out of it.
    Some PMP certified, not understood the objective of PMP certification course and he/she is passing the exam and making others to pass and pushing to mandatory requirment. This is a very good franchise business , only thing, who does franchise will not make money.

    Just my opinion….

    ram

  • Having to look through 30-40 resumes a day, I trust PMP certified folks will have the MINIMAL SKILLS needed for our needs, it saves me from sifting through hundreds of bad resumes every quarter. Do I throw some good folks out? Sure I do but I’m able to find the right person for the project faster. Timing is everything for my projects. Time is my biggest commodity. I don’t have time worry about the 3 or 4 good resumes being deleted because a few folks don’t see the value in earning their PMP Certificate.

  • Will – If it works for you, that’s great. But overall, you are becoming part of the problem. Thankfully, more and more postings either don’t mention it or say it’s preferred.

  • For the past twenty years I happened to be a medical doctor. I haven’t gone to the medical school yet but my skills are based on experience. I think medical schools are out there to make money. They just hand out these MD degrees and those who go to these schools think they are somehow qualified.

    I don’t have a a website, but I have way too much knowledge that is designed to help out doctors with real-life tips culled from experience – like the last time I gave albuterol pills to a two year old (the stupid kid swallowed it and choked) or how I tried homeopathy on cat. Hey I am talking from experience here !

    I have “real life experience”. Why not come to me? It is not like I am going to kill you or something !!

  • Sure Jim…this is exactly the same thing. Not. 20 years of real life PM experience trumps a newly christened PMP with the minimal hours of experience any day, IMO….but that’s just my opinion…and experience from the many orgs I’ve worked with and the many colleagues I’ve interacted with. As for practicing medicine without the degree….well…I think you know you’d go to jail.

  • My personnel opinion based on my experience is that, people who cannot take the extra step to pass the PMP says wrong about the certification and try to go along with their esperience.

  • Seems to me to be a means forr those who couldn’t make it in a CS or CIS program to by pas years of hard work if they are willing to spend the money to get right to place 3 letters beside their name. I propose 6 letters, CHACSP (Couldn’t Hack A Computer Science Program).

  • What is worth it? Only for my credential and when applying for new jobs. Made me a better project manager? No, I only learned how to take a certification test. Do I only hire PMPs? Only when I need someone to train other to pass the test.

  • Dear Rodolfo,

    And why you need to train others to pass the test? dont you think that this is a very good proof that you have unintentionally mentioned that PMP is worth?

  • One cannot claim that not all the PMP certified project managers are best. Its a known fact, PM role in handling project related issues, challenges etc is more situational based on the project contraints and each situation for that matter can be unique. Hence, to understand the basic frame work on project management one has to acquire these skills through experience or education (certification/study).

    Further in my veiw point PM role is comparable to an entreprenuer and he has keep in control of so many contraints & factors to make the project successful. In case of an entreprenuer the financial losses of a venture is more associated with an entreprenuer, however same cannot be said with PM. Most likely the organization has to bear the loss or success. Hence naturally, organizations recruiting PMs would definetely look for experience and PMP certification is an added support for a particular candidate – that some kind of validation has been done on the candidates experience & credentials. Hence, I believe PMP certification is worth it.

  • Hi all,

    i have a Q, iam not in the field, and i want to join it, so what should i do, i have a degree in BA and my work experience in XML and CC, i dont have any experience in PM. So with no experience what should i do to join this career.

    thanks in advance

  • The article does not ask if the PMP makes you a better project manager, it asks if it is worth it. That value decision will depend. If you are job hunting then yes, it is worth it. Like it or not, many organisations make having a PMP a pre-requisite for the first stage of job applications. Are the companies “right”? Who cares! In such cases the value of the PMP certification is whatever value you assign to finding potential work. The PMI have done a very good job of marketing the PMP and, for good or bad, many companies now latch onto it as some sort of indicator.

    I have the PMP certification. I obtained it as part of a job hunting exercise. Previously I had 20 years of project management experience. Did the PMP make me a better project manager? No. Did it help get me a job? Yes. Was it worth it to me? Yes.

    Part of my role is hiring project managers. Do I insist on a PMP? No.

  • senilefox-

    Great response. I agree…if you’re thinking purely in terms of job hunting, then it is probably worth it. I still think that’s unfortunate and I have to say that I see less and less postings that ‘require’ it. But does it make you a better PM? I agree with you that experience trumps certification every time…as long as it’s good experience.

  • I am a PMP w/ 8 years experience and am not offended by your article at all. The bottom line is that you are correct that actual PM experience is by far the most important thing. You do state in the article and share some of your frustration that career advancement and/or job opportunities are NOT available or limited without a PMP. In government, banking, and tech sectors it’s nearly impossible without a PMP. Therefore the reader should weigh their goals and determine based on that if it is worth it. The test was tough and a “necessary evil” but my opportunities are far greater with a PMP than without one.

  • well written post bred, can’t believe was written four years back and still very relevant

  • I Believe the PMP certification is worth. If you want to practice with great practice exams go to http://www.pmppracticeexams.com

  • I must say that this article reflects the logics a good PM should has, and I must also say to the first comment: your purpose of certifying yourself seems completely “fuori la strada”!

  • Hi, Great article for sure. But regarding PMP debate, lets consider the below;

    I know what medicines to prescribe for stomach pain, headache, back pain. People near by come to me consistently and I have been prescribing them medicines for the last 10 years. I do not have medical qualifications as I feel its crap, why should I have it? After all I have been successful the last 10 years. So, is it ok that I continue in this fashion forever?

    Your argument on PMP certificate vs experience is something similar to what I have mentioned above. If you feel you are happy with you current situation, do not think you might move beyond that circle inside which you operate currently, or if you feel you are confident enough to convince people with what you did for 10 years, well then I do not see any reason why someone should spend around 600-700USD for something additional.
    But its worth also considering, when you move out of your comfort zone, the people who needs to evaluate you may not have the patience to hear out your 10year story, rather they might look at something easy like a qualification to choose you. If you get evaluated by people who has the patience then good for you else you might feel sorry for not getting certified.

  • For the “shake and bake” wanna be’s – times may have changed and maybe it’s true you can get PMP in 3 weeks (that’s only getting 61% correct on glossary/theorem) and with 2-3 yrs experience call yourself a Project Manager. Yes, indeed, times have changed…majority of college graduates hold BA’s with majors like “Communications”, “Women’s Studies” and “Sports Management”. Many of these same folks enroll in a boot camp and buy a PMP..

    But some things don’t change like experience trumps and risks/challenges on $1MM+ projects and ramifications to business if over budget and off schedule.

  • Hi, I am a PMP for 5 years now. As I can still remeber the hardest part of learning for the exam was to memorize the inputs, tools & techniques and outputs (called ITTO’s) from PMBOK. From August 1st 2013 PMP examination is based on PMBOK 5th edition, which brings some more processes and ITTO’s. My trick at learning was to use this free tool: PMP Itto quiz (http://www.monkibo.com/pmp-exam-itto-trainer/index.html) It is now available online and free for all. Good luck with the exam!

  • It seems like you answered your own question. If employers are using it to screen out candidates then it’s worth something. Getting an interview is the toughest part of a job search.
    “ …the weight that employers place on this designation when looking for Project Managers. I hear this again and again from PMs looking for work.To these organizations, it’s an easy screening mechanism for their HR personnel.”

  • I believe you now need to get 80% of the questions right on the exam. Not 60% as you stated.

  • We’ve been collectively hoodwinked into a false sense of security when it comes to project management. Get a Project Management Institute (PMI) certified Project Management Professional (PMP) to run your project and follow the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) and we’re led to believe your project will maximize it’s chances of successfully completing on-time, on-budget, and meet the right quality thresholds.

    I provide four reasons we need to move beyond the PMBOK in my blog. Problems include 1) requiring a PM to be certified, 2) requiring all the PMBOK artifacts, 3) implementing “heavy” infrastructures, and 4) emphasizing process over people.

    Read more:

    FOUR REASONS WHY WE NEED TO MOVE BEYOND THE PMBOK
    http://www.randomprojectreview.com/2014/05/four-reasons-why-we-need-to-move-beyond.html

  • I qualified to take the exam…all the hours a B.S> degree in Bus Management etc… I also did boot camp and two online courses. Read and have Ritas books and the on line tests. after a month of studying after being laid off failed the 5th edition exam. Crushed I surrendered…PMI was gracious enough to extend my time limit but I honestly felt there was so much material that was not on the test and the nature of the questions is BS. Congrats to all who passed you must have photo graphic memories. Learned a lot but at incredible expense…Not recommending it to anyone

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