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Benefits of PMP Certification: 9 Questions to Determine if PMP Certification is Right for You

July 31, 2014

AMA conducted a survey to research the career benefits of getting the PMP. Here are the results to the question: Is the PMP Worth It?

Although I have been a project manager for the better part of the last 20 years, I had not been aware of the Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification until the last 5 years or so.  As you might know, the PMP certification standards are set and awarded by the Project Management Institute (PMI).  In order to attain PMP certification, you must pass a 200-question exam over a period of 4 hours. The exam is based on their Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®), now in its 5th edition, which outlines 5 Process Groups that encompass 10 Knowledge Areas and 47 discreet Project Management Processes.  A non-PMI resource for a very high-level description is here.

I finally decided to pursue this credential and earned it earlier this year, which was not that difficult for me to do because my employer, AMA, is one of many Registered Education Providers of the PMI, and we provide PMP preparatory education.  There is little question that the credential is a “gold standard” certification for project management professionals, especially in the US, with over 600,000 active holders of the PMP worldwide (as of July 2014), and it makes sense for full-time career-minded project managers and executives to pursue it.  However, because of the scope and volume of the PMBOK content (nearly 600 pages), plus additional information that is covered in the exam, the decision to earn the PMP leads to a significant investment in time, commitment, and fees.

Pursuing the PMP certification

The decision to pursue PMP certification may not, however, always be black and white for those so-called “accidental” project managers and other project professionals who may need to assess the timing and determine if the decision to earn this credential is right for them.  I offer here 9 key questions that hopefully offer a balanced assessment of whether the PMP credential is right for you.  As a side-note, some of these questions can certainly be answered by going to a reference such as the PMBOK, your own organization’s documentation, or your project management colleagues for resources.  However, if you like the PMBOK as an umbrella resource and choose to use it as a roadmap to assist you in your daily project management role, following through to attain the PMP may not be much more than a “why not” question anyway.  As a suggested guideline, if you answer yes to questions 1 and 9, plus 4 or more questions, I would definitely give the PMP serious consideration:

1)      Do you meet  the minimum requirements to qualify to take the exam?  The PMI has very specific minimum requirements you must meet in order to qualify to take the exam.  The application is available on their website at pmi.org, and the qualifications mainly concern your number of hours of project management experience and Professional Development Units, or PDU-accredited education taken. More detail from the PMP Handbook here.

The documentation of your PM experience section of the application can take some time to complete. The hours need to be broken out by project management process group and is subject to audit by PMI with supporting references on that experience. Accuracy is essential.   As a safe rule of thumb, if you need to go back quite a few years, it might be better to underestimate rather than overestimate your hours of experience.

2)      How established are your current project management methodologies and are they working?       Although lengthy, the PMBOK to me serves as a general set of processes, tools, and techniques that can be referred to as guidelines from the Initiation through the Closing stages of a project.  However, it needs to be somewhat generic in order for it to work in different types of organizations and industries.  If your organization has a Project Management Office (or PMO) maintaining tools and templates to manage and document your projects, you may be required to follow them for your projects.  However, if you find those resources to be lacking or insufficient for your purposes, PMBOK study towards PMP certification can help you gain the knowledge and credibility to be a change agent and establish or refine such resources.

3)      How unique/repeatable are your projects from one to the next?   Once you begin reviewing the PMBOK, one question that might come to mind is: Do I need to follow all the steps and processes in order to successfully complete each project?  My answer would be a definitive no, and as you look at each flow of activities that is graphically depicted in each chapter of the PMBOK, an a la carte approach would seem to make sense in all cases.  You should only need to apply those processes and tools that are relevant for you.  If your projects are not predictable, it probably is a good idea to learn all of the project management techniques available. Devoting time and energy to mastering best practices through PMP certification study would definitely help in this case.

4)      How complex are your projects, and do they need more planning attention and documentation than just a timeline?  Would Cost, Time, Scope, and Risk Management provide greater chances of success?  Especially for those who are new to the discipline, one might equate project planning to creating a Gantt chart or timeline that has tasks assigned with dependencies and deliverable dates associated with them.  In addition to determining how repeatable your projects are, you may find that your project schedules need continual updates because of change requests, changes in funding, and known and unknown risks that may come into play during project execution.  Unless you already have set methodologies or processes to handle project challenges such as risks and out-of-scope change requests, you should find many beneficial tools and process guidelines within the PMBOK Guide.

5)      Is PMP certification revered within your organization, by outside stakeholders, or within your industry?    Bottom line, PMP or not, project managers are responsible for delivering results on time, within budget, and according to agreed-upon scope requirements of the deliverable.  At the end of the day, that is the job and what they are paid to do.  I suggest determining how well recognized or valued the PMP is among your stakeholders, particularly your customers and sponsors.  If you provide competitive bids to win contracts, PMP certification may very well help you gain an edge on your proposals.  You might find that your organization will fund or even mandate PMP certification.  If, however, you find that your organization or industry doesn’t necessarily recognize the credential, or may in fact embrace another set of standards, you might be better off getting more immersed in those tools instead.

6)      Are you interested in a leadership/mentoring role within your project management operation?  In project management environments where PMP certification is valued but not mandatory, there frankly could be situations in which the PMP credential holders get the more visible and more prestigious projects to manage.  Those with the credential also might be looked upon by executive management as more knowledgeable and able to deal with difficult situations and also considered mentors and coaches for newer PMs and project team members. There is nothing wrong with not wanting that type of role, if you prefer to focus on getting the work done and project management is a part time or “accidental” part of your job.  If a leadership or mentoring role does appeal to you, PMP certification can help provide an edge in terms of demonstrated knowledge in the PMBOK processes.

7)      Would you benefit from networking with others in the “club?”   Since earning my own PMP credential this past March, I have joined both PMI and our local PMI chapter here in New York.  In addition, I have also attended conferences and learning events, where there is opportunity to network, hear case studies, share best practices, and build on the knowledge base that comes with studying for and earning the credential.  There is an inherent mutual appreciation and natural interest to connect with those who went through and succeeded in the same challenge presented by this somewhat arduous process.  If you see value in that aspect of being part of the “club,” you will want to move forward.

8)      Is advancing in the project management career field a priority, and do you look to remain “marketable” for future job opportunities in the discipline?  This again tends to be less of an issue if project management is not a full-time endeavor in your role.  For career-minded project managers, though, let’s face it:  There are very few jobs that are completely secure, and you may need to eventually move on to other opportunities in the discipline.  The good news is that PMI indicates enduring job growth opportunities for project managers in its industry-growth forecast.

 

Earning and maintaining your PMP credential will be a minimal requirement for many available project management positions and offers you an edge in general over those who do not have it.

9)      Do you, at the end of the day, have the time and motivation to get through the process?  If you have gotten this far in the post, you are probably less on the fence than you were when you first started.  I would argue that this is the second-most important question outside of #1, which deals with the minimum requirements to sit for the exam.  In my case, I felt I was ready to take the exam after about 3 months of on-and-off study, and in the last month or so, I dedicated all of my free time outside of work to study.  Although frankly not the most exciting of reads, I find the PMBOK to be logical and understandable, with required formulas no more complex to learn than simple arithmetic.  However, seeing how the various processes and knowledge areas are structured and interrelated takes a bit of time to grasp. Most of the exam questions are scenario-based, which requires some deduction and a lot of practice by taking sample exam questions; this is key.  Most candidates also see the benefit of buying supplemental guides and taking exam prep courses.  In any case, if you don’t think you have the time and drive to undergo the process right now, and there’s no hard deadline by which you have to attain the credential, you might want to wait until it feels right to proceed even once you have achieved the minimum requirements.  Once you do have the right mindset and drive, and maybe a view to benefits you will gain by attaining the PMP, you’ve won way more than half the battle, even before you’ve opened the PMBOK Guide for the first time.

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About The Author

Ray Houdtzagers, PMP, is Learning Solutions Manager for AMA’s seminars on project management and purchasing. He has been with AMA for over 15 years, and has nearly 20 years of professional project management experience, primarily in the development of professional education programs for both classroom and multimedia-based delivery. He also currently serves as the head of the Project Management Office (PMO) for AMA’s USME seminar division.

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