Evaluating Role and Rigor in PM Certifications

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff, ProjectExperts CEO.
We have seen a wide range of opinions, analyses, and presentations that fail to clearly show the differences between the Project Management certifications in the USA, and around the World. Certifications from IPMA-USA and IPMA (International Project Management Association) are particularly misunderstood, because they address specific roles and competence-oriented factors that other PM certifications do not. The purpose of this post is to clear up misunderstandings about the IPMA-USA/IPMA PM Certifications, and to clarify how they differ from other PM certifications that are available.

Role of Certificant
When we speak of Role, we are discussing the primary Role of the certification candidate. Entry-level PM certifications use knowledge-based exams about project management, and do not depend on the PM’s Role. Advanced certifications engage professional assessors in interviews to assess performance competence in a targeted Role. Some people fill multiple roles; in that case, the Role is the one selected as the basis for certification. This is only important in the case of Advanced (higher-Rigor) certifications.

Here is an example of the importance of the Role in Advanced certifications: A candidate may have filled a role of Project Manager and of Senior Project Manager. However, upon reviewing the certification criteria, he or she may determine either a) that their role as Senior Project Manager was not beginning-to-end complete, or b) that the selected project may not be complex-enough to qualify at a Senior Project Manager’s level. So why is Role Important? Entry-level certifications are targeted to a general project management-related role. The IPMA-USA Advanced certifications are for the role of Project Manager, or other key PM roles. Because entry-level certifications only assess project management in general, the role is an important distinction to understand.

Rigor of Certification
The Rigor of the PM certification is important because high rigor in the process is an indicator of high assurance of PM Performance. Rigor is a multi-variant factor that includes the prerequisites, the underlying standards, methods of assessment, and re-certification requirements for each certification. Different reviewers may have different opinions about the respective rigor, depending on their experience with PM competence development. For example, an exam based on a 100-page Competence Baseline may appear to be less-rigorous than one based on a 460-page body of knowledge.

A certification based on grasp of a PM competence-improvement foundation (USA National Competence Baseline) may be more rigorous than a knowledge taxonomy. Some assert that a certification with an ISO 17024 registration is more rigorous than one without it (others say that reflects process, not rigor). And, an exam with the majority of score based on open-ended essay questions and intellectual exercises may be more rigorous than one with the majority of score based on multiple-choice and true/false questions.

Beyond Entry-level exam-based certifications, Advanced certifications require higher rigor. For example, the Advanced PM certifications offered by IPMA-USA require preparation of a Portfolio of Evidence to demonstrate performance competence. High Rigor also includes a formal assessment interview, where assessors probe performance and verify competence. Even with formal assessment, which would you say is more rigorous: IPMA-USA’s assessment interview with professional assessors, or a questionnaire completed by a dozen peers?

And, another dimension to IPMA-USA’s rigor is whether the candidate documents her or his experience in the full range of responsibilities of the role, and has demonstrated evidence of each of the performance criteria required for certification in that role. We mentioned above, the topic of complexity. Each of our Advanced Certifications requires a level of complexity beyond simple projects. Thus, we are unable to certify many of the practitioners who have qualified for other organizations; they lack end-to-end experience with projects even of moderate complexity.

The Chart
Given our explanation of the importance of both Role and Rigor in Advanced PM certifications, the chart above shows our analysis of the Roles and Rigor of the IPMA-USA Entry-level and Advanced PM certifications, compared to others that are available. For those who are interested in precision, the center of the ball or check reflects the position of the certification in question on the chart. The Entry-level certifications are in the white-background area, on the left; the role-based Advanced PM certifications are in the colored bands on right. Our Entry-level certification for PM Associates, IPMA Level-D, is a strong foundation for competence development; and it is also a very useful certification for Project-related Professions, such as Engineers and Architects. Thus IPMA-USA and our IPMA Family of member organizations provide an entire range of PM certifications.

Your Choice
We suggest that if you or your team members perform project or program management, you deserve Advanced Certifications. If you merely wish to demonstrate short-term knowledge and establish a basis for further competence development, begin with ours or others’ Entry level certifications. If projects and programs are key to your organization’s strategy, you really need to certify Performance Competence (with high rigor) as a PM, using our role-targeted certifications. Which choice will help you the most in your pursuit of improved PM competence and performance? We all need to make the right choices to thrive, given the challenges we continue to face in the USA and the World, today and tomorrow.

IPMA-USA, the USA’s member association of IPMA, encourages you to …

Discover the PM Performance Difference!