Role and Rigor in PM Certifications

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff, ProjectExperts CEO.
We have received some interesting reactions to our recent posting about Role and Rigor in PM Certifications. Some assert that we place the IPMA-D certification too low on the Rigor scale. Others are concerned about whether the average reader can decipher which “Other PM Certifications” are reflected by that basketball. Still others are shocked, shocked, SHOCKED, that their popular certification might be labeled an Entry-level certification, or that they are not really certified Project Managers, but instead, certified in project management.

Who is perpetuating this confusion? One answer: Some PM providers, especially those engaged in Entry-level certification preparation, continue the myth. Read through ads in magazines, on websites, or even in blog and social network postings. In marketing, they might guarantee that you will pass an exam in a week or refund your fees; then, some indicate that you are being certified as a Project Manager. These providers have clearly not yet joined the ranks of IPMA-USA PM Competence Enablers, because they do not understand the difference between exam-cram methods and improved PM Performance! After all, certifications in project management and Advanced certification as a Project Manager are two different markets.

The myth is propagated by some practitioners, who, having earned their knowledge-based certification, mistakenly believe that they truly are Certified as a Project Manager. In fact, there are LinkedIn groups filled with those misled and mistaken souls.

Certified As A Project Manager
A knowledge-based certificant may be a competent Project Manager, but if so, that is by virtue of his or her experience and performance, not as a result of their credential. In fact, some who have earned an Entry level cert might qualify for an Advanced-level certification such as IPMA-USA’s IPMA Level-C, certified Project Manager. Some could qualify for an Advanced certification as a Senior Project Manager. But the rigor of showing project complexity (managing several dozen small IT projects may not qualify an IPMA Level-C Project Manager), the need to show end-to-end management of the project results, to prepare a Portfolio of Evidence that documents PM Performance, and to succeed in an Assessment interview with Professional Assessors may be too much rigor for some to endure.

As long as the Entry-level certs are popular, why bother with any Advanced-level PM certification? Here is one reason: Imagine a large Initiative that will be hiring dozens of competent Project Managers. Sorting through the applications, savvy Talent Scouts are categorizing those with Entry-level certifications in one stack, those with relevant experience in another, and those of Advanced-level certified, competent, experienced Project Managers in a third. In which stack would you rather be? In an era where it seems that everyone in the room has a certification, the handful of Advanced-level certificants stand out.

All Frosting, No Cake
You have probably heard the cowboy line, about “All hat, no cattle”. Certification must be more than a label. In the world of PM Certification, it is clear to any studious observer that Certification does not create knowledge, ability, competence or performance. Instead, at its targeted level, PM Certification recognizes it. Thus, a knowledge-based cert recognizes knowledge retention, in some cases for 1-2 weeks; plus, as some assert, a few skills. A Competence-based certification recognizes knowledge, applied skills, key behavioral attributes, relevant end-to-end experience and competence. A Performance Competence-based PM certification recognizes all of the above, plus the ability to demonstrate needed project results. Most people can detect the difference between these three levels of assessment, which is why we say these are different markets.

Entry-level PM certifications, including IPMA-USA’s IPMA Level-D, provide a great starting-point, and a valuable service, by recognizing retention of a consistent vocabulary, a taxonomy for collecting new information, and perhaps a set of useful processes, such as is offered by PRINCE2 credentials. And yet, certification is just the frosting on the cake. The actual cake is the improved performance of the practitioner who applies that knowledge, to transition base knowledge into sustaining skills, to improve behavioral and interpersonal competences, and to increase PM performance. And yes, we do know some people who just enjoy the frosting.

For those who are in despair, having discovered that you are not yet a certified Project Manager (but thought you were), our intent is not to increase that despair, but to assist you in getting through it. With IPMA-USA’s certification program in the USA, and with IPMA’s other Member Association programs in over 40 other countries, if you wish to rise to the Advanced, high-rigor level of certified Project Manager or certified Senior Project Manager, we exclusively (for now) offer the process, and the path. With our programs, you can have your cake and eat it, too!