PMI Certification: Is it Worth It?

Is Certification Worth It?

As I speak to audiences about the importance of soft skills and emotional intelligence in project management, inevitably I’m asked my opinion on the value of a  certification from the PMI (Project Management Institute) such as the PMP (Project Management Professional.) This topic is very polarizing in our professional community.  The camps generally divide into :  1) Those who sought the PMP on their own and found it to be an excellent training opportunity; 2) Those who were required by their employer or felt pressured by the job market to obtain it; and, 3) Those who are active resisters or were just never required to get one.

First off, let me state clearly that I do not have a PMI certification. Heresy, you say? Well, the reality is that the PMP certification gained prominence at a time when I was already firmly established in my career. My employers, knowing my skills and track record, never pushed for me to obtain it.

So is there a value in having the PMI certification? My strong answer is… it depends. Let’s look at the requirements and costs, and then I’ll tell you what I really think.

What’s the PMP?

The PMP certification is the most popular among the five different certifications now offered by the PMI (Project Management Institute) which are:

  1. PgMP: Program Management Professional
  2. PMP: Project Management Professional
  3. CAPM: Certified Associate Project Manager
  4. PMI-SP: PMI Scheduling Professional
  5. PMI-RMP: PMI Risk Management Professional

According the PMI website, to apply for the PMP, you need to have either:

  • A four-year degree (bachelor’s or the global equivalent) and at least three years of project management experience, with 4,500 hours leading and directing projects and 35 hours of project management education.


  • A secondary diploma (high school or the global equivalent) with at least five years of project management experience, with 7,500 hours leading and directing projects and 35 hours of project management education.

The Costs

The PMP is an expensive exam, costing $405 for PMI members and $555 for non-members. Many people feel intimidated by what they have heard about the 200-question test and thus take exam prep courses that average between $1,500 and $2,000.

In order to maintain a PMP certification, one must accrue 60 “PDUs” (Professional Development Units) every three years. There are a few different ways to gain these PDUs, either by taking classes, attending PMI conferences, or self-directed study. Generally, one hour of instruction or participation = 1 PDU.  There are many commercial providers who offer training, podcasts, webinars, etc., where it can cost from $25 to $100’s per PDU. I estimate that the 60 PDUs over three years costs about $3,000.

So, let’s add it up:

  • PMP exam prep: $2,000
  • PMP exam cost: $500
  • Maintaining PDUs over a 40 year career: $40,000

Total Career Cost of PMP Certification: $42,500.

Being able to List PMP on Your Resume: Priceless?

I’m going to come right out and say it. In my 25 year career, I have not found an absolute correlation between someone having a PMP certification and their ability to manage a project successfully. There, I’ve said it, so let the firestorm begin. I credit the PMI with good intentions to establish project management as a viable discipline, and brilliant marketing which has made most hiring managers aware of the certification. Unfortunately, I find that too many recruiters and employers put misplaced faith in the meaning of a certification, and go so far as to miss out on really great project managers because they require certification as a baseline for employment.

As far as I’m concerned, a PMP certification proves that you’re “book smart.” It’s like someone who has just graduated from medical school. Sure, they may have worked on cadavers and maybe even participated in some patient care, but I’m not interested in having them treat me until they’ve gotten real world experience.  And yes, the PMP does require some real world experience, but it’s only three years—just barely a start in a career.

I also have a bias against the strong emphasis on tools and methodology over the emotional intelligence required to navigate the treacherous waters of politics, matrixed organizations, and human behavior. I’m pleased that the latest version of the PMBOK (the Project Management Body of Knowledge—the PMI’s “bible”) has added a section on “soft skills” to its 42 process areas. It’s only about 5 pages out of ~450, but it’s a start, and an acknowledgement that these skills are also important.

My Verdict:

In summary, here’s how I see it. Getting a PMP certification won’t hurt you, and it may expose you to some useful tools and ways to organize projects. It won’t, however,  make you a great project manager—that you’ll have to earn through blood, sweat, and tears, and hopefully some laughter.

What does hurt all of us as a profession is the misconception that a PMP certification is an assurance of competence, and that’s where I’m passionately opposed.  I seek to drive balance and visibility to the real skills that make or break a project manager, which is the emotional intelligence to know which tool to use at the right time, including a deep respect and appreciation for human behavior and group dynamics. As I repeat in my book and speeches: Human behavior is not a work breakdown structure, and methodology alone will not get you there.

Having opened myself up for criticism… I welcome your comments, feedback, and debate.


85 responses to “PMI Certification: Is it Worth It?

  1. This is a very good article. Every thing at the end comes to money.Some one started as business and is being success.
    The result is
    There are “those who have done PMP are not a successful PM, in other case who have not done PMP are being successful PM”.
    Please treat this as another business, like IT etc…

  2. I have years of experience as both a Project Manager in App Development and Web Development. While having great technical skills combined with PM skills, I find that many employers will still hire someone over me with less technical knowledge and skill because they have their PMP. I have seen so many PMP holders that I have worked with that can’t lead a project if they had a gun to their head. They have no idea of how to go from B to C which is sad. I hate how employers in the IT industry have put this over-blown misconception of having a PMP makes a PM a great candidate over someone who does not have it. The truth is, the person without the PMP and years of experience is going to know how to dig themselves and the team out of an unforeseen situation and the PMP holder is most likely going to wait for someone to tell him or her what to do. I see this same function everyday.

  3. I agree with you, but now, (5 years down), Microsoft and other vendors are requiring it of their partners and consultants. Companies I interview with are assuaged by the fact that you have one. And now also an Agile certification seems really sought after.

  4. Donald Kennedy

    I enjoyed the article and definitely agree. I do think the PMP is a start. What I don’t like is that PMI is a racket in that I can only get 5 PDUs for a years worth of experience on a project as a PM, but if I fly to Dubai and spend 10 k on a weekend’s worth of seminars I can get 28. That in my humble opinion is unethical.

  5. I thoroughly enjoy the article. I work for a company who is beginning to weigh heavily on their PMs having their certifications. I work in an environment where I’ve had to manage many small scale projects but cannot even get hired in a position that will add to what I already have UNLESS I sit for this quite expensive certification. Someone told me the other day of a person who sat for a 5000.00 exam and their employer told them, that’s a great accomplishment but made no difference in their salary. Raw talent and pure work experience wins out over the classroom methodology every day of the week! I will most definitely take what I’ve learned from this article in making my decision about further my professional education. Your candor is greatly appreciated!

  6. Kesav Tadimeti

    There is an entire industry built around training professionals to ‘pass in the first attempt’ and to earn PDUs. This makes candidates rush towards clearing the examination with the minimum investment in preparation and qualification. Many a PMP has admitted to never having read the PMBOK.

    At a time when several certifications are turning away from MCQs to practical & verifiable exercises to assess internalisation of training, I find the PMP to be rooted in revenue generation and exclusion.

  7. I recently just retired from the military after serving 25 years and is now in the process of finding my second career. I’ve managed numerous projects and supervised 1000’s of soldiers and civilians over my tenure while serving. While searching for new employment, I constantly see questions asking if I’m PMP certified (which I’m not). In the “civilian world” which holds more weight: PMP Certified or die hard experience?

    • James– in the “civilian” world, there’s still a lot of weight put on the PMP certification. I don’t necessarily agree with that, but it’s the reality. If you decide to skip the certification, you may want to work through Veteran’s organizations that are partnering with corporations to recruit ex-Vets. In those programs, the focus is on “equivalent experience” and not as much on professional certifications. Best of luck to you! – Pam

  8. James P Doerflinger

    Interesting. I am looking for work again after working for over 30 years in the (mostly federal government) consulting and commercial telecommunications industries. Two of the biggest obstacles at this moment are that I no longer have an active security clearance (inactive now for 20 years) and the lack of a PMP certification. I, like you, have worked with (and managed) many PM’s, and have found no correlation between the certification and “go to” PM’s.

    As I write this, I am contemplating yet again taking the course (at a discounted rate), since I keep running into this roadblock. It feels silly, as I have decades of successful project and program management — and an MBA in Operations Management — as part of my expertise and experience.

  9. The cost section is misleading.

    I have both PMP and RMP.

    The only concrete fact i can add is that it can cost MUCH less to get and maintain. Just because someone is willing to carelessly spend 40k in a lifetime means that is how much it costs.

    I refered to one of my university courses as a prep course (to check the box and be accpeted to take the test). I only read the PMBOK and one other book. Already renewed my PMP with 0 USD cost for PDU. Come on! Reading a website or a book counts as PDU, writing an article is a PDU, work courses are PDU. If you can’t find PDU’s in your daily activities then you are really not developing.

    If what i am saying is ground breaking the contact me and i will elaborate.


  10. Good points made here , A PMP Certification will not make you a good project manager but getting the certification is worth it because you will learn many new tools and techniques which will help you in becoming a better project manager.

  11. I couldn’t agree more. When I started as a project manager in global sourcing for a large aerospace company there was no certification. I juggled upwards of 20 complex projects at a time.

    Large teams, all indirect employees from various disciplines on each project. It’s the soft skills that keep the project going, people excited, energized and working on your project, especially when they have multiple assignments.

    As I was leaving the organization they began to require everyone to have a Pmp certification. We had developed tools for each product category, many utilized across all commodities.

    I find now, regardless of my 18 plus years managing complex projects everyone wants someone with the certification. I wonder how many great PM’s never are given the opportunity and the loss and risk these companies are exposed to.

  12. Totally false about the cost of PDUs! I have been through 2 renewal cycles (120 PDUs) and have never paid a cent! Go to the PMI site and look for the free webinars – they are usually an hour long and you get one PDU per hour of webinar.

  13. Pingback: PMI Certification: Is it Worth It? – a Crazy Kind of Sanity

  14. I think this article really misses one major point. Most PM job requirements these days either require a PMP or prefer a PMP. So, if you are ever going to look for another job or are a Contact/Consultant a PMP is really a must

    • I don’t miss that point, but I must challenge it. I know that companies miss out on good PMs by using certification as a recruiting filter. I will continue to campaign against that mindset!

  15. Nicholas Danu

    As a professional egineer, with over 30 years experience, I agree with the article. Academics is only one component of success. It takes many of practical experience to gain the level of competence necessary for the rest.

  16. I am an IT professional specializing in Cyber security. Just wondering how much important and a boost PMI Risk Management Professional certification would pay me in my profile. Please help me on that. Thank you.

  17. Let’s face it folks, a combination of experience and the certification will definitely help you to land a job interview. Even if you don’t have much experience. There are companies who prefer to hire someone who is trainable and that have the capacity to learn along the way. Plus if you are already a PM and get PMP certified will allow you to be ready for another opportunity elsewhere if mass layoff in your company. I sense from some of you against certifications that you are in the comfort zone or does not see a value or want to invest the time studying and sit for the test. Long time ago when I got certified Novel Netware Engineer it opened a lots of doors for me to become a great Network Administrator, Network Engineer, Network Services Manager and now an IT PM. I had to take 7 tests. Honestly, it was worth every penny. I was given the opportunity to run operational projects without certifications in my company and later I became part of the PMO with the same company. I agree on emotional intelligent as one factor which allowed me to perform well. In my opinion, not getting a college degree or certification in your professional carrier is an unfinished business.

  18. Thank you! You really helped me in making a decision about pursuing the PMP Certification. I am at the end of my career, and really have no utility for it in retirement. My character, reputation, and track record speak for themselves. Appreciate your honesty and staunch support of the highly significant value of human interactions and relationships.

  19. I think a lot of people are missing the point, when they complain about an employer valuing PMP more than ‘real world experience’. Real world experience is of course more important if they know you well enough to be able to measure it, but in cases where they have only met you at interviews, they cannot. So the point is not which is more valuable, but which is measurable. In many cases PMP is more measurable than your real world experience(which you can bluff about), so employers have no choice but to prefer something more objective.

  20. Let’s get real here. I am currently a PMP certified project manager, and understanding the science around Project Management is extremely important and provides project managers with the foundation needed for understanding the various processes around project management. That being said, make no mistake about it, The Project Management Institute is a money-making machine. They have profit and loss responsibilities just like any other organization. Their recent addition of several other certifications is a great example of why their revenues are extremely important. For an organization that had just two certifications 10 years ago (PMP, CAPM), now offers 8. The average cost for all certifications hovers in the $650 range, with the Program Management (PgMP) and the Portfolio Management (PfMP) certifications currently running a hefty $1000 each. The organization enlists over 500,000 members with yearly revenues exceeding the $200 million mark. Mark Langley, the CEO of PMI, made a base salary of 1.5 million (in 2011!), well within the top 200 paid CEOs in the country. Maybe that’s just the cost of doing business, but let’s take a look at all the potential costs associated with becoming a certified professional through PMI: Keep in mind, I am only referring to the PMP certification. First, there is the application fee, a scheduling fee, a fee to retake the exam if you don’t pass on your first attempt (keep in mind it is to PMI’s financial advantage if you do not pass the exam), a membership fee, local chapter fees, a Registered Education Provider fee, Consultant Registry fees, fees for PMI courses, fees for the Body of Knowledge books, etc. etc. Even non-PMI education providers must pay PMI a fee if they choose to use the word “PMBOK” in their training material. I just wanted to provide some context to the business of becoming a certified PMI professional.

  21. A certification is now required for program and project managers in the Federal Government that are assigned to major acquisitions as defined in Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-11, Part 7, exhibit 300, Planning, Budgeting, Acquisition, and Management of Capital Assets. The Federal Acquisition Certification for Program and Project Managers (FAC-P/PM) program is for acquisition professionals in the Federal Government performing program and project management activities and functions. The FAC-P/PM program is run by the Federal Acquisition Institute (FAI) and is restricted to eligible Federal employees.

    Read full article on this page

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