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.

OR:

  • 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.

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69 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

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