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Certifications Don’t Make Project Managers
By Richard Morreale

The Project Management Institute (PMI) and the Association of Project Management Group (APMG) are two of the biggest reasons that projects fail. They have sold the myth to the corporate world and to their certification customers that successful completion of their certification tests and the addition of Project Management Professional (PMP) after their name or adding PRINCE2 Certified on their Resume or Curriculum Vitae makes them a Project Manager. Companies believe the myth. They believe that when they hire a certified Project Manager, they are getting someone who is truly a successful Project Management Professional not just a newly graduated student. So when they hire project managers, just about the first requirement they put in their job specification is that the person needs to be a PMP or PRINCE2 professional. The truth is that Project Management certification does not make the student a Project Manager. I’m not in any way saying that becoming certified is a bad thing. In fact, I believe it is a very good way for potential project managers to learn the basics of Project Management. What certification does is teach the person the mechanics of Project Management tools and techniques. And, although it teaches them how to use them from a mechanical standpoint, it really doesn’t teach them how to use them in the overall context of their project, when to use them, how to modify them due to circumstances or, in fact, when not to use them at all. And it doesn’t recognize or teach them what is really about 80% of the Project Management success equation which I’ll cover later in this article.

PMI started certifying Project Managers in 1969 and PRINCE was established by the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA) in the UK in 1979. This was just about the time that independent surveys showed that approximately 70% of all IT Projects failed when measured against the criteria of cost, schedule and expectations. Since then, PMI and the APMG say that they have worked with and certified over 550,000 people as either Project Management Professionals or PRINCE2 certified Project Managers. PMI have over 270 chapters in over 70 countries. the APMG are in over 20 countries. PMI have sold over 2 million copies of PMBOK – the Guide during that period of time. The APMG has sold approximately 1 million copies of their PRINCE Manuals. PMI and APMG are making wheelbarrows of money off of the certification myth. In addition, a huge network of companies, organizations, associations are also involved. A very large industry has been built up over the years based on certification. With all of this training, certification, book sales going on, surveys now show that approximately 70% of all IT Projects fail. What! If, as claimed, becoming a PMP or a PRINCE2 certified person makes one a Project Manager and over a half a million people have been certified as Project Managers why are projects still failing at the 70% rate? In addition, millions of dollars have been spent over the last 30 to 35 years on the project manager, on training, on certification, on Project Management Processes and Procedures and on other project management tools and techniques and still approximately 70% of all IT projects are failing. That tells me that successful Project Management must depend on something other than competence in those project Management tools, techniques, processes, procedures and certification.

In my experience from working on and successfully managing some of the most visible projects over the last 40 years, including the Apollo Program, the Trident Submarine, The Cruise Missile, computerization of the British Income Tax System, other major programs for some of the largest companies in the world along with the rescue of a $600M program for the UK Government, what I’ve found is that good project management processes and procedures must not only be in place for projects to be successful but the Project Manager must truly understand how and when to use them and modify them, if required. Without a doubt, Project Managers must understand and be experienced in the hard skills of Planning, Organizing, Monitoring and Controlling their projects. PMI and PRINCE2 certification is certainly a very good way to learn these hard skills. However, I believe that these hard skills are only about 20% of the success equation.

The much bigger part of the equation, the 80%, are the soft skills, the attitudes and behaviors, that the Project Manager should have and practice. These soft skills include, but are not necessarily limited to, enthusiasm, energy, commitment to success, commitment to excellence; good communication skills – knowing what to say, when to say it, how to say it and when to shut-up; good interpersonal skills, approachability, self-motivation, the ability to motivate the project team, good team building skills, a go-for-it attitude, a no-problem attitude, a go-the-extra-mile attitude and a good sense of humor. None of these soft skills are really part of the PMBOK and aren’t really required for PMP or PRINCE2 certification. I’m a true believer in the song title, “It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it.”

By all means, I think potential project managers should work to get certified because certification will teach them the hard skills foundations. But they shouldn’t believe nor should the PMI or the APMG continue advertising that certification makes a person a Project Manager. The real way and the only way to being a true Project Manager and to lower the project failure rate is to ensure that our Project Managers are not only proficient in the hard skills of Planning, Organizing, Monitoring, and Controlling their projects but that they, also, have and continue to practice the soft skills. You’ll start to see the changes when companies advertising for project managers start off the requirements list with the soft skills requirements and finish up with the hard skills. After all, a person can be taught the hard skills a lot easier than the soft skills attitudes and behaviors.

Richard Morreale is a project manager, professional speaker, author and consultant specializing in Project Management, Leadership, Achievement and Customer Service.

You can book Richard for your next meeting or conference at richard@richardmorreale.com or 336 499 6677.

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