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PMP Certification: Is It Worth It?
By Pam Stanton

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:

  • PgMP: Program Management Professional
  • PMP: Project Management Professional
  • CAPM: Certified Associate Project Manager
  • PMI-SP: PMI Scheduling Professional
  • 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.

Pam Stanton is the owner of Heart, Brains, & Courage, LLC, the parent entity for “Pam Stanton, The Project Whisperer” and “Perspectives Gallery.” She has 25 years experience leading business initiatives of all types, focusing in corporate I/T.

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