Eight to Late

Sensemaking and Analytics for Organizations

Certifiably mistaken: two wrong reasons for pursuing project management certification

with 6 comments

Project management certifications are booming. However, it seems to me that the main beneficiaries of the certification gold rush are the certifiers, not the certified.   There are a lot of articles aimed convincing people of the value of certifications. Here I take a different, and possibly contrary approach: I’ll give you two common, but (in my opinion) wrong, reasons for pursuing PM certification.

My motivation for writing this post is a recent conversation I had with a colleague. It went like this:

“Do you think a PM certification is worth the effort?” 

“Depends on what you want out of it,” I replied.

“Well I reckon it will make me a better project manager and help me stand out from the crowd .”

Now I don’t remember what I said in reply, but he’s wrong on both counts. Here’s why:

  1. To become a competent project manager: A cert does not a PM make. Preparing for a certification will teach you formal project management processes  as decreed by  a particular certifying authority. These processes are easy to learn  by reading a book or two. The “hard bits” of project management – negotiation, people skills, crisis management, conflict resolution, prioritisation, stakeholder management (I could go on and on but I’m sure you get my point) – are not, and cannot be, learnt through certification.
  2. To stand out from the crowd: The fallacy here is easy to see: certifying authorities push their credentials like there’s no tomorrow, hence the number of people gaining certs is growing rapidly. That being so, the “stand out from the crowd” factor is getting smaller and smaller every day. 

Before I conclude, I should come clean and admit that I have a cert or two. My main reason for getting certified was (is!) that it is a good way to learn about commonly used project management processes and the associated terminology.  The certs don’t make me a better project manager, and they won’t help me get that dream job either. However, they do help me recognise jargon-laden bulldust when I hear it (which, unfortunately, is  quite often). 

In the end, formal knowledge is always useful. So, gaining a cert won’t hurt,  but be sure you aren’t doing it for the wrong reasons.

Written by K

March 11, 2008 at 8:21 pm

Posted in Project Management

6 Responses

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  1. I agree with you. And, to add: I am really annoyed at the cottage industry firms which GUARANTEE a pass on the test. This strikes me as very wrong for our profession. I do not want to work side by side with someone who paid a sum of money to get certified.


    Diane Dull

    March 12, 2008 at 3:12 am

  2. Dogmatic PMBOK PMP’s actually have a lot to answer for 🙂

    This has been a problem for at least 10 years. Tech certifications suffer from the same problem. Microsoft through their own lax initial requirements created an army of MCSE’s who had very little practical skill.

    There is only one saving grace for certifications. They do show to a potential employer that the person at least cares enough to try and better themselves.

    What you are *really* looking for though is someone who applies critical thinking to what they do, and how they leverage what they have certified in.

    Your blog is chock-full of examples of this. It comes out in your writing all the time.




    Paul Culmsee

    December 23, 2008 at 6:40 pm

  3. Paul,

    Thanks for your comment and apologies for the delay in my response – I’ve been away for a while.

    You’re right – I do go on about this, but with good reason. I’ve seen way too much over-certified incompetence, particularly in our line of work…

    That said, certs are a good way to expand one’s knowledge and become aware of new (product) features and techniques. But as you say, ultimately one’s looking for someone who can think for themselves. No two problems or situations are exactly alike.





    January 18, 2009 at 7:59 pm

  4. I agree with your #1 but would want to qualify the ‘crowd’ on #2. It is a very subjective ‘crowd’. It can be the list of applicants for a PM post where having a cert puts you at one end of the list or even out of that list to the short list.

    PMP certification is not present before in the requirements for a PM post, but now-a-days, esp. here in the Philippines, having it will count a lot.


    Shem Cristobal

    March 10, 2009 at 1:58 pm

  5. Shem,

    Thanks for your comment. Yes, in the short term it may count a lot. However, as more and more folks jump on the certification bandwagon – as they will – the advantage offered will diminish.





    March 10, 2009 at 8:42 pm

  6. […] A typical answer to this question can be found at a post on the Eight to Late blog entitled, “Certifiably Mistaken: Two Wrong Reasons For Pursuing Project Management Certification.” […]


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