Role and Rigor in PM Certifications

Role and Rigor: We have received some interesting reactions to our recent posting about Role and Rigor in PM Certifications. Some assert that we place the IPMA Level-D certification too low on the Rigor scale. Others are concerned about whether the average reader can decipher which “Other PM Certifications” are reflected by that basketball. Still others are shocked, shocked, SHOCKED, that their popular certification might be labeled an Entry-level certification. Or, that they are not really certified Project Managers, but instead, certified in project management.

Who is perpetuating this confusion? One answer: Some PM training providers, especially those engaged in Entry-level certification preparation. Read through ads in magazines, on websites, or even in blog and social network postings. In marketing, they might guarantee that you will pass an exam in a week or refund your fees. Some lead you to believe that you are being certified as a Project Manager. These providers have clearly not yet joined the ranks of IPMA PM Competence Enablers. They do not understand the difference between exam-cram methods and improved PM Performance! After all, certifications in project management knowledge and Advanced certification as a Project Manager are two different markets.

The myth is propagated by some practitioners. Having earned their knowledge-based certification, they mistakenly believe that they truly are Certified as a Project Manager. In fact, there are LinkedIn groups filled with those misled and mistaken souls.

Role and Rigor: Certified As A Project Manager

A knowledge-based certificant may be a competent Project Manager. If so, that is by virtue of his or her experience and performance, not as a result of their credential. In fact, some who have earned an Entry level cert might qualify for an Advanced-level certification. For example, they might qualify as an IPMA Level-C®, certified Project Manager. Some could possibly qualify for an Advanced certification as an IPMA Level-B®, Senior Project Manager. But explaining examples of project complexity, and showing end-to-end management of the project results, may be too difficult. And, to prepare a Portfolio of Evidence, then succeed in an interview with Professional Assessors may be too much rigor.

As long as the Entry-level certs are popular, why bother with any Advanced-level PM certification? Here is one reason: Imagine a large Initiative that will be hiring dozens of competent Project Managers. Sorting through the applications, savvy Talent Scouts are categorizing them. In some cases, they place those with Entry-level certifications in one stack, those with relevant experience in another. Those Advanced-level certified, competent, experienced Project Managers are in a third stack. In which stack would you rather be? We are in an era where it seems that everyone in the room has a certification of some sort. The handful of Advanced-level certificants stand out.

All Frosting, No Cake

You have probably heard the cowboy line, about “All hat, no cattle”. Certification must be more than a label. In the world of PM Certification, it is clear to any studious observer that Certification does not create knowledge. Nor does it create ability, competence or performance. Instead, at its targeted level, PM Certification recognizes it. Thus, a knowledge-based cert recognizes knowledge retention, in some cases for 1-2 weeks; plus, as some assert, a few skills. A Competence-based certification recognizes knowledge, applied skills, key behavioral attributes, relevant experience, and competence. A Competence-based PM certification recognizes all of the above, plus the ability to demonstrate needed project results. Most people can detect the difference between these levels of assessment, which is why we say they are different markets.

Entry-level PM certifications, including IPMA Level-D, provide a great starting-point, and a valuable service. They recognize retention of a consistent vocabulary, a taxonomy for collecting new information, and perhaps a set of useful processes. One  such example group are the PRINCE2 credentials. And yet, certification is just the frosting on the cake. The actual cake is the improved performance of the practitioners who apply that knowledge. They transition base knowledge into skills, improve behavioral and interpersonal competences, and increase PM performance. And yes, we do know some people who just enjoy the frosting.

Role and Rigor: Summary

Some readers may be in despair, having discovered that you are not yet a certified Project Manager (but thought you were). our intent is not to increase that despair, but to assist you in getting through it. IPMA’s certification program is available in the USA, and in IPMA’s Member Association programs in over 40 other nations. If you wish to rise to the Advanced, high-rigor level of certified Project Manager or other IPMA credentials, join us! Working together, we in IPMA offer the process, and the path. With our programs, you can have your cake and eat it, too!