PMP, a benchmark certification or an exam cram qualification?

0 Posted by - December 2, 2011 - Blog, Skills & Tools, Trends & New Thinking, Views & Interviews

Is PMP certification a true reflection of a Project Managers competency?


There is a lot of interest around the PMP certification and as a trainer I frequently have discussions on the value of a PMP certification and its benefits to individuals, organisations and business as a whole. After some research I have summarised the different views on whether the PMP certification is a value add or not!


What is PMP?

PMP (Project Management Professional) is the PMI’s official certification in project management. The process begins with formal documentation of project work experience as set by PMI criteria and then completing formal contact hours with an education provider. After submitting this information the candidate applies to sit the exam. Passing the exam allows one to put the 3 famous letters after their name.


Critiques of the PMP qualification:

Consider it commercial and unrealistic in its measure of a project manager’s ability to deliver projects successfully. For them, PMP only displays competency in exam cramming and vocabulary familiarisation. They argue against this method of assessment asserting that number of years of real world project experience and extent of budget and resources managed speak louder than examinations and letters after a name.


Proponents of PMP:

Argue that acquiring a certification should be considered a natural progression and formality for experienced professionals. It should be used as a benchmark and criteria to assess project management competency and understanding.

In industry certified project management veterans have nothing to lose and everything to gain, for them it’s a win-win situation.

The argument is that in addition to their many years of experience a formal certification makes them even more employable.



Project management recruiters advise that the letters PMP gives professionals a competitive advantage and gets their CV noticed.

It can increase salary expectations by up to 15% and is a necessary requirement for senior PM roles.

Recruiters unashamedly defend using PMP as a screening tool simply because it is an internationally recognised certification for project managers. The assertion is that professional certifications act as a recognition and acknowledgement of ones achievements. It also quality assures an individual’s understanding of codes of conduct, professional and ethical standards and hence used as a benchmark when sifting through thousands of CV’s.


In the GCC region:

Interest and enrolment in project management and PMP programs is increasing. As the regions economies diversify, huge numbers of projects are born and the need for quality project managers grows. The multi cultural nature of the work force and communication difficulties are eased by having a common vocabulary and shared framework as offered by PMBOK.

I have noticed there is increasing pressure on employees to become certified, as this is considered synonymous with project and organizational success.


I would be interested to know whether this is a regional trend or does organisational pressure exist in other parts of the world too?


PMP exam prep participant survey

I recently surveyed my PMP participants to understand whether they had gained any value from the contact hours and how they felt about the PMP certification. Some comments were as follows:

  • Refreshing and filled some gaps in my project management knowledge.
  • Greater appreciation of integration management and how to use it throughout the project cycle.
  • Some noted that they had been spending too much time focusing on technical details hence neglecting other critical success factors
  • Will go back and pay more attention to detailed planning in cost, schedule and scope
  • Activities executed haphazardly due to adoption of bad habits.
  • Realise and understand the need to maintain good, orderly project documentation
  • Link project problems they are experiencing to poor planning and requirements gathering techniques presently used.
  • PMP program was not rocket science but refreshing new look at project management
  • Understanding the processes put many things into context.


As a PMP trainer I am an obvious enthusiast in favour of certification

However I do become more convinced of its real world benefits after every course I deliver.  From discussions I have with each group I see participants inspiration levels change as they relate processes and outputs to their experiences and work. I disagree with the idea that this is an easy exam cram type of certification. The ability to comprehend and use these processes requires project management maturity and would be a challenge for inexperienced managers. I find that generally out of a group of 10 participants 3 or 4 actually go on to take either the PMP or CAPM.


There will always be examples of good PMP project managers and then the ones who underperform. This is true of every profession whether they are a doctor, pilot, plumber or banker, in all these professions we expect individuals to be suitably certified, as a frontline measure of proficiency. Therefore it should be no different for project professionals and quality should be expected from PMP holders no different to any other professional as they have high expectations attached to them too.

1 Comment

  • Victor Hunt December 2, 2011 - 6:40 pm Reply

    Clear and concise dissertation of the pro’s and con’s of certification.

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