The education market is saturated with so-called project management “certifications”, yet the actual impact of studying these courses is rarely assessed. The most commonly recognized qualifications are PRINCE2, PMP and various degree level project management courses, and there are hundreds of other non-accredited courses available online.
Statistics show that a PMP or PRINCE2 certification can lead to an approx. 20% increase in salary for job-seekers, but does this extra cost really add value for the employer?
An effective project manager is highly organised, flexible and able to communicate with all levels of business from C-Suite executives to site construction workers, often across the globe. These so-called “soft skills” can be honed with practice and training, yet are almost impossible to develop from scratch if not already possessed by the candidate. Whilst the PMP, PRINCE2 and various Masters level courses can equip PMs with tools and frameworks for successful project management, I argue that the most important project management skills cannot be taught.
The Project Management Professional (PMP) is an internationally recognized qualification offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI). The rigorous exam requires a minimum of a secondary school education, 7,500 hours of project management experience and 35 hours of formal training by an approved PMI trainer. It is the most recognised qualification throughout the Americas and parts of Asia.
The PMP provides an outline for project management and tools and techniques to deal with project scenarios. It is highly theoretical and focuses on how to complete project tasks as defined through the PMP framework.
PRINCE2 (Projects in Controlled Environments) is a process-based project management methodology which was originally developed for the British government. There are no prerequisites to sit the PRINCE2 Foundation exam, and it is the preferred qualification in Europe, Australia and parts of Asia.
PRINCE2 provides a systematic approach to delivering a project, with templates, processes and defined roles. It focuses on who should complete what project task, and when the task should be completed.
Benefits of Project Management Qualifications
Despite my skepticism regarding the value of the PMP and PRINCE2, I concede that both qualifications offer useful practical knowledge for project managers and enhance communication amongst project teams through a common vocabulary. PRINCE2 specifically ensures that risks are considered and there is a sound business case before any major project investments are made, and PMP provides a step by step framework for taking a project from conception to closure.
Disadvantages of Project Management Qualifications
The first disadvantage of both the PMP and PRINCE2 certification is, of course, the cost. With the PMP exam starting at $405 and PRINCE2 starting at $170 (excluding the cost of required training), the exams are expensive and inaccessible to some potential PMs. Certified training courses generally cost between $500-$3,000, and there is also the cost of the annual fee and regular recertification.
A full time PRINCE2 Foundation and Practitioner course takes 5 business days, and course time is considerably longer for the PMP. This is a significant amount of time spent away from the workplace, managing actual projects or sharing knowledge and best practices with teammates.
Over-emphasis on qualifications
Whether the PMP, PRINCE2 or any other project management course, simply obtaining a qualification does not mean that the candidate would actually make a good project manager. Sure, they have an understanding of the theoretical framework of project management, but this does not prove that they are organised, communicative, or indeed possess any of the soft skills required of a good project manager.
Hiring Project Managers
Selecting a good project manager is a difficult task, particularly when you do not have an opportunity to work with the person in advance to gauge their personality and management style. In my own experience, it is easy to be fooled by someone who can “talk the talk” – I once worked with a PM who could describe Agile management in detail but was unable to put together an Excel spreadsheet! – when what you really need is someone who can “walk the walk” and demonstrate constructive creativity under pressure.
When hiring a PM, it is necessary to take the time and understand how they have overcome issues in previous projects. I like to provide hypothetical project scenarios and request the candidate to explain how they would solve a particular problem. This helps me to weed out candidates who have a methodology obsession (ie. an inflexibility as to their preferred methodology eg. waterfall, agile etc., and unwillingness to adjust when required) or a process obsession (I’m sure you know the type… those PMs who cannot start any work without having every piece of paperwork in perfect order), and enables a good candidate to demonstrate their problem-solving and creativity.
In conclusion, whilst the PMP and PRINCE2 certifications do have small benefits for employers, companies risk overlooking quality candidates when they make such certifications a job requirement. From my own experience, it is better to hire an unqualified candidate who possesses the soft-skills and personal drive to overcome hurdles in project management, rather than a candidate who has merely proven their ability to rote learn a series of theoretical concepts.