Home » Change Management » Don’t Get Everyone Project Management Certified … For The Wrong Reason

Certification and training is a great way to improve your team’s knowledge and skills.  But as a project management tool for getting your projects to suddenly start to deliver on time, on budget and with good quality … not so much.

The Wall Street Journal ran an article on April 1st, 2010, titled “Exam Time: More Firms Are Requiring Test-Taking.”  I thought at first maybe it was an April Fools joke, but I soon knew it wasn’t.

project management tools certification and trainingThe article talked about the trend by such organizations as IBM and NASA for requiring project managers to be certified.   Some of the reasons given for requiring certification included “certifications are proof that their current or prospective employees meet an industry-wide standard” and “in order to even take the exams, you have to have a wealth of experience in project management” and finally “managers with a PMI [certification] earned more than $100,000, while those who weren’t certified earned about $93,000.”

No place in the article did it say anything like “and certifications resulted in a 10 percent [or any percent] increase in project success as reported by these organizations.”  It did not talk about the benefits accrued to the organization for requiring certifications, except to increase confidence in the organization by the customer (which is not a bad thing).

My point is not to put a damper on certification.  I love education and training, including certifications.  I spent nine years getting my masters degree because I loved going to school and constantly learning new things (or reexamining old things). The only problem with finally getting my masters was that I no longer had an excuse for studying and going to school every night and weekend!  Getting a degree or certification is a great way to demonstrate your readiness to take on the challenges in your field.

The problem arises when organizations see certifications as a solution to problems such as missing product delivery schedules, runaway costs or inadequate quality.  I’ve gone through programs for project management (PMP), six sigma, total quality management, software capability maturity, information engineering, object oriented development, structured programming, software engineering and others I’ve probably forgotten about.  In just about all these cases it was an organization wide initiative put in place to try and solve consistent and difficult problems the organization faced.

See related: Is Your Project Management on Steroids? Maybe You Should Kick The Habit!

Get Project Management Tool and Technique CertifiedIn every case, for over 30 years, I’ve never — ever — seen such an initiative result in an organization solving the problem the certification or training was intended to solve.  In every case, over that same time, what made the difference — if any was made — was focusing on the root causes of the problems and having the courage to solve them often by making uncomfortable changes.

See Seven Ways To Make That Project Management Tool “Silver Bullet” Work for more on successful initiatives.

This does not take anything away from these initiatives to educate and improve the workforce. These are great things to do for various reasons.  The problem generally arises when such training or certification is considered one of the primary solutions to issues that have plagued the organization.  This I found was almost always a misdiagnosed root cause.  (For example: “they don’t know what they are doing!” instead of the more accurate “we overcommit our teams because we won’t admit it takes us longer than we want!”).

Fixing well identified problems that impact schedule, cost and quality arguably remains the best approach to improving the organization.  These kind of hard issues are rarely fixable by mass education and training (or hiring) in management techniques or tools.  Do however, continue to educate ourselves and our workforce as it is an enabler for fixing the difficult problems.

Are you training your team to solve problems or to make your team better?

Thank you for sharing!

9 thoughts on “Don’t Get Everyone Project Management Certified … For The Wrong Reason

  1. Amy says:

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  2. Perry Wilson says:

    Great post. I have seen both sides of this issue. One organization thought getting all the PMs through certification would resolve the resistance to the application of project management and another organization disparaged PMPs as out of touch with the reality of project management.

    I think getting certified is important for project managers and gives credibility to the profession. As you say, it doesn’t solve problems within the application of the skills.

    1. Bruce Benson says:


      Excellent point. Education and training (including certification) can be part of a bigger effort to upgrade productivity and performance – and to help reduce resistance to change. The catch here is that too often the training raises expectations – that then are not met by the actual implementation and use of the techniques (a few examples in http://pmtoolsthatwork.com/project-management-on-steroids-kick-the-habit/).

      In one Fortune 50 organization I worked for they implemented a PMO that worked at getting everyone trained as project managers. Within about two years the PMO was disbanded as not effectively helping the rest of the organization. The fundamental problem was not with the PMO, but with an organization which could not honestly face their problems (see http://pmtoolsthatwork.com/honesty-efficient/). I’ve seen QA organizations have this same conflict (they don’t get disbanded, but often their management gets changed).



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