Certification: Commodity or Differentiator?

Mark Mullaly is president of Interthink Consulting Incorporated, an organizational development and change firm specializing in the creation of effective organizational project management solutions. Since 1990, it has worked with companies throughout North America to develop, enhance and implement effective project management tools, processes, structures and capabilities. Mark was most recently co-lead investigator of the Value of Project Management research project sponsored by PMI. You can read more of his writing at markmullaly.com.

There has been a lot written about certification in terms of the process, the problems and the purpose. A survey of perspectives on project management certifications can be summed up with “they’re popular, increasingly recognized, not fully reflective of someone’s skills but differentiate someone on a resume.” Cynical? Perhaps. Is it accurate? Let’s take a look.
The idea of certifications has been around for some time, and project management as a discipline is not alone in working to establish certifications and encourage people to acquire them. Their most common stated purpose is to demonstrate the credibility and competency of the project manager. The reality, however, is that most certifications are tests of knowledge rather than competency. The most common and widely obtained certification at this point is the Project Management Professional (PMP) designation, which is now held by over 270,000 people.
While claimed by PMI to allow holders to “demonstrate a proficient level of project management leadership skills”, what the certification reflects today is that the holder has worked in a project lead capacity for a period of time, has taken five days of training and has passed a 200-question exam drawn from a common knowledge base. In other words, the certification is more a recognition of knowledge and service than…

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