The Professional Certification of Project Managers

Many job advertisements require PRINCE2™ or APM™ certification from applicants: in government-related organisations this is mandatory.  But is this the correct initial qualification criterion? And does this qualify in (and out) the right people?  And if not, what other criteria should be used.

Buying professional services

Acquiring high-quality professional services is a difficult business. Services are intangible and bought on trust – difficult to measure or assess in advance.

The ‘sale’ should be part of the value-add because:

Expertise should be present at the sales meeting – not “pure-play” sales people; and

That expertise seeks to understand the problem (not simply tout a pre-determined solution which is annoying and frustrating for clients).

So is PRINCE™/APM™ certification sufficient?

Evaluating professional services

Not unreasonably, employers adopt an array of tactics to assure their final decision but there are fundamental flaws with all of these:

The right buzz-words could be on a CV

CVs could be embroidered or have been modified (inappropriately) by agents

Candidates could be good at interviews

Candidates at interviews may demonstrate market or subject expertise but then appoint others to deliver the job (a typical consultancy strategy)

Candidates (and their companies) can ‘embroider’ their range of services proposing they are broader and deeper than is genuinely the case

Fees are not always proportional to quality but can reflect the need of a wider organisation to upkeep sales staff, administrational overheads and property

References from previous employments may lack detail (and that may be not HR’s fault)

Personal recommendations are rarely impartial.

Therefore the only real proof is in the pudding; and a small (?) leap of faith is required to hire someone.  Do PRINCE™/APM™ certificates provide that assurance?

The only tool in the toolbox

“If the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything you see ‘becomes’ a nail.”  In the project management world there may be similarities.  All we have is a basic level qualification to show an understanding of project methods (and those in a controlled environment). 

Aside from the unsound premise that we actually have a truly controlled environment (cfProjects IN a Controlled Environment), is such certification really sufficient?  And although examination boards have often reverted to multiple choice (isn’t that rather random – Ed), are these examination-board-cum-would-be-academics really the people we expect (or indeed want) to develop some sort of professional qualification that enables us to sift the wheat from the chaff - when we have a major organisational change programme putting our jobs and careers on the line?

Clearly there is a need to professional-ise project management for the purposes of identifying and rewarding those who can and do demonstrate best practice intelligently.  But who will authorise and administer this?  How will it be done?  And who has the knowledge, understanding, desire and finance to undertake this, perhaps, ultimately worthy venture?  Especially since the majority of project managers go through their entire careers without experiencing a successful project (and in many cases not realising this).

From pyramids to PRINCE™

We would like to compare ourselves to the world chartered engineers, but theirs is a profession far more mature than the world of IT and business change.  Their lessons originated from the construction of the Pyramids to the latest Olympic Stadium – and even then mistakes are still made.  But the mistakes are recorded,lessons are learned and the solutions passed between generations; and then tested in the heat of battle before certification finally acknowledges an individual’s professionalism.

And we have APM™ and PRINCE™: surely a mere driving licence trying to gain access to the F1 World Championship; a mere GCSE in support of a CEO role at a major global corporation. 


Come on people out there!  Heads out of the sand!  Wake up and smell the coffee!  Let’s face reality! 

We do need a genuine professional certification process based on real project management theory and practice – not a one week course resulting in a multiple choice questionnaire and a couple of essays based on a case study designed specifically to fit the perfect marking-model.

Don’t get me wrong though: I’m not ‘knocking’ PRINCE™ or APM™: they can have real value if you truly understand how to make use of them (and I carry the materials with me all the time).  I’m simply saying that their value is being grossly inflated simply because it’s the only “certified” tool in our toolbox.  The skill is not in having a certificate; it’s in knowing how to apply the right tools at the right time.

So when we advertise and interview applicants, may be we should reflect on more than these certificates.  If not, perhaps we should be certified…if you see what I mean

2010, PeopleKatie MayerComment