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July 03, 2013

Is The PMP® Certification Still Relevant In An Agile World?

4 mins read

Oh, the PMP® Certification:  a credential to be respected and revered…and sometimes mocked and/or smeared.

If you are a professional in the consulting, manufacturing, construction, supply chain, defense, or government industries, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of the Project Management Professional® certification or the PMP certification.

There’s also a good chance that you may have heard a polarizing opinion of the PMP certifications as a measure of competency, and the application of its methodology a best practice in project management.  Perhaps you have encountered some great project managers out there who do not have this credential, and others with this acronym behind their names that did not live up to its standards.

And what about Agile?  Is the embrace of Agile methods (such as Scrum) as an effective approach to project management across multiple industries leading to the sunset of the PMP certification?

Since I just received my PMP certification and I have been a long time Agile practitioner, the relevance of the PMP certification has been on my mind recently. So I decided to dig into what my new credential really means…

What does the PMP mean?

Some things about the Project Management Professional credential and its creator, the Project Management Institute (PMI) are indisputable:  since debuting the credential in 1984, PMI has knighted an estimated 520,000 certified Project Management Professionals and made the credential THE standard for project management.

The credential means you are an expert in the following areas:

  • Initiating and planning projects
  • Tracking project progress with Earned Value Management
  • Managing project cost, schedule, scope, and quality
  • Closing out projects

This all sounds great on paper, but I wanted to know what people really thought.  So I asked around…

What do certified PMPs think of the PMP certification? 

An informal email survey among a few of my certified PMP colleagues revealed some intriguing results.   When asked to rank the real world usefulness of the methodologies presented in the Project Management Body of Knowledge (aka, PMBOK® Guide, or “pim bock”), from 1 (not useful) to 5 (extremely useful), the scores averaged 3.06.

When asked to rank the PMP certifications’s perceived value (legitimacy it represents to buyers on a proposal response, prestige it garners from peers) from 1 (no benefit) to 5 (extremely beneficial), the scores averaged 4.06.

Cynical analysis of these results suggests that the perceived value of the PMP certification significantly exceeds the true value of the PMBOK® Guide’s methods in practice, perhaps giving credit where credit is not due.  The optimist would say the results suggest that the PMBOK® Guide (and by extension, the PMP certification) is useful in practice, and even more valuable to talent seekers – those looking for a basis upon which to measure or qualify a person’s skills.

What does the industry say?

After surveying locally, I decided to broaden my gaze and take a look at what the industry was saying about the relevance of the PMP certifications on the kinds of projects I work on: Information Technology projects.  I was particularly interested in the opinions of my fellow Agilists.

My favorite sound bite, and the comment that I think best sums up my opinion on PMP vs. ScrumMaster-run technology projects comes from Juan Banda, a Scrum Coach with Innovision:

“…{certified} PMPs fail to understand that Scrum as a framework is not about process and mechanics, but about values and mindset.”

Juan asserts that while certified PMPs have success in repeatable, well-defined projects, complex technology projects demand real-time communication and problem solving that can’t always be dictated by formal, hierarchical plans.  Juan gives credence to the PMP’s careful planning, monitoring, and controlling strategies, but warns against the oversimplified conception of projects as a collection of processes and plans.

This seems to indicate that the PMP certification is not becoming irrelevant as Scrum and other Agile methods begin to dominate technology project management – its framework contains many useful tools.  However, the certified PMP stakeholder must recognize that project success is not measured by how well you followed your plans.  More often than not, the project leader, be it a certified PMP or a ScrumMaster, must prioritize values (transparency, flexibility, inspection, and adaptation) over plans and processes to achieve the desired outcomes.

Silver Linings PMBOK® Guide 

After all this pondering, here’s the reality of the PMP certifications: it serves its purpose. Let’s glance back at the survey results: The average rating for practical application was above the median rating, suggesting that there are useful skills to be gained by becoming a certified PMP. The perception rating of the credential was very high. This perceived value has to be based, at least in part, on clients getting more reliable results from certified PMPs vs. non-certified.

Think of the PMBOK® Guide as a project management toolbox to reach into when you’re managing a real-world project (as opposed to a PMI-world project).  From my perspective, the PMP credential simply lets people know that you possess that project management toolbox.  You’ve demonstrated that you understand one way that projects can be managed.  After that – the sky’s the limit.

What are your thoughts, experiences, and questions regarding the PMP certification?  I’d be happy to answer any questions from anyone considering a PMP certification journey.

PMI, PMP and PMBOK® Guide are registered marks of the Project Management Institute

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