Project management as a profession

* PMI certifies project managers

Earlier last month I mentioned a Forrester Research survey which found that CIOs believe project management is a "missing skill set." I spoke with CompTIA to get the IT training perspective - CompTIA believes every IT pro, not necessary ones who want to be career project managers, should get project management training. CompTIA offers the foundation level Project+ certification and CompTIA officials said IT pros wanting to consider a career in project management should consider the certification programs of the Project Management Institute.

According to Mark Langley, PMI's COO the organization provides certifications and resources to some 237,000 members in 150 countries. Some 38% of the membership are professionals involved in information systems and telecommunications, Langley said. PMI also has a dedicated research function.

The institute's primary certification is the Project Management Professional (PMP). Candidates are required to have between three and five years - depending on educational background - professional project management experience and at least between 4,500 and 7,500 hours spent leading and directing project tasks. In addition, candidates must verify at least 35 contact hours of education, which could be taken from PMI education providers or courses offered by employers or distance-learning companies. The PMP exam comprises of 200 competency-based multiple choice questions. Detailed info about applying for the PMP credential is here. To maintain PMP status, professionals need to attain 60 professional development units every three years.

The PMP certification is PMI's oldest, originally developed in the 1990s and the institute numbers 230,000 PMPs around the world.

While PMP is targeted at leaders and directors of projects, PMI also offers its two-year-old Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) certification targeted at project team members and students. This certification appears to be the equivalent of CompTIA's Project+ designation. CAPM candidates must have a high school diploma or equivalent, and 1,500 hours of work on a project team or 23 hours of formal project management education. Full details of this certification are here.

CAPM are required to retest after five years to maintain status, Langley said.

Also new is the Program Management Professional (PgMP) certification, a more-involved program aimed at pros who lead the coordinated management of multiple projects and ensures the ultimate success of a program. Candidates must have a BA degree or equivalent, and in the last 15 consecutive years, have gained four years of project management experience, and four years of program management experience. As well as taking an exam, candidates' work experience is also assessed by a panel of program managers. Like the PMP credential, PgMP pros need to attain 60 professional development units every three years to remain active. Full details of this certification program are here.

In the pipeline is a certification for project/executive sponsors – pros in mid-management roles who are sponsors of projects but may not necessarily manage them day-to-day. This certification demonstrates that professionals understand the aspects of project management and how their role affects the success of projects, Langley explained.

PMI certifications demonstrate to employers that certified pros have attained a level of competence and professionalism in project management. Langley cites research by The Standish Group which suggests that one of the top 10 criteria of successful projects is the use of certified project managers – certainly an attractive proposition for businesses that may have seen their competitors’ – or their own – projects fail in the past. Certified project managers also benefit, according to Langley, citing PMI’s 2005 salary survey which found that PMPs with five to nine years project management experience commanded median salaries of $94,000.

But does hiring certified PMPs guarantee project success? Not necessarily, according to James Del Monte, president of JDA Professional Services, a Houston-based IT staffing firm. Half of the companies questioned by JDA claimed no better results with a PMP than with one who has qualified experience but no certification. Why? Del Monte lack of good soft skills is often the culprit.

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