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The PMP bubble may be about to burst

PMPs in 2009Steve Koger wrote a very insightful comment on one of my “Ask Derek” posts titled Required Experience to take the PMP.  In the post, I was trying to assist someone who wants to be a good project manager.  They want to get their PMP but they don’t have the required experience to sit for the exam.  I do want to be clear of three positions.  [1] I don’t believe you have to have a PMP to be a good project manager. [2]  Though the certification may be used more and more as a marketing tool, just to get to the interview, I would hire the person not the credential. [3] I see more people attempting to game the system and get a PMP by going to boot camps and saying they have experience that they actually don’t.

What is happening is an every increasing amount of non-qualified people becoming PMPs.  Unfortunately, I don’t see PMI taking any action to stop it.

This is what Steve wrote:

…while the PMP is more recognized worldwide, I’m not sure it carries as much weight as it used to… is there a marginalization occurring with the PMP credential?

I absolutely feel there is a marginalization occurring with the PMP credential.  Because PMI is a “for profit” organization, they are motivated to get as many people certified as possible. I know they say they are trying to advance the industry of Project Management. I do believe that but I can’t ignore the marketing machine behind the credential. I’m worried there will soon be so many PMPs, the credential is becoming the next Dutch tulip.

I am of course comparing it to the Dutch tulip bulb market bubble of the 1600’s.  This was one of the most famous market bubbles of all time.  Speculation drove the value of tulip bulbs to extremes. At the height of the market, the rarest tulip bulbs traded for as much as six times the average person’s annual salary.  (Source: Investopedia)

I see the PMP credential adoption being part supply and demand and part good marketing.  Fact 1: Too many projects fail.  Fact 2: Having a qualified and empower project manager at the project helm “could” lower the risk of a project failing.  Assumption 1: If you have a PMP as your project manager, your project won’t fail.

As with the economics of scarcity, the less there is of something where a demand exist, the greater the value. But scarcity and shortage are not the same thing. A shortage is when the demand exceeds the supply, usually meaning the price was too low and the market is not clearing. Scarcity always exists, but a shortage can be fixed. I feel the shortage of PMPs was fixed a few years ago. I see market conditions which indicate the PMP bubble is about to burst.

What I want to see is a limitation put on the number of PMPs certified per year.  I want to see PMI go back and require not only a 4 hour exam but also require everyone pass a practical exam.  I want to know that Project Managers are PMPs, not people collecting credentials.  I want to see the stop of Paper PMPs.

I certainly don’t have the answer.  I want to do everything I can to help qualified people get the credential.  But, that will mean nothing if there is a continued devaluation by people who merely pay a fee and pass a test.

About Derek Huether

I'm Vice President of Enterprise Engagements at LeadingAgile. I'm super focused on results. But I also take the hand waving out of organizational transformations. I come from a traditional PM background but I don't give points for stuff done behind the scenes. The only thing that counts is what you get done and delivered. Author of Zombie Project Management (available on Amazon)

17 Responses to “The PMP bubble may be about to burst”

  1. Sameh
    May 2, 2010 at 9:03 pm

    We might probably need to re-consider the role of Project Manager altogether especially in knowledge work and high tech.

    Project management, at least in North America, and based on tough experience I had here is becoming more a coordination.

    We’re talking about self-organized teams who decide what to do in-addition on how to do-it. They assign their own tasks and they deliberately commit to what they can deliver.

    I suggest we rename the project manager as “Professional Facilitator”. She is a person who formally learned how to:
    – process management
    – change management
    – leadership
    – team motivation and self-organization
    – meeting management
    – reporting and communication

    From my view Gantt charts and scope control, risk management, and cost budgeting as advocated in PMBoK were not useful in software and high tech companies.

    I think any book is as good as the ability of people to make it adaptable to various situations through practicing. I do not think we’re there yet with

    • Derek Huether
      May 3, 2010 at 12:44 pm

      Sameh, you’re renaming of Project Manager to Project Facilitator sounds like a Scrum Master! I do agree with you. All of the heavy management practices, advocated in the PMBoK, are not ideal for the software or tech sector. Then again, nobody said you have to use every process detailed in the book. I always tell people to do what makes sense and provides value. The PMBoK is almost too thorough. It’s a once-size-fits-all book for any-and-every-project. That’s what I like about Kanban or Agile. Follow a few rules, visualize, and deliver.

      I do appreciate the PMP. Just as I appreciate other certifications. But, I have a level of expectation when I see the credential. If people consistently fail to meet that expectation, all of the good things the PMP does (did) will be forgotten.

  2. May 3, 2010 at 2:08 am

    My 2 cents:

    I know enough people with PMP but with very little or no real experience to the point that it is almost making me wonder how come the process has allowed them to obtain their accreditation. The PMI hasn’t been able to provide a thorough process, such that will ensure that the accreditation is more than just a piece of paper but is an actual demonstration of experience and knowledge. That’s quite unfortunate. In the meantime, when employing project managers I will look first and foremost at their experience and only then will I check their accreditation.

    Cheers, Shim.
    .-= Shim Marom´s last blog ..The Social Media Eureka =-.

    • Derek Huether
      May 3, 2010 at 2:22 am

      Shim, I think PMI needs to have more than just a paper or computer-based test, if they want it to have some kind of value for the future. I’m with you, when I hire people. The last thing I look at is their education and accreditation. I go for experience. The interview question I like to ask is “how would you build and deliver a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?” That question seems to separate the charlatans from the real managers and leaders.

      Great to hear from you.

      • Femi Odekunle
        May 13, 2010 at 4:41 am

        Derek
        I just came across your blog and the articles are quite informative. Regarding your peanut butter and jelly question. I am just curious as to what possible answer(s) you would expect to hear. Thanks for sharing.

        • Derek Huether
          May 13, 2010 at 11:47 am

          Femi, that’s a great question. It has inspired me to write a post. I will address how to make a PB&J via Waterfall and Agile.

          Regards,
          Derek

  3. May 3, 2010 at 3:15 am

    Derek,

    I am in the process of hiring PMs for a number projects that I have and finding quality candidates that have a PMP with real experience is very challenging. I have my PMP but I also know that you have to have real experience to make it worth something more that a certification to put on the wall.

    Gerald
    .-= Gerald J Leonard´s last blog ..Visualize Your Outcome =-.

    • Derek Huether
      May 3, 2010 at 1:11 pm

      Gerald, I know hiring PMs is hard. My frustration sits with the fact the PMP exam is testing you on things, as a Project Manager, you should already know. All the PMP exam should have to test is your proficiency of those skills with PMI vernacular. What has happened is people with little experience or education go to PMP boot camps, being promised the world. All you need is one person to corroborate your story about experience and your in. I see that being where the problem is. Perhaps the PMP should be viewed like a high school diploma. Set your expectations low and go from there.

  4. May 3, 2010 at 9:08 am

    Derek,I do agree with you, the profession of PM has got quite bad reputation in the last few years, it really bothers me when I meet people who don’t know the basics of project management, I have written about this phenomenon before on my blog and received great views from different people; There are too many projects and few project managers: http://kareemshaker.com/project-management/there-are-too-many-projects-and-few-project-managers/
    .-= Kareem Shaker´s last blog ..PM PrepCast Winners =-.

    • Derek Huether
      May 3, 2010 at 7:32 pm

      Kareem, I read your post. Very nice. I understand that many PMs don’t start out as PMs. They either get promoted into the position or pull the shortest straw. But it doesn’t mean they have to suck! I think if many applied themselves and actually learned the craft, we’d all be a lot better off.

  5. May 3, 2010 at 11:53 pm

    It seems to me that passing the PMP exam is somewhat akin to passing a university degree. At a university, you need to have gone to classes for X years; for the PMP exam, you need to have worked on (though not necessarily managed) projects. At a university, you need to study the university’s pedagogy; for the PMP exam you need to study PMI’s methodologies.

    In both cases, neither route promises success – business students will soon find that having a business degree doesn’t guarantee that they’ll make big bucks in business; similarly, having a PMP certification doesn’t mean that your projects will succeed. Likewise, as with a college degree, the things you learn while studying for the PMP exam may not be 100% helpful in “the real world”, though the processes and methodologies are sound.

    Just as I wouldn’t expect a Finance major to be able to make me big bucks in currency trading, I wouldn’t expect a PMP to be able to manage projects successfully – I’d want to see more than just a certification for that; I’d want to hear stories about that PMP’s track record. On the other hand, just as a university degree shows dedication toward a certain subject, PMP certification shows dedication toward project management, which, while not proving success, gives some indication that a certification holder has passion for the field.

    Just a few thoughts!
    .-= Brian Crawford´s last blog ..What is ITIL? =-.

    • Derek Huether
      May 4, 2010 at 12:34 pm

      Brian, that’s actually a very good comparison. What is unfortunate is I think hiring managers go for buzz words when saying there is an opening for a project manager. I can’t blame them. They won’t write out a long narrative requesting a linchpin, as defined by Seth Godin. They request PMP, ITIL, or MBA. Those are the things that show up in search results.

      But, I want more than just a search result. I want a veteran. I want an expert. I do want that linchpin. The disparity is I don’t expect a PMP to be an expert but I think hiring managers and companies do.

  6. May 4, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    I agree with Brian, as well as the original thoughts – it can become the chicken and egg curse that has dogged certifications since they were created.

    On the one hand – “paper certs” mean nothing, on the other – no cert – no job – even at a junior level.

    I think that the most you can currently look at with most certifications is that the individual will have the lowest common denominator in understanding what is happening around them. As previously mentioned – for particular verticals, question the results that have been obtained.

    Regards!
    .-= Elliot Ross´s last blog ..That Little Thing Called The Uninterruptible Power Supply =-.

    • Derek Huether
      May 4, 2010 at 2:02 pm

      Elliot, thank you for your insights. My take-away is as an industry, we need to accept that the certification is the lowest common denominator of a vertical. But what I see has happened, by either the companies providing the certifications or by our peers, is an assumption of the polar opposite. People are believing the title of professional is synonymous with expert. It is not. That title is earned through experience and success.

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