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Judging PMI Unfairly

Recently, I’ve been a bit vocal about my concerns of the volume of people getting the  Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification.  I often ask if quality is being sacrificed in order to certify more people.  Don’t get me wrong, if being a PMP means you are a “quality” project manager, I think the more the merrier.  But, what if more PMPs means the Project Management Institute (PMI) doesn’t have the necessary people to conduct proper audits?  I decided this question warranted a telephone call to PMI.  Though they would not give specific numbers, they stated

The number of audits have remained consistent over the last few years

Ah-ha!  Just the incriminating statement I was expecting, to support my theory!  Clearly the increased rate of people getting certified would mean a lower percentage were being audited.  Since numbers don’t lie, I went back as far as I could and compiled the monthly PMP certification rate.  September 2006 was the earliest (easily accessible) date I could find.

Once I charted all of the data to date (June 2010), I was left scratching my head.  With the exception of June and July of 2009, the rate has been relatively consistent.

Average certifications per month (2006-2010): 4,401

Average certifications per month (2010): 4,350

Highest certification rate (June 2009): 13,920

Lowest certification rate (July 2009): 689

In reality, the average number of people getting the PMP certification is down in 2010.

Have I judged PMI unfairly?  Is the quality of the certification the same as it ever was?

About Derek Huether

I'm Vice President of ALM Platforms at LeadingAgile. Author of Zombie Project Management (available on Amazon). Novice angel investor.

10 Responses to “Judging PMI Unfairly”

  1. August 13, 2010 at 8:26 pm

    Derek,

    What might be the evidence that PMP quality is being reduced? What would be the root cause for such an observation?
    What might be the observational evidence for reduced quality?

    Making inferences in the absence of evidential materials seems like sporty business to me.

    • Derek Huether
      August 13, 2010 at 9:47 pm

      Glen, my evidence is altogether subjective and not objective. Over the course of the last year, I’ve been told some very interesting stories from seasoned project managers about new PMPs who failed to demonstrate a fundamental understanding of project management. Some of them (new PMPs) knowingly admitted they went to a boot camp, took the test, and proudly added the PMP to the end of their names. They admitted to not even work as project managers but saw it as a networking/marketing opportunity. I have also been approached by several people, who do not work in project management, who wish to get the PMP for no other reason than to open doors for them. If I interviewed 1,000 PMPs, I can only hope a majority of them would demonstrate proficiencies on the subject matter they were tested on. Perhaps those who admit to not work in project management, wanting to pad their resumes, are the outliers.

      So, to answer your questions directly. The quality criteria I was using was the percentage of audits versus quantity of certifications. I made the assumption that if people are fabricating their project management experience, an audit would prevent them from becoming PMPs. I made the second assumption that if the volume of certifications outpaced the audits (based on a steady number of auditors), quality would diminish. Based on this criteria, quality is not being reduced because the data does not support my assumption. The root cause was hearing the stories from other PMs and witnessing a few first hand.

      I admit I was wrong, based on the data I collected. Unless I get some affidavits, I’m not going to continue believing overall quality is diminishing. I will stick to my outlier theory. I still have an uneasy feeling about PMP boot camps. If everyone was required to do a “practical” exam, in addition to the multiple choice “paper” exam, perhaps I would feel better.

  2. August 13, 2010 at 1:26 pm

    Derek,

    What might be the evidence that PMP quality is being reduced? What would be the root cause for such an observation?
    What might be the observational evidence for reduced quality?

    Making inferences in the absence of evidential materials seems like sporty business to me.

    • Derek Huether
      August 13, 2010 at 2:47 pm

      Glen, my evidence is altogether subjective and not objective. Over the course of the last year, I’ve been told some very interesting stories from seasoned project managers about new PMPs who failed to demonstrate a fundamental understanding of project management. Some of them (new PMPs) knowingly admitted they went to a boot camp, took the test, and proudly added the PMP to the end of their names. They admitted to not even work as project managers but saw it as a networking/marketing opportunity. I have also been approached by several people, who do not work in project management, who wish to get the PMP for no other reason than to open doors for them. If I interviewed 1,000 PMPs, I can only hope a majority of them would demonstrate proficiencies on the subject matter they were tested on. Perhaps those who admit to not work in project management, wanting to pad their resumes, are the outliers.

      So, to answer your questions directly. The quality criteria I was using was the percentage of audits versus quantity of certifications. I made the assumption that if people are fabricating their project management experience, an audit would prevent them from becoming PMPs. I made the second assumption that if the volume of certifications outpaced the audits (based on a steady number of auditors), quality would diminish. Based on this criteria, quality is not being reduced because the data does not support my assumption. The root cause was hearing the stories from other PMs and witnessing a few first hand.

      I admit I was wrong, based on the data I collected. Unless I get some affidavits, I’m not going to continue believing overall quality is diminishing. I will stick to my outlier theory. I still have an uneasy feeling about PMP boot camps. If everyone was required to do a “practical” exam, in addition to the multiple choice “paper” exam, perhaps I would feel better.

  3. August 15, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    Derek, very interesting. Thanks for doing the leg work on this. I must admit that I had bought into the idea that the number of PMP certifications are going up, but never bothered to verify this. Given PMI’s continued expansion internationally, it just “made sense.” I’m glad to learn that the quality of the PMP is not being reduced.

    Still, I do think it is too easy to get away with a boot-camp and a test. Your suggestion of a “practical” exam is a start. I would also suggest that everyone applying for a PMP undergo an employment background check. Having gone through PMI’s audit process, I have mixed feelings about it.

    First, most people are not selected for an audit and the value of the PMP may make the fairly low risk of getting caught making up experience worth taking. Second, I think that it would be fairly easy for people to collude to defeat an audit. Using a third-party company to conduct the background checks on all applications should discourage most outright fakers and, depending on how the checks are conducted, make it more difficult to collude.

    Even more stringent background checks and practical-skills testing, however, will not guarantee or prove one’s success as a project manager. So much of project-management success is based on leadership, communication skills, and industry-specific subject-matter expertise that a potential employer/client would be foolish to hire a project manager based solely on their having a PMP.

    I’ve discussed the value of the PMP on my Legal Project Management blog a number of times. Although project management skills are becoming increasingly sought after in the legal field and you are starting to see more legal-support professionals with PMPs, many of my colleagues dismiss the PMP as worthless. I disagree.

    First, it shows a not-insignificant commitment to the art of project management. I’ve had some project managers argue that it doesn’t even show this, that most people get their PMPs just to have something to put on their résumé. Perhaps, but you don’t obtain and maintain a PMP without making a significant investment in time. Documenting your experience is not a trivial process.

    Preparing for and taking the test is also not a walk in the park. While the PMP exam was certainly not as time consuming and challenging as passing the bar exams of the U.S. states I’m licensed to practice law in, it still required a not insignificant amount of preparation. You also have to commit to continued study, something any competent project manager should do, but having a PMP means you have to document it.

    Second, having a PMP does come with some level of accountability. If you do not meet the continuing education requirements, PMI will suspend your PMP credential. Also, while PMI’s Ethics Review Committee may not have the clout of the disciplinary committees that police the licensed professions, it can suspend or terminate the membership and credentials of PMP-holders who violate the Code of Ethics. Anyone with evidence of a violation can file an ethics compliant against a PMP holder.

    (Read more: http://legalprojectmanagement.info/2010/07/will-a-pmp-boost-your-litigation-support-career.html#ixzz0wg4u5mQN)

    While I do think that the PMP holds value, perceptions that it is easy to obtain, easy to cheat your way into, or that it only shows your ability to cram for an exam will quickly erode its value. Now that PMI offers the CAPM certification, which test your basic understanding of project-management principles, but doesn’t require the applicant to show any experience, it needs to work on increasing the perceived value of the PMP by finding better ways to measure practical skills and experience.

    • Derek Huether
      August 17, 2010 at 4:50 pm

      Paul, thank you for your well articulated comment. Because I was also audited, I feel like everyone should be. I understand that is not economically feasible for PMI. By supplying certified college transcripts, I feel that part of the audit process is fair. But I disagree that a PMP Boot Camp should be considered as educational credit. Because some applicants could get others to corroborate their experience stories, I see a gap. Perhaps PMI could ask for signed affidavits? Perhaps background checks? It all sounds very heavy handed, but I worked hard to get this certification. I just want the assurance people aren’t cheating the system.

  4. August 15, 2010 at 5:54 am

    Derek, very interesting. Thanks for doing the leg work on this. I must admit that I had bought into the idea that the number of PMP certifications are going up, but never bothered to verify this. Given PMI’s continued expansion internationally, it just “made sense.” I’m glad to learn that the quality of the PMP is not being reduced.

    Still, I do think it is too easy to get away with a boot-camp and a test. Your suggestion of a “practical” exam is a start. I would also suggest that everyone applying for a PMP undergo an employment background check. Having gone through PMI’s audit process, I have mixed feelings about it.

    First, most people are not selected for an audit and the value of the PMP may make the fairly low risk of getting caught making up experience worth taking. Second, I think that it would be fairly easy for people to collude to defeat an audit. Using a third-party company to conduct the background checks on all applications should discourage most outright fakers and, depending on how the checks are conducted, make it more difficult to collude.

    Even more stringent background checks and practical-skills testing, however, will not guarantee or prove one’s success as a project manager. So much of project-management success is based on leadership, communication skills, and industry-specific subject-matter expertise that a potential employer/client would be foolish to hire a project manager based solely on their having a PMP.

    I’ve discussed the value of the PMP on my Legal Project Management blog a number of times. Although project management skills are becoming increasingly sought after in the legal field and you are starting to see more legal-support professionals with PMPs, many of my colleagues dismiss the PMP as worthless. I disagree.

    First, it shows a not-insignificant commitment to the art of project management. I’ve had some project managers argue that it doesn’t even show this, that most people get their PMPs just to have something to put on their résumé. Perhaps, but you don’t obtain and maintain a PMP without making a significant investment in time. Documenting your experience is not a trivial process.

    Preparing for and taking the test is also not a walk in the park. While the PMP exam was certainly not as time consuming and challenging as passing the bar exams of the U.S. states I’m licensed to practice law in, it still required a not insignificant amount of preparation. You also have to commit to continued study, something any competent project manager should do, but having a PMP means you have to document it.

    Second, having a PMP does come with some level of accountability. If you do not meet the continuing education requirements, PMI will suspend your PMP credential. Also, while PMI’s Ethics Review Committee may not have the clout of the disciplinary committees that police the licensed professions, it can suspend or terminate the membership and credentials of PMP-holders who violate the Code of Ethics. Anyone with evidence of a violation can file an ethics compliant against a PMP holder.

    (Read more: http://legalprojectmanagement.info/2010/07/will-a-pmp-boost-your-litigation-support-career.html#ixzz0wg4u5mQN)

    While I do think that the PMP holds value, perceptions that it is easy to obtain, easy to cheat your way into, or that it only shows your ability to cram for an exam will quickly erode its value. Now that PMI offers the CAPM certification, which test your basic understanding of project-management principles, but doesn’t require the applicant to show any experience, it needs to work on increasing the perceived value of the PMP by finding better ways to measure practical skills and experience.

    • Derek Huether
      August 17, 2010 at 9:50 am

      Paul, thank you for your well articulated comment. Because I was also audited, I feel like everyone should be. I understand that is not economically feasible for PMI. By supplying certified college transcripts, I feel that part of the audit process is fair. But I disagree that a PMP Boot Camp should be considered as educational credit. Because some applicants could get others to corroborate their experience stories, I see a gap. Perhaps PMI could ask for signed affidavits? Perhaps background checks? It all sounds very heavy handed, but I worked hard to get this certification. I just want the assurance people aren’t cheating the system.

  5. August 16, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    If you want a certificate that is granted in part upon experience, then you have to expect some scrutiny. I don’t see this as heavy handed. Also, I don’t know that it would be economically unfeasible. There are companies that will conduct these background checks at very reasonable rates. Perhaps it will increase the application costs, but I don’t think that it would have to be by much. Of course, I am speaking from a U.S. perspective. Gathering such information might be much more difficult.

    Like you, combating the perception that it is easy to game the application process is important to protecting the PMP’s value. People can and will hold different opinions over whether the PMP application and testing process adequately measures the applicant’s PM competence. I’ve discussed my take on the PMP’s value in my prior comment. But I’ve had a number of people claim that all you have to do to get the PMP is pass a test.

    There is a significant number of people who believe that you can just take a cram course and pass the exam, and fake your experience. Requiring everyone to submit the same paperwork that those of us who were audited must, or having a third-party company conduct employment-background checks, would not make lying about one’s experience impossible, but it would make it far more difficult and would address one of the stronger criticisms of the certification process.

  6. August 16, 2010 at 10:31 am

    If you want a certificate that is granted in part upon experience, then you have to expect some scrutiny. I don’t see this as heavy handed. Also, I don’t know that it would be economically unfeasible. There are companies that will conduct these background checks at very reasonable rates. Perhaps it will increase the application costs, but I don’t think that it would have to be by much. Of course, I am speaking from a U.S. perspective. Gathering such information might be much more difficult.

    Like you, combating the perception that it is easy to game the application process is important to protecting the PMP’s value. People can and will hold different opinions over whether the PMP application and testing process adequately measures the applicant’s PM competence. I’ve discussed my take on the PMP’s value in my prior comment. But I’ve had a number of people claim that all you have to do to get the PMP is pass a test.

    There is a significant number of people who believe that you can just take a cram course and pass the exam, and fake your experience. Requiring everyone to submit the same paperwork that those of us who were audited must, or having a third-party company conduct employment-background checks, would not make lying about one’s experience impossible, but it would make it far more difficult and would address one of the stronger criticisms of the certification process.

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