Sunday, 08 August 2010 00:00

PMP: The Why And The How

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People, who know me, are aware I am less than enamored of certifications and titles. Therefore, when I got my PMP many were taken aback, some laughed aloud, and, since I seemed to get it overnight, all asked why and how I got it. However, it is not just my situation, this is a perennial question in online forums and groups and it is a common topic at local project management meetings. In many of those discussions, people try to analogize the PMP to a CPA or MBA; without question, the requirements to get a PMP have none of the independent educational rigor of college level degrees. The PMP's worth is visceral and personal—it depends on each individual's goals and their project management experience.

The Value of the PMP

First and foremost, the PMI's Project Management Professional (PMP) certificate is not an end all and I will argue it is not much of a starting point. As with any goal in life, before setting out to get your PMP, understand why you are going that direction. The desire to be a project manager should start with a visit to a library or bookstore and reading a few dozen books on a broad range of subjects from project management to leadership, negotiation skills to organization development preferably with good case studies. Attend local roundtable discussions and listen to other's experiences. Immerse yourself in the subject.

If you are new to project management and you are certain it is your calling, then the value of the PMP certification is high. Many companies require applicants have a PMP in order to filter the résumés that come through the door. The training required to get the PMP (referred to as contacts hour, see below) gives only a dusting of exposure to a variety of project management disciplines.

On the other hand, if you are an established project manager and think you have a great reputation, then the certification will have far less value. It helps opening doors to companies that do not know you or have little knowledge of project management. Be aware, there are cases where, regardless of your experience, a PMP certification is required. In my case, it was publishing my forthcoming book. The American Management Association's publishing arm (AMACOM books) would not agree to publish it until they could include the PMP initials after my name. It was solely a matter of marketing. For a discussion on that, refer to my prior article.

Acquiring Knowledge of the PMI Way

High-level PMP requirements


Four year degree

Only secondary school


Three years

Five years

Hours leading and directing tasks:



Contact Hours:



That brings us to the point of how to get the PMP certification. The requirements for the PMP consists of two components—relevant experience and contact hours. Once you have those you can sit for the test.

PMI's experience requirement (see inset) is a bare minimum needed to be a project manager. Never forget this is an absolute minimum. Even after being a project manager for thirty years, you still do not have enough experience and surprises will pop up in your next project. People who tell you differently are fooling you and themselves.

The reason for the contact hours is to learn PMI's terminology, the format of the questions, and practice taking PMI's style of test. Regardless of how many hours you have worked in as a project manager, you will need this training—not because it is especially good training, it simply teaches PMI's way.

From online classes to custom onsite classroom training, there is a whole spectrum of methods to acquire contact hours. Dozens, possibly hundreds, of companies, PMI Chapters, and colleges provide classes geared to pass the PMP. I spent about $350 for mine; however, others regularly spend $2500-$3000.

What you choose is based on your budget and what you are trying to achieve. The goal is not learning to be a project manager; rather it is to pass the test. If you are good at self-study, take an online course. If your company is paying for it and money is not a problem, go with the in-house boot camp. Remember the goal is to memorize the PMI terminology—you may never use it again.

If the desire is to expand your knowledge on project management theory, take some university level courses. To stand out as a project manager, mix in some leadership and organization development courses. A good project manager is really a strong leader; project management is all about working effectively with people.

Unfortunately, most university course do not stress PMI's terminology, they teach you principles and theory that are applicable to solving real project management problems. Textbooks, like Project Management: A System Approach To Planning, Scheduling And Controlling or Project Management: The Managerial Process, provide everything from the basics through advanced project management techniques that can be applied in numerous situations.

The Dilemma

Do you want to learn to be a good project manager or do you want your PMP? Unfortunately, getting your PMP does not prepare you for being a good project manager, taking a thorough college level course does not set you up to get a PMP. Having your PMP will look good on your résumé, but that means little if you cannot perform the job. Strong people skills (only an afterthought in the PMBOK Version 4 appendix G), being a good leader, broad experience, and a solid theoretical background will prepare you to be a successful project manager.

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