IPMA International Project Management Association
12 May 2020 / 10:00

IPMA Best Practices: “When life gives you lemons…”

Setting up online certification amidst COVID-19 crisis – APOGEP’s CNC experience

The crisis
On Friday the 12th of March 2020, APOGEP, the Portuguese project management association, an IPMA member association for 25 years, decided to put their people working from home and close its doors to the public for an indefinite period. The first COVID-19 cases in the country had been detected on the 2nd of March. It was clear that business, as usual, was dangerous and uncivil, to employees, to the community being served by the association, and to society.
With a certification exam scheduled in a few days, CNC APOGEP – National Certification Body – had to take the difficult decision to cancel it, as well as all other scheduled exams. A resolution backed up by clients themselves, who also considered it unwise any other way.
Six days later, a State of Emergency was declared in Portugal. Confinement was not voluntary anymore, shops and schools were closed, and citizens were supposed to stay home unless for absolute necessity.
Certification, being one of APOGEP’s main services to the Portuguese community of project managers and its primary source of income, from day one of the COVID-19 crisis, CNC APOGEP focused on creating a safe and high-quality alternative to continue certifying people.

Online certification
Certifying people through online exams that can be taken from home, was the obvious answer. So CNC APOGEP started to look for options. In doing so, it reached out to other IPMA’s member associations, using established formal and informal communication channels.
Some possibilities arose and their evaluation began. We looked for:

Low threshold: options that were user friendly, requiring minimal effort and ensuring a positive user’s experience, both for candidates and CNC APOGEP staff and assessors

Technical adequacy:  options that would make it possible to use and adapt the already existing exams and questions

Implementation speed: options that can be rapidly put out to work

Quality: options that guaranteed that the exams could be protected appropriately, and the candidates could have an assessor supporting them while taking the exam, as usual

Fair payable price: options for which price/quality relation was satisfactory and adequate to the association’s financial capacity

The strength of a global community
The advantages of belonging to a global community – such as IPMA became clear when information started to be shared between other associations, facing the same challenges. The importance of less formal communication channels and having once met face to face and established human connections also became apparent. It was easy to ask for help and to engage in conversation with people we already knew and had a relation with, so we did. And so did other people too.

Internal sponsorship
Internally, the sponsorship and trust of both CNC President and APOGEP President were crucial to moving the online certification project forward. It allowed CNC’s Operational Manager to search, find and put a solution to work.

The result
CNC APOGEP chose a dedicated platform, Mercer Mettl, which has several characteristics that met the identified needs.  A few highlights:

– It allows live video proctoring, with image and sound

– It comprises an AI motor that detects suspicious behaviours of candidates while taking the exam such as getting off-screen or looking elsewhere for too long.

– It was possible and not overly time-consuming to use our owns questions and exams

– It has an efficient client support service which quickly clarified each doubt and helped overcome difficulties along the way

– We can pay for it 😊

Some excellent add-on features: assessors will grade the exam on the platform, directly on the report produced. The system automatically marks multiple-choice questions. The proctoring system works very well, and the video is recorded, as proof of the candidate’s behaviour.

And we’re LIVE!
We started working on the platform on the 30th of March. On the 2nd of May, the first real online exam took place, a week after being peer-reviewed and tested. We are happy to share that it went well, and we are about to certify the first people through online exams.
Online will for sure, be the new normal for times to come, and we are glad to be ready to offer this service to our associates and clients, building upon their and our resilience.

When life gives you lemons…
In Portugal, as in other countries, we often say to ourselves: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Amidst the COVID-19 crisis, we found the inspiration and strength to move our digital transformation further. That is very project management-ish, we guess: being able to make the best out of every situation.

Acknowledgements
A particular word of appreciation to IPMA’s Certification and Validation Management Board (CVMB) and Certification Vice-President, Joop Schefferlie. The room to look for and adopt a solution that suited our needs was crucial.
Our great gratitude to our colleague John Naughton (from Institute of Project Management Ireland), who made a good case out of Mercer Mettl.

written by: Isabel Valente
CNC APOGEP Operational Manager

APOGEP Marketing and Communication Manager

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