The value of certification in project management
In IPMA we are proud of running a globally well-received certification programme in the field of project management. It started in the 1990s and until today more than 300.000 professionals have already achieved a certificate on one of the four levels of the 4-Level-Certification-System. Certification programmes vary in prerequisites, breadth of coverage and rigor of assessment. Stacy Goff (Project Experts, former President of IPMA USA and Honorary Fellow of IPMA) has 2015 published a comprehensive comparison of certification systems in project management.
However, many people ask questions such as “What is the value of certification in project management?”. Last year I published a blog post about the “real value of certification”, highlighting the various value propositions offered through the IPMA Certification scheme for individuals interested in certification. In the next edition of the International Journal of Project Management (IJPM) an article is dedicated to research results on “Exploring the value of project management certification in selection and recruiting”. It is available for free download. I found some of the findings very interesting and fully supporting the IPMA 4-Level-Certification System.
Farashah, Thomas and Blomquist, the authors of the article, state that “certified project managers, the endusers of the PM principles prescribed by professional associations, are assumed to deliver higher levels of project performance. This assumption is of crucial importance to the field of project management in general, and to professional associations in particular. However, there have been very few scholarly studies that examine the realized benefits of certification for better performance of project managers, or for any other voluntary certifications. This lack of evidence is a real challenge for those charged with hiring and managing project management professionals, who need to understand what voluntary certification tells them about the applicants holding such certifications…”
Furthermore, the authors summarize their research findings as follows:
- Certification is a popular way for project managers, and members of other similar occupations, to signal their proficiency in the practice of their occupation and for hiring managers to filter job applications.
- Although certification does not show a strong short-term direct effect on performance, by providing its complementary elements such as professional attitude and networking and its long-term effect such as higher levels of self-efficacy, certification certainly can be a smart move in the career of a project manager and can be useful for the whole occupation of project management.
- It appears that certification is a good signal of professionalism, which in turn is an indicator of project management self-efficacy, which is our best measure of project manager performance. This three-part relationship may seem to be a relatively circuitous route from certification to performance, as in fact, it is… And certification’s role in signally is especially important for younger professionals as, when we excluded the years of experience, the effect size of certification on both professionalism and self-efficacy tends to be larger.
- Years of experience show a stronger relationship with professionalism than having a certification. Similarly, it shows a stronger relationship with self-efficacy than professionalism. This verifies the notion that mastery experience is primary source of self-efficacy. Interestingly, years of experience is positively related to strategic performance and not related to operational performance.
- For human resource professionals, hiring manager and organizations, in the absence of other measures available to winnow down large numbers of applicants, certification may prove a reasonable criterion for this activity when combined with years of PM experience and level of PM training.
- For the project management practitioner, since certification is likely to continue to be an essential initial screening tool for project management positions, it remains valuable in increasing their success in the market. This result is not necessarily because obtaining it directly indicates PM proficiency, but mainly because the process of obtaining it, joining a professional association, and increasing PM knowledge are all likely to increase self-confidence and professionalism, both of which will likely increase the level of performance.
To me, certification is a snapshot of a competence, developed over time through a collection of experience. The process of certification provides valuable insights to both, the individual as well as to the organisation looking for competent project managers. It is a reflection of lessons learned in the past and an outlook of lessons to be learned through future projects. Before going for a certification a project manager should clarify the purpose of certification(why I am undergoing the certification process?), ways of development (what and how do I want to learn in future?) and which certification programme fits the best to this purpose and development path.