Why project management certifications matter

Why project management certifications matter

The value of project management certifications is hotly debated among IT professionals. investigates whether certifications make better project managers and whether projects staffed by certified project managers are more successful than projects without PMPs.

Out of 13 advertisements for project manager jobs posted on and, eight ads either require or prefer project management certification. All eight ads are for mid- to senior-level IT project management positions that require anywhere from a minimum of five to 11 or more years of experience.

Five of the eight ads say project management certification is "highly desirable," "an advantage," "preferred," or "a plus." The three ads that require certification all specify the Project Management Institute's (PMI) Project Management Professional (PMP) credential.

More and more CIOs believe in the importance of project management certifications, according to research from The Standish Group. The publisher of the CHAOS reports which track IT project success and failure rates says that two-thirds of CIOs it surveyed regard a PMI certification as valuable. The number of CIOs who require their project managers to be certified grew from 21 per cent in 2005 to 31 per cent by 2009.

The job advertisement and Standish Group data speak to the increasing weight employers place on tangible project management credentials. But why? Why do they think certification is so important? Does it create a better project manager, and does that ensure higher project success rates? spoke with certified and non-certified IT project managers as well as with a representative from the Project Management Institute to uncover the true value of project management certifications. What we found: Project management certifications matter a great deal to some employers, but not always for realistic reasons. We also found that project managers can certainly benefit from certification: It can provide them with hold greater access to jobs and higher salaries, but it doesn't necessarily make them a better project manager.

Six attributes of successful project managers

Why employers seek certified project managers

To understand why some employers have become so keen on certifications, it's instructive to look inside technology juggernaut IBM.

Steve DelGrosso directs IBM's Project Management Center of Excellence and the IBM Global Business Services' Project Management Competency. DelGrosso's group oversees IBM's professional development programs for project managers and establishes the methods and tools project managers use to run today's array of tech projects. Of IBM's 300,000 employees, 25,000 are classified as project management professionals, and more than half of them -- 14,000 -- hold PMI's PMP certification, says DelGrosso (who's one of those 14,000 PMPs).

The number of certified project managers inside the company is growing, says DelGrosso, because clients want them on their projects.

"The marketplace in the U.S. is demanding the PMP or other project management certification," he says. "Going back five or six years, IBM has seen requests for proposals where the clients are demanding certified project managers be part of the proposal. If you can't present a certified project manager on their deal, they won't consider you."

DelGrosso says IBM's customers and prospects are demanding certified project managers because they understand the importance of strong project management discipline in delivering successful projects. Those customers associate certification with discipline. Some IBM clients are promoting certification in their own organizations, and adds DelGrosso, they believe "that there is a qualitative difference overall between a pool of certified and non-certified candidates for a position."

In his own organization, DelGrosso says certifications are not a prerequisite for working in the Project Management Center of Excellence, though seven of the eight project managers it employs are certified. (The one project manager who is not soon will be, he adds.)

"Being a certified project manager doesn't necessarily make you better than any other project manager," he says. "It just indicates that you have a certain level of knowledge and expertise, and that you can work proficiently in a project environment."

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