Seven credentials for IT Project Managers at all levels

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This feature first appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.

The right Project Management certification can take you far.The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines a project as “a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result.” How many projects do you manage in your professional and personal life right now? If you’re an IT professional then you probably have several projects to corral. What is your aptitude for project management (PM)? If you have a knack for PM, then you may want to consider a full-time PM career.

According to PMI documentation, project management is “the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to meet project requirements.” Project management applies a particular methodology. These methodologies comprise individual PM certifications.

Project management frameworks, in general, apply to any industry. Thus, you could find gainful PM employment outside the IT realm, if your opportunities led you that way. We’ll start by defining what a full-time project manager does. We’ll then review seven of the most popular project management certifications:

● CompTIA Project+
● PRINCE2 Foundation
● Certified ScrumMaster

What does a Project Manager do?

Project managers are highly valued in IT because, let’s face it, there are many among us who aren’t particularly skilled at keeping multistep processes organized. A project manager plans, budgets, oversees, and documents all parts of a project that delivers a product or service.

In IT, we never have a shortage of projects: New server deployments, client operating system upgrades, data center migrations, and so forth. All but the smallest IT shops can benefit by having a staff project manager available.

Many working PMs say that the project manager’s core skill set is 80 percent interpersonal skills and 20 percent methodology and/or subject matter expertise. In addition, an effective PM must possess outstanding time management abilities, mathematical aptitude, and business analytics skills.

Popular Project Management certifications

Project management frameworks neatly summarize project management best practices and interpersonal communication skills. As we’ll learn, many PM credentials require previous PM work experience. This experience requirement introduces the “chicken and egg” conundrum of, “I can’t get hired as a PM without a certification, but I can’t get a certification without prior PM experience!” The good news is that some PM cert vendors provide alternative ways to meet the requirement.

For Newcomers

CompTIA Project+ — CompTIA is known for their vendor neutral IT certifications, such as the A+ and Network+. The CompTIA Project+ is truly an entry-level project management credential. There’s no experience requirement, and once you pass the 100-question, multiple-choice, computer-based exam, you’re Project+ certified for life. There’s no need to worry about recertification.

If Project+ has a weakness, it’s that some PM professionals consider its skill set to be too vague. That is to say, the other six PM credentials we’re considering here all derive from a particular PM body of knowledge, while the Project+ attempts to be both neutral and comprehensive.

The right Project Management certification can take you far.PMI CAPM — The Project Management Institute (PMI) is a behemoth PM certification provider. Their Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM, normally pronounced as CAP-em) is an “entry-level” PM credential, but don’t be fooled — the certification has stiff eligibility requirements.

In addition to a $300, 150-question, multiple-choice, computer-based exam, you also need to document proof of secondary school graduation and either 1,500 hours of professional project team experience or 23 contact hours of formal PM education. To maintain your CAPM certification, you’re required to retake the exam every five years.

This is probably a good place to inject a general word of advice for any PM cert: Most PM programs have their own program-specific jargon and details. Make sure that any training you decide to use while pursuing a PM certification is accredited by that credential’s provider.

Intermediate to Advanced

PMI PMP — Many project managers, no matter what their industry, consider the PMI’s Project Management Professional (PMP) certification to be the “holy grail” credential. To demonstrate, run a search for PMP on any IT-related job search site. You may be taken aback at how many positions require the PMP.

One reason why the PMP is so popular is the global marketplace’s adoption of the Project Management Body of Knowledge (called PMBOK and pronounced pee-em-bock) guide. The PMBOK is in its fifth edition, and serves as a comprehensive explanation of PMI’s industry-neutral project management best practices.

The PMP has some staggering experience prerequisites:

● Secondary education diploma or associate’s degree
● 7,500 hours of PM experience
● 35 hours of PM education

You get somewhat of a break on the experience requirement if you hold a four-year college degree. In that case, you need to document only 4,500 hours of PM experience, but you’re still on the hook for the 35 PM education clock hours.

The PMP exam costs $555 for non-PMI members and consists of 200 multiple-choice questions. To maintain your PMP title, you are required to earn at least 60 professional development units (PDUs) every three years. Note, however, that you are NOT required to retake the PMP exam.

PRINCE2 Foundation — Many consider the Projects in Controlled Environments, version 2 (PRINCE2) certification offered by AXELOS to be the United Kingdom’s equivalent to the U.S.-based PMI’s PMP. AXELOS offers several PRINCE2 levels, but we’ll focus on their Foundation qualification, which involves a single, 75-question multiple-choice exam but, thankfully, no experience prerequisite.

Moreover, the PRINCE2 Foundation qualification never expires, nor are you required to amass continuing education (CU) credits. While both PRINCE2 and PMP are recognized worldwide, remember that each certification uses a completely different PM methodology. Perform adequate research to determine which, if either, credential best suits your professional goals.

MPM — The American Academy of Project Management (AAPM) is another PMI rival that promotes its Master Project Manager (MPM, a curious anagram of PMP) credential as a “board certification.” The idea is that an MPM certification holder not only demonstrated his or her PM skills by passing the certification exam, but also has had their experience vetted by the AAPM Global Advisory Board members.

You need to document at least three years of PM experience to qualify to sit for the MPM exam. In lieu of the industry experience, you can meet the requirement by completing an AAPM-approved course. The exam registration fee is $300, and the certification is valid for 2 years. The AAPM will renew your MPM credential for a “nominal good standing fee.”

For Experts

Certified ScrumMaster — Scrum is perhaps the most popular Agile software development framework. A ScrumMaster is one member of a Scrum team, which is in most cases a software product development group. This sets the Certified ScrumMaster (CSA) credential apart from the others we’ve discussed; Scrum is used predominantly in software development as opposed to in other IT areas.

To earn the CSM certificate, you have to both complete an authorized CSM prep course and pass an online CSM examination. As of this writing the CSM title has no continuing education requirement. However, the Scrum Alliance, the group that sponsors the credential, strongly encourages CSM-certified professionals to undertake voluntary continuing education in order to keep their skills honed.

You are, however, required to pay a $100 renewal fee every two years to keep your CSM title valid.

PMI PgMP — The PMI Program Management Professional (PgMP) differs from the PMP inasmuch as a program manager, sometimes also called a project portfolio manager, is responsible for managing multiple related projects simultaneously. In other words, program managers work at a higher level of product abstraction from project managers, who spend their time “in the project trenches,” as it were.

To be eligible for the PgMP title, you need to have at least 6,000 hours of unique, non-overlapping project management experience, and at least 10,500 hours of unique, non-overlapping program management experience. If you have a four-year college degree, then the project management and program management experience requirement falls to 6,000 hours for each.

The PgMP exam contains 170 multiple-choice questions. After successfully earning the credential, you need to complete 60 PDUs every three years to remain certified.

Starting your Project Management certification journey

The right Project Management certification can take you far.Depending on your professional and educational background, any of these seven certifications could help you make a transition to a project management. If you think you have the right stuff for a career in project management, or you would like to enhance your existing project management credentials, there’s something for you here.

If you’re entirely new to project management, then you may be best served by earning the CompTIA Project+. Your Project+ preparation and testing experience should go a long way to validate your aptitude and passion for the subject. Alternatively, if you’re as-yet inexperienced but have contributed to projects before and are willing to learn, then consider the PRINCE2 or MPM certification programs.

Finally, if you’ve worked in IT for any length of time, then you likely have copious project management experience, even if project management per se wasn’t your official job title. Therefore, don’t hesitate to use all that hard-won experience to shoot for one of the higher-level PM certs.

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Timothy Warner


Timothy L. Warner is an IT professional and technical trainer based in Nashville, Tenn. A computer enthusiast who authored his first BASIC program in 1981 on the Radio Shack TRS-80 Model III, Tim has worked in nearly every facet of IT, from systems administration and software architecture to technical writing and training. He can be reached via LinkedIn.

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