Are Project Management (PM) Qualifications Worth Getting?

01/13/2015
Written by: Ian Needs

Project management training has gained huge traction of late, as organisations are becoming increasingly reliant on managers to oversee their projects, ensuring they are completed quickly and efficiently, and within budget. But are qualifications enough for such a role, or does experience in dealing with the pressures and strains of the job outweigh academic success?

There are three main project management bodies that offer qualifications to project managers. These are:

Association for Project Management (APM)

The APM is a professional body, based in the UK, that has over 20,000 individual and 500 corporate members situated throughout Europe. Training and examinations are aimed at project managers from all sectors of industry, and are delivered through APM Accredited Training Providers. Qualifications available include:

  • APM Introductory Certificate, which requires no experience and is suitable for project team members, new project managers, project office staff, project coordinators and project planners
  • APMP, which is relevant to junior project managers, work package managers and project office managers with two to three years of project experience required
  • APM Practitioner Qualification (PQ), which is for project managers with a minimum of three years’ experience of managing non-complex projects
  • Registered Project Professional, which is suitable for senior project managers that have over five years of experience managing complex projects

APMG-International

APMG-International is administered by the UK’s Cabinet Office, who are the owners of the PRINCE2Ⓡ (Projects in Controlled Environments) and MSP TM (Managing Successful Programmers) methods of project management. Training and examination is run through APMG-International Accredited Training Organisations.

The PRINCE2Ⓡ qualification is split into two levels:

  • Foundation, which is suitable for project team members, new project managers, project office staff, project coordinators, project planners and does not necessarily require experience.
  • Practitioner, which requires a minimum of two years experience dealing with projects and is suitable for junior project managers, work package managers and project office managers.

The MSP TM qualification is suitable for programme managers and directors.

Project Management Institute (PMI)

The PMI, based in the USA, is recognised as the largest association for project management professionals. Unlike the other two associations, training and examinations are separately delivered; training is provided by PMI Registered Education Providers, while examinations are conducted through different approved assessment centres. PMI qualifications include:

  • CAPM (Certified Associate in Project Management) has the same relevance as the APM Introductory Certificate and the PRINCE2Ⓡ Foundation
  • PMP (Certified Project Management Professional) is suitable to the same criteria as the APMP and the PRINCE2Ⓡ Practitioner
  • PgMP (Certified Programme Management Professional) is relevant for programme managers and directors

Benefits of achieving a qualification

There are many ways a PM qualification can benefit individuals and organisations. For an individual looking for project management work, certification improves their employability as the widely-recognised qualification provides them with the knowledge, skills and tools to implement projects or programmes successfully.

Both prospective and employed project managers will display to their employer the desire to learn, as well as commitment to the role, which can result in the individual getting the position they’ve applied for, or if they’re already in a position, their reputation in the company improving. In addition, the PRINCE2Ⓡ or MSP TM qualification might be necessary for those wanting to work in the public sector.

A workplace can reap the benefits of a qualification by having an employee - who perhaps has gaps in their skills - learn the theoretical side of project management and return with an understanding of best-practice techniques that can help improve the day-to-day running of projects and programmes. This in turn will see resources used better, which saves costs and increases customer satisfaction, reputation and morale.

In addition, allowing an employee to gain a qualification will demonstrate that the business supports their personal and career development planning, resulting in increased commitment to, and appreciation of, the company.

Is Experience more Valuable than Qualifications?

A qualification may be a good way for an individual to display to employers that they have knowledge on the skills, tools and techniques needed to effectively manage projects or programmes. However, it may only help individuals get an interview for a position as the most important factor employers consider is experience, as they want someone who can handle the delivery of projects consistently.

Commenting on a question posted on Quora by KeyedIn Projects, Project Manager Tamara Wiens shares her opinion:

“As a PM with almost 20 years’ experience, and having PMP and PRINCE2Ⓡ certifications, I believe that experience is a greater factor in a PM’s ability to successfully deliver projects. As much as the passing of a certification exam can demonstrate that you know the answers expected by the examiner, it’s a far cry from being able to say ‘been there, done that’, and leveraging your experience of what you did right, and wrong, the last time that you encountered this situation.”

As much as experience may be seen as an advantage over PM qualifications, there is also a problem with over qualification when it comes employers hiring staff. Tarana Sultan, who responded to a survey posted by KeyedIn on project management, sees this as being due to employees who have only experience being “concerned with working with a person who is more qualified than they are…[and] not [being] open to learning by doing”.

In summary, the worth of a qualification is enhanced if it’s the primary factor an individual has to show that they are competent at project management, rather than if they only have experience. Tamara Wiens says:

“In the case of someone who has the absolute minimum experience required to get a certification, the certification itself may be more important - in that situation, the PM can’t rely on all of the other things that they have seen and done in their career, and is better equipped by relying on their knowledge of best practices and ideal principles and methods for resolving the challenges they face.”