PMI Webinar: The Merits and Limitations of Certifications

The PMI Agile Community of Practice sponsored a webinar discussion today between Alistair Cockburn and James Shore on “The merits and limitations of certifications.”  Both are well-established Agile teachers and thought leaders, and I thought their arguments reflected the dialogs we’ve been having here in the blogosphere.  A recording of the webinar is available here.  It runs 58 minutes, safe for work.  Highly recommended.

James raised a point that I felt was not sufficiently rebutted: that certification contributes to “stagnation” in the field.  I will disagree, and point to the ever-increasing number of PMI standards, publications, and other resources that have accompanied the dramatic increase in the number of PMP credential holders over the last few years.  PMI sponsors conferences, publishes papers, provides scholarships, and promotes publications by various experts in their bookstore. And they continuously improve the quality of both their publications and their credential exams; witness the coming updates to the PMP and PgMP exams, and the coming fifth edition of the PMBOK.  Far from being stagnant, I would argue that the field of project management has benefited tremendously from the alignment of interests brought about by the PMP credential program.  It has been the nucleus for development of a market of practitioners and their employers, resulting in new software, knowledge, and consulting products of every kind.

I hope you’ll add your thoughts on the webinar and on the value of professional credentials and certifications  in your comments to this post.

Is the Value of the PMP Credential Being Diluted?

Lately, LinkedIn and the blogosphere are awash with anecdotes about inexperienced or just plain lousy project managers with the PMP credential.  Patrick Richard, of The Hard-Nosed Project Manager, posted several specific examples  just the other day.  “We are not talking here of a lack of familiarity with specific tools but rather with basic project management concepts.”

As a long-time PMP credential holder, I don’t want to see marginally skilled or largely inexperienced project managers with the PMP.  Obviously, if PMI is credentialing people who don’t have the necessary experience to sit for the exam, then they should consider requiring independent verification, or at least increase their application audit sample rate.  Those looking to “break in to project management” should be encouraged to pursue the CAPM.  Perhaps PMI should improve their pitch on who should apply for which credential, possibly adjust pricing to make CAPM more attractive, and work to improve industry acceptance of CAPM as an entry-level certification.

As a hiring manager, I value the PMP credential as a filter.  Over the years, I’ve seen quite a few self-described “expert project managers” who weren’t.   Same thing with bad programmers, bad drivers, bad cooks, and bad parents.  Professional society credentials are at least an objective indicator (if not a guarantee) of some level of mastery.  However, managers shouldn’t make hiring decisions based entirely on a resume.  They should do extensive reference checks, along with multiple in-person interviews, and possibly proficiency tests or situational assessments for those claiming specific skills. And those managers who still make a bad hire, despite the filters and rigorous selection process, need to figure it out quickly and take appropriate action, because that’s what good managers do.

Those of us who are in leadership positions have to take some responsibility for development of those who will eventually replace us.  Used wisely, the PMI standards and credentials are useful tools for professional development.  But they aren’t the whole picture, and we shouldn’t curse a yardstick for being a poor micrometer.

PMI Releases Agile Certification Examination Outline

PMI has released the examination outline for their still unnamed Agile project management certification, as well as a list of ten reference texts “that candidates may find helpful when preparing for the Agile examination.”  The exam will consist of 100 scored and 20 unscored items, randomly distributed throughout the exam, as is PMI’s custom.  Questions are to be evenly split between Agile tools and techniques, and Agile knowledge and skills.  The tools and techniques have been organized into ten areas.  In order of relative importance, they include:

  • Communications
  • Planning, monitoring, and adapting
  • Agile estimation
  • Agile analysis and design
  • Product quality
  • Soft skills negotiation
  • Value-based prioritization
  • Risk management
  • Metrics
  • Value stream analysis

PMI has grouped 43 knowledge and skills areas into three levels.  Those in Level 1 will comprise 33% of the questions on the exam; those in Level 2 will comprise 12%; and those in Level 3 will comprise 5% of the questions.  Since there are 13 items in Level 3, we can safely assume that not all areas will be tested on any given exam.

Though it won’t be a part of the exam, PMI has identified 56 tasks under six major domains of practice, including:

  • Domain I: Value-driven Delivery (15 tasks)
  • Domain II: Stakeholder Engagement (7 tasks)
  • Domain III: Boosting Team Performance Practices (12 tasks)
  • Domain IV: Adaptive Planning (9 tasks)
  • Domain V: Problem Detection and Resolution (5 tasks)
  • Domain VI: Continuous Improvement (Product, Process, People) (8 tasks)

Based on the announcement of the list of tasks and domains, it seems PMI is headed toward the Agile PM body of knowledge document many of us have been looking for.  However, describing the content in terms of tasks, rather than processes, is obviously a different approach from the current edition of the PMBOK, or the practice standards.

I’ve created a page in the IT PM Bookstore for the listed Agile reference texts.  Most are available in both paperback and Kindle format.  If you’ve read any of them, please drop a comment with a review, and I’ll add it to the description.