The Slow Growth of the PgMP Community

The April issue of PMI Today reports that there are now 530 holders of the Program Management Professional (PgMP) credential.  Over the last few months, PMI has been awarding an average of nine PgMP credentials per month.  That’s compared to over 3,000 PMP credentials per month.  Are there really more than 330 project managers for every program manager?  Or is the PgMP credential simply not reaching the target market?  Or is the process too onerous?  I do regular scans of the major job boards, looking for PgMP as a requirement.  So far, I’ve only seen it listed as an alternative to PMP, and never for an actual program manager position.  So, is this a failure of PMI to market the credential to potential employers?

Now PMI is reporting that they have completed the PgMP role delineation study, which is conducted every five to seven years to ensure the credential exam reflects current practice.  They say they interviewed over 1100 program managers, including 119 PgMP credential holders, with an average of 9.5 years of experience as a program manager.  Although there’s no firm date for when it will happen, the study will significantly change the PgMP examination; PMI estimates that about 56% of the exam content will change.  The original six domains will now be compressed into one new domain, Program Life Cycle, and four new domains will be created: Strategic Program Management, Benefits Management, Stakeholder Management, and Governance.  See the new PgMP Examination Content Outline for details.

In the Outline, PMI notes that “those involved in the study … were not bound by The Standard for Program Management.  They were charged with defining the role of individuals leading and directing programs, and using their experience and pertinent resources to help in this task.  Many of the domains, tasks knowledge, and skills outlined by the PgMP Examination Content Outline are new, revised, or reclassified in comparison to what is found in The Standard for Program Management.  Candidates studying for the examination will certainly want to include the current edition of The Standard for Program Management as one of [emphasis added] their references, and would be well advised to read other current titles on program management.”

In other words, PMI has obsoleted the several study guides on the market, as well as their own Standard, and given little guidance on what they consider to be authoritative replacements.  And while I applaud their intent, I have to wonder how they plan to drive candidates to undergo what was already a far more rigorous and expensive process than the PMP or any of their other credentials.  And while they’re at it, drive demand among employers.

Marketing Requires More Than Relentless Self-Promotion

Some years ago, I attended a presentation by Patricia Fripp (for you King Crimson fans, she’s Robert’s sister), where she talked about the concept of “relentless self-promotion.”  This was back in the early days of “personal branding” for ordinary people.  Nowadays, of course, we have YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and all the other myriad ways for people to get visibility.  Today, Facebook has over 500 million users, Twitter around 200 million, LinkedIn around 90 million, and people now watch two billion YouTube videos every day.  It seems the idea has caught on, big-time.  So with all this relentless self-promotion going on, maybe we need to ask a few questions.

  • Who are we promoting ourselves to?
  • What do they think they need (that we have to offer)?
  • Why do they think they need it?

I bring all this up because Miles Jennings, CEO of iMediaVentures, recently initiated a poll on LinkedIn, “Is PMP certification becoming more or less important for project managers?”  The question drew 2,771 votes and 248 comments.  A full 57 percent thought it was becoming more important, but the comments showed an interesting divergence: those who thought it was becoming less important stressed the number of PMP holders they knew who were not effective.  One even wrote, “PMI and PMP is a racket.”  Another commented on the scope of the testing, “Unfortunately, the PMP does not measure the art or social skills that a PM [possesses] …”

Meanwhile, while those who felt it was becoming more important stressed the market value of the credential.  “It’s been my experience that all employers weigh PMP certification as a plus and many require it.”  Others wrote about perceptions in the workplace, “There is something about having the PMP to back me up when making decisions that have an economic or resource impact.”  The opinions expressed largely diverged along the lines of those who considered the value of the PMP credential to themselves, and those who considered the value of the PMP to their target market.  Clearly, these folks have a larger view of “self-promotion” than simply maintaining a LinkedIn page, and they’ve thought about who they are promoting themselves to , and what they have to offer.  But for the PMP credential, it is largely up to PMI to drive why that target market thinks they need it.

If you go to the PMI website nowadays, you’ll see their tag line, “Making project management indispensable for business results.”  Some are a bit shocked at the idea that a professional organization should try to manage the public’s perception of the profession and its practice.  Once upon a time, PMI’s mission was about expanding the knowledge base and publishing it in the PMBOK and other documents, identifying and promulgating best practices, and making resources available to the practitioner.  Of course, they still do all these things, but now the mission of growing PMI has been placed front and center.

And they’ve been successful – over the last eight years, the number of PMP credential holders has about quadrupled, as has the number of PMI members.  They’ve also added four other credentials to the original PMP.  And PMI is now making the Certified Associate in Project Manager (CAPM) credential easier to pursue – they’re going to allow applicants to complete the required 23 hours of education prior to sitting for the exam, rather than prior to submitting the application.  They’ve also expanded the number of Prometric test sites to about 5,000.  I expect similar small steps in making the PMP and PgMP credentials more accessible, as Mark Langley settles in to his new role as President and CEO of PMI.

Naturally, this makes a lot of long-time members queasy about diluting the value of the credentials by making the club appear to be less exclusive.  But in a large market, marketing requires more than relentless self-promotion – it requires alignment with established brands that are actively working to be successful.  And in order for a brand like PMI to be successful, it requires the support of those who have bought in to their vision, in the form of membership, gentle advocacy, and mentoring of beginners.  And, ultimately, it requires growth in order to dominate the market. So, whatever you might think about PMI’s mission, or the value of the PMP credential, I’m going to simply say that I’d rather hire an experienced project manager who has demonstrated their ability to understand and perform to a specified standard, than one who believes that self-certification to a personal, undefined standard is preferable.  Your mileage may vary.