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Demystifying PM Certifications in Three Easy Steps

December 3, 2009
by Pete Rivera
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When it comes to hiring a Project Manager you get presented with resumes full of acronyms and letters. Most candidates list previous Project Management experience and hold certificates in Project Management. They may even have a Black belt in Six Sigma. This certainly means they are “certified in Project Management;” Right? Nope, not even close.

First Step: Look for a certificate from the Project Management Institute (PMI) indicating they are a Project Management Professional (PMP).

  • In order to obtain this certification they must have a Bachelor degree or global equivalent of 4,500 hours of project management experience over 36 months during the last 8 years and 35 hours project management education. –OR- High School Diploma, Associate's degree or equivalent, 7,500 hours of project management experience over 60 months during the last 8 years and 35 hours project management education.
  • They must pass a comprehensive 200 question exam and demonstrate knowledge of all the PM formulas, methodology and tools.

Second Step: Are they current with their certification? Verify membership through

  • The certification is good for three years. During this time each PMP must earn Professional Development Units (PDU’s) by completing additional training, conference presentations, publishing articles and actual project management experience.

Third Step: Vendor Agnostic. One thing I focus on is the portfolio of projects the candidate has worked on. Look for size and scope of the projects and clients they have managed. Was it a niche product or did they work for a vendor?

  • Most Healthcare software vendors throw out the PMP rule book (called the PM Body of Knowledge: PMBOK) in favor of their own methodology. This methodology is intended to expedite the install while cutting corners on tools that the client may need, such as Communication Plans, and Client Work Breakdown Structures.

Project Management principles apply to all industries. A good PM can manage a project regardless of vendor or software function (clinical or financial). Remember, you are looking for a manager not an analyst. You want someone focusing on your needs and not the vendor’s.



Hi Pete - This is a great post and certification is a good way for PMs to demonstrate credibility. I would like to add my observation that THE VERY BEST project managers that I know are not certified.

So when I recruit PMs, I don't pay much attention to PMP, etc. I screen for experience, breadth, leadership, understanding of PM principals (earned value, etc) and the big R - RESPONSIBILITY. Can they go to bed before today's tasks are accomplished? I'll hire the one's that can't ...

Nice post Stacie.
Well Joe, Hiring a non-certified PM is like saying you do not need someone certified in accounting to do your books. I guess you can hire them, but be prepared to provide plenty of oversight.
It just depends if they are REALLY going to manage your project or you just need someone to schedule the meetings and keep the meeting minutes. The VERY BEST PM's can pass the PMP exam. Those that can not are just WANNABE's.

Thanks for sharing this information, Pete.

The First and Second steps are absolutely critical for any one in any industry looking to hire a project manager to lead a team of people balancing the competing priorities of Scope, Time, and Cost on a project. The benefit to having a certified Project Management Professional is that a proven methodology will be followed and if there are multiple project managers, having them PMP certified ensures they all follow the same methodology and speak the same language.

For example, a non-certified project manager may reference a list of activities with a timeline and owners as a Project Plan, whereas the PMI guideline for a Project Plan is a comprehensive document that could include charter, approach, scope, constraints, assumptions, financial, quality, resource, risk, communication, and performance measurement information (though not all of these items are required for every project).

While a good project manager can manage a project regardless of vendor, function, or industry, large projects are more likely to conclude successfully when led by a PMP with large project experience. Once you have a certified PMP, [interview] questions to ascertain individual experience and alignment with your project include

Questions about scope and size in terms of project financials, project staff, end user impact, and duration
Was this project manager responsible for the whole project or a smaller component
Other revealing questions may be about what challenges have been faced, how these challenges were approached, and the outcome of these challenges regarding the project (time, scope, and costs) and participants (team members, stakeholders, end users, and contractors)

When utilizing an HIT vendor's project manager, the vendor will generally have a standard Project Plan that has been proven for their product's implementations. If there are PMPs at the organization, most likely, this Project Plan is based on the PMI standards.

HIT vendors want every client to have a successful implementation for client satisfaction, reference sites, and high industry rankings. Please keep in mind that there are limits to what an HIT vendor's project manager should be involved in at a client organization. If you are working on a larger HIT implementation and have needs that extend beyond the scope of the HIT vendor's responsibilities, it is wise to have a PMP at your organization to manage internal issues and coordinate with the vendor's project manager.

Thanks for the CPA analogy. It seems quite apt.