Posts tagged: project management certification

Professional Project Managers

Close-up photograph of suit and tieAs I mentioned last time, the company that looks after PRINCE2 for the UK Government, the APM Group, has announced it will launch a new PRINCE2 qualification on 30th January (next Monday). This new qualification will be called PRINCE2 Professional.

I’ve written before about my mixed feelings about the attempts to professionalise project management (using ‘professionalise’ here in a precise manner, not as a proxy for ‘improve’) and this new qualification seems another step along the route.

I’m not convinced, however, that it makes much sense for this type of qualification to be coming from the APM Group. While there is a demand out there for a qualification that asserts it proves ‘competence’, that demand is already well served – both the Project Management Institute and the International Project Management Association (through its national member associations) provide global coverage of such qualifications.

The PRINCE2 qualifications were always something different, in that they aimed to measure knowledge of the methodology, and not experience or competence in project management. This means that APM Group are making a significant departure from the previous qualifications.

Naturally, this makes commercial sense for them, but does it also help project managers? On the one hand, an addition to the alphabet soup of possible qualifications is probably a bad thing, in that we will likely end up with yet more culture wars about which one is best. On the other hand, where PRINCE2 has been successful, it tends to push out the wider ranging PMP and IPMA Level C/B qualifications, so an acknowledgement, from the PRINCE2 world, that sometimes more than knowledge needs to be assessed could be a good thing.

In other words, I’m staying firmly on the fence on this one. I’ll be interested in what extra information we get when the qualification is launched, particularly around the pre-requisites before you can apply. If they end up merely replicating what is already needed for the PMI’s PMP, or the IPMA’s qualifications, I’ll be a little disappointed at what would then look like an unnecessary rehash of what is already available.

What do you think? Is a PRINCE2 qualification about competence a good thing? Or are there already enough choices for project managers in this area?

(Image courtesy of karsten.planz. Some rights reserved.)

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PRINCE2 Professional

PRINCE2 LogoPRINCE2 Practitioners now have an advanced qualification to aim for – and one that tests competence, not knowledge.

APMG-International announced last week that they would be launching a new PRINCE2 qualification at the end of January. PRINCE2 Professional is aimed at assessing the candidate’s ability to apply the PRINCE2 method. This is in contrast to the current PRINCE2 qualifications, which are purely about showing a candidate knows the methodology, its terms, and its processes.

PRINCE2 (PRojects IN Controlled Environments 2) is the de facto project management standard within the UK, and is used extensively in Western Europe and Australia. Recently, the Project Management Professional (PMP) qualification from the US-based Project Management Institute (PMI) has been making some inroads into these areas.

It’s clear that APMG-International are reacting to pressure from PRINCE2 Practitioners and industry for a qualification that is explicitly about competence. The PMP qualification is often cited as being more about competence as candidates must have a certain amount of project management experience before they can actually take the examinations.

It’s not clear what minimum experience level is required to take the PRINCE2 Professional assessment – the press release states that Accredited Training Organisations (i.e. who you will pay for the testing) will advise candidates on whether the qualification is for them. An early pilot of the assessment centre used three years of project management experience in the last five calendar years (so very similar to the PMP requirements).

Either way, it’s worth noting, for both PRINCE2 Professional and PMP, that having a certain level of experience doesn’t guarantee a certain level of competence.

More on this later in the week, I suspect.

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PRINCE2 and Principles

Those of you who follow me on Twitter will know this already, but yesterday I passed my PRINCE2 Practitioner Re-registration exam. PRINCE2 has two levels of qualification, Foundation and Practitioner. A Foundation pass lasts forever, and you need to have one before you can take the Practitioner exam. A Practitioner pass needs to be renewed every five years if you want to keep describing yourself as, well, a PRINCE2 Practitioner.

Given that here in the UK PRINCE2 is the de facto standard for project management qualifications, I’m happy to have passed the re-registration exam – it means I can still compete for contract jobs!

But… I have to admit, I wasn’t that thrilled with the exam. More particularly, I wasn’t pleased with the format of it, because I think it reflects a worrying trend from the owners of PRINCE2.

Way back in the mists of time, when I first got qualified, the Foundation exam was a multiple choice exam, which it still is, and the Practitioner exam was essay based, which it no longer is. Now, the Practitioner exam is an “objective testing examination”. Which, as far as I can tell, means it is multiple choice. Complicated multiple choice, granted, but multiple choice all the same.

I’ll admit it, I have a terrible prejudice against multiple choice exams. The last one I had done was the PRINCE2 Foundation exam. Essentially, this was just a memory exercise – it checked you knew what the various PRINCE2 terms were. Which was fine, given the level it was aimed at – it was a first step on the qualifications ladder for project support staff, and others who needed to show they had a basic knowledge of PRINCE2.

But I’ve always thought that to test real understanding of a subject, you need to send someone off with little guidance, to navigate their own way to the solution. And that’s why I liked the essay style Practitioner exam I originally took – the demonstration of understanding was all in your own hands.

That’s not to say that the re-registration exam I took didn’t test understanding. The format of the questions was such that it did require you to have both a knowledge of the PRINCE2 methodology, and an understanding of the processes within it.

However, what it didn’t test was an understanding of the principles of project management, of when it was appropriate to use the various processes the methodology uses, and even more importantly, when it was appropriate not to.

Now, a lot of you will probably be thinking, and quite reasonably, that PRINCE2 is a methodology, so an exam to be registered as a Practitioner of it should only test understanding of the methodology itself. It’s a persuasive argument, but not one I accept.

PRINCE2 is in the interesting position of being the de facto project management standard in the UK and much of Europe. This means, I believe, that it not only should try to spread itself as a methodology, but also to spread an understanding of what project management is, the principles behind it. In my experience, PMI just isn’t well established enough over here to do that job.

To me, the key to working with and using PRINCE2 effectively is a thorough understanding of the principles behind in. Maybe I was lucky in the way I was taught it originally, but the emphasis of the trainers was very much on why certain processes and procedures were used, not how to use them. And the reason for this was that they continually stressed the need to ensure you were applying PRINCE2 in a flexible and light touch way.

I can practically hear the howls from the Agileists out there at the suggestion PRINCE2 can ever be light touch or even flexible. But it really can. If you just took the PRINCE2 manual and tried to apply everything in there to a project, you’d kill all but the largest projects straight away. But PRINCE2 is designed to be scalable – and that’s where it gets tricky.

Because the only way a methodology can be scalable is by using the judgement of the people applying it, by using the experience, understanding, and plain common sense of the project manager to decide what is needed for any particular project. And the ability to do that is something that is very hard to test.

I’d also say it is impossible to test in any sort of multiple choice exam.

And that’s why I preferred the essay based exam. By having the ability to write an open-ended answer, the person being tested can not only demonstrate an understanding of the processes, but also explain how he would apply it in the specific scenario given. He can, in short, demonstrate his abilities as a project manager, not as a PRINCE2 regurgitation tool.

Now, I can understand why the people who look after PRINCE2 would want to move to this “objective testing” exam format. If nothing else, it’s an awful lot cheaper to grade a paper when all you have to do is scan the answer sheet for the right marks in the right places (or, in my case, just have it all done online). And it moves it towards the style used in many other qualification exams.

But I think they are ultimately storing up a huge problem for themselves. There is already a body of opinion out there which thinks PRINCE2 is simply awful, too heavyweight, too inflexible, too much of a pain. I’d argue the real problem these people have come up against is poor project management, poor project managers, where a methodology has been applied without much understanding of the principles behind it.

Worryingly, this style of examination seems, to me, to be encouraging more of this type of project manager. All it will produce is someone who understands the processes very well, but doesn’t really understand the reasons for them. Essay based exams are much harder to grade, but the reason for that is that they need to have a real live human being doing it. And that ‘problem’, of needing a human being, seems to me to be, in fact, the greatest strength of them.

Because a human being is able to read the essay and get a real feel for whether the person writing has understood what is actually happening in the scenario, has understood more than the right cookie cutter to pick up from the PRINCE2 tool box. And being able to assess that seems to me to be incredibly valuable.

If it becomes the common view that all a Practitioner qualified project manager brings you is someone who will blindly apply a methodology with no thought as to whether it is appropriate, all qualified Practitioners will suffer. In short, I worry that this style of exam is, ultimately, going to devalue the PRINCE2 Practitioner qualification.

What do you think? Am I just being snobbish about multiple choice? Am I wrong in thinking a PRINCE2 Practitioner qualification should be about more than memorising the PRINCE2 manual? Is PRINCE2 already seen as too heavy-handed a methodology to ever use? Do you think PMI is in a position in Europe to take up the mantle of spreading awareness of the principles of project management?

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Project Management Certification – Is It Worth It?

Project management certification is a tricky subject. There is no doubt that there is a significant amount of value in some certifications, less in others, and some are just not worth it. Today, we’re looking at project management certification and training on Project Management Guide, with a round up of a few posts and articles.

Firstly, we look at Myths of Project Management Certification Debunked by Wayne Botha. His 5 myths hit the spot, particularly number 3: “Certified project managers are always more effective than non-certified and experienced project managers.” While certifications are nice, they are not the true measure of a project manager – only the track record of their projects can be that.

That is not to say there is no point in getting some certification. As John Reiling puts it in Top 10 Benefits to Earning a Certification, ‘While it is said that “experience is the greatest teacher,” a certification “rounds you out.”‘ This is very true. While you will need considerable experience to help you in your project management, sometimes you will run across situations or issues you simply haven’t seen before. As well as applying your experience, it is useful to have some practical advice from elsewhere to fall back on.

It is important, however, not to get too hung up on having a methodology. As Joseph Phillips says in Project Management Models, Certifications and the Pyramids, “here’s what I think: project management is project management. I don’t think it matters what approach you take to complete your projects, as long as you complete your projects.”

Project management is too complicated to boil down to just one set of processes, a book of templates to fill in for each project, or a series of steps to take on every project. It involves hard work, soft skills, a logical mind and a creative spirit. These take time to develop and nurture, and while a particular certification path or methodology will provide you valuable pointers and help, ultimately it is down to yourself to make sure you have the right skills and attributes to deliver your projects on time, and on budget. Certification is one of the pillars that will support you in project management, but it isn’t a magic bullet.

So get out there and yes, read the books, follow the courses, take the exams, but, most importantly, do the work as well!

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