Certification: Does It Really Make Good Program Managers?

Home Forums Program and Project Management Certification: Does It Really Make Good Program Managers?

This topic contains 21 replies, has 14 voices, and was last updated by  Steve Ressler 8 years, 1 month ago.

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  • #150392

    Daniel Crystal

    FAC-PM, DAWIA, agency-specific certifications…even, the industry standard, PMP. It seems like everybody wants their program managers certified these days. With the amount of money the federal government spends certifying its program managers, or hiring contractors and consultants with PMP credentials, it make me wonder: does certification make someone a better program manager?

    If certification isn’t the answer, then how does the government truly hire, develop, and retain good program managers?

  • #150434

    Steve Ressler

    Great great question.

    My gut is certification programs make solid B to B+ program managers. It makes sure you have the basic skills and knowledge to manage projects and a PMP, DAWIA certified is kind of a rubber stamp that you’ll do a solid job.

    However, the question is how do you develop A to A+ program managers? To me those are another level of skill. They definitely can do all the PMBOK, MS Project, etc…but honestly at the high level that’s a given. The best ones I’ve seen at that level are great leaders and managers – know how to recruit and manage talent – both govt and vendors. They also understand and can play organization politics from dealing with internal politics to Congressional issues.

    So how do we build those level of PMs? My gut – it’s a mix of making them Deputy PMs of huge projects, sending them to higher level leadership/management training.

  • #150432

    Bill Brantley

    Certification is a good start because it gives the project manager a solid foundation to build their skills. As I wrote in a recent posting, a project manager needs to make the journey to being a project leader.

  • #150430

    Daniel Crystal

    After talking with some folks over at VA, they actually have their PM’s go through a test that is actually a project management simulation. If you don’t past the test, you don’t get certified. My boss was actually extremely interested in this approach to certification, what does everyone else think?

  • #150428

    Like it. Simulation is a great way to see if the PM is ‘road ready’.
    Did they get multiple attempts?

  • #150426

    When I was working toward my PMP and a masters certificate in project management, one thing that struck me was the lack of grounding in real life. Yes, there were case studies and simulations (both helpful), but what I really wanted was to be able to bring the projects I was working on at the time -to create the WBS and risk register, etc. and get feedback on my applied use of the PMBOK in real time on something that mattered.

  • #150424

    Jerry Rhoads

    I think that when we make a cert a requirement of the job, we need to have a concrete understating of what we are expecting from the cert holder.

  • #150422

    Kelly Anderson

    Amen. I’ve put down more training solicitation notices and books because 99% of federally focused ones (you know, the ones that deal with the realities of procurement and contract admin) focus on IT projects or on building some massive jet or tank or weapon for DoD. (Not that there’s anything wrong with those . . . if that’s your job!) It’s not just the subject matter that turns me off–most of them are way too detailed and long-term for the real-world situations I face.

    I’m tempted to quit this federal racket and start, “PM for the Rest of Us.” 🙂

    The differences, though, for those of us doing projects that are a bit more fluid, don’t have ITEMS as their deliverables but programs and policies, and shorter timeframes, are huge. Enough so that I don’t know the skills are translatable. I’d rather have someone with good instincts who can move things along than someone who will lock my project in months of analysis paralysis working on a project risk communication plan. Risk #1–you’re never going to get this money spent by the end of the FY. . . .

  • #150420

    Daniel Crystal

    You bring up an interesting point, Kelly. One item that my team has been wrestling with has been defining what “program management” is. In my office, when we say “program manager” we mean “systems program manager,” or someone who is overseeing the procurement of large technical programs. But there are many other “program managers” as well, who buy services, create policy, etc. that are all equally important.

    What would you think about splitting the job identifier between systems program managers and “other” program managers? I’ve heard that DoD uses the 1101 series for PM’s, instead of the generic 0340.

  • #150418

    Henry Brown

    Kinda difficult to generalize BUT IMO: Certification should NOT be any more than an indication that you have received the “required” training. I don’t think that most would say since Joe or Mary has gone to leadership school that they are good leaders.

  • #150416

    Jo Youngblood

    You can get the feedback your looking for from the PMI Communities of Practice. I’ve found far more value in engaging in discussion with other PMI members than I have from just reading the BOK.

  • #150414

    Jo Youngblood

    Right but it’s like degrees.. you’re not going to hire a Psychologist to do an Engineer’s job. That would be a poor fit. Do you think that Certification increases the likelihood of a better fit?

  • #150412

    Jo Youngblood

    Kelly, there’s a reason why PMI puts statements all throughout the BOK that you have to have some familiarity with your industry as to how you apply project management standards. Even in my own agency we engage in that conversation. For instance, I’ll keep project management standards in mind on a small project, but I’m not likely to actively engage in developing a detailed project management plan and implementing stringent controls simply because of cost, and time feasibility issues. Whereas on a larger project that has more inherent risks because it has more players involved, absolutely I’m going to engage in a more detailed model of project management planning. So some of this is knowing when to take it or leave it and that’s where experience and guidance from more senior PMs comes in. The credentialing in my opinion just means you understand the standard jargon and can follow along until you develop your own experience and reputation.

  • #150410

    Steve Ressler

    I agree with this. When we held our annual conference last year, we had a session on project management. It was super packed and we had a ton of questions.

    What was most interesting was that probably 1/3 of project management questions were from folks not traditionally in my mind were project managers. These were folks managing a grant project, a communication project, or a very specific mission project. Not the traditional IT/systems type projects we think of.

    But the same questions applied which were a lot about leadership, budget, scope, managing up, managing vendors and outside parties, etc

  • #150408

    Jo Youngblood

    There is no silver bullet. You’re not looking for one skill or qualification but a series of skills and qualifications or a clustering of skills and qualifications. Certification can certainly be one in that set but should not be the only one in the set. And again, individuals that are ready and willing to achieve a way to stand out from the crowd, should be given opportunities to do so. Is certification not one of those opportunities to stand up and say “I can take initiative on my own right and better myself through continued development and education and you can expect that from me as an employee”? Isn’t that what is required from the next generation of employees given the rapid changes in technology and policy?

  • #150406

    Henry Brown

    Yes, it probably does just as it increases the likelhood that Joe/Mary are going to develop into good leaders

    . I have worked in an enviornment (IT) where Certification has been the expected norm. One of my major frustration(s) was the automatic acceptance that someone had the skills needed for the job if they were certified.

  • #150404

    Pat Izzo

    To me, certification only means that a person meets a certain minimum level of project management knowledge and experience. It does not mean that if you have a cert. you are a good PM. There are probably more uncertified PMs that are much better than certified ones. There are many levels of PMs from junior to very senior. As with anyone some people are better at their jobs than others. That is human nature. All certified PM’s are supposed to subscribe to a Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. The following section states: “2.2.2 We accept only those assignments that are consistent with our background, experience, skills, and qualifications.” If a PM does otherwise then they will probably make a poor PM. That being said, they could be a poor PM because they are a jerk to begin with and in that case no amount of BESQ’s will help. As with any professional, CPA, PMP, PE, etc. one should evaluate the person not the credential.

  • #150402

    John D Driessnack

    Many certificate or certification programs have experience requirements, but they tend to be general in nature…. 2 years or 4 years of project or program management experience. If you have spend those years on one program working as a member of a team with no leadership expereince, then you are not going to have the experience to run a program or project that is the same size or larger. You might be able to step up and be the team lead for a part, an Integrated product or process team lead (IPT), but not the project or program manager.

    The certification program do a good job of making sure a person understands the basic knowledge and if the courses have application and simulations, you can get some technical skills, but they do not provide true experience. Certificates and certifications are a good step in providing a base, but one needs to look at experience and work to get a variety of experinences. Being a IPT lead on a very larger project and/or working as a project lead on small project are different experiences and one should try to round out there experiences. Even if you will mainly manage small projects, working on a larger project for a period of a year or so can provide some great insights on the value of the disciplined PM tools, like earned value, risk management, detailed WBSs, etc. You can make a better decision on what to apply on your smaller project.

  • #150400

    Josh Nankivel

    Certification doesn’t make good program or project managers.

    While the process of certification should increase your knowledge, it’s not necessarily so. If a PMP boot camp is your only preparation, the process is going to do very little for you, even if you pass the test. Even if you do gain knowledge, how can we ensure the knowledge is applied, or indeed is even applicable in our specific project environments?

    Competency-based certifications like IPMA has may do better because you must have the required experience and show competency. I’m not sure the competency standard is rigorous enough either to be reliable, but I’d rather hire a program or project manager with a comptency-based certification over something like a PMP. However most organizations aren’t sophisticated enough about this to even know what some of these certifications are, so the demand is low.

    But I’m pretty confident in my original answer; certification does not make good program (or project) managers. It’s just one factor in everything that goes into the evaluation of a program or project manager’s competency, and in some cases the weight is small enough to be ignored.

  • #150398

    Earl Rice

    I couldn’t help but throw in 2 cents here on certifications. With the exception of a very few fields, i.e. like the Medical Fields, were you really want someone that has been not only educated, but also gone through a vetting process as to their skills (a very very critical peer review…and they don’t have to pay for this either), the certifications are of questionable value. As was stated, it is only a part of the decision process, and quite often a small part. Let’s take a drop back to reality here. Behind most certification programs you will find someone(s) with pockets, that wants to put money in them. And, as part of the process, they will spin and hype their programs as part of the salesmanship. In cases where the people that have completed their programs do great, they will shout from the heavens that it was the certification that made it happen. But, they don’t mention the ones that have completed the certification and failed miserably. Beware of the hype and spin. Also, beware of any certification program that is not Government run or legally required (they have no pockets there). So, certification alone is NOT a deciding factor.

    So, when you are hiring someone, you must look at the whole, and I do mean whole person (the old whole person concept, if the old timers can remember this before it was hyped and spinned). And, the omnipotent question is, can this person do the job I want!!! [Not, do they have the right certifications.] I have seen PhD’s, with certifications miles long (list covered 2 pages), published articles list even longer, and they flop because they are just not made to manage a project and lead people. And I have seen people with a BS or a MS that reach the highest levels of Project Management without any certifications, because of their people skills coupled with intelligence.

    Thus, I question if we are confusing certifications with intelligence and the ability to manage and lead? But, that is what the interviews are all about. If you structure your interviews to ask the right questions (difficult questions), you will be able to tell who to select. And naturally, someone will counter that anyone can bluff their way through an interview. Which I must counter, not if you ask the right questions. If they are able to bluff their way through, one of two things have occured: 1. The interviewers are incompetant. or 2. You are asking the wrong questions.

    So, I must agree that certifications are only a part of the decision making process, a very small part of the process. The person may (and very well could) have the skills that you are looking for already without having gone through the certification training.

  • #150396


    Certification was tried by industry in the 80’s and still exists to some extent, but only those industries that are captivated by titles require them anymore.

    That said, there is a case for certification where the certification has value. Most certifications only reflect the ability to pass a test. Being certified in a programming language doesn’t make an effective or efficient programmer.

    Other certifications (like the PMP) require validated experience in addition to being able to pass the certification exam. They also require ongoing professional development.

    Similarly, there are a lot of experienced professionals (both inside and outside of government service) who do the work well and produce the desired outcomes without the benefit of being “certified”.

    The answer to your question needs to take into account the requirements of the certification and ultimately, the demonstrated abilities of the individuals being considered for the position/work.

  • #150394

    James Lewis

    Does having a certificate hanging on the wall of your cube really mean that you’re QUALIFIED enough to actually manage a minor project, let alone a multi-million dollar program?

    Considering there really is no standard of comparison regarding price or quality or knowledge/skill development behind these certifications other than alignment to a set of competencies that don’t consider the business objectives of specific organizations, what really is the point of the certification?

    Organizations like the FAA and the FBI are facing intense public and Congressional scrutiny for their failing programs (Sentinal and NextGen). Time and again, OIGs have found that these programs would be significantly more successful (and valuable) if the program and project managers on them practiced standard program/project methodologies.

    Unfortunately, many Federal organisations lack the coordination of processes and the governance to give their PMs any direction. While the training of people to develop skills and knowledge is important, having an organizational process in place, and a culture that supports the processes is also important. Organizations cannot succeed at one without having the other.

    So, while pursuing certification might help “validate” that employees have been tenured for a particular amount of time, something needs to be done to confirm they have the appropriate knowledge, and more importantly, actually possess the related skills (aligned to their organization’s processes) to be successful. All the while their managers need to be aware of the expectations that are in place to ensure improvement in work behavior while the organization itself needs to be just that… ORGANIZED so that employees have the chance to do what they do best and achieve success!

    I would argue that certified definitely does NOT equal qualified, and that while there are many FAC PPM classes available, they are not all created equal.

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