The Value of a PMP Certification


The value and importance of the PMP certification is a hotly debated topic within the project management community. One end of the spectrum vigorously defends the credential as the defining standard for competence, whereas the other end views it as a meaningless exercise signifying nothing more than rote memorization. Many fall somewhere in the middle, seeing it as a necessary evil that hopefully yields some advantage to their marketability.

Adding fuel to the debate are the results of a research study published in the Project Management Journal, February 2011. **A little dated, but still provides some insight**

“PMP Certification as a Core Competency: Necessary But Not Sufficient” reports the results of a study conducted by Jo Ann Starkweather and Deborah H. Stevenson of Northwestern University’s Department of Information Systems & Technology.

The study reports the valuation of the PMP certification by IT Recruiters and corporate IT Executives, as well as a statistical evaluation of the PMP as an indicator of project success.

Survey Says…

Valuation of the PMP: Of the 15 core competencies surveyed, the PMP certification was ranked #11 by IT recruiters, and #15 by IT Executives (that’s right-dead last!) Shown below are percentages of IT Executives rating of “Important” or “Extremely Important” for each competency.

1. Leadership 95%

2. Ability to Communicate at Multiple Levels 94%

3. Verbal Skills 87%

4. Written Skills 87%

5. Attitude 85%

6. Ability to Deal With Ambiguity and Change 83%

7. Work History 69%

8. Experience 67%

9. Ability to Escalate 66%

10. Cultural Fit 57%

11. Technical Expertise 46%

12. Education 38%

13. Length of Prior Engagements 23%

14. Past Team Size 18%

15. PMP Certification 15%

PMP as Indicator of Project Success: There was no statistically significant difference in the reported success rates for projects led by certified vs. non-certified project managers when considered across 5 Success Criteria:

  • Cost/Within Budget
  • On Schedule
  • Quality/Met Technical Specifications
  • Quality/Met Client Business Requirements
  • Client/User Satisfaction

 So What Does It Mean?

In the words of the study leaders, “Clearly, mastery of the project management body of knowledge is an important asset in the preparation of professional project managers. An understanding of the methodology is essential to the appropriate conduct of project management. However, based on the narrative explanations offered by both IT Recruiters and Executives, their emphasis on soft skills such as the ability to communicate at multiple levels, and the tacit knowledge of knowing when to exercise leadership and how to do this effectively are critical to eventual project success.”

So it would seem that we as a community must address the gap that currently exists in our curriculum and training when it comes to leadership and soft skills. Furthermore, recruiters must use more screening techniques to evaluate soft skills and leadership abilities when considering candidates for project management roles. As the value of project management has evolved from tactical to strategic in organizations, so must our perspective on the core competencies for success.

What’s the PMP?

The PMP certification is the most popular among the five different certifications now offered by the PMI (Project Management Institute) which are:

  1. PgMP: Program Management Professional
  2. PMP: Project Management Professional
  3. CAPM: Certified Associate Project Manager
  4. PMI-SP: PMI Scheduling Professional
  5. PMI-RMP: PMI Risk Management Professional

According the PMI website, to apply for the PMP, you need to have either:

  • A four-year degree (bachelor’s or the global equivalent) and at least three years of project management experience, with 4,500 hours leading and directing projects and 35 hours of project management education, OR,
  • A secondary diploma (high school or the global equivalent) with at least five years of project management experience, with 7,500 hours leading and directing projects and 35 hours of project management education.

The Costs

The PMP is an expensive exam, costing $405 for PMI members and $555 for non-members. Many people feel intimidated by what they have heard about the 200-question test and thus take exam prep courses that average between $1,500 and $2,000.

In order to maintain a PMP certification, one must accrue 60 “PDUs” (Professional Development Units) every three years. There are a few different ways to gain these PDUs, either by taking classes, attending PMI conferences, or self-directed study. Generally, one hour of instruction or participation = 1 PDU. There are many commercial providers who offer training, podcasts, webinars, etc., where it can cost from $25 to $100’s per PDU. I estimate that the 60 PDUs over three years costs about $3,000.

So, let’s add it up:

  • PMP exam prep: $2,000
  • PMP exam cost: $500
  • Maintaining PDUs over a 40 year career: $40,000

Total Career Cost of PMP Certification: $42,500.

Being able to List PMP on Your Resume: Priceless?

What are your thoughts?

13 Replies to “The Value of a PMP Certification”

  1. Peter thank you for sharing this perspective.

    One thing I would debate about is the total cost calculations adding upto $42,500.

    PMP exam prep: $2,000 – One can get prerequisite PDUs as low as few hundred bucks online (As PMI allows online contact hours) ~ 500 including books

    PMP exam cost: $500

    Maintaining PDUs over a 40 year career: $40,000 – I spent less than $100 per term to acquire my 60 hours of PDUs, a lot of self study, contribution towards community etc. Over period of 40 years ~ 4,000

    Renewal every 3 years ~ $125

    That adds upto approximately ~ ~7,000 or a couple grand more. A lot of activities we might do as part of our day to day job would count towards PDUs. Lot of free online webinars would also count towards PDU. You can get virtually all 60 PDUs free, if you know how to!! :p

    Either way, interesting research, thank for sharing.

  2. The PMI Project Management Salary Survey, Seventh Edition found that project managers with the PMP credential earned an average of 16% more than those who do not have the credential, in the United States.

    You can attribute all sorts of theories to this finding, ranging from correlation to causation to utter coincidence, but the fact remains that if employers are willing to pay an extra $14,500/year, there is at least the perception of value among business decision makers. And since over your conjectural 40 year career (good Lord, I hope not!) that nets more than half a million dollars over your estimated $42,000 cost, I’d say that those who pursue the PMP credential have a rational basis for their decision.

  3. As a Director of a large PMO and the leader of an Enterprise Agile transformation, I look at the PMP and PMI-ACP as more of a language primer. Neither one tells me you are any good at project management (agile or otherwise), only that we can speak a shared language that will then help me establish your level of competency.

    I hold both certifications and teach prep classes on them, but rely more on past business results and leadership skills to prove you can be successful. I don’t require either certification from applicants but they definitely help me get to the meat of interviews a lot faster.

    While on the job, the certifications help frame discussions to establish group understanding (e.g. I can talk about stakeholder management techniques without having to explain what a stakeholder is).

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