Surge in demand for project management certification

Gloomy statistics on IT project failures have been compiled for more than a decade by the Standish Group, a West Yarmouth, Mass.-based research consultancy.

But a silver lining has appeared recently. According to the firm’s 2005 report, the number of successful projects has gone up from 23 per cent to 30 per cent, while at the other end, projects deemed complete failures have gone down significantly — by about 20 per cent.

Some of the improvement can be attributed to the increasing rigor, discipline and professionalism of the project management function, said Gregory Balestrero, CEO of the Project Management Institute (PMI), based in West Newton, Penn.

The PMI Group is a global advocacy organization that promotes professional development for the project management profession, and offers certification, research and networking opportunities to help project managers advance their careers. PMI also develops and updates the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK), the project manager’s bible. The organization has over 200,000 members globally.

In today’s business environment, IT project management is by definition change management, said Balestrero: “You can have all the mad scientists you like in a room developing ideas, but when you open the door, someone has to make it happen.”

As a consequence, the value of the project management professional (PMP) designation offered by PMI has gone up dramatically in recent years. In a recent study conducted by PMI comparing salaries for IT credentials such as network engineers, Microsoft certifications and so on, premium pay was highest for PMP certification. “There are lots of certified network engineers, but few people can take an IT project and deliver it to expectations,” said Balestrero.

PMI has a rigorous process in place to obtain the PMP designation. To qualify, people with a university degree need to have 4,500 hours of experience in leading projects. “Some people only work on the execution part of projects. For the PMP, we want people with experience, front to end,” said Linda Vella, chair of strategic planning at PMI and program director at the Toronto Dominion (TD) Financial Group.

Applicants submit a specifications sheet detailing the companies they have worked for in a project management capacity, their positions on the projects and key contacts. PMI screens and checks the information with employers for about 10 per cent of applications to verify the information is accurate.

Applicants also need to complete the PMP examination, which consists of about 200 multiple-choice questions, typically completed in-person at a major educational institution. In Canada, a number of colleges and universities offer the examination, including Athabasca University, the University of Toronto and the University of Laval. Examination fees are US$405 for members, US$555 for non-members.

There are about 10,000 PMPs across Canada, said Vella. Although many are in construction or engineering, the largest number are involved in IT projects.

Demand for PMPs is highest in the financial services and government sectors, but there is plenty of demand in other industries as well. Some organizations are starting to make the designation a requirement for all staff involved in running projects. At TD, for example, all contract and full-time hires in project management positions must have PMPs certification starting next year, said Vella.

There is no specific type of IT professional getting the PMP designation, but many are systems analysts or developers who move into project management roles. “Soft skills are important, as you must deal with different types of people at different levels and adjust your style accordingly, so you talk big picture with senior executives, talk detail with analysts, and so on,” said Vella.

People who want to make the transition into a project management role, and then to a PMP certification, have a number of avenues. Working on projects as a team member is an obvious first step, so Vella advises aspiring PMPs to express an interest to their bosses, read up on project management and take courses. “You don’t just wake up one day and say, I want to be a project manager. People grow into it, and you do tend to need to work your way up,” said Vella.

The PMI Institute has chapters in every province Canada-wide, which affords aspirants opportunities to learn more about the profession.

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