The role of the project manager is an important role to driving progress. But, it is also a role that is highly varied between industries as well as between companies. Given that, how can you assess if a project manager in one industry would be successful in another? A project management certification is one way to demonstrate transferable prowess and capability.

What is a project management certification?

As you probably already know, project management is not an exact science. There is no clear way of showing who is a good project manager and who is not. It’s a fast growing role too, with more project manager roles being created daily.

Earning a project management certification is a way of communicating on your CV or resume that you know about project management. Given that project management is not an exact science, it is a way to standardise the role so that employers and recruiters can work out what level a person is working at.

There are many options available which we’ll explore in this article. Each option has a different set of requirements.

Do I need to be a certified project manager?

In short, no.

Earning a project management certification is a way of demonstrating that you have capability.

It is not proof that you are a good project manager. Nor is a lack of certification proof that someone is not a good PM.

I can certainly think of a number of great project managers, particularly in retail, that have no formal project management certification. This has not stopped them from delivering great projects and having highly successful careers.

Should you get a project management certification?

Earning a project management certification could be right for you if you’re:

  • Looking to apply for jobs to change your employer.
  • Thinking of moving to a different industry.
  • Wanting to relocate to a different country.
  • Trying to break into your first project management job.
  • Working in a business that is specialised in a particular project management methodology (e.g. PRINCE2).
  • The type of person who enjoys earning recognised accomplishments.

But, it might not be necessary if you’re:

  • Focused on actually delivering projects and benefits.
  • Wanting to progress within your current company.
  • Already a project manager who wants to get promoted.
  • Looking for a new job and able to demonstrate a track record of project delivery.

Project management certification can be useful, particularly if you’re looking at applying for new external jobs. In fact, some recruiters use it as a “must have” requirement, similar to exam scores, degrees or years of experience. However, good recruiters also recognise that a piece of paper isn’t proof of future success. As a result, these good recruiters find that on the job experience of actually delivering projects is far more valuable and aligned to what the employer is looking for.

What project management certification options are available?

There are many different types of certification available for project managers. Some of these options are recognised internationally. Whereas, others are more specific to a particular region or country. Some certifications are preferred for certain industries. Furthermore, some certifications are best for particular types of projects.

Here are some of the more popular project management certification options. However, please note, this is not a definitive list and there will be other options too that may be more applicable to your location.

PMP (Project Management Professional)

The Project Management Institute (PMI) is an international organisation to drive higher quality projects and better project management. Their PMP certification is perhaps the most recognised certification around the world.

Becoming a PMP means that you need to know about many different aspects of project management. These are all covered in the PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge). The PMP certification is for experienced project managers to help show this experience. Another key point with the PMP is that you need to continue to develop yourself to keep your certification active.

To become a PMP, you need to:

  • Have a degree
  • Have worked at least 4,500 hours of project management (or 7,500 depending on your degree)
  • Complete at least 35 hours of project management training
  • Complete a 4 hour, 200 question exam

You can find out more about PMP on the PMI website.

CAPM (Certified Associate in Project Management)

Also from the PMI, the CAPM is a project management certification that is better suited to brand new project managers. There is no need to demonstrate years of experience like the PMP requires you to. Therefore, it is good for those looking to break into project management for the first time.

You are ready to become a CAPM when you have:

  • Completed 23 hours of training
  • (Or 1,500 hours of project experience if you have a degree)
  • Completed a 3 hour, 150 question exam

Again, you can find out more about CAPM on the PMI website.

PRINCE2 Practitioner

PRINCE2 (Projects IN Controlled Environments) is a project management methodology, used extensively in the UK public sector. Managed and governed by AXELOS, PRINCE 2 is a structured, process-flow based methodology for managing projects in any industry.

There are two levels of project management certification. Firstly, the Foundation level is the beginner’s course. After that, you move upto Practitioner level as the full PRINCE2 certification. Earning a PRINCE2 certification will be essential if you’re planning on working in an environment where PRINCE2 projects and terminology are the standard.

To become a PRINCE2 Practitioner, you need to:

  • Complete the Foundation course and exam
  • Pass the 68 question, 2½ hour exam

You can read more this in our PRINCE2 overview article.

CSM (Certified Scrum Master)

Agile project management is a big trend at present, with scrum being a key technique. In turn, there are a many different certifications available for agile. The Scrum Alliance’s CSM is perhaps the most recognised agile project management certification available at present.

To become a CSM, you need to:

  • Attend a 2 day, live teach training course
  • Pass the 35 question exam, lasting around 1 hour

You can read more on the Scrum Alliance website.

PMQ (Project Management Qualification)

The PMQ is the main project management certification from the Association for Project Management (APM). (Note – this certification used to be known as the APMP and is now rebranded, for completion in November 2018).

It is similar to the PMP in content but run by the UK based APM rather than the USA based PMI. Basically, you’ll need to learn about all elements of project management. This includes: project planning, communication, resource management, risk management and project reviews.

To earn your PMQ certification, you need to:

  • Pass a 3 hour, 16 question exam

You can find out more on the APM website.

Lean Six Sigma (various belts)

The Lean Six Sigma (LSS) methodology is focused on process improvement.

There are differerent coloured belts available of different levels. White Belt focuses on making you aware of Lean Six Sigma. Yellow Belt trains you to a beginner level. Green Belt is most commonly recognised. This gives you the tools and techniques to lead a LSS project as PM. Black Belt prepares you to take on the toughest process improvement challenges. Finally, the highest order of LSS is the Master Black Belt. This is for those who are focused on setting up and leading full company wide transformations.

There is no defined owner or governing body for Lean Six Sigma. Therefore, the criteria for earning each belt varies. The IASSC is probably the most globally recognised option. However, ASQ is also widely known. But, there are many others too, all of which have different requirements for certification.

However, I believe that the best type of LSS certifications require you to put your training into practice and demonstrate your capability. After all, the whole point of learning the tools and techniques is to actually use them, right?

To earn your Green Belt, you’ll (probably) need to:

  • Complete an extensive training course (circa 30-40 hours)
  • Pass an exam
  • Demonstrate use of the toolkit in real life projects

You can find out more in our Lean in retail and Six Sigma in retail articles.

That’s not all folks…

These are just SOME of the options available to earn a certification. There are more project management certification options for beginners only as well as those with experience. Also, there are more advanced options which focus on managing programmes and portfolios.

Also, there are now more business degrees which specifically include project management as a key topic too.

Which Project Management Certification Should You Choose?

There are so many different certification options available to you. So, first, it’s important to answer the question: do you even need one at all?

As discussed earlier, it’s not essential to become certified before you can be a successful project manager.

However, if you are keen to develop your career by moving company or industry – or even by relocating country – then it may be suitable. You’ll need to work out what will be best for where you are heading.

For example, the PMP certification is more widely recognised if you are looking to work in the US. If you want to focus on IT projects, the CSM may be better for you. But, maybe you want to specialise on process improvement type projects only – then the Lean Six Sigma Green Belt will be most worthwhile.

Look at recruitment websites and job adverts to see what your future demands most of you. Just be sure to research fully before committing. After all, you wouldn’t want to waste the time and money earning one certification only to find out that it won’t help get that new job anyway!

What project management certification are you thinking of?

So, are you looking at getting a particular project certification? If so, which options are you pursuing? Comment below to share your thoughts.

project management expert Oliver BanksAbout the Author

Oliver Banks is an expert at delivering retail change projects and programmes. He’s led and managed many different types of retail changes, particularly to design or optimise retail operating models. When taking these on, he blends classic project management techniques from PRINCE2, PMBOK and Lean Six Sigma with a dose of pragmatism and business reality to ensure these important retail projects are led, managed and delivered successfully.


project management expert Oliver Banks

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