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PMI Certification Options: Is One Right for You?

PMI Certification Options: Is One Right for You?

It’s too easy to thing of PMI certification as a one-trick pony: PMP. And even for those who are aware of the PMP’s close cousins: PMP-ACP and CAPM, the range of PMI certificate options can often be a surprise.

So, in this guide, we’ll take a look at all of the PMI’s current certification offerings. PMI gives you a choice of eight qualifications. Is one of them right for you?

What We Will Cover…

PMI Certification Options: Is One Right for You?

We will focus on PMI’s current (summer 2020) program of 8 certifications. And I will divide them into three logical categories.

But I will top and tail this assessment with a look at PMI’s role as a qualification provider, and its expectation of its certification holders after qualifying.

  1. PMI’s Role as a Qualification Provider
  2. Core Project Management Certifications
  3. Specific Project Skills Qualifications
  4. Scaling-up Project Management
  5. PMI’s Post-Certification Expectations

PMI Certification: PMI’s Role as a Qualification Provider

Before we get into this, I don’t want to assume you know who and what the Project Management Institute is. The box below has you covered.

My assessment is that PMI seeks to meet two broad objectives. I believe it seeks to be a:

  1. Premier membership organization for Project Management professionals globally
  2. Globally trusted brand for accrediting Project Management professionals against a set of trusted standards

It is also the developer of the approved American national standard for Project Management, ANSI/PMI 99-001-2017. Alongside this, it publishes its own foundational standards and practice standards.

PMI Foundational Standards

  • Project Management (within the PMBOK Guide)
  • Program Management
  • Portfolio Management
  • Earned Value Management
  • Risk Management
  • Organizational Project Management
  • Business Analysis

PMI Practice Standards

  • Project Estimating
  • Scheduling
  • Work Breakdown Structures
  • Risk Management
  • Project Configuration Management
  • Project Manager Competency Development Framework

Come to think of it, the PMI is something of a publishing house too. It also has 8 practice guides.

So, it could be tempting – if a little jaded – to suspect that the PMI certifications are a way to drive sales for its books. However, let’s return to what I think of as PMI’s primary objectives…

PMI as a Membership Organization

Most membership organizations are hierarchical. They offer their members different levels of membership based on experience, knowledge, and achievement. The PMI, however, offers a single membership tier*, but distinguishes its members by the certifications they hold.

In particular, it sees the PMP qualification as the mark of an experienced professional Project Manager.

* PMI does offer Retiree and Student Memberships, with reduced subscription rates, but no lesser benefits.

Once again, there is a more cynical view that the PMI uses its certifications as a membership funnel… So, if you want the qualification, you need to join the PMI. And, once in the PMI, you are likely to stay and pay your annual subscription fee. But who could think that PMI has a commercial intent?

PMI as a Trusted Brand

I think this is at the core of the PMI certification program. It creates a series of attested quality standards for professionals against what it considers to be rigorous standards.

The eight PMI qualifications create a set of benchmarks that global employers can use in assessing job and role candidates. Therefore, this reinforces PMI’s brand. And, in protecting that brand, PMI has a powerful incentive to manage the quality of its certifications.

PMI Certifications for Core Project Management

PMI has three qualifications that I consider to be its core Project Management certifications:

  1. Project Management Professional (PMP)
    PMI sees this as the ‘gold standard of project management certification’. Competing membership associations may demur.
  2. Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)
    This is PMI’s entry-level certification. Candidates require no experience.
  3. PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)
    PMI has been increasingly recognizing the role of agile in the Project Management community. This is its agile practitioner certification.

Project Management Professional (PMP)

PMI designs the PMP certification to demonstrate your competence to fulfill the role of a project manager. If you meet the pre-requisites and can pass the exam, it should equip you to lead and direct all aspects of a project.

But the reality is that there are both:

  • PMPs who achieve the certification with very little experience, spread thin in their application process, and
  • Experienced PMPs who struggle with the book-learning requirements and examination aspects of the qualification.

Of course, the PMP qualification is not perfect, by a long way. But I do believe the changes that are coming in January 2021 will make the exam a better one.

We have yet to see the impact of the changes to the primary curriculum resource, the Project Management Body of Knowledge (the PMBOK Guide). This is currently under review, with a team working on the 7th Edition, as I write.

Head over to the PMI website for its formal description of the PMP and the application process.

Our Resources for Aspiring PMP Candidates

Our primary resource is our roadmap and guide to resources:
I Want to Study for Project Management Professional (PMP).

But we have plenty of other resources (some of which the guide links to):

The PMP Exam…

Comparisons…

Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)

If you are not yet ready for the PMP certification, but want to build a career in Project management, the CAPM qualification may be the right one for you. We have compared the two certifications in an earlier article.

Preparing for the CAPM involves studying and understanding the PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge (the PMBOK Guide). This means that, in passing the exam, you will demonstrate a strong understanding of the fundamentals of Project Management (in the way the PMI sees it).

This will equip you for entry-level project roles – including managing small projects. You’ll demonstrate a good knowledge of the jargon, processes, methods, and practices that many Project Managers use every day.

Head over to the PMI website for its formal description of the CAPM and the application process.

PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)

If your role needs you to apply agile principles in your projects – or go all-in on agile methodologies, the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner certification is PMI’s formal response.

To achieve this PMI certification, you’ll need:

  • 12 months of Project Management experience
    (or a current PMP or PgMP certification)
  • 8 months of experience in agile practices
  • 21 hours of formal training in agile practices
  • completion of a 3-hour, 120-question exam

The certification is methodology-agnostic, and covers a range of agile approaches, such as:

  • Scrum
  • Kanban
  • Lean
  • eXtreme Programming (XP)
  • Test-Driven Development (TDD)

Head over to the PMI website for its formal description of the PMI-ACP and the application process.

Our PMI-ACP Training Resources

We offer PMI-ACP support from the Agile Project Management Academy and from PM PrepCast…

The Agile PrepCast PMI-ACP Program

The Agile PrepCast Elite will fully equip you to succeed in your PMI-ACP exam. The Elite package combines both the full training with the necessary 21 pre-certified contact hours and the exam simulator. You can see all the options and full details on our site.

How to Prepare for PMI-ACP Certification

Let Agile expert Chuck Cobb show you how to develop a plan to achieve PMI-ACP certification. Go beyond simply passing the PMI-ACP exam and learn how to transform yourself into a high impact Agile Project Management role. See all the Agile Project Management Academy courses and high-value bundles on our site.

PMI Certification for Specific Project Skills

PMI offers three certifications that look at specific project skills:

  1. Professional in Business Analysis (PMI-PBA)
    Business analysis is about being able to work with stakeholders to gather the business requirements that the project will deliver.
  2. Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP)
    Risk management is a high-value specialism in many high-value critical projects.
  3. Scheduling Professional (PMI-SP)
    What is true Project Management without a project schedule? Big projects need expert schedulers.

These will mark you out as having specific expertise on which projects rely.

PMI Professional in Business Analysis (PMI-PBA)

Business analysis is a critical part of many projects. And it seems that demand for business analysts (BAs) is on the rise. So, here’s a certification that may prove a valuable career asset if that’s the direction you want to take.

The BA role is pivotal in shaping a future project – and also preventing project failure. PMI asserts that inaccurate requirements gathering is one of the top three causes of project failure.

To achieve this certification, you’ll need:

  • 35 hours of training
  • 36 or 60 months of BA experience (depending on your highest level of formal education)
  • Pass a 4-hour, 200-question exam

Head over to the PMI website for its formal description of the PMI-PBA and the application process.

PMI Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP)

There’s a difference between the cursory risk management most projects practice, and the highly structured rigor that modern methods allow. PMI makes a strong argument for the payoff of this robust approach.

So, this certification could be of great career value if you want either to:

  • focus your career on this aspect of project management and work on some major projects, or
  • use this as a stepping-stone to a greater depth of knowledge as part of a general PM career

To achieve this certification, you’ll need:

  • 30 or 40 hours of training (depending on your highest level of formal education)
  • 24 or 36 months of risk management experience (depending on your highest level of formal education)
  • Pass a 3.5-hour, 170-question exam

Head over to the PMI website for its formal description of the PMI-RMP and the application process.

PMI Scheduling Professional (PMI-SP)

As projects get more complicated, you’ll increasingly need more access to formal tools and methods – as well as a bunch of knowledge. The standard Project Management training – and even PMP preparation – will only equip you with the basics.

Scheduling a big, complex project needs more, and this PMI certification will tell people you have that. So, like its risk management sibling, you can use this either to enhance your general skills or as a step towards specialization.

To achieve this certification, you’ll need:

  • 30 or 40 hours of training (depending on your highest level of formal education)
  • 28 or 40 months of project scheduling experience (depending on your highest level of formal education)
  • Pass a 3.5-hour, 170-question exam

Head over to the PMI website for its formal description of the PMI-SP and the application process.

PMI Certification for Scaled-up Project Management

Beyond project management, there are the related disciplines of Program Management and, at full enterprise-level, Portfolio Management. PMI offers certifications for each of these disciplines:

  1. Program Management Professional (PgMP)
    For professionals that manage clusters of interconnected projects that will deliver strategic benefits to their sponsoring organization.
  2. Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP)
    For professionals who can craft and co-ordinate portfolios of projets and programs at enterprise level.

Program Management Professional (PgMP)

This PMI certification will demonstrate the ability to manage and coordinate multiple projects and initiatives. And you’ll learn how to focus on the benefits they need to deliver.

This is a senior-level qualification with high requirements to achieve certification.

To achieve this certification, you’ll need:

  • 48 months of Project Management experience – or a PMP certification
  • 48 or 84 months of program management experience (depending on your highest level of formal education) over the last 15 years
  • A panel review before exam
  • Pass a 4-hour, 170-question exam

Head over to the PMI website for its formal description of the PgMP and the application process.

Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP)

Portfolio Management is another step up the value chain. An organization’s portfolios of projects and programs deliver the strategic changes that support its vision.

This PMI certification signifies an advanced competency in leading, coordinating, and managing portfolios. Therefore, this is a very senior specialism – often just one step from the C-suite.

To achieve this certification, you’ll need:

  • 48 or 84 months of portfolio management experience (depending on your highest level of formal education) over the last 15 years
  • Panel review before exam
  • Pass a 4-hour, 170-question exam

Head over to the PMI website for its formal description of the PMI-PfP and the application process.

PMI’s Post-Certification Expectations

Gaining you PMI certification is just the first step. You also need to work to retain it. You can find the Continuing Certification Requirements (CCRs) for each certification, in the links I provided to the relavant PMI website pages.

In summary:

  • PMP: 60 PDUs per 3 years
  • CAPM: Retake exam after 5 years
  • PMI-ACP: 30 PDUs per 3 years
  • PMA: 60 PDUs per 3 years
  • RMP: 30 PDUs per 3 years
  • PS: 30 PDUs per 3 years
  • PgMP: 60 PDUs per 3 years
  • PfMP: 60 PDUs per 3 years

A PDU is a Professional Development Unit – one hour of approved study or contribution. We have an article about PMI PDUs: PMI Education Contact Hours and PDUs: Your Essential Guide.

It is also worth noting that PMI’s research suggests that employers require certain skills from project practitioners. And they have incorporated this research into their Talent Triangle

The PMI also publishes a downloadable PDF CCR Handbook.

What is Your Experience of the Different PMI Certification Options?

What PMI certification – or certifications – would suit you? Or do you hold any already? Please do share your experience with our community.

And finally, to learn more…

I am sure that this article will still leave you with questions, if you are truly interested in PMI certification. The PMI’s website is the right place to go. And I especially recommend the PMI Certification Frequently Asked Questions page.

About the Author Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.

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