Certifications Boon or Bane? – You Decide

“Third party certification through reputable organizations can be an important tool for small businesses and the gives company the assurance that your suppliers are comprised of the ownership they claim.”

Certification is now a full-fledged industry, everyone is running around it like there is no tomorrow, The craze of the certifications is more seen in the IT sector as compared to the other sectors, specifically for Project Management, Agile, Six Sigma and not to forget at the organizational level for things like CMMI and ISO’s of the world

Senior management should now take 2 step backwards and perform a review of all the money that was spent on certifications, did we really get the ROI or the Cost Benefit analysis? Can we provide the measures that certifications have really helped the productivity of the individual or the group or the organization improve. Would the organization be able to show visible improvements in their TOP or BOTTOM line?

I have my own doubts of the data availability, a good part is that most of these certifications like PMP, Agile , CMMI and so on …. Advocate the usage of metrics and measurement to understand how things are moving in the system, but we rarely use these measurements to prove that the money that we have spent has been really put to good use.

Industry and organizations are going crazy over certifications and spend a huge amount of dollars in acquiring a certificate, to be there on the Wall. I recollect an interesting conversation with a Quality Head for one of the esteemed organization, who had just delivered a CMMI Level 5 successful appraisal for the organization, He was mentioning that his job is over here and with the experience of this journey he plans to move on to a different organization at a better position and obviously a better packet to carry home, On response to my curiosity based questions, he responded that the he has nothing more to add to the current organization. This made me think, that did the organization hire him to get a certificate on the wall types, Is getting certificate the only requirement of the organization, where there improvements in the system, did the ROI of the organization improve? Did the defect count go down, or did they have better schedule performance.

We, in the industry have failed to understand the value and reasons for certification, It has become more of a decoration element on the wall and to gain a few bragging brownies

Project management certifications are booming. However, it seems to me that the main beneficiaries of the certification gold rush are the certifiers, not the certified. There are a lot of articles aimed convincing people of the value of certifications. Here I take a different, and possibly contrary approach: I’ll give you two common, but (in my opinion) wrong, reasons for pursuing PM certification.

My motivation for writing this post is a recent conversation I had with a participant of my PMP batch. It went like this:

“Do you think a PM certification is worth the effort?”

“Depends on what you want out of it,” I replied.

“Well I reckon it will make me a better project manager and help me stand out from the crowd .”

Now I don’t remember what I said in reply, but he’s wrong on both counts. Here’s why:

1. To become a competent project manager: A cert does not a PM make. Preparing for a certification will teach you formal project management processes as decreed by a particular certifying authority. These processes are easy to learn by reading a book or two. The “hard bits” of project management – negotiation, people skills, crisis management, conflict resolution, prioritization, stakeholder management (I could go on and on but I’m sure you get my point) – are not, and cannot be, learnt through certification.

2. To stand out from the crowd: The fallacy here is easy to see: certifying authorities push their credentials like there’s no tomorrow, hence the number of people gaining certs is growing rapidly. That being so, the “stand out from the crowd” factor is getting smaller and smaller every day.

Before I conclude, I should come clean and admit that I have a cert or two. My main reason for getting certified was (is!) that it is a good way to learn about commonly used project management processes and the associated terminology. The certs don’t make me a better project manager, and they won’t help me get that dream job either. However, they do help me recognize jargon-laden bull dust when I hear it (which, unfortunately, is quite often).

In the end, formal knowledge is always useful. So, gaining a cert won’t hurt, but be sure you aren’t doing it for the wrong reasons.


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