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Seven things to know about the new IT Project+ certification

CompTIA has updated the IT Project+ exam for the first time since acquiring it from Gartner Group in 2001. Do the changes make the certification more relevant? This article spells out what you should know.

In the world of project management, the PMP certification from the Project Management Institute is respected and held in high regard. Not only must you pass a rather detailed exam, but you must also have a great many hours of documented work in the field in order to become certified.

Several years ago, the Gartner Group dabbled in the certification arena, and it attempted to create a certification similar to that of the PMP. But the only requirement was passing a single exam, which allowed those wanting to move into the project management field to get certified without first being required to work in the field. Two years ago, this certification/exam combo (now known as IT Project+), along with two others, was sold to CompTIA as Gartner left the certification field to focus on other strengths.

Until now, CompTIA did little to the exam other than rebrand it and keep it alive for the past two years. At the end of this year, however, the old exam is being replaced by a new version intended to make it more relevant. In this article, I'll focus on seven of the most important things to know about this certification in order to weigh it against others for your certification dollar and help you prepare for it.

Tip 1: There is more IT than before
The original exam was called IT Project+, but the focus was truly on project management and not on IT. One way to think of it is that if you could pass the exam portion of the PMP requirements, you could pass the IT Project+ exam without knowing anything further about IT.

With this release, CompTIA has tried to make the certification more than just a scaled-down version of PMP. It has kept the Project components, but also added IT elements. The thinking behind this is that information technology projects differ in some areas from traditional projects. Convincing arguments can be made for both sides, and rather than take one position over another, I see the additional focus on IT as a means by which this certification can differ ever so slightly from its reputation as a minor league PMP.

Tip 2: Think of it as a stepping-stone
As much as CompTIA might wish to differentiate this exam from other project management entries, there is far more intersecting than dissecting. Given that, there's nothing wrong with viewing this certification as an entry-level certification for project management.

The additional focus on IT over its other version is nice, but those taking the exam should focus on the general principles of project management. You can know IT inside and out, but if you don’t know work breakdown structures and ways to compute variance, then this isn't a certification—or exam—that's right for you.

Tip 3: Execution has become more important
There are four topic categories, known as domains in CompTIA lingo, that make up this exam. On the first version of the test, the question weighting was distributed as follows:
  • Scope Definition—27 percent
  • Preliminary planning/Project Planning—39 percent
  • Project Execution—29 percent
  • Closure—5 percent

On the new exam, the distribution is:
  • IT Project Initiation and Scope Definition—20 percent
  • IT Project Planning—30 percent
  • IT Project Execution, Control and Coordination—43 percent
  • IT Project Closure, Acceptance and Support—7 percent

Not only has "IT Project" been added to the beginning of every domain title, but scope definition and project planning have been reduced a bit, as closure has increased slightly. Most important, however, is that the weighting on execution has increased dramatically.

Tip 4: Speed up
One of the advertised goals of this revision, as CompTIA announced, was to make the questions more scenario-based. Before your eyes roll in the back of your head as you think of "scenario" in the Microsoft sense, factor in that this exam asks 80 questions in 90 minutes.

With less than 68 seconds allowed per question, the wording of the questions must still remain slight. To oversimplify, a question that once appeared as "Cost variance (CV) is the difference between BCWP and which of the following:" will now resemble, "A co-worker is preparing for a presentation this afternoon. They ask you to clarify cost variance. Cost variance (CV) is the difference between BCWP and which of the following:" In other words, know the material and know how to answer quickly and move on.

Tip 5: Look for the right study guide
When an exam costs more than $200 to take, a $50 book that will fill in the holes for you can be a prudent investment. There are a handful of titles currently out that address this exam, and instead of endorsing one over another, I’d rather make a few general statements:
  • Look for one that has been updated to this version of the exam. This exam is PK0-002 (001 was the original exam). Publishers of books for the first version should be updating their titles for this one, so you’ll want to differentiate between them.
  • Look for a book that includes lots of questions so that you'll understand the topic well enough to know how to answer questions on it.
  • Look for an author who holds this certification.

All too often, I’ve seen people not want to waste $50 if they don’t have to and not buy a study aid for an exam. The first time they fail the exam, however, they’ve wasted more than four times that much, not to mention the blow to the ego.

Tip 6: Be ready to include this in other endeavors
Not only is CompTIA promoting this certification, but others are taking notice of it now as well. Novell is requiring IT Project+ for its Master CNE certification, and others are considering including it in their tracks as well.

As opposed to other certifications that are good until the next operating system revision or update, this certification is good for life. Verifying that you have a solid grasp on skills that do not become outdated can be a very sensible venture in a soft job market.

Tip 7: Weigh the demand in your area
Whenever evaluating a certification, I always like to get a gauge of what the market thinks of it. Does it make a difference if I have it? Is there something else that I can get with the same investment of time that will pay a greater dividend?

In order to evaluate the worth of this certification, I suggest going to a large job bank (such as Monster.com) and doing a search using "project management" as the first keyword, and then "project+". It's important to reduce the search to your geographic area unless you don’t mind moving to some hinterland for a position. You can perform a similar weighting by looking at the Sunday classifieds, talking to human resource managers, and so on.

Emmett's recommendation
An entry-level project management certification relevant in the networking world makes for a good investment. I strongly suggest you consider this certification if you have project management skills, a desire to work in that field, and no other certification in that discipline.
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