Project managers (PMs) will tell you that even the best-planned projects can turn sour. Take a moment to think about the last project in your organization that failed:

  • Can you pinpoint what went wrong and when?
  • Would following a different methodology have helped?
  • Did you follow a methodology at all?
  • Did the PM lack the skills and experience the project needed?

Your answers to these questions may indicate that the project could have stayed afloat if the right project management experience was behind it. One way to increase a project’s chances for success is to look for a PM with a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification.

The PMP certification at a glance
The PMP certification is available from the Project Management Institute (PMI), a not-for-profit organization that provides PMs around the world and in many industries, including IT, with project management information, publications, certifications, and support. The PMP is the PMI’s flagship certification and is probably the best-known project management certification in the United States, according to Terryn Barill, the CEO of Terryn Barill, Inc., a management and IT consultancy in Princeton, NJ.

Now, before you start debating the experience-vs.-certification issue, take note: PMs cannot apply to take the certification test if they have less than 4,500 hours of project management experience. (That works out to a little more than two years of experience.) Before project managers can earn a PMP, they must have experience in six categories:

  • Initiating a project
  • Planning a project
  • Executing a project
  • Controlling a project
  • Closing the project
  • Professional responsibility

(Professional responsibility means PMs follow the PMI’s set of ethical standards and a code of conduct, among other criteria.)

These categorized experience requirements separate the PMP certification from other certifications in the IT industry, namely the so-called “paper certs” that require an individual to attend a training class, accomplish some bookwork, and take a certification test.

The PMP certification costs $555 for non-members of the PMI and $405 for members. (A yearly individual PMI membership costs $119 and provides PMs with access to publications and discounts on seminars, among other benefits.) The certification covers general project management information; currently, it does not include a focus on IT project management. Instead, the PMP certification covers the basic methodologies of each step in the life of a project. Hours of project management experience with IT projects can, however, be applied to the PMP’s prequalifications. In addition, hours in one category can, if applicable, overlap into another category.

In July, the PMI will release a Certification of Added Qualification (CAQ) in IT. Certified PMPs can take the CAQ to add an IT focus to their certification, said Denny Smith, manager of the PMI’s certification department.

“Someone … might want to take the test (CAQ in IT) to demonstrate to a prospective employer, perhaps, that they have an additional level of knowledge above a PMP, specific to their industry,” Smith said.

Why it’s an asset to your team
No matter what industry they work in, certified PMPs will have the same core knowledge set and project management skills. “The one thing about a credential is that it gives you a common language and a common methodology,” Barill said.

For example, no matter what their industry, PMPs can talk about earned value analysis (EVA) procedures and other business methodologies central to project management.

“Project management is one of the really general skills. Even if the only thing you had ever done was IT deployments, everything it takes to roll out a piece of software, you could use for a variety of other projects. So you’re using the same tool no matter what,” said Barill, who added that some of her clients want only certified PMPs on a project.

The certification highlights the importance of following certain methodologies—and sticking to them. PMPs excel at learning the methodologies of project management, saidNorbert Kubilus, a partner with Tatum CIO Partners, LLP, a nationwide partnership of senior-level IT professionals.

“I would assume from the preparation and the certification that somebody with a PMP would be prepared in a more formalized approach and structure to project management…. They’ve learned a specific methodology (and) understand and deploy project management procedures and methods,”Kubilus said.

Kubilus said that PMPs are especially attuned to producing risk analysis reports for a project before it begins. For example, PMPs focus heavily on project questions like:

  • What happens if the project is late?
  • How will the project be affected if we leave out a step?
  • What happens to the organization’s bottom line if the project is not successful?

“That’s what’s missing from most project managers, even the very experienced ones…. They never really get the appreciation for doing the risk analysis,” said Kubilus.

It’s not necessary to have PMs with a PMP certification on your team or in your shop. However, if you do hire certified PMPs, you can assume that they have copious experience, strong project management skills, and a strong inclination to stick to the methodologies that will help make your shop’s projects a success.