Many consultants haven’t bothered to become certified as a Project Management Professional (PMP) by the Project Management Institute (PMI). With stringent rules for qualification and a price tag between $405 and $555 just to take the exam, many consultants don’t have the time or money to spare. Others simply don’t think it’s necessary, and believe that project managers (PMs) with the 4,500 to 7,500 hours of experience needed to qualify for the certification shouldn’t have to prove their skills.

Just a few years ago, the PMP certification might have been completely unnecessary, but columnist Tom Mochal and TechRepublic members have reported that it’s being required, or at least requested, more often these days. Recently, Mochal shared his reasons for becoming PMP-certified, and members were quick to weigh in with their opinions on the cert.

While nearly everyone agreed that certification is not the best measure of a good project manager, some said that an experienced, certified project manager might have an edge in a tight job market. We’ve collected the best of the comments. (If you have something to add, join the discussion.)

Does a PMP certification measure experience?
Despite PMI’s requirement that candidates for PMP certification have at least 4,500 hours of project management experience, Bernhard Jurkewitz said that target is not always actually met.

“I know, personally, PMP-certified members that do not practice project management themselves,” wrote Jurkewitz, a Program Manager at Sanlam, a large life insurance company in Cape Town, South Africa.

He also contends that the requirement to continually earn credits to keep the certification valid is “reminiscent to the way Microsoft has ‘locked’ their service engineers worldwide to continuously create revenue from them in order to be qualified to ‘work’ in their respective career domains.” Jurkewitz, who is a certified PM by an accredited university, said the current process locks PMs into a “de facto standard that tries to discredit competing qualifications.”

In response to Jurkewitz’s comments, Elaine O. Kimberley, a project manager with Delinea Corporation, an e-business solutions company in Dallas, defended the PMP certification and the experienced it requires: “It is not a test-based qualification, and you cannot get it by paying a fee and passing a test.”

In addition to disputing Jurkewitz’s comparison to Microsoft certification, she argued that being a PMP—as is the case with being a member of any professional organization—requires that members maintain their qualifications, and demands commitment and ongoing development.

“If you do not refresh your skills, and keep up with changing practices and standards, you are not serving yourself or your company,” she said.

In response, Jurkewitz said that in his 20 years of experience he has seen some very successful PMPs and some dismal failures, and that PMP certification “does not automatically assure [a] successful PM—this only comes with experience,” he wrote. “Remember that the cover does not guarantee a good book.”

Member mmusson said he’s had the same experience, and has come to this conclusion: PMP certification is not a reliable way to screen for possible PMs. He said he’s checked the references on a few PMP-certified candidates and found that “they are not competent as a practitioner,” due to lack of experience.

Mmusson also said he believes that it is possible for someone to gain PMP certification by falsifying their Curriculum Vitae, studying, and passing the certification exam.

“An excellent Project Manager can become PMP-certified, but a PMP certification does not make a bad project manager good,” mmusson said.

Everything comes back to experience
Several members in the discussion—even some with PMP certification—echoed what others have said in countless certification-related discussions on TechRepublic: Experience trumps certification. However, certification doesn’t hurt.

For example, consultant Lloyd Duke said his clients and prospects started asking for PMP certification about three years ago. As a certified PMP, he’s fared well during the recent economic downturn, taking only a three-week break over the last year and a half.

“I have turned down additional clients during this time and passed them on to others,” Duke said. “I don’t even look at positions that don’t specify a PMP because those companies usually are barely stage two on the CMM scale (Capability Maturity Model) and certainly not ready for a formal Project Management methodology, although they would benefit from it.”

Semidone2  said that good PMs have their reputation and a proven track record to stand on, so they don’t need the certification to “prove” their value, and a member identified as 10 Year PMP said that the proof of a project manager’s skill “is in the individual, not the cert. I doubt I will renew mine again.”

Semidone2 also argued that a costly, time-consuming PMP certification could create an atmosphere where the certified may be those who can afford it, not necessarily those who are the best project managers.

If the experience of skanddwd, an independent consultant, were a common one, perhaps the investment would be worth the cost to any consultant: He passed the exam in February and found immediate results. Within one week, he was hired “on the spot” by a client who gave preference to PMPs.

But, warns brain$, it’s not an automatic tool for employment: “The individual still makes the difference. PMP is not a magic wand; it just says that this person has the knowledge. Does he have the skills? That is for the employer to judge.”

Competing certifications: Quality in fact or perception?
Members also questioned the value of the PMP against other project-related certifications. Tegsubs, who asked other members to address the differences between the PMP certification and CompTIA’s IT Project+ certification (formerly known as Gartner Institute’s Core Capabilities Certification), suggested that the PMP’s extensive requirements, prestige, and high price tag are of “no consequence” to her typical client when compared to the CompTIA certification.

“The fact that one can claim project management ‘certification’ on bios and resumes from a legitimate organization is sufficient to satisfy most small/medium-sized business customers,” she said.

Glen Ford, president of Can Da Software in Mississauga, Ontario, has over 20 years of experience in IT, most with PM specifically. He said the majority of his clients are “overwhelmingly” asking for PMP certifications over any others, and that the PMP is becoming the “CPA (or CA/CMA/CGA, if you’re in Canada) for the project management world.”

“Just as the accountants were forced to certify in order to prove their ability to their prospective clients, we are being forced to certify to prove our ability to our prospective clients,” Ford said. “And can you blame them? Would you want to turn a $10M project over to someone who might know what they are doing?”

Could required PMP certification lead to subpar PMs?
Several members suggested that gaining some of the prerequisites for PMP—especially the hundreds of hours of experience—could be a problem.

Betty Smith-Moolick, a programmer/analyst in Tempe, AZ, anticipates a lack of qualified PMs if PMP certification is made a standard requirement by most companies. If most businesses refuse to hire uncertified PMs, those consultants can’t possibly gain the two-plus years of experience necessary to take the test, she said. As veteran PMs retire or change careers, and no junior consultants become certified due to lack of experience, we could soon see a shortage of qualified (certified) PMs, she reasoned.

Semidone2 said he, too, has had trouble documenting his experience because much of it has come from jobs on which he was being “mentored” in project management, or through unofficial projects. He suggested that PMI should begin to set standards for tracking junior PMs, or create a junior PM program or certification to “grow good PMs.”

Think the process needs improvement?

Do you believe that PMP certification requirements may “squeeze out” experienced PMs in favor of newcomers with more time and money? Would semidone2’s solution of a junior program help? Have you been able to document all of your experience as an up-and-coming PM? Send us your thoughts or post your comments below.