Is a PMP Certification Still Relevant in Today’s World?

I recently participated in an online discussion where someone asked the question “Is a PMP certification still relevant in today’s world?” I thought is was a good question. I am a PMP myself, I have had a PMP certification since 2004, and I’m proud to be a PMP but I recognize the limitations of a PMP certification.

IS a PMP Certification Still Relevant?

What Are the Limitations of PMP®?

PMP is heavily based on a traditional plan-driven project management approach (what many people loosely call “Waterfall”) and the world is rapidly changing today.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with a traditional plan-driven approach to project management under the right circumstances, but we definitely shouldn’t try to force-fit all projects to that approach.

  • A traditional plan-driven approach to project management works well in situations where there is a relatively low level of uncertainty and predictability is important
  • It does not work well in situations with a high level of uncertainty where creativity and innovation are more important than predictability

In today’s world, a project manager needs to be capable of using a broader range of methodologies (Agile and plan-driven) to fit the nature of the project rather than force-fitting all projects to a traditional plan-driven approach.  Situations are becoming increasingly common that require a more adaptive approach due to rapidly-changing technology and a very dynamic and very competitive business marketplace.

For those reasons, Agile is having a profound effect on the project management profession in many areas that will cause us to rethink the way we do project management.  That doesn’t mean that traditional plan-driven project management and PMP are obsolete but we’ve got to think of project management in broader terms and recognize that traditional plan-driven project management is not the only way to do project management.  Check out this article for more on that:

What is “Agile” and Why Is It Important to Project Managers?

Is PMI-ACP® the Answer?

PMI-ACP is a step in the right direction but it doesn’t go far enough in my opinion.  PMI-ACP is only a general test of Lean and Agile knowledge and it doesn’t really address the big challenge that many project managers face today of “how do I blend Agile and traditional plan-driven project management in the right proportions to fit a given situation?”  Unfortunately, PMI still treats Agile and traditional plan-driven project management as fairly separate and independent domains of knowledge with little or no integration between the two.

What About PMBOK® Version 6?

We all know that the final edition of PMBOK version 6 is due to be released in September 2017 and it is supposed to contain more references to Agile.  I haven’t seen the final version of PMBOK version 6 yet but I can’t imagine that it will solve this problem either.  The whole concept behind PMBOK is not very compatible with an Agile approach.  These are two very different ways of thinking:

PMBOK Agile
PMBOK is based on the idea that you can develop a checklist of things to consider in almost every conceivable project management situation that you can imagine. Agile requires a very different mindset.  An Agile approach needs to be much more adaptive and it would be impossible to develop a checklist defining what to do in every conceivable situation you might find yourself in in an Agile environment.
PMBOK and traditional plan-driven project management are based on a defined process control model Agile is based on an empirical process control model which means that both the product and the process to produce the product are continuously adapted based on observation throughout the project
PMBOK  is over 500 pages long with lots of details on what to do or consider  in various situations Agile is based on some very brief and succinct principles and values without a lot of detail and expects you to figure out what to do in a given situation.
PMBOK  is also based on compartmentalizing a project into distinct and well-defined process groups Agile requires a much more holistic and integrated approach to project management

So What is the Long-term Solution?

This is not an easy problem to solve. In the long-term, the solution to this problem is likely to involve some very significant rethinking of both PMBOK and PMI certifications to create a much more integrated approach for blending Agile and traditional plan-driven project management principles and practices; however, that is a very difficult problem to solve and is not likely to happen for a while.

Some elements of PMBOK and PMP are definitely useful as a foundation for any kind of project management; however, the depth of study and knowledge required for PMP certification tends to “brainwash” people into thinking that is the only way to do project management and that is not the case.  Someone who only wants a foundation of knowledge in traditional plan-driven project management principles probably doesn’t need that depth of knowledge.

What’s probably needed in the long-term is something like a “PMP Lite” that provides a foundation of project management knowledge without the depth of knowledge that is in PMP for someone who wants to ultimately move into an Agile Project Management role. Here’s what this new certification structure might look like:

Is PMP Still Relevant in Today's World?

The full PMP certification (as it exists today) would still be appropriate for any project managers who plan to specialize in traditional plan-driven project management; however, that depth of knowledge in plan-driven project management should not be needed for someone who wants to develop an integrated Agile Project Management approach.

What’s the Short-term Solution?

In the short-term:

  • If you already have a PMP certification today, that knowledge is a good foundation to begin to develop a broader focus on an Agile Project Management approach; however, it does require a lot of rethinking of how to do project management and also requires a very different mindset.
  • If you don’t already have a PMP certification today and are early in your career as a project manager, you have a much more difficult choice to make between two directions:
    1. Getting a PMP – Making a significant investment in time and money to get a PMP certification and then perhaps moving on to learn an Agile approach sometime later.  If you are working in an industry or application area where traditional plan-driven project management is still the dominant way of working, that might be  a reasonable choice.
    2. Skipping PMP – If you’re not working in an industry or application area where traditional plan-driven project management is the dominant way of working, getting a PMP may not make sense.  Certainly, some foundation of traditional plan-driven project management is worthwhile but you may not need a full PMP.  An alternative is to skip getting a PMP and just focus on developing an integrated approach to  Agile Project Management.

In my opinion, skipping PMP and developing a more integrated Agile Project Management approach seems reasonable for anyone who doesn’t already have a PMP and is interested in an Agile Project Management role.  However, it is a very difficult path to follow in the short term  because there is currently no certification built around an integrated approach to Agile Project Management and the knowledge base is not well-developed either.  For that reason, you have to be somewhat of a “pioneer” in choosing this direction and with no certification, “you don’t know what you don’t know”.