Education, Certification, and You

By Ken Halloway, PMP, ITIL
Vice-President, Education and Certification Programs
PMI Hampton Roads Chapter

I'm often asked about how one might go about obtaining education credits or opportunities. Some ask for the best way or method, others ask about different ways of studying for the now numerous certifications there are out there and which ones might be best. There is no easy answer to any of these. It depends largely on the type of individual you are; whether you know enough about yourself to know about your level of self-discipline; and whether you need structure to help you or just some recommendations on materials to use.

Unlike times past, companies have reduced their internal budgets for training and education of their employees. Most still offer some sort of Educational Assistance or Reimbursement Program with the stipend ranging anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000 annually. This means that employees need to choose wisely when they look for educational opportunities that cost money. Overall, you want to look for those opportunities that cost less than $100 per credit hour or PDU.

Let's start with the PMP credential. The PMP Handbook, published by PMI contains all of the requirements necessary to qualify for the PMP credential. As with many professional credentials today, there is an examination required. Appropriately, this causes candidates a great deal of trepidation. The Exam is challenging indeed, but if a candidate is well prepared, success is a reasonable expectation. But how does one go about it? It really depends on how you study best. As there is no requirement to attend a specific course of instruction as a prerequisite to taking the Exam, the candidate is free to choose anything or nothing at all.

Here's one way: once you have applied for the PMP credential and been cleared to take the Exam, look at a calendar and pick a date-certain for taking it, about 4-6 months out. Then walk back the calendar and plan your study preparations. You should devote 1-2 hours per night initially. Read the PMBOK at least twice. You may wish to take a class. The Chapter offers a 14-hour Exam Prep course twice a year. It offers an intense review of each of the 10 Knowledge Areas and 5 Process Groups plus provides tips for taking the Exam. There are similar offerings on the web. There are also "Boot Camps" which offer an intense look at the Exam over the course of one work week. These can be pricey and many offer a "guarantee" of Exam passage. This is a bit misleading. What the guarantee means is should you fail the Exam, you are able to return to the course and re-take any or all of the modules free of charge. Whichever you choose, ensure that the provider is a PMI Registered Education Provider (R.E.P) and a listing is available on PMI's Global Web Site. One sure way is to invest in some type of Exam Prep software that replicates the Exam questions in degree of difficulty and style, with full explanations for all answers. Then practice answering 20 or so questions per night. Look at the responses and understand the correct answers. Once you can answer correctly about 85% of the time, you should be ready for the Exam. The added advantage here is that you will be so used to the mechanics of taking the Exam using this method, the Exam itself won't be so intimidating.

But there's more than the credential. To be sure, the PMP credential is well sought after and more businesses and government at all levels are beginning to require it. However, having a credential is one thing. It indicates a desire to seek out education and certification. As with anything else, what you do with it makes all the difference. What do you think about it? As PMPs we are charged with being good stewards of our profession. How are you doing that? Are you "giving back" to the profession by volunteering your time or adding value to the projects around you? Are you adding knowledge to the profession? How do you respond to potential conflicts of interest? Perhaps you don't think about these issues very much. Maybe they don't come up in your daily routine. Nevertheless, something to think about.

With all of the certifications out there, it's hard sometimes to maintain a perspective on all of the requirements, not to mention the costs, mostly borne by the individual. PMI has the resources to keep you straight. However, all of those are mechanics. We're human - what makes us different. The requirement for the management and control of programs and projects are increasing all-the-while those customers who are demanding this are reticent to "pay the freight" for that level of management and control. Again, what makes us different? How would you respond to a customer who wants to cut costs by reducing management hours? I would submit that using our skills actually saves the customer money and provides a better service, product, or result.

Whatever the case, we represent a growing profession, but a profession that perhaps is under assault by those ignorant of what skill sets we bring to the table. It is incumbent upon us then, to spread the word about project management. Institutions such as a local PMI Chapter are a great way to provide outreach to those individuals and organizations that are looking to improve their bottom line. PMPs create value - show them how.

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