IT Pros Flock to PM Certifications

Demand for PMP, Project+ certs rising fast as enterprises push for project management skills.

There was a time not long ago when formal project management training and certification were widely considered an academic exercise with little direct connection to the real world.

Then, late last century, along came the mother of all projects—Y2K remediation—followed closely by the current widespread desperate need to squeeze every penny of cost and every hint of risk out of every IT project. Suddenly, formal PM training and certification seem a lot more relevant.

In fact, demand for PM skills is causing a minor run on PM certification programs. Officials at Project Management Institute Inc., in Newtown Square, Pa., said the number of professionals receiving its PMP (Project Management Professional) certification has been growing in the high 20 percent range annually since the Y2K push. Median bonus pay levels received by PMP holders—15 percent as of the fourth quarter of last year—top the list of all certifications tracked by Foote Partners LLC, a New Canaan, Conn., compensation research company.

The good news for IT professionals interested in cashing in on PM certification is that the list of programs worth considering is short. It consists of just two: PMP and IT Project+, a certification offered by the Computing Technology Industry Association, in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill. Although there are other IT-focused PM certifications out there—such as the IT Project Manager designation issued by The Hampton Group Inc., of Denver—these tend to serve as entry points to the far-better-known PMP.

But this doesnt mean that choosing between these programs will be easy. As both PMP and Project+ have continued to more directly focus on IT professionals, the processes and bodies of knowledge for which they test and certify have begun to overlap, say IT project managers. As a result, many IT professionals have decided to pursue both certifications.

"If you look at the [help wanted] ads, theyre saying the PMP is required, not so much Project+," said Ernie Baker, vice president of learning solutions at AlphaNet Solutions Inc., in Cedar Knolls, N.J., and a holder of both PMP and Project+. "On the other hand, if you really need to demonstrate a certain level of competency, youll want to steer toward Project+."

PMP is by far the most well-established certification program in the field. Founded in 1969, the PMI currently claims 54,000 PMP-certified professionals worldwide.

Until recently, PMP was a broad-based certification of general PM skills, not focused on IT or any other specific application area. Last year, however, PMI began to roll out industry-specific add-ons to PMP, including two that are IT-focused. These, which PMI calls CAQ (Certificates of Added Qualification), target IT systems and IT networking.

The PMP family of certifications tends to emphasize PM experience and ongoing education. In addition to passing a written exam and taking 35 hours of training, successful candidates for PMP are required to have at least 7,500 hours of documented PM experience during a five-year period or 4,500 hours over three years plus a baccalaureate degree. In addition to earning the PMP, candidates for the various CAQs are required to document 1,500 hours of industry-specific PM experience during a two-year period and to pass a second, industry-specific exam. And all PMP family programs require certification holders to renew their qualifications by documenting 60 professional development units—or continuing-education credits—over three years.

CompTIAs Project+ is less focused on documented field experience but poses a more rigorous written exam, say IT managers. The Project+ exam, for example, includes so-called scenario-based questions that pose a hypothetical problem that a project manager might face and asks the test taker to propose a solution based on his or her experience.

Although the Project+ exam may be more rigorous and may correspond more directly to real-world PM challenges, some IT professionals say CompTIA hasnt yet built the kind of buzz around Project+ that will get hiring managers to demand that job applicants have it. One possible explanation for that, say observers, is that it acquired Project+ from Gartner Inc., of Stamford, Conn., less than two years ago.

With both major PM certification programs continuing to retain distinct strengths, many IT professionals are likely to continue to feel compelled to get both.

"It tells customers and colleagues that I possess and have consolidated all the skills I need to do the job," said Shashi Rao, director of technology at Taj Technologies Inc., in St. Paul, Minn., who holds both the PMP and Project+.

Executive Managing Editor/Features Jeff Moad can be reached at

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