Picking From PM Cert Crop

Project management is red-hot, but it pros must do homework regarding training, certification.

Project management is so exciting.

At least, it is when youre talking about bonus pay or impressing hiring managers. After all, theres nothing like the letters "PMP" (Project Management Professional) plastered on a résumé to catch some attention. In fact, its one of the few IT certification categories where bonus pay is still climbing upward. Bonus pay awarded to PMP certificate holders had grown 15 percent annually as of the second quarter of 2002, according to IT salary research company Foote Partners LLC.

So its not surprising that IT professionals such as Terry LeBlanc are scratching their heads and wondering, "How do we cash in on the PM craze?" LeBlanc—who has more than 25 years of IT experience, from programmer trainee to director, including multiple major enterprise resource planning and financial system implementations—has been out of work since May. Soon after finding himself back in the newly constricted job market, he figured it was time to formalize the ad hoc PM skills hed accumulated over his career.

"I want to backfill some formal IT-centric PM training and certification, even though Im comfortable with my ability to get things done," said LeBlanc, in Sunrise, Fla. "Many companies are looking for those buzzwords and certifications now."

Like many IT professionals thinking of formalizing their PM skills, however, LeBlanc wondered which certification is worth the time and money. The PMP comes to mind, but its just not IT-centric enough (see story at www.eweek.com/). And it requires as much as 4,500 documented hours of experience.

That leaves either the new crop of IT-specific certifications, such as CompTIAs IT Project+ and Project Management Leadership Groups IT CPM (Certified Project Manager) or the PMP itself, with perhaps a bit more IT relevance added. Villanova University is one educational outlet thats adding an IT spin to its PMP Master Certificate in Applied Project Management program. This spring, it will be adding a course, Project Management for IT, to the current four-course program.

With all the choices out there, its good to keep in mind these measures of a PM programs effectiveness: Does it get you hired or get you a raise, and do you actually use the techniques you learned? Unfortunately, only the PMP has been around long enough to have garnered good statistics on what effect it has on hiring, pay and bonuses. Ask training providers about these issues and ask to speak to students who have achieved the certification, to see if theyre using it in ways that match your own needs.

For example, many newly IT-focused PM certification programs are based on software development life-cycle techniques. Thats fine if you write software from scratch, but how many IT people do, nowadays?

"For guys like me who are not in software development, not a lot of that plays," said LeBlanc, who most recently was director of information services for Fine Art Lamps, a company in Miami Lakes, Fla.

When formerly vanilla PM programs "get" IT, they typically add elements such as those Villanova is putting into its new course: change management and requirement-gathering training, according to Wayne Brantley, program director for Villanovas online PM program, in Philadelphia. Many other universities, such as The George Washington University and Carnegie Mellon, have also jumped on the PM master certification bandwagon.

In Villanovas online program, students have about 80 hours of class time over the course of six months, for a total cost of $5,255. (An additional IT course will be priced separately.)

Master certifications are all well and good, but for people such as Mark Maitland, the PMP is the ultimate goal. Nonetheless, Maitland got his CPM certification from PMLG as a steppingstone to validate his on-the-job experience. Maitland is a project manager for Anthem Inc., a Blue Cross Blue Shield Association company in Indianapolis. Hes been doing PM for about seven years, having entered it as most people do: by trial by fire.

Maitland enrolled in a one-week PM boot camp program given by PMLG, in Atlanta, in June 2001. He said he thinks the PMLG certification certainly didnt hurt when it came to getting hired at Anthem, although the PMP is the perceived pinnacle at his company, as with most companies. "Our organization strongly encourages our PMs to get their PMPs," he said. "I wouldnt say its a requirement, but its as close as it could be."

Over the past year, Maitland has used the techniques garnered through the CPM training on a software development project that entailed the creation of an end-to-end processing system for a financial institution that loans money to the wholesale car market. He also did a large storage area network implementation immediately following the boot camp. Most recently, hes been working on a Windows XP operating system rollout to 18,000 desktops at Anthem, along with a technology refresh program to replace 25 percent of computer assets on an annual basis.

But what about the issue that LeBlanc raised; that PM certification programs are too focused on software development life-cycle techniques? Bill Stewart, president and CEO of PMLG, said his organizations IT CPM certification is not based on software development. Rather, basic PM tools and techniques can be applied across any project.

A third IT-focused PM certification, CompTIAs IT Project+, is based on the software development life cycle, although Eva Chen, IT Project+ program manager for CompTIA, in Chicago, echoed Stewart in describing her own program: Its based on best practices that are transportable.

IT Project+ is the way to go for PM newbies, experts say. Its geared toward IT workers with 12 months or 2,500 hours of PM work, or the equivalent. Costs and time to complete training vary widely, depending on the training provider and means; do a Google search on the certification, and youll find everything from preparatory books and CD-ROMs to classes.

And if all this talk about things such as software development life cycle make you sleepy, and if you doubt that PM is exciting, then repeat the mantra: "15 percent bonus pay growth ... 15 percent bonus pay growth ... ."

That should help keep PM certification in perspective.

IT Careers Managing Editor Lisa Vaas can be reached at lisa_vaas@ziffdavis.com.

Its an arduous project to select a PM cert

The PMP certification, although highly prized, has a steep set of requirements. Here is a sampling of the type of some steppingstone PM certs now on the market and URLs for finding more information.

Certification: IT Project+

Certification: IT CPM

  • From: Project Management Leadership Group
  • URL: www.pmlg.com
  • Courses based on: PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge)

Certification: Online prep for PMP that also leads to Master Certificate in Applied Project Management

Source: eWeek reporting