Getting Certified as a Project Manager

Filed under IPMA | Posted by


As the Walrus said, ?the time has come.? Rather than just complaining about the over-hyping of the PMP, let me return to the idea of ?performance based competency assessment.? I got started on that topic several weeks ago, then left it for my series on estimating. Although the estimating series isn?t quite done, this seems like a higher priority.

First, let me introduce you to three project management associations that you may not be aware of:

  • The?Global Alliance for Project Performance Standards (GAPPS) is a volunteer organization working to create performance standards that address the needs of the global project management community. The GAPPS project manager standard is available for free download at
  • The?International Project Management Association (IPMA) is a federation of over 40 national associations in Europe, North America, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. Until Y2K kicked PMI into high gear, IPMA was the largest professional association in the world. It has certified more individuals as project managers than any other organization in the world.
  • The?American Society for the Advancement of Project Management (asapm) is the USA Member Association in IPMA. We have blended IPMA?s Four Level Certification program with the GAPPS project manager standard to offer the USA?s first (and I think only) independently assessed, performance based project manager certifications. I head up this program, so I am obviously biased. 🙂

Next, let me share my view of ?competence assessment.? Broadly speaking, there are two major approaches to defining and assessing competency:

  • Attribute based wherein personal attributes such as knowledge, skills, and other characteristics are identified and assessed. Competence is inferred based on the presence of the necessary attributes.
  • Performance based wherein work outcomes and performance levels are identified and assessed. Competence is inferred based on the demonstrated ability to satisfy the performance criteria.

The GAPPS standard used by asapm falls into the latter category. Performance based competency standards (PBCS) are widely used throughout the world and have been developed within the context of government endorsed standards and qualifications frameworks in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. The European Economic Community is also in the process of developing a PBCS approach that will address all jobs in all of its member nations.

Finally, let?s take a look at a small part of the GAPPS standard to give you a taste of what it?s all about. We?ll start with the definition of ?Manage Stakeholder Relationships? which is the first of six units of competency:

This Unit defines the Elements required to manage stakeholder relationships during a project. It includes the Performance Criteria required to demonstrate competence in ensuring the timely and appropriate involvement of key individuals, organizations, and groups throughout the project.

Then there are four ?elements? within this unit. Here is the first: ?ensure that stakeholder interests are identified and addressed.? I hope that you can agree that this is something that all project managers must do if they want their project to be successful!

Each element consists of a number of performance criteria. Here are the performance criteria for this element:

  • Relevant stakeholders are determined.
  • Stakeholder interests are investigated and documented.
  • Stakeholder interests are considered when making project decisions.
  • Actions to address differing interests are implemented.

Candidates must provide documentary evidence that they have satisfied these criteria, and must also convince two independent assessors that they knew what they were doing and why. Here?s a sampling of some of the questions our assessors might ask:

  • Who were your stakeholders?
  • How did you determine who the key stakeholders were?
  • How did you identify the interests of your stakeholders?
  • Were there any conflicting interests? Any hidden agendas? How did you handle these?
  • Did you encounter any problems addressing stakeholder interests? If so, what were they, how did they arise, and what did you do to manage them?

Ironically, this assessment process is actually easier and less expensive than the PMP if you are actually working as a project manager with real decision making authority. There is no need for expensive and time-consuming prep courses nor for hours of memorizing terms and data flows. It takes most project managers 6-8 hours to prepare their documentary evidence, and the interview itself is typically less than 2 hours.

We offer certification at two levels: project manager and senior project manager. Each level has minimum requirements for the project management complexity of the projects you managed and requires three years of full-time equivalent experience as a project manager. The certification marks are aCPP.C and aCPP.B respectively, and both are recognized by all of the other IPMA Member Associations.

One of the things I like best is that you must satisfy 100% of the performance criteria in order to be judged competent. Would you rather hire a project manager who has demonstrated that he or she has actually managed a non-trivial project successfully? Or an individual contributor that passed a multiple choice test with 61% correct?