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Program manager qualifications

By Simon Buehring on 01 Jul 2020

Program manager qualifications.

A programme manager coordinates, directs and implements a set of related projects, which together help realize strategic objectives for an organisation. This group of related projects is known as a programme. Just like in any profession, a program manager needs certain skills, knowledge and experience to do the job well.

Program management qualifications can help you

A program management qualification can boost your career by helping you to:

  • Better communicate with team members and stakeholders.
  • Understand programme management processes and terminology.
  • Develop leadership skills.
  • Ensure a project’s outputs enable the desired outcomes to be achieved.
  • Define, measure and monitor the expected programme benefits.

There are 2 main programme management certifications which can help you develop your career as a program manager.

Managing Successful Programmes MSP® is popular in the UK. MSP qualifications are available from AXELOS. Qualifications popular in the USA are available from the Project Management Institute (PMI®).

MSP (Managing Successful Programmes) certification

MSP stands for Managing Successful Programmes. It is the best-practice framework for programme management from AXELOS.

In the UK, being MSP-qualified can help your career by improving your programme management job prospects. There are 3 MSP qualifications.

MSP Foundation

The MSP Foundation certificate validates your understanding of the MSP framework. It enables you to work effectively within a programme team. There is no prerequisite for this certificate. This certification is aimed for:

  • Members of a Programme Office.
  • Business change team members.
  • Project delivery team members.
  • Anyone who needs to understand the terminology and concepts of MSP.
  • Professionals wishing to pursue higher level certifications like programme managers, business change managers and senior responsible owners.

In order to gain the certificate, you can either self-study from the MSP manual or enroll on a MSP Foundation training course.

The course will tackle topics such as:

  • MSP principles and governance themes.
  • The transformational flow.
  • Programme Office.
  • Leadership and stakeholder engagement.
  • Programme identification.
  • Risk and issue management.
  • Benefits management.

The examination format is:

  • 75 multiple-choice questions.
  • 5 trial questions are not counted in scores.
  • 35 marks to pass (out of 70 marks) - 50%.
  • 60 minutes’ duration.
  • Closed-book.

MSP Practitioner

The MSP Practitioner certificate confirms that you can manage, lead, support or advise on programmes. The Foundation certification is a prerequisite to sit the Practitioner exam. This certification is aimed for:

  • Project managers.
  • Business change managers.
  • Experts and advisers working within a programme office.
  • Specialist/governance roles involved in supporting programmes.
  • Senior responsible owners.
  • Anyone who wishes to pursue higher level certifications.
  • Anyone who wants to become programme management professionals in the future.

In order to achieve the certificate, you can either self-study or enroll on an MSP Practitioner training course.

The course will build upon the knowledge of the topics we covered in the Foundation course. The difference is that you will learn how to apply the theories in Foundation and use them in a programme.

The examination format is:

  • Objective testing.
  • Eight questions per paper, 80 marks available in total.
  • 40 marks required to pass - 50%.
  • 2.5 hours’ duration.
  • Open-book.

This certificate expires after 5 years. You will need to sit a Re-Registration Exam before the expiry date.

MSP Advanced Practitioner Certification

This certificate proves that you can lead and manage a programme of transformational change. The Practitioner certification is a prerequisite to sit the Advanced Practitioner exam. This certification is aimed for:

  • Senior responsible owners.
  • Programme managers.
  • Business change managers.
  • Individuals appointed to lead a portfolio or programme support function.
  • Programme support and management professionals.

Like the other certificates, you need to study for the exam by either studying on your own or take a training course. The examination format is:

  • Essay-based.
  • Two questions per paper, 75 marks available in total.
  • 38 marks required to pass - 50%.
  • 3 hours’ duration.
  • Open-book.

This certificate also expires after 5 years. You will need to sit a Re-Registration Exam before the expiry date.

Program Management Professional (PgMP)®

PgMP® stands for Program Management Professional. This qualification from the Project Management Institute (PMI®) shows that you have advanced program management experience and skills.

PMI® qualifications are popular across the globe, especially in North America. They are much less popular in the UK, Europe and Australia. However, if you intend to work in the USA or for an American company, they could give you an advantage in employment and promotion.

Unlike MSP, PgMP® prerequisites are high. They are either:

  • A Secondary diploma;
    Minimum 4 years (6,000 hours) of project management experience;
    Minimum 7 years (10,500 hours) of programme management experience.

  • or
  • A Bachelor’s degree;
    Minimum 4 years (6,000 hours) of project management experience;
    Minimum 7 years (6,000 hours) of programme management experience.

There are no levels in PgMP® like the MSP qualification, and there is no specific manual to study from. PMI® suggests two publications in their reference material list, such as:

  • A guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) by PMI;
  • The Standard for Program Management by PMI®;
  • Program Management (Fundamentals of Project Management) by Michel Thiry.

There are 2 evaluations you need to pass to obtain the PgMP® certification. It is a 4-week process:

1. Panel review

You will sit in front of a panel of certified programme managers to assess your professional experience you mentioned on your application.

2. Exam

You will take a multiple-choice examination to demonstrate your competence in both situational and scenario-based questions. The main topics in the exam are:

  • Strategic programme management 15%.
  • Program life cycle 44%.
    • Initiating 6%.
    • Planning 11%.
    • Executing 14%.
    • Controlling 10%.
    • Closing 3%.
  • Benefits management 11%.
  • Stakeholder management 16%.
  • Governance 14%.

Conclusion

There are 2 main certification bodies for program managers: AXELOS and PMI®. Which you choose for your career depends partly upon your location and your existing experience.

With no previous program or project management experience, you cannot apply for the PgMP® qualification. You can however sit the MSP examinations and gain the necessary program management knowledge by attending an MSP course.

MSP Foundation is suitable for new programme managers to gain the knowledge and skills they need to perform their jobs. MSP Practitioner, MSP Advanced Practitioner and PgMP® qualifications can suit current project managers or program managers who already have experience in programme management.

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