The question of which project management certification is best is one which comes up time and again. Most people undertake professional project management certification because they think it will help their career.
This article explores the main options to consider if undertaking professional project management certification.
Professional project management qualifications - do employers value them?
Just like in any other profession, employers like to hire candidates with experience. If you can’t show that you have the necessary experience, then it is unlikely that you will land the job.
However, when more than one candidate shows the necessary experience, other factors come into play, which can help the employer choose the right candidate for the role. One of these is evidence of professional qualifications.
If you are applying for a project manager role then gaining project management certification shows the employer your understanding and knowledge of project management principles and methods, and can, in some cases, also show your ability to apply those methods.
Gaining such certification also shows employers your commitment to continuing professional development and your desire to improve your skillset. These are important attributes for any employee to have.
There is also evidence to show that project management certifications can lead to greater earnings. This is because they help to differentiate you in the marketplace and can give you a competitive advantage compared with others in the jobs market.
All other things being equal, a CV showing project management certification is going to be placed higher on the pile than a similar one not containing a recognised project management qualification.
Don’t confuse certification with competence
There are 2 broad categories of project management certification which we shall explore in this article: knowledge-based and competency-based.
The former requires a candidate to show their knowledge of project management - mainly by passing the requisite examinations. The latter requires a candidate to show their abilities in a broad range of project management competencies. This is usually achieved by an assessment of a candidate when working alone, when working in groups and when interviewed by a panel of assessors.
Usually, the competency-based qualifications are seen as higher level qualifications than the knowledge-based ones, because they often require either the passing of examinations beforehand and/or the ability to show a certain level of project management experience.
For these reasons, knowledge-based qualifications are better suited for people trying to gain entry into the project management profession, whilst competency-based qualifications are better suited to practitioners already working with the project management field but who want to advance their career and to benchmark their skills against others in the profession.
Gaining certification however via one of the knowledge-based examinations should not be confused with being competent in project management. It only shows your knowledge of a particular project management methodology or project management knowledge areas.
Project management professional certification – what options are there?
There are essentially 3 main choices when considering professional project management certification. Depending upon whether you are based in the UK, Europe or the rest of the world will, to a large extent, dictate the qualifications which you choose to undertake.
In the UK, PRINCE2 is without a doubt, the main project management certification. PRINCE2, is owned by AXELOS which is a joint venture between the UK Cabinet Office (a part of the UK government) and Capita plc, a large private sector organization.
AXELOS has contracts with several examination institutes, which manage the accreditation of training companies and the management of examinations on its behalf. Some of the examination institutes include: The APM Group, British Computer Society (BCS), PEOPLECERT and EXIN.
PRINCE2 was developed in the UK as a government standard for managing I.T. projects. It has now become a de facto standard for project management across many industries in the UK. It is also widely used across Australia and Europe.
The huge recent popularity of PRINCE2 can be seen by the fact that in recent years PRINCE2 examinations have been sat in more than 120 countries, supported by accredited training organizations in more than 60 countries.
PRINCE2 is seen as one of the essential tools in any project manager’s toolkit. It is a methodology which can help provide organizations with the ability to better control its projects.
PRINCE2 is used by many organizations throughout the world including BP, Barclays Bank, DHL, Rolls Royce, Phillips, Siemens, Sun Microsystems to name just a few. The United Nations Development Programme has adopted PRINCE2 and is currently rolling out PRINCE2 training to countries around the world.
Since PRINCE2 was launched in 1996, more than 1.2 million PRINCE2 examinations have been sat worldwide. During 2013, more PRINCE2 exams (160,000) were sat than in any previous year – a 9% increase over 2012. The exam rate grew quickly in several countries as PRINCE2 continued its remarkable growth across the globe. PRINCE2 exams in 2013 grew significantly in China (107%), India (97%), Italy (73%), and South Africa (29%) and Germany (19%).
One factor helping the growth of PRINCE2 is the availability to study and take examinations in up to 20 languages. Another factor is that there is no need for candidates to travel to a public examination centre since both examinations can be taken online using a webcam.
If you are based in the UK or Europe and/or will work for UK or European companies, then PRINCE2 is the certification which employers are most familiar with, and hence the reason why they often seek candidates with these qualifications.
The syllabus for the PRINCE2 examinations is based upon Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2® 2009 Edition which is available in Brazilian Portuguese, Chinese (Mandarin), Danish, Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Spanish and Swedish – both as a book and in PDF format.
One of the main attractions for people wanting to move into project management for the first time, is that PRINCE2 certification can be gained without needing to prove previous project management experience. This sets PRINCE2 apart from most other project management certifications which do require experience.
The Foundation examination consists of a one hour multiple choice exam and approximately 97% of candidates pass this exam (note: UK national average pass rate). PRINCE2 Foundation confirms that you understand the PRINCE2 methodology.
Project administrators, team leaders and support staff, or people who work on projects should consider taking the Foundation exam.
Candidates usually attend a training course to prepare themselves for the examination. Training often lasts between 2-3 days, with the examination on the last day. Alternatively, candidates can self-study using an e-Learning package, which can take up to 20 hours to complete.
Examinations are available in Arabic, Brazilian Portuguese, Chinese (Mandarin), Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Spanish and Swedish.
By the end of 2014, it is expected that more than 880,000 Foundation exams will have been taken since 1996.
This level indicates that you understand how PRINCE2 can be applied on a non-complex project.
The Practitioner level is an open book 2.5 hour exam meaning that candidates can use their PRINCE2 manuals during the exam. Candidates must answer questions from 8 out of 11 syllabus areas. Each area is worth 10 marks making a total of 80 (8 x 10) marks available. Candidates must score at least 44 marks (55%) in order to gain certification.
Existing project managers or people wanting to move into project management should consider taking the Practitioner exam.
Candidates usually attend a training course to prepare themselves for the examination. Training often lasts between 2-3 days if a candidate has already passed the Foundation exam with the examination on the last day. Most candidates who take the Practitioner exam usually attend a 5 day course which combines both Foundation and Practitioner parts, and therefore includes 2 exams.
Alternatively, candidates can self-study for the Practitioner exam using an e-Learning package, which can take up to 20 hours to complete.
PRINCE2 Practitioner pre-requisites include any of the following:
- AXELOS (PRINCE2)
- PRINCE2 Foundation
- International Project Management Association (IPMA)
- IPMA Level A® (Certified Projects Director)
- IPMA Level B® (Certified Senior Project Manager)
- IPMA Level C® (Certified Project Manager)
- IPMA Level D® (Certified Project Management Associate)
- Project Management Institute (PMI®)
- Project Management Professional (PMP®)
- Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM®)
Examinations are available in Brazilian Portuguese, Chinese (Mandarin), Danish, Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Spanish and Swedish.
By the end of 2014, it is expected that in total more than 490,000 Practitioner exams will have been taken since 1996.
Launched in January 2013, the Professional level consists of a 2.5 day residential assessment centre (there is no exam). During the assessment a candidate is assessed for competency in 19 areas, several of which are not PRINCE2 competencies but are broader project management ones such as interpersonal skills.
So far, very few candidates have completed these assessments and the demand for the qualification remains low due primarily to a lack of awareness of the qualification by employers.
This assessment is only available in English. By the end of 2013, it is estimated that approximately 100 assessments have been taken.
International Project Management Association (IPMA) Qualifications
The IPMA® is a Federation of over 55 Member Associations (MAs), each representing one country. The MAs develop project management competencies in their geographic areas of influence.
The IPMA has developed a four-level certification program each with their own distinctive capabilities, including:
- IPMA Level A: Certified Projects Director manages complex project portfolios and programmes.
- IPMA Level B: Certified Senior Project Manager manages complex projects. Minimum five years of experience.
- IPMA Level C: Certified Project Manager manages projects of moderate complexity. Minimum three years of experience.
- IPMA Level D: Certified Project Management Associate applies project management knowledge when working on projects.
Each MA may give different names to each level, but the competencies remain the same. Candidates always have the choice of doing the certification in their own language or in English.
Since 2004, the IPMA has certified more than 150,000 project managers via its MAs in over 50 countries across the globe. One of the largest MAs is the UK-based Association for Project Management (APM).
Association for Project Management (APM) Qualifications
The UK-based Association for Project Management (APM) is an educational charity and the largest independent professional body of its kind in Europe. The APM has over 13,500 individual and 300 corporate members throughout the UK and abroad.
The APM should not be confused with The APM Group, which as has already been mentioned, is a PRINCE2 examination institute.
The APM offer 3 levels of certification, 2 of which are aligned with the International Project Management Association's four-level certification program
It’s difficult to provide exact numbers on the quantity of examinations taken, but if the IPMA has certified around 150,000 since 2004, then the number certified by the APM in the UK is substantially less than the number certified in PRINCE2.
APM Introductory Certificate in Project Management
The entry level Introductory Certificate in Project Management has been designed for people looking to start a career in project management or those wanting to understand the principles of project management.
The APM has worked with the UK Government's Department for Education and Skills to develop this certificate.
This Certificate requires a one hour multiple choice exam consisting of 60 questions. The pass mark is 36 marks (60%). The examination can be taken online using a webcam.
This certificate is for those people wanting to gain a broad understanding of the principles project management. No prior knowledge or experience is required for this certificate.
Candidates usually attend a training course to prepare themselves for the examination. Training usually lasts 2 days with the examination on the last day.
This certificate is only available in English.
The next level APMP is also a knowledge-based qualification which enables a candidate to show a broader knowledge of project management elements. APMP equates to IPMA Level D.
APMP assesses the candidate's knowledge in all areas of project management, from strategic and commercial implications, to the technical, organisational, and people management skills required to participate effectively within a project team. The syllabus for this certificate is based upon the APM Body of Knowledge 6th Edition (the APM BoK).
This qualification involves either a three hour examination paper consisting of 10 questions or, for current PRINCE2 Registered Practitioners a two hour multiple-choice exam where the candidate answers six from a choice of ten questions. The pass mark in both cases is 55%.
This certificate is for those people wanting to understand project management to achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness. Typically, candidates already have some existing project management experience, although this is not mandatory.
This certificate is only available in English.
APM Practitioner Qualification
This residential assessment is delivered through the APM’s association with the International Project Management Association. The Practitioner qualification equates to IPMA Level C.
The qualification is for people with a minimum of three years’ experience in managing non-complex projects. Candidates must demonstrate their ability to manage non-complex projects or run a key control function of a large-scale project. In addition, candidates must be able to satisfy one of the following:
- Either have passed the APMP Qualification; or
- Can demonstrate a good familiarity with the APM Body of Knowledge with evidence of relevant continuing professional development.
The assessment is comprised of 3 elements:
- Individual work – where the candidate answers written questions based on a case study and one question regarding current issues in project management.
- Group work – where the candidates work in small groups and are observed discussing and solving problems related to the case study.
- Interview – where the candidates are interviewed by a team of assessors.
Successful candidates are eligible to become full members of APM and can use MAPM after their name.
This assessment is only available in English.
Project Management Institute (PMI)
The most popular project management professional certificate in the USA and Canada and also in parts of Asia and Africa is offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI). The PMI offers two levels of certification which include examinations. Both examinations must be taken at a Prometric test centre which are located in many countries around the world. These examinations however cannot be taken online using a webcam.
The examinations are only available in English, but there are language aids available in Arabic, Brazilian Portuguese, Chinese (Mandarin), Chinese (Simplified), French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Spanish and Turkish.
Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)
The CAPM is an entry-level qualification designed for members of project teams and new project managers or those working in project support. The CAPM demonstrates a clear knowledge of project management processes and terminology as defined within A Guide to Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). (Note: the PMBOK Guide is very similar to the APM’s BoK, covering many of the same knowledge areas and techniques).
The qualification is a closed-book 3 hour exam comprising of 150 questions. Of these, 15 are test questions which do not carry a mark. They are used to trial out future exam questions. The pass mark is 82 out of 135 (61%).
CAPM also requires the following:
- A secondary degree (high school diploma or global equivalent); and
- At least 1,500 hours of experience on a project team, or 23 hours of project management education prior to sitting the exam.
To maintain your CAPM credential, you will need to re-sit the CAPM examination within 5 years.
As of November 2013, there were about 24,000 active CAPM certified individuals worldwide.
Candidates can either self-study using the PMBOK Guide, use eLearning material or attend a 3 day training course. The exam is taken online at a Prometric test centre.
Project Management Professional (PMP) certificate
The Project Management Professional (PMP) certificate demonstrates that you have the experience, education and competency to lead and direct projects. It that regard, it’s both a knowledge-based and competency-based qualification.
To qualify, candidates must have:
- A secondary degree (high school diploma, associate’s degree, or the global equivalent) with a minimum of five years of project management experience, with 7,500 hours leading and directing projects and 35 hours of project management education; or,
- A four-year degree (bachelor’s degree or the global equivalent) and at least three years of project management experience, with a minimum of 4,500 hours leading and directing projects and 35 hours of project management education.
The PMP closed-book exam tests candidates’ application of project management knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques. The exam is a 4 hour multiple choice exam consisting of 200 questions. Of these, 25 are pretest questions which do not carry a mark. They are used to trial out future exam questions. The pass mark is 106 out of 175 (61%).
There are currently more than 600,000 active PMP certified individuals.
Candidates can either self-study using the PMBOK Guide, use eLearning material or attend a training course, usually lasting anywhere between 2 and 5 days. The exam is taken online at a Prometric test centre.
The demand for project management certifications differs from region to region. If you are based in the USA then aim for PMP. If you are based in the UK, Europe or Australia then aim for PRINCE2.
This must be balanced however by the realization that to gain PMP you need already existing project management experience – something which is not required for PRINCE2. In that regard, PRINCE2 is ideally suited to those people wanting to learn about project management, but do not yet have the experience.
Where ever you are based in the world, there are also other factors to consider such as:
- the language of the exam and manual
- the ability to take exams online (only PRINCE2 offers this)
- other pre-conditions for certification e.g. years of experience of project management
If gaining project management certification is beneficial to a candidate in terms of their career, would 2 different project management certifications be even better?
As the GAPPS analysis of the PMI and PRINCE2 certifications shows, although both correctly claim to be based on project management best practices, they overlap in many ways, but in other ways they do not.
The PMBOK Guide is a description of the many knowledge areas and techniques which are useful for project managers. The PMBOK Guide describes the “How”.
PRINCE2 is a process-based model which describes “what” needs to be done, “when” and by “whom” (including many more roles than those described in the PMBOK). In this regard, the PMBOK Guide (and hence the CAPM and PMP certifications) is complimentary to the PRINCE2 model and vice versa.
In other words, depending upon which region you are based, aim first for the certification which is most popular. After gaining that, aim for a second certification which compliments the first one. That way, you can sure of having all the knowledge and tools which any accomplished project manager needs in their toolkit.
This means that in the UK, I would go the PRINCE2 route first, followed by the APMP qualification (IPMA level C qualification) from the APM. If I were in Europe, I would also go the PRINCE2 route first and then aim either for a level C IPMA qualification if there is a national association in my country, or a PMI qualification if there isn’t.
If I were based in the USA or the Americas, without a doubt I would go the PMI route first and then the PRINCE2 route. In Australasia I would do PRINCE2 first followed either by IPMA or PMI. In the rest of the world, I would still try to gain both certifications for the reasons above but which one I’d do first would depend upon some of the factors just outlined regarding language and ease if taking an exam.
Whichever project management certification route you finally decide upon, I hope this article has been useful to you. If you’ve found it useful then others will too so please share it on social media and link to it from your web site or blog. If you have any suggestions for improvements or feel anything is missing, then please email .
 Data from The APM Group marketing reports 2013.
 Data from IPMA web site.
 Data from APM web site.
 Data from PMI web site.
 GAPPS - Global Alliance for Project Performance Standards.