Let’s say you’re well-qualified in your technical skills—be it Java, programming languages, infrastructure, networks or system administration. Qualifications take time and effort, but as well as learning useful skills, you’re also building confidence—your own and the others’ confidence in your ability to do a great job.
But what if you’re switching from a purely technical role to one that involves managing projects?
Or, having managed IT projects for a while, what if you want to formalize your experience with a relevant project qualification?
The certification option
There’s a fair amount of choice when it comes to project management credentials. The big one that you’ll hear mentioned again and again is the Project Management Professional®, otherwise known as the PMP. It’s the de facto standard for many U.S.-based businesses and it’s also highly sought after around the world.
However, it is worth researching other choices. The project management professional body in your country will have qualifications they can offer, normally at different points on the career path so you can choose something that suits your level of experience.
There are also courses run by training companies that will give you a certificate, or you could go the whole way and sign up for a Masters in Project Management at one of the top business schools. All these routes involve some degree of commitment and cost from you and your company.
The main question to ask yourself is: Will it be worth it? Here are some things to consider while you’re working that out.
Does my boss require it?
This question doesn’t necessarily apply to your current manager; but consider the manager who will be hiring you for the next job in your career progression. If having the letters PMP after your name is going to open doors and get you a great new IT leadership job, then certification makes perfect sense.
However, careers typically aren’t that straightforward. Just having a project management certificate doesn’t always make you a whole lot more hireable than the last candidate the manager saw. You will get your next job through a combination of being a good fit for the team, technical expertise, qualifications and, most likely, luck.
Does my job require it?
Are you managing the kind of large projects that demand that you put professional processes and documentation into action? Or, it is more important that you have an effective working relationship with your team and good organizational skills?
Some technical jobs do involve managing large pieces of work—whether you’re a project management professional or an IT professional who manages projects. Knowing how to plan, manage and monitor progress is important and can make the difference between meeting your goals for the year and not. Project management skills will certainly improve your ability to hit deadlines, but you can get them without having the certificate. The answer to this question might reside in whether or not you feel like you have the skills and know-how at your disposal to get the job done and keep progressing in your career goals.
Who’s paying for it?
If your company is footing the bill and giving you a study leave to take the exam, then I would definitely advise going for it. If you have to fund it yourself and use up your annual vacation allowance to attend the exam, then you need to come to terms with that and have confidence that the end result is going to help your career.
Remember to factor in the cost of the training, the exam fee, travel to the exam center, and any books or study materials you need. Then, if you have taken a credential offered by a professional body you might want to pay for membership, or be required to do ongoing continuous professional development. PMI requires this for PMP holders through their Continuing Certification Requirements Program and you could easily find yourself paying for additional courses and materials to keep up.
There are ways to continue your professional development at low or zero cost but you have to spend time and energy seeking them out. In the end, you’ll make the investment that feels right for you and your career goals.
What benefits will I see?
This depends what you’re looking for. For me, the benefits of getting qualified in project management were being taken seriously by my peers and colleagues. It formalized and ratified my experience, and because I don’t have any other business qualifications, and yet work with people who have PhDs and degrees from business schools, it gave me a much-needed confidence boost.
Going through the process to become a Fellow of APM in the U.K. was a great learning opportunity as well. Not only was the application process rigorous, but I had to prepare a detailed portfolio of the projects I had worked on and the contribution I had made to my company and the profession. That was an eye-opener, to look back and see what I had achieved.
I remember a huge light bulb going on when I was learning about blueprinting on a program management certification prep course. The approach to planning ahead, creating a vision and knowing more or less where you were going made perfect sense; it was a practical tool that I could put into use as soon as I got back to the office.
Credentials were worth it for me
So choosing a qualification and preparing for your exam will let you reflect on your professional career to date and help you learn new tools and techniques. Plus you’ll understand more of the jargon related to project management which will let you communicate more effectively and be the bridge between the technical teams and others in the company who don’t have the same IT background.
I found having my credentials extremely worthwhile. But before taking them on, I weighed up all the questions above, and also, with the benefit of hindsight, I feel my project management qualifications have definitely helped my career in multiple ways.
Of course, everyone is different
I can’t say whether you personally will find having a project management certification worth it. But in a competitive marketplace, with the pressure for IT teams to be innovative but with fewer resources and more time pressures, it certainly isn’t going to hurt your career path in any way.
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