The sense and nonsense of certified project management

We are regularly asked whether we offer an officially certified / recognized project management training. The short answer is “no”, the long answer is somewhat more complicated:

PRINCE2 versus IPMA versus PMI versus …

There is not one universally officially certified project management system that everyone recognizes. There are various groups of organizations (mostly groups of companies and / or government agencies) that have come up with a standard. For example, the British Chamber of Commerce has invented Prince2 and in the United States PMBOK is a standard that is often referred to. And there are many more ‘official’ standards or schools (PMI, IPMA, SCRUM, XP, PMW, Project-based creation, OPEN, RUP, DSDM, Project-based work, PRISMA, Agile, Kanban, the V-model, TOC project management, etc. ). The various standards are often distributed geographically and are more or less known in various sectors. Although not openly, the systems (or the institutes behind them) are in competition with each other. For example, Prince2 claims to be a global standard for all project organizations. In fact, it is mainly known in the Netherlands and in England, especially in ICT-related organizations, such as ICT service providers and banks.
IPMA is fairly well known in the Netherlands (and in a number of European countries in particular), but not in Belgium or Germany, where PMI is relatively well-known. The official recognition of a standard is not only geographically dependent but also only applies within the group of supporters of a standard. In other words: you do not have much value from an IPMA diploma if you want to work in Germany because they hardly know IPMA there. Outside the ICT branch you usually have little Prince2 certification.

There is a lot of overlap in the ‘standards’: PMI is very similar to IPMA and in the last adaptation of the IPMA standard a lot of attention was paid to PRINCE2. Scrum is very similar to XP.
So if you are looking for the ‘right’ project management standard, our counter question is: which project management standard would you like to have? Our trainers are well trained. Some are Prince2 accredited, we sometimes prepare clients for an IPMA exam. We have all the knowledge for an IPMA, PMI or other certificate. Agile, Scrum and XP are also known. So, if desired, we can deliver it all.
The reason for whether or not to obtain one of the ‘recognized’ project management diplomas is mainly related to what it would be best to have on your CV: and whether you work or want to work for an organization that requires a Prince2 or IPMA or PMI, or Scrum, or DSDM Agile or another degree. Fortunately, most employers know how to put project management diplomas into perspective: a general certificate of a project management course is just as much appreciated in the labor market as a PRINCE2, PMI, IPMA or other ‘official’ certificate.
Click here for a further discussion of the above and other project management schools.

Bachelor project management (or Master program project management)

What about a project management education at Bachelor level (or Master level)? Are they not official (government-approved) project management courses?

Project management does not exist as a (complete) Bachelor or Masters training. The field of project management is simply too small to fill a complete multi-year program. It is given as a (special) course at higher education level and sometimes also in courses in secondary education, where it is only a course of a few weeks or months within a general technical or management training, and not longer or more than that. And it should not be more, because project management courses are not that extensive. Project management is a supporting discipline for the actual, real (creative) work.

In fact, most higher professional education institutions offer the same course as an IPMA, PMI, PRINCE2 or general project management training. Our own open source manual for project management is often used by colleges and universities as teaching material for their project management education on bachelor or master level.

Project management exams: the proof of the pudding is in the eating

The exams for a project management diploma consist largely of multiple choice questions. You can find sample exams with answers, whether or not legal, on the internet. If you are able to answer the 1000 multiple choice questions from PMI, you will earn your certificate. PRINCE2 examinations may not be distributed, but you do not have to be able to answer multiple questions. The answers can of course also be found on the web.

Multiple choice questions are only suitable for testing basic theory, but a good project leader needs more. Some project management diploma systems (such as PMI and IPMA-C) solve this by asking about flight hours: at least as many projects have been done recently. In addition, feedback from participants of your completed projects must be submitted to IPMA. This proves that you would be a suitable project leader. This is fine, but it can of course be achieved just as this well with a CV and references.

The question is whether certification is worth it, because obtaining and maintaining an official project management certificate is expensive. Especially because the certificate needs to be updated every few years, with another exam and further costs. This shows especially the commercial aspect of project management certificates: the theory and knowledge of project management does not change at all quickly enough to justify re-examinations every 5 years.


• There are many different project management certificates that coexist and that more or less have the status of ‘recognized’. The recognition applies especially within the group of supporters of a system. If you are looking for a system, check whether a certain certificate is required within your sector.
• The systems are in essence very similar.
• The testing of the certificates is mainly aimed at reproducing knowledge and techniques by means of multiple choice questions.
• Certifying your organization or yourself is expensive.
• The examinations must be refreshed every few years (with associated costs).

For our training agency we have opted for an open source project management training, where we use the techniques and theory from the various schools of thought. These techniques and theory are no different than those you learn in an IPMA school or PMI school and we have also copied the right elements from PRINCE2. For the Agile courses, we do not choose one particular type because because the various Agile methods are so similar. Certification also goes against the ‘Agile’ idea, because the emphasis in Agile must be on teams, people and creativity, not on fixed structures, roadmaps and procedures.

For some clients we work with an official method such as IPMA or PMP if this is explicitly requested. Some of our students do an IPMA, PMI or PRINCE2 exam afterwards (with some additional self-study). This exam is really only necessary if the organization in which our student works asks for it. But companies should scratch their heads well before they implement one of the many ‘official’ certified project management methodologies: it is very questionable whether that will improve the implementation of projects.

Author: Wouter Baars