Our Nick Jago discusses the value of obtaining formal certification

Ontoit is currently sponsoring staff to undertake formal certification in recognition of their Project Management skills, under the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM) RegPM programme.

The process requires a significant investment of time to produce a compelling case of evidence against key Project Management principles, as well as answering theoretical questions to demonstrate capability. It’s quite an undertaking really, so why are we putting ourselves through it?

The very simple answer is that it serves as a formal recognition of skills in a market that is essentially unregulated.

I remember the story of a former colleague of mine attending an industry briefing for a project management role. At the end of the session, he got talking to the person who was stacking away the chairs (aka the janitor).

They exchanged cards, and my peer was surprised to read that he went by the title of ‘Project Manager’. Now it’s true that he could have been very well qualified or perhaps just doing a favour for a friend, and yet it still raised an important question – what differentiates a highly competent project manager from someone whose skill level is more limited, if we can all call ourselves by the same title.

This is where certification holds value – it serves as a marker of competence, judged by a third party and quality controlled by a regulatory body. There is no room for interpretation. A certified Project Manager has effectively showcased their abilities to the point where it has been benchmarked against a standard and confirmed as sufficient.

This is where we need to ask ourselves more questions:

  • At what point will the industry become regulated?
  • Who, outside of the Project Management industry, will recognise the value that certification holds (especially when compared with Chartership for engineers, as an example)?
  • How do you differentiate between competence and experience?

The first two queries are being worked on currently by the AIPM, and surely some exciting announcements will follow in the coming years.

The third is a particular interest of mine. In the Project Management world, whenever job positions are advertised, or tenders are issued, there are almost always criteria for a particular experience that must be fulfilled.

I fully acknowledge that experienced heads often understand the pitfalls and potential obstacles for their projects in the same way that a graduate would be unlikely to be able to put together a comprehensive schedule for rolling stock procurement on their own.

That said, I think its time to challenge the necessity for experience, especially based on the very definition of projects – “a unique undertaking”.

If projects are unique, then no-one has any experience in them at their inception, so people should be appointed on the basis of capability, which can’t be measured through a temporal gauge.

Yes, there are flaws in this logic because the construction industry does not reinvent itself for each building, and even in more dynamic project environments (IT anyone?), there are constants that will manifest.

Therefore, you can’t ignore experience totally – my suggestion is that you intentionally mix experience with fresh, new thinking on each project so that long-standing assumptions and the status quo can be challenged.

This can surely help on the journey towards the best possible end product – a mix of safe, steady guidance with exciting ideas injected at regular intervals. They do say that we are at our most creative and inventive at the edge of chaos.

And in order to maintain some semblance of control when integrating the less experienced resources, why not make sure that their capability has been sanity checked in advance – through formal certification.