Should engineers get PMP certified?

A PMP engineerThe other day a lady serving as a technical lead at a software company approached me to ask a few questions about PMP certification. Her company had volunteered to sponsor her to undergo the lengthy process of preparing for and taking the PMP examination on the road to getting PMP certified. However, she wasn’t sure if PMP certification was right for her. She had several doubts:

  • Technically, she was not a “project manager”; however, her job did comprise functions that project managers regularly perform: risk analysis, work scheduling, monitoring and controlling development, team management, and cost control, among others.
  • She was unaware of other engineers at her company who had previously taken and passed the PMP exam.
  • She did not want to oversell herself or misrepresent the PMP credential by becoming certified without being an actual project manager.
  • Due to the above points, she was worried that her PMP application would ultimately be rejected by PMI.

I should point out that this lady had already taken a few PMP practice exams and had scored within a passing range on these exams. So it was not the knowledge she was concerned about; rather, that she was concerned that she was technically serving as an engineer and not as a salaried project manager.

This lady engineer also mentioned something alarming. She told me that she had spoken to one PMP certified project manager about her desire to become certified herself. This PMP was offended that someone who was not a “real PM” would attempt to become a PMP. This of course concerned her greatly that she was in effect “posing” as a project manager in her desire to become PMP certified.

Can an engineer rightfully become PMP certified?

One of the biggest questions around this lady’s desire to become PMP certified was, “is it ethical?” Can she (or any other technical workers not officially labeled as project managers) rightfully become a Project Management Professional?

Some may disagree with me, but I do believe that it is ethically correct for this lady to become PMP certified as long as she can rightfully claim in her PMP application that she has amassed the required hours of project management experience and education. Although this lady does not have the title of project manager, when looking over her work experience it is apparent that she does have the proper project management experience to get PMP certified. She has also studied project management extensively and has the knowledge and experience required to pass the PMP examination (by looking at her practice test scores).

I mentioned to this engineer (as I mention to everyone who asks me advice about preparing for a potential PMI audit) that, when filling out the PMP exam application, she should carefully document her project management work experience and education as accurately and truthfully as possible. Next, she should show her managers the experience that she has documented and explain to them that there is a chance that PMI will audit her work experience, and if they were to do that, would her managers verify that the information that she has provided on the application is correct? If they will do that, then she has ethically provided proof that she has the project management experience required to sit the PMP examination.

Remember that while you will need experience from all of the different PMI process groups in order to qualify to sit the PMP exam, you do not have to have spent your time equally distributed between those PMI process groups. You may have spent quite a few of your project hours in the project execution phase of a project. On some projects you may only have been involved in the initiating and planning phases of a project; for other projects you may have appeared on the project in the monitoring and controlling phase of the project, near project closing. It doesn’t matter – you can rightfully count the work spent on these projects in your PMP application as long as during your career you have amassed experience in all of the PMI process groups.

PMP certification for engineers and software developers

In my opinion it’s a good thing for engineers, software developers, business analysts, quality assurance engineers and other technical workers to become PMP certified. Having a strong technical background is very helpful when managing projects. I myself spent several years designing and developing software on multiple platforms and find that having this background is very beneficial. Not only do I find I have a greater understanding of the technical work being performed on a project, but the technical background also gives me some “street cred” when working with software developers, network administrators and other highly technical people. Being a PMP certified engineer can also help you to get jobs in the future. Being both technically adept and an expert in project management makes for a highly desirable employee.

As for the fellow who was offended that an engineer would want to become a PMP, I feel that he was way off base. As a PMP myself I was impressed and encouraged by someone showing such interest in the field of project management – so much so that she would like to dedicate a considerable amount of time and effort to becoming a PMP certified project manager. As a PMP I feel that it is my duty to encourage others to understand the importance of project management and to help others learn more about how to properly manage projects. Many projects fail spectacularly – it can only be a good thing to have more people out there who understand why projects fail and how to properly guide projects to success. Project management best practices are not practices that we should hide from others and guard close to our chests… they are practices that we should want to share, to debate, to discuss, to improve, and to implement wherever they can be of benefit.

And that being said, I’m always up for a good discussion about project management – please feel free to comment!

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