Is PMP Certification Still Relevant?

October 28, 2010

The Project Management Professional (PMP) certification is the most widely recognized project management designation in the world. Developed and issued by the Project Management Institute (PMI), the PMP designation represents knowledge and experience in traditional project management methodologies. As of August 31, 2010, there were over 397,000 individuals worldwide holding the certification.(1) With the maturity of the PMP designation and the rise of Agile-based project management methodologies, is PMP certification still relevant? This entry aims to explore four different aspects of the certification to determine its relevance – ease of entry, benefits to employers, benefits to credential holders, and statistical trends.

Ease of Entry

The PMP certification requires many thousands of hours of project management experience; 7500 hours spread over at least five calendar years for non-degreed applicants and 4500 hours spread over three years for degreed applicants. Further, regardless of academic credentials, all PMP applicants are required to have 35 contact hours of formal project management education.(2) In contrast, many IT-related certifications only require the passing of an exam or series of exams to earn a certification with no documentable experience or education requirements.

PMP candidates are also required to pass a rigorous exam based on the current version of the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK). The test is comprised of 200 questions, including 25 unscored questions that are used for research and development of future versions of the exam. Prior to sitting for the exam, an applicant’s experience must be submitted and reviewed for approval. A percentage of all applicants are screened through an audit process where their education and experience must be formally documented prior to being allowed to sit for the exam.

Upon certification, the learning does not stop there. PMP’s are required to earn at least 60 Professional Development Units (PDUs) in a three-year period to maintain their certification in good standing. Further, the applicant must pay a fee for renewal based on whether they are members of PMI or not.(3) These two requirements distinguish the PMP certification from the traditional IT certification; generally once the IT certification is earned then no additional professional development, recertification or continuing education is required to maintain the designation.

Benefit to Employers

The PMP credential demonstrates that the holder has demonstrated consistent project-management knowledge and application, and continues to do so in order to maintain their credential. It ensures that an employer can expect a PMP to be able to execute projects in a well-defined, widely-recognized framework. However, I was unable to find any widespread research activities to document a PMP’s overall value to a company’s bottom line. In the 2008 study titled Researching the Value of Project Management presented at the PMI Research Conference in Warsaw, Poland(4), Thomas and Mullaly concluded that companies often gauge the value of project management in terms of intangibles and not in return on investment. The study revealed that the likelihood of realizing these intangibles increased the longer project management disciplines had been in practice, but almost no companies conduct a return on investment assessment of their project management organization.

Benefit to Credential Holders

PMP’s often show up on the list of highest-paying certifications in the IT industry. According to, the PMP ranks as the highest-paid credential with an average salary of $104,253 per year.(5) While these folks are being compensated for their project management skills (and not the credential itself), holding the credential also seems to make a difference in salary. According to the PMI’s Self-directed Online Salary Survey tool(6), in 2009 project managers in the United States with a PMP certification earned, on average, $8000 to $12000 per year more than non-credentialed project managers. Holding the certification also makes PMP’s less likely to be out of work. The website revealed that the percentage of jobs with the term “pmp” in the job listing has increased by 63% since February 2009.

Statistical Trends

For any certification process, there reaches a point where market saturation makes the certification less desirable. For PMP’s the information is still unclear as to whether that market saturation has been reached. Certainly the population of PMP’s has grown substantially; in the past four years, the number of PMP’s in the marketplace has nearly doubled, from 202,749 to 397,378.(8) This means that in the past four years almost as many PMP’s entered the marketplace as had entered during the previous 22 years, when the PMP was first offered in 1984. While the sheer number of PMP’s makes this growth rate seem unsustainable, the fact is that the skills that PMP’s bring to the table remain in demand. Global Knowledge lists Project Management as the number one in-demand skill for 2010.(9)

There are, however, data that suggests that the value placed by employers on the PMP certification may be waning. According to Foote Partners research(10), the Architecture and Project Management certification category is among the fastest declining in terms of the pay premium that the category brings. For the year ended June 30, 2010, the category premium pay average declined by 7.0%, second only to the Beginner and Training certification category which fell 17.4% over the same period. This could be due to market saturation of PMP’s or the alternative of hiring experienced but not necessarily certified project managers.


In my opinion, after considering the previously-mentioned criteria the PMP certification is still very much relevant. As companies look towards better overall management of their projects to bring greater value to their business, having competent, trained project managers is a necessity. The only way an employer can truly gauge a project manager’s level of knowledge and expertise is through (a) direct experience within their company, or (b) through some sort of measuring stick such as PMP certification. PMP’s, however, must begin to look beyond the traditional boundaries and be willing to employ the Agile methodologies where appropriate on the various projects that they manage.

By: Paul

1. PMI Today, October 2010 issue





6., available only to PMI members


8. PMI Today, October 2010 issue, and PMI Today, November 2006 issue. Data is for August of each year.



5 Responses to “Is PMP Certification Still Relevant?”

  1. Phil Stilber said

    “For any certification process, there reaches a point where market saturation makes the certification less desirable. For PMP’s the information is still unclear as to whether that market saturation has been reached.”

    What would you say would be an indicator of market saturation? Every job posting looking for a project manager that I have seen has listed PMP certification as a requirement.

    I think that PMP certification will become a lot like MCSE is currently, basically required to get your resume past HR, but not seen as anything special by those in the industry.

    • Paul McGuire said

      Excellent point. I believe that one indicator that market saturation is when, as you say, PMP becomes a “must have” rather than a “desired” on job postings. That means that employers have believe that a good candidate pool exists with the required skillset or certification. Further, it is likely indicated when salaries for this qualification begin to level off or even drop. I do not think that has happened yet, but the research reports from the Foote Partners group seems to indicate that maybe the beginning is just around the corner.

      • Mike Gann said

        Most HR posts out there list a battery of certifications that are ‘desireable’ or ‘required’, be it MCSE, MCITP, CCNP, PMP, etc. The problem is most HR departments (in my experience) don’t know what those are and just put them in the job posting because the hiring manager told them to. Many times, the listed certifications either don’t match up to the job opportunity or are completely unrelated.

        Not to dispute the value of certification in any field, but I contend that any cert can be brain-dumped (I’ve seen it many times over). Certification is simply one indicator – the whole story comes through the interview process, i.e. does the candidate keep up with their field and how? Are they a self-starter? If they’re a MCITP in Server 2008, can they subnet in IPV4 and get a domain controller with core services running?

  2. Sean Maher said

    I really like certifications that have background requirements and continuing education requirements as well. While it can be a major pain to keep up with, you are encouraged to keep your information and skills relevant. I definitely think that the initial benefit to the individual may be to get past HR, but I’m sure that there is a networking aspect among PMPs that is very beneficial as well.

  3. Cheryl Johnson said

    Nice Post. I’m not convinced that getting PMP certified is required or even needed. The potential increase in salary looks good but if you are working in a traditional or small business, I don’t think that becoming PMP certified will benefit either the company or yourself. A small business will not be able to pay the fair market salary of a PMP and, if you are working in a traditional business structure and are already doing the job that a certified PMP would be paid to do; other than possible a one-time increase, the probability of a significant salary increase will be diminutive.

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