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Best Project Management Certifications

best project management certifications
Credit: ESB Professional/Shutterstock

Project management certifications have claimed a place in every top IT certification list for years. That's because project managers are important to IT operations of all kinds. Whether you're interested in becoming an IT project manager or want to add project management to the list of your soft skills, these five leading certifications will help you complement those skills, and, in turn, increase your value.

If there's one set of soft skills that has remained high on the IT radar for the past decade or so, to the point where they've become almost as sought-after and every bit as valuable as other top-level credentials, it must be project management. [Interested in project management software? Check out our best picks]

Thanks in very large part to the immensely popular and widely pursued Project Management Professional (PMP) certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI), this area has become an incredibly valuable "merit badge" credential for IT professionals of all kinds. That's because it enhances and expands on the value of just about any other kind of technical credential.

Project management has everything to do with planning, scheduling, budgeting for, and then executing and reporting on projects of all shapes and sizes. Because anything and everything that IT does can be understood or handled as a project of some kind — either a "one of a kind" activity that happens only once or very seldom (think hardware or OS upgrades, or migrating from older to newer platforms or infrastructures), or a recurring series of activities that repeat regularly (think security patches, software updates or other regular maintenance tasks) — project management is incredibly important to IT operations across the board.

According to PMI's Earning Power: Project Management Salary Survey, Ninth Edition, IT professionals who hold the PMP certification report median earnings worldwide of $81,000 annually; however, the upper 25 percent of survey respondents earn at least $110,000. Depending on factors such as the complexity and size of the project, location and field of expertise (IT, construction or healthcare, for example), or experience, salaries for some PMP credential holders may even be much higher.

The Robert Half Technology 2018 Salary Guide lists project management as one of the hot certifications for 2017. Project management salaries vary slightly depending on the technology area. Robert Half cites a salary range of $92,750 to $156,000 for project managers in application development environments, while project managers engaged in consulting and system integration roles can expect to earn between $96,000 and $162,000 nationwide. This explains quite nicely why the PMP has appeared in nearly every top 10 list of popular, targeted or most desirable certifications since the early 2000s. It should come as no surprise that Robert Half also lists the PMP credential, along with Agile and Scrum certifications, as trending in the IT industry.

To provide you an idea of which project management credentials employers look for in prospective candidates, we conducted a quick survey on several popular job boards. Clearly, the PMP credential is the overall favorite and remains our No. 1 pick for must-have project management certifications. PMI's entry-level project management credential, the CAPM, also made our top five list. The CSM from Scrum Alliance, along with ASQ's Certified Six Sigma Black Belt and Green Belt credentials, round out those top picks.

Certification

SimplyHired

Indeed

LinkedIn Jobs

Linkup.com

Total

CAPM (Project Management Institute)

586

657

612

263

2,118

CSM (Scrum Alliance)

3,276

3,809

4,777

2,108

13,970

CSSBB (ASQ)

945

1,030

1,375

596

3,946

CSSGB (ASQ)

1,120

1,242

1,330

687

4,379

PMP (Project Management Institute)

14,503

15,387

15,635

7,949

53,024

The same organization that stands behind the PMP also backs the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) certification. In fact, the CAPM is properly considered a stepping-stone credential for those who wish to attain PMP status by stages, rather than in a single giant bound. That's why the Project Management Institute describes the CAPM as a "valuable entry-level certification for project practitioners" that is "designed for those with little or no project experience."

In fact, the PMP requires three to five years of documented on-the-job project management experience, depending on the educational background of each applicant. On the other hand, the CAPM requires only a high school diploma and either 1,500 hours of documented on-the-job experience (about nine months of full-time work) or 23 hours of project management classroom training prior to taking the exam.

Nor does the CAPM require continuing education (which the PMI calls PDUs, short for professional development units) as does the PMP (60 PDUs every three years) to maintain this credential. To recertify, CAPM holders must re-take the exam once every five years.

The CAPM certification is one of small set of entry-level project management certifications (including the CompTIA Project+) that IT professionals interested in project management might choose to pursue. Remember, though, that it is a stepping-stone to the PMP.

Unless you work in a large organization where a project management team is in place that includes junior- as well as more senior-level project management positions, the CAPM by itself is unlikely to provide a ticket to a project management job. However, the CAPM is ideal for IT professionals for whom project management is a part-time job role or who want to grow into full-time project management.

Certification Name

Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)

Prerequisites/Required Courses

High school diploma, associate's degree or global equivalent, plus 1,500 hours of project management experience or 23 hours of project management education

Certification valid for five years; candidates must retake exam to maintain credential.

Number of Exams

One exam (150 questions, 15 questions are unscored; three hours to complete)

Cost per Exam

Computer- or paper-based exams:
PMI member: $225 (retake $150)
Non-PMI member: $300 (retake $200)

Exam available in online proctored or center-based test (CBT) formats.
Exam administered by Pearson VUE.

URL

www.pmi.org/Certification/Certified-Associate-in-Project-Management-CAPM.aspx

Self-Study Materials

PMI maintains a list of self-study materials on its exam guidance web page, including the Exam Content Outline, sample exam questions and the CAPM Handbook.

Numerous books are available including:

As companies seek to deliver more for less, many are adopting agile methodologies to streamline processes, build quality into products and ensure that the final build meets customer requirements. As the use of agile methodologies has become more pervasive and popular, it's not surprising that we're seeing an increased demand for IT practitioners uniquely qualified to manage projects in agile environments.

While there are different Scrum master certifications available, our pick is the Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) from Scrum Alliance. This nonprofit organization encourages the adoption of Scrum and Agile practices, promotes user groups and learning events, and provides resources for professional development. The organization boasts more than 450,000 certified practitioners worldwide.

Scrum Alliance provides a support system for Scrum practitioners, including Scrum Gatherings, user groups, virtual communicates, coaching, online training and much more. In addition to community and advocacy activities, Scrum Alliance offers numerous Scrum-related certifications, including three entry- level credentials: the Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO), Certified Scrum Developer (CSD) and the Certified ScrumMaster (CSM). At the next certification tier you'll find the Certified Scrum Professional (CSP), followed by the more advanced Certified Scrum Coach (CSC) and Certified Scrum Trainer (CST). The Scrum Alliance also offers the Certified Agile Leadership (CAL) program, a credential based on a combination of education and validated practice.

For project managers getting started as Scrum practitioners, the CSM is an excellent entry-level credential. Not only will candidates demonstrate an understanding of Scrum principles and values, but they'll gain knowledge about how to implement and apply Scrum in practice. The Scrum Alliance provides CSMs with multiple resources as well as checklists and information about the servant leader role of the Scrum master.

Certification Name

Certified ScrumMaster

Prerequisites/Required Courses

General familiarity with Scrum

Completion of a two-day Certified ScrumMaster training course (price varies by training provider; candidates can expect to pay between $950 to $1,395 depending on provider)

Note: Some training providers are affiliated with PMI; candidates may earn 14 PDUs for their PMI certification

Number of Exams

One exam (24 correct answers out of 35 questions required to pass)

Cost per Exam

Fees for online test paid by the training provider

URL

https://www.scrumalliance.org/certifications/practitioners/certified-scrummaster-csm

Self-Study Materials

Scrum Alliance offers multiple resources including blogs, articles, reports, online learning, CSM Content Outline and Learning Objectives and more

Globally recognized, ASQ certifications attest to a candidate's expertise, mastery of industry and regulation standards, along with mastery of the ASQ Body of Knowledge standards. Currently, ASQ offers 18 credentials, three of which specifically target project management – the Certified Six Sigma Black Belt (CSSBB) (expert level), the Six Sigma Green Belt (CSSGB) (professional level) and the Six Sigma Yellow Belt (CSSYB) (entry level).

The Certified Six Sigma Black Belt is the highest level Six Sigma credential offered by ASQ. The CSSBB is for experienced practitioners who understand Six Sigma methodologies (including the DMAIC model), tools, systems and philosophies. CSSBB's can lead team as well as manage team dynamics, roles and responsibilities.

The path to CSSBB certification is rigorous. In addition to passing a comprehensive exam, candidates must complete two projects that employ Six Sigma tools and processes, which result in project improvement and a positive financial project impact. An affidavit is also required to attest to the veracity of the project. Alternatively, candidates with at least three years of experience in one or more of the Six Sigma Body of Knowledge areas need only complete one black belt project. 

CSSBB candidates are expected to demonstrate mastery of the ASQ Black Belt Body of Knowledge standards. Current standards include:

  • Organization-wide Planning & Deployment (organization-wide considerations, leadership,)
  • Organization Process Management and Measures (impact on stakeholders, benchmarking, business measures)
  • Team Management (team formation, team facilitation, team dynamics, team training)
  • Define (voice of the customer, business case and project charter, project management tools, analytical tools)
  • Measure (process characteristics, data collection, measurement systems, basic statistics, probability, process capability)
  • Analyze (measuring and modeling relationships between variables, hypothesis testing, failure mode and effects analysis, other analysis methods)
  • Improve (design of experiments, lean methods, implementation)
  • Control (statistical process control and other controls, maintain controls, sustain improvements)
  • Design for Six Sigma (DFSS) Framework and Methodologies (common DFSS methodologies, design for DVX, robust designs)

The CSSBB is valid for three years. To recertify, candidates must earn 18 recertification units or retake the exam.

Certification Name

Certified Six Sigma Black Belt (CSSBB)

Prerequisites/Required Courses

Two completed projects with signed project affidavit, or one completed project with signed affidavit plus three years of experience in one or more areas of the Six Sigma Body of Knowledge

Number of Exams

One exam; computer-based (165 questions, 4.5 hours) or paper-based (150 questions, 4 hours)

Cost per Exam

$338 members, $538 non-members

Exams administered by Prometric.

URL

https://asq.org/cert/six-sigma-black-belt

Self-Study Materials

ASQ maintains a comprehensive list of exam prep materials, including training opportunities, question banks, interactive sample exams, books and other recommended references.

The Certified Six Sigma Green Belt (CSSGB) by ASQ is a professional-level credential targeting experienced Six Sigma practitioners. Often, a CSSGB works under the direction of the more senior CSSBB or as an assistant. CSSGBs identify issues and drive quality and process improvements into projects.

To earn the credential, candidates should possess at least three years of experience working with Six Sigma processes, systems and tools. The work experience must have been full-time and compensated; an unpaid internship, for example, doesn't count. In addition, the work performed must have been in at least one of the Six Sigma Green Belt Body of Knowledge competency areas.

In addition to work experience, candidates must pass an exam that tests their knowledge of the Six Sigma Green Belt Body of Knowledge. Currently, the Green Belt Body of Knowledge includes six competency areas:

  • Overview: Six Sigma and the Organization (organizational goals, lean principles, design methodologies)
  • Define Phase (project identification, customer voice, project management basics, management and planning tools, project business results, and team dynamics and performance)
  • Measurement Phase (process analysis and documentation, probability and statistics, statistical distributions, data collection, measurement system analysis, process and performance capability)
  • Analyze Phase (exploratory data analysis, hypothesis testing)
  • Improve Phase (design of experiments, root cause analysis, lean tools)
  • Control Phase (statistical process control, control plan, lean tools for process control

Overall, this is an excellent credential for those who possess some experience but who are not quite ready to take on the roles and responsibilities of a Black Belt.

Certification Name

Certified Six Sigma Green Belt (CSSGB)

Prerequisites & Required Courses

Three years of experience in one or more of the Six Sigma Green Belt Body of Knowledge areas
Experience must be a full-time paid position (internships do not meet the experience requirement)

Number of Exams

One exam

Computer-based (110 questions, 4.5 hours)

Paper-based exam (100 question, 4 hours)

Cost per Exam

$288 members, $438 non-members; retakes cost $238
Exams administered by Prometric.

URL

https://asq.org/cert/six-sigma-green-belt

Self-Study Materials

ASQ maintains a comprehensive list of exam prep materials, including training opportunities, question banks, interactive sample exams, books and other recommended references.

 

The Project Management Institute (PMI) not only stands behind the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, it works with academia and training companies to ensure proper coverage and currency in the various curricula that exist to support this and other PMI credentials. Boasting more than 750,000 professionals in almost every country in the world, PMI's PMP credential remains one of the most prestigious project management credentials available. (Note: The PMP's precursor, the CAPM cert, is covered in an earlier section of this article.)

That's why you can obtain college- and university-based PMP training from so many institutions. It's also why you may sometimes find PMP coverage integrated into certain degree programs (often at the master's degree level).

The PMP credential is coveted by employers seeking the most highly skilled project management professionals. Developed by project managers, the PMP certification is the highest level offered in PMI certifications. The PMI certification is designed to ensure that credential holders possess the skills and qualifications necessary to successfully manage all phases of a project, including initiating, planning, scheduling, controlling and monitoring and closing out the project.

PMP certified projects managers are also well versed and skilled in managing all aspects of the triple constraints — time, cost and scope. Employers depend on the skills of PMP professionals to manage budgets, track costs, manage scope creep and identify how changes to the triple constraints may introduce risk into the project and minimize such risk to protect the project investment.

The standards for PMP certification are rigorous. In addition to passing a comprehensive and exhaustive exam, credential holders must first demonstrate and certify that they possess the skills and education necessary to succeed in the project management field. Credential seekers should be prepared to provide documentation regarding items such as education, projects worked on and hours spent in each of the five project management stages — initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing out the project.

While difficult to achieve, the rewards for PMP credential holders can be significant. According to PMI's Earning Power: Project Management Salary Survey, Ninth Edition, PMPs in the United States earn an average of almost 20 percent more than their non-credentialed counterparts. The survey reports median salaries of PMPs in the United States at $111,000, compared to $91,000 for non-PMP certified project managers.

For those interested in program management or wishing to specialize in a project management area, PMI offers several interesting additional credentials including:

The PMP remains a nonpareil certification for IT and other professionals whose responsibilities encompass project management. It is the standard against which all other project management credentials are judged in today's marketplace.

It should be noted that after meeting the prerequisites, candidates are required to pass a rigorous exam. PMI plans to roll out a new exam in early 2018, so credential seekers should ensure their training activities and exam prep materials are in sync with the new exam objectives. Candidates should check frequently with PMI for the latest news on the exam update.

Certification Name

Project Management Professional (PMP)

Prerequisites/Required Courses

Required courses: None

Prerequisite skills:
Four-year degree, 4,500 hours in leading and directing projects, and 35 hours of project management education
OR
Secondary degree (high school diploma, associate's degree, or equivalent), 7,500 hours leading and directing projects, and 35 hours of project management education

Note: Credential holders must earn 60 professional development units (PDUs) per each three-year cycle to maintain certification.

Number of Exams

One exam (200 questions, 4 hours)

Cost per Exam

Paper* and computer-based exams:
PMI member: $405 (retake $275)
Non-PMI member: $555 (retake $375)

*Paper-based exam only available if candidates lives more than 150 miles from testing center or if testing center is not available in the country of residence and travel would provide an undue burden.

Exam administered by Prometric. Eligibility ID from PMI required to register.

URL

www.pmi.org/Certification/Project-Management-Professional-PMP.aspx

Self-Study Materials

PMI maintains a list of training resources on the PMP exam guidance web page, including links to sample questions, the PMP Exam Content Outline and the PMP Handbook. Additional training materials (quizzes, publications, books, practice guides and more) are available from the PMI Store.

Numerous books are available, including:

Practice exams:
PMP Exam: Practice Test and Study Guide, 10th edition, by J. LeRoy Ward and Ginger Levin, published Sept. 17, 2015, Auerbach Publications, ISBN-10: 1498752829, ISBN-13: 978-1498752824

Project management is truly a white-hot area for both certification seekers and employers. Several other project management certifications are available, for general IT project management as well as software development project management.

Honorable mention goes to the Global Association for Quality Management (GAQM) project management certifications, such as the Professional in Project Management, Associate in Project Management and Certified Project Director. The Prince2 Foundation and Practitioner qualifications (featured in the top five list for 2017) are also excellent credentials and certainly worth honorable mention.

While it didn't make the top five list for 2018, the CompTIA Project+ credential remains a well-known entry-level project management certification for those just beginning their project management career. ASQ's Certified Six Sigma Yellow Belt (CSSYB) is another entry-level credential worth exploring particularly if you're interested in eventually moving up to the more senior Green and Black Belt credentials.

Most graduate business, management and management information systems (MIS) programs offer project management training to students, and some offer certificate programs outside the project management organizations as well.

You'll also find training and the occasional certification around various project management toolsets. For example, several Microsoft Learning Partners offer courses for Microsoft Project, and you can find a dizzying array of project management packages on Wikipedia's Comparison of project management software page.

The CAPM and Project+ remain the best-known entry-level project management certifications, with the PMP certification as the primary professional target and capstone for would-be professional IT project managers. Don't forget to consider PMI's other related certifications as well. For project managers seeking entry into the realm of Scrum, the CSM is the best entry-level cert for Scrum practitioners.