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PMI Certification Guide: Overview and Career Paths

PMI Certification Guide: Overview and Career Paths

The Project Management Institute (PMI) is a nonprofit membership association and certification body, best known for its Project Management Professional (PMP) credential and the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), a collection of best practices and standards for project management. With more than 470,000 members in 207 countries, PMI is the world's largest project management association, and has certified more than 740,000 PMPs globally.

PMI, along with its affiliate organizations, provides education, research, advocacy, networking opportunities, project management tools and other resources to more than 3 million project management professionals. Prospective members will find a few changes in PMI's affiliate organizations from past years.

First, Human Systems International (which provided benchmark and assessment tools and services) dissolved in early 2017. ProjectManagement.com and ProjectsAtWork (communities, networks, tools and resources) merged their resources. The PMI Educational Foundation, or PMIef (a nonprofit organization using project management for social projects), is still going strong. PMI also maintains a Business & Government resource page where candidates can find case studies and whitepapers, along with information on talent management, government advocacy and more.

The PMI Certification Program began in the early 1980s with the PMP credential, and PMI has since added several other certifications. Its entry-level certification is the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM). There are also several upper-level certifications that focus on program management, portfolio management, agile practices, risk management, business analysis and scheduling. Although no PMI credential is a mandatory prerequisite for any other PMI credential, you'll see some suggested certification ladders later in this article.

Becoming a PMI member offers a lot of benefits, including access to digital editions of all PMI global standards and the PMBOK Guide, as well as discounts on certification exams and renewals. Anyone can apply for membership. There are three membership tiers available: individual, student and retiree. Individual membership costs $129 plus a $10 application fee. Individual members can renew annually for $129. Former members who are now retired can join for $65, and students pay only $32.

The Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) is PMI's entry-level certification, ideal for people interested in a career in project management who have little relevant experience. Achieving the CAPM credential indicates you understand basic project management concepts, terminology and processes.

A candidate must pass a single multiple-choice exam. In addition, PMI requires a high school diploma (or equivalent) or associate's degree along with 1,500 hours of project experience, or 23 hours of PM education, before taking the CAPM exam.

Professional project managers can't go wrong by getting the Project Management Professional (PMP). It's one of the most popular and respected project management certifications in the world (PMI reports more than 740,000 PMPs worldwide) and can boost your salary. According to PMI's Earning Power: Project Management Salary Survey, Ninth Edition, PMPs earn a reported 20 percent more than non-PMP certified project managers.

The PMP requires a high school diploma or associate's degree (or equivalent), and five years of project management experience with 7,500 hours or more spent leading projects, plus 35 hours of project management education. If you have a four-year degree or equivalent, it requires three years of project management experience with 4,500 hours or more spent leading projects plus 35 hours of PM education. In addition, all candidates must pass an exam.

The Program Management Professional (PgMP) is aimed at program managers who can efficiently juggle several major projects simultaneously while meeting business objectives. Achieving the PgMP requires a high school diploma, associate's degree or equivalent, 6,000 hours (four years) of project management experience, and 10,500 hours (seven years) of program management experience. You can also have a four-year degree or equivalent, 6,000 hours (four years) of project management experience, and 6,000 hours (four years) of program management experience. All experience must have been obtained over no more than 15 consecutive years.

In addition, candidates must submit an application documenting their professional experience, which is vetted by a formal review panel, and then pass a written exam.

A Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP) credential holder manages business portfolios, aligning projects, programs and operations (portfolio components) with business objectives and priorities. Achieving the PfMP requires a high school diploma, associate's degree or equivalent, and 10,500 hours (seven years) of portfolio management experience, or a four-year degree with 6,000 hours (four years) of portfolio management experience. Candidates must also have at least eight years of professional business experience. All experience must be obtained within 15 consecutive years.

As with the PgMP credential, candidates must submit an application and pass a written exam.

A PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) is well versed in agile practices of project management and knows how to use appropriate tools and techniques efficiently. Candidates must have recent general project experience that includes 2,000 hours on project teams, although a current PMP or PgMP credential can be substituted. On top of that, recent agile project experience is required – 1,500 hours on agile project teams or with agile methodologies, along with 21 hours of training in agile practices. Project team experience must have been earned within the preceding five years, while agile-specific experience must be within the past three years.

PMI updated the PMI-ACP exam on March 26, 2018, to include terminology from the 2017 Agile Practice Guide.

The PMI Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP) recognizes individuals who plan and manage project risk strategy and processes, monitor and report on risk, and analyze special issues. Eligibility requirements include a high school diploma, associate's degree or equivalent, 4,500 hours of project risk experience, and 40 hours of project risk management education. Or you can have a four-year degree or equivalent, 3,000 hours of project risk experience, and 30 hours of project risk management education.

Some projects are so complex they require an individual who focuses solely on creating and maintaining the schedule, ensuring resources are available. That's where a PMI Scheduling Professional (PMI-SP) shines. To achieve the PMI-SP requires a high school diploma, associate's degree or equivalent, 5,000 hours of project scheduling experience, and 40 hours of project scheduling education. Alternatively, you can start with a four-year degree or equivalent, 3,500 hours of project scheduling experience, and 30 hours of project scheduling education. Candidates must also pass one exam.

One of the greatest contributing factors to project failure is poor requirements definition. A PMI Professional in Business Analysis (PMI-PBA) closes this gap, ensuring more accurate requirements definitions for all project stakeholders, which leads to improved business results and project outcomes.

To qualify, candidates must possess a high school diploma, associate's degree or equivalent, plus 7,500 hours of business analysis experience, 2,000 hours project team experience and 35 hours of business analysis education. As an alternative, you must have a bachelor's degree or equivalent, 4,500 hours of business analysis experience, 2,000 hours of project team experience, and 35 hours of business analysis education. All experience must have been obtained within the preceding eight years. Project team experience may be included within the 7,500 business analysis experience requirement, and the PMP or PgMP meet the project experience requirement. Candidates must also pass a written exam.

Although no PMI certification requires another PMI credential as a prerequisite, we've come up with a few suggested certification ladders that make a logical progression from one certification to another. For example, an individual could start with the CAPM and then achieve the PMP. From there, someone with the chops for program management could move into the PgMP, or pursue the PfMP if portfolio management is their specialty.

Another option is to begin with the CAPM, achieve the PMP or PgMP, and then branch out to the PMI-ACP for agile management practices. The PMP or PgMP is an acceptable substitute for the experience and education requirements of the PMI-ACP, so a candidate with a PMP or PgMP is already well on the way to the PMI-ACP. Along the same base path, a person could go from a PMP or PgMP to the PMI-SP for scheduling. Although scheduling experience and education is required, the professional development units (PDUs) earned for PMI-SP count toward PDUs for PMP or PgMP, so a person could maintain multiple credentials more easily. Another logical move is from the PMP or PgMP to the PMI-PBA. PDUs earned also count towards the PMP and PgMP credentials.

As with most certifications, PMI allows credential holders to renew their certifications rather than repeating the entire application process. The CAPM is good for five years; credential holders must pass an exam to renew the certification. The PMP, PgMP, PfMP, PMI-ACP, PMI-SP and PMI-PBA credentials are good for three years.

Maintaining one of these credentials requires earning 30 to 60 PDUs, depending on the certification, within that time period. The PMP, PgMP, PfMP and PMI-PBA credentials all require 60 PDUs, while PMI-ACP, PMI-RPM and PMI-SP must obtain 30 PDUs to maintain the credential.

Project management is an exciting field. PMI-certified project managers are highly sought after and valued by employers, which is reflected in their compensation. According to PMI, employers will look to fill around 2.2 million project-related jobs each year through 2027, with project managers earning an average of 82 percent more than their non-projectized peers.

The best-known career path, particularly for CAPMs and PMPs just beginning their careers, is that of project manager. However, you'll also find certified PMI professionals working as project coordinators, project schedulers, project management office directors or project managers for top-tier accounts. PMI-ACP certified practitioners frequently work as scrum masters or agile project managers.

More experienced practitioners, such as PgMPs and PfMPs, often find themselves managing and directing multiple programs or developing and managing strategic corporate portfolios. PMI-PBA certification holders frequently work in policy planning or business analyst roles. Project management professionals interested in managing and reducing risk may be attracted to roles such as value-based engineering coordinators and project managers or regulatory implementation and compliance.

Regardless of your area of interest or preferred industry sector, project management-related careers abound, and the demand for PMI certified professionals is expected to remain strong.

PMI maintains a comprehensive list of tools, training and other materials on its Learning page. Topics include subjects such as agile practices, portfolio and requirements management, sustainability, estimating, governance, and risk management. Those seeking funding, grants, information on research events, case studies or instructor curriculums should explore PMI's Academic Programs & Research page.

Project management practitioners looking for degreed programs can find a comprehensive list of approved programs at the Global Accreditation Centers (GAC) webpage. PMI also maintains an up-to-date list of Registered Education Providers (REPs) for practitioners looking for project management training and courses to earn PDUs.

In addition to education-related resources, PMI offers resources for various leadership topics, such as portfolio, talent and benefits realization management, and access to its publications – PM Network, PMI Today and the Project Management Journal. PMI members also have access to more than 1,000 different project management tools and templates for presentations, project planning and more.