The 7 Best Project Management Certifications to Consider in 2020

ProjectManagement

Calling all project managers!

Whether you’re a PMP, a Certified ScrumMaster, a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt or all — or none — of the above, you are no doubt aware that there is a vast landscape of project management certification and credentialing programs designed to help you develop your skills and expand your areas of expertise.

As is the case in many professions, the wide range of certifications (and the acronyms used to describe them) can get a little confusing. It’s not always easy to know whether you’re all set with your current certifications or whether you should consider becoming a Certified Agile Project Management Six Sigma Black Belt ScrumMaster Professional (just a little PM humor there).

Project management certifications range from entry-level to advanced and from general to highly specialized. So how do you determine the best project management certifications for you?

As you review this post highlighting some of the top PM certifications to consider, you should keep in mind the following questions:

  • Which ones will help me bring the most added value to current or future employers?
  • Which ones will position me to advance my career in ways that align with my goals?
  • What types of training will be most helpful in preparing me to take the often rigorous certification exams?

Benefits of Earning Project Management Certifications

Good news on the salary front! The Project Management Institute (PMI) — the largest nonprofit project management professional association and provider of several of the programs listed below — conducts an industry survey that shows a median salary of $115,000 for U.S.-based respondents who hold its PMP certification (versus $92,000 for those who do not).

PMI also certifies select organizations (Registered Education Providers or R.E.P.s) that offer project management training, continuing education and skills development.

In addition to being a valuable way to distinguish yourself from the crowd in the competitive employment market, PM certifications also help you keep up with new trends, techniques and technology in an ever-changing field and increase your earning potential.

Top Project Management Certifications to Consider

The following list of project management certifications is by no means exhaustive, nor is it ranked. It is intended to provide helpful information and insight into the project management certification landscape, and also to serve as a foundation for further research.  

Project Management Professional (PMP)

Often referred to as the gold standard of project management certifications, the PMP certification boasts nearly 1 million credential holders around the globe. It is offered by the Project Management Institute, which works closely with businesses and the academic world to keep the program up to date and relevant, and claims that its PMP holders earn 25% higher salaries than those without PMP certification.

Sponsoring organization: Project Management Institute

Program page: Project Management Professional (PMP)

Cost: $405 for members; $555 for non-members

Requirements:

  • 4-year degree | 3 years leading projects | 35 hours of project management education/training or Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) certification; or
  • High school diploma or associate degree (or global equivalent) | 5 years leading projects | 35 hours of project management education/training

Certified Project Manager (CPM)

Offered by the International Association of Project Managers (IAPM), the Certified Project Manager (CPM) credential is described by the IAPM as being geared toward “candidates with a basic knowledge of project management.” The examination covers both the “hard and soft” aspects of project management. A text called the PM Guide 2.0 forms the basis for the exam questions.

Sponsoring organization: International Association of Project Managers (IAPM)

Program page: Certified Project Manager (CPM)

Cost: $650 for U.S. residents; less for residents of other countries; discounts available for students and others (check the fee schedule page for details)  

Requirements: No requirements for professional experience or education level; significant knowledge of project management is considered essential for this exam.

Certified Six Sigma Black Belt (CSSBB)

Six Sigma is a widely used set of techniques, tools and quality management methods. The American Society for Quality (ASQ), a leading certification organization, calls it a “method that provides organizations tools to improve the capability of their business processes.”

An executive at Motorola, Bill Smith, is widely credited with inventing the Six Sigma program in the mid 1980s; however, it was former General Electric CEO Jack Welch who brought it to widespread popularity and use.

ASQ describes a Six Sigma Black Belt as “a professional who can explain Six Sigma philosophies and principles, including supporting systems and tools,” while also demonstrating team leadership qualities and a thorough understanding of lean enterprise concepts and the DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve and control) model. There are multiple levels of Six Sigma certification, including Master Black Belt, Six Sigma Green Belt and Six Sigma Yellow Belt.

Certification organizations: In addition to several dozen academic institutions, certification bodies include ASQ and the International Association for Six Sigma Certification (IASSC).

Cost: Varies depending on certification organization

Requirements: Varies depending on certification organization; some have project requirements, others (such as IASSC) require candidates to sit for a Certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt Exam and achieve a minimum score of 70%.

Certified ScrumMaster (CSM)

The first question for many is: What is Scrum? The answer: Scrum is a lightweight yet incredibly powerful set of values, principles and practices that relies on cross-functional teams to deliver products and services in short cycles, enabling:

  • Fast feedback
  • Continuous improvement
  • Rapid adaptation to change
  • Accelerated delivery

This is according to Scrum Alliance, one of the leading organizations providing education, resources, support and certification to practitioners of Scrum and Agile methodologies. ScrumAlliance.org offers multiple levels of certification options, including Advanced Certified ScrumMaster, Certified Scrum Professional – ScrumMaster and more.

Sponsoring organization: Scrum Alliance

Program page: Certified ScrumMaster (CSM)

Cost: Approximately $995 to $1,395 (varies by training provider)

Requirements: No prerequisites

Projects in Controlled Environments (PRINCE2)

Originally developed by the UK government in the 1990s and now administered by AXELOS, PRINCE2 stands for Projects in Controlled Environments. Based on sets of 7 Themes, Principles and Processes, this methodology can be applied to projects of all kinds, whether it’s “building a new skyscraper, delivering a digital transformation project or executing a marketing campaign,” according to a PRINCE2 video.

It claims to be “the world’s most practiced method for project management” with over 1 million certified professionals based in over 150 countries. There are two primary training levels, PRINCE2 Foundation and PRINCE2 Practitioner.

Sponsoring organization: AXELOS

Program page: PRINCE2 certification

Cost: Information not readily available on website

Requirements:

CompTIA Project+

This project management certification bills itself as “ideal for professionals who need to manage smaller, less complex projects as part of their other job duties but still have foundational project management skills.” It also claims that it is “more versatile than other certifications because it covers essential project management concepts beyond the scope of just one methodology or framework.”

Successful candidates will have the knowledge and skills required to effectively:

  • Manage the project life cycle
  • Ensure appropriate communication
  • Manage resources and stakeholders
  • Maintain project documentation

Sponsoring organization: CompTIA

Program page: CompTIA Project+

Cost: $329 (up to $599 with Exam Prep Bundle)

Requirements: At least 12 months of cumulative project management experience or equivalent education is recommended

Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)

If you are newer to the field of project management and want to align yourself with the well-regarded recognized Project Management Institute brand, the CAPM certification may be right for you. PMI says the program is ideal for those who aspire to “manage larger projects and gain more responsibility or add project management skills into your current role.” For many industry professionals, the CAPM is a step toward earning the PMP certification.

Sponsoring organization: Project Management Institute

Program page: Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)

Cost: $225 for members; $300 for non-members

Requirements:

  • Secondary degree (high school diploma, associate degree or global equivalent)
  • 23 hours of project management education completed before exam (PMI’s Project Management Basics online course fulfills this prerequisite)

Additional project management certifications offered by the Project Management Institute include:

Program Management Professional (PgMP)

Geared toward senior-level practitioners who “manage multiple, related projects in a coordinated way, achieving benefits that could not occur if the projects were handled separately.” Candidates must have 6,000 hours of project management experience and 6,000–10,500 hours of program management experience to qualify.

Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)

Described as PMI’s fastest-growing certification, this is for PM practitioners who focus on agile principles techniques. The credential “spans many approaches to agile such as Scrum, Kanban, Lean, extreme programming (XP) and test-driven development (TDD).” Prerequisites include work experience and “21 contact hours of training in agile practices.”

Cost: $435 for members; $495 for non-members

PMI Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP)

Recognizing the needs of “a project environment that is increasingly global, virtual and complex,” this specialized credential certifies a project management professional’s capabilities in identifying and assessing project risks, mitigating threats and capitalizing on opportunities. Prerequisites for taking the exam include at least 3,000 hours of project risk management experience and 30 hours of project risk management education.

Cost: $520 for members; $670 for non-members

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Many project management professionals who are seeking to earn industry certification enroll in educational courses and training programs to expand their knowledge and skills. One such program is the online Project Management Certificate program offered by the University of San Diego’s Division of Professional and Continuing Education.

Sponsoring organization: Project Management Institute

Program page: Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)

Cost: $225 for members; $300 for non-members

Requirements:

  • Secondary degree (high school diploma, associate degree or global equivalent)
  • 23 hours of project management education completed before exam (PMI’s Project Management Basics online course fulfills this prerequisite)

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