Should Product Managers have a PMP Certification?

I have been thinking about software Product Management and the value of having a PMP certification for a while.  So I read the following post by Bernadette St John with interest.

How I See the True Value of the PMP Credential

She makes some very good points about the value of the PMP certification to project managers, but I still wasn’t sure whether software product managers, like me, should be certified.

Product managers spend (or at least should spend) a fairly large amount of time visiting and/or interviewing customers and prospective customers.  After all, you need to understand what your target market expects (or wants) if your product is going to be successful.  You also need to spend a fair amount of time with Development to make sure that they understand the requirements for your product.  Otherwise, they will not be able to work as efficiently as they should and you will waste precious Development resources.

And of course, there are all of the “other” consumers of your time:

  • Announcements, reading, and other research about your target market.
  • Announcements, rumors, and/or information regarding your competitors.
  • Sales people who need your help to close that big deal.
  • Marketing people who want to ensure that they describe the product correctly.
  • Technical support people who must be aware of the new product capabilities.
  • Consulting or implementation personnel who need to prepare to install (or customize) the new product version.
  • Documentation personnel who need to explain what the product does and how it should be used.
  • etc, etc, etc.

All of these efforts could easily consume 100% of your time.  So, do you really have enough time to “manage your project” also?

In a small company, you don’t have any other choice, because you are responsible for getting the product out the door.  It must have the right content, have appropriate quality, and be delivered to an agreed-upon schedule.  In essence, you often MUST be the project manager for the release — there isn’t anyone else — especially if the company is large enough to have multiple products, each with their own release cycle.

In larger companies, especially those where multiple teams contribute separate, but related, portions to each release of a large and complex product,  a separate project manager function often exists.  Thus, the product manager is responsible for managing their team’s deliverables, but is not generally responsible for the entire product release project.

It seems obvious that a product manager must also be a good project manager to be successful, but it still doesn’t answer the original question about PMP certification.

A PMP certification requires you to fulfill three requirements:  (1) a fair amount of on-the-job experience, (2) a certain amount of formal training, and (3) passing the certification exam.    And as Bernadette points out, ongoing activities are also required to maintain your PMP certification.

I believe that any good product manager could complete the formal training and pass the exam.  I also believe that you could successfully meet the on-the-job experience requirements.  However, once you get your PMP certification, which of your activities as a product manager can be reduced to allow you to fulfill your ongoing PMP activities?  Or would you simply work longer each day?

My conclusion is that software product managers should consider a PMP certification as a “nice-to-have”, and not as a “must-have” or a “should-have”.   There are already enough demands on your time and you are already forced to make compromises that impact the quality of your product.

So, if you are reading this, have your PMP certification, and have been able to maintain it over time — congratulations.  However, if you have been (like me) considering getting a PMP certification for a while, I suggest you put those thoughts aside and make plans to visit one additional customer (or prospect) instead.  It’s a better usage of your time.

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4 Responses to Should Product Managers have a PMP Certification?

  1. Henry Bui says:

    Excellent post. You really point out the core competences of a Product Manager.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Because of reading your blog, I decided to start my own. I had never been interested in keeping a blog until I saw how helpful yours was, then I was inspired!

  3. Basic project management skills are always useful but not required for anyone in product management. Solid project management skills and perhaps a PMP certification are professionally and career wise relevant to Program Managers and (obviously) Project Managers. There are several certifications related to product management which product manager should consider – see the list at http://www.blackblot.com/resources/

    Thanks.

  4. David Fulton says:

    I posted a link to this discussion in several LinkedIn Product Management groups, hoping to spark a discussion broader than the members of a single group. Unfortunately, most of the comments have been left within their respective groups, which makes them accessible only to the members of that group.

    Thus, please consider adding your comments here.

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