Project Management Accreditation (in a corporate setting)

My recent experience includes 9 years in a large corporate environment, where my responsibilities included running an accreditation scheme for project managers.

Why on earth would a company invest in doing something that – surely – is a problem that has already been solved? Wouldn’t it be better to send PMs on an external training course – PMI, or Prince2 perhaps – and have them sit the exams, and become fully qualified to an industry standard?

Well, perhaps – but there are also good reasons for keeping PM accreditation in-house:

  • The scheme can be designed to meet the company’s needs. This mainly means tweaking the syllabus to fit local practices and priorities.
  • If there is an in-house PM methodology (along with tools and processes), the training can incorporate suitable elements.
  • Weaknesses in external schemes can be overcome – for example, by incorporating more “soft skills” training and development than tends to be the case in more traditional schemes.
  • Accreditation levels can be aligned to job descriptions and career paths.
  • Practical on-the-job experience can be incorporated into the scheme, with full understanding of the environment, types of project, levels of seniority, etc.
  • Staff retention is improved, as the accreditation award is recognised and rewarded internally, but is less likely to attract the attention of head-hunters
  • Arguably it is more economical, as savings can be achieved by retaining a training partner and administering the scheme internally (although if the total internal effort is costed honestly, this argument can quickly break down).

The scheme I was responsible for was widely regarded as successful by both the participants and their managers. Typically, a project manager would participate for around 9 months, leading to an accreditation award at an appropriate level to their experience and seniority. During this time they would experience:

  1. Three 2-day training courses, run by an external training partner. At a junior level these would concentrate on the technical skills of project management: planning, scheduling, risk management, and so on. At a more senior level the balance switches to focus on soft skills: stakeholder management, team leadership, conflict resolution, etc.
  2. Peer coaching by a fellow PM, who will have been trained in coaching technique, with formal coaching sessions around once every two weeks.
  3. On-the-job experience of managing a project at the appropriate level, throughout the period. They should be applying the skills learnt in the training sessions, and working with the coach to improve their project delivery.
  4. Evaluation of the project manager through health checks (a minimum of three throughout the period) at which the PM should be able to demonstrate continuous improvement to reach the appropriate level. Also, senior stakeholder feedback is sought through interview, to determine whether the PM has gained the trust and support of managers.

The biggest challenge with the scheme was the “chicken-and-egg” problem of finding a suitable project at the appropriate level. A “learner driver” analogy is useful here – the learner PM is expected to drive a real car on real roads, with real dangers. There is supervision and coaching, but senior stakeholders may be reluctant to trust a “learner” with a business-critical top project.

Nevertheless the scheme operated successfully, and dozens of participants gained their accreditation. After it had been running for a few years, I was interested to find out which of the four components were most valued and which (if any) were disliked. A short survey of past and present participants, and their managers, showed that all parts were supported and highly-rated – much to my delight!

So I think we got it right. The PM Accreditation Scheme is something that am proud of from my time at that employer.

About Russell Whitworth (Q2 Associates Ltd)

In pursuit of PM Excellence
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