The value of PM certification

graduates with blue cap and gown

The CrankyPM is asking for your input on the value of being certified as a Product Manager by any of the various orgs that give these tests. Click here to jump to her post and fill out the survey she has set up.

Not to skew the results any, but here’s the comment I left on her blog.

Certifications are important in a few situations:

1. There is critical knowledge that is needed to perform a task, and not having that knowledge can lead to dangerous or catastrophic results.

2. A certain minimum (hard — i.e. clearly measurable) skill set is needed to competently perform a task or job, and there is wide market agreement that the skill set is best attained via training or education.

WRT to Product Management, there is not even a simple and clear standard definition of the role, so how can there be certification? What is being certified.

I’d also point the finger a bit at the groups that deliver certification tests. They’ve not gained the credibility of the market so that there is value placed on their certifications. Their objective should not be simply to certify people. Instead, it should be to create the market demand for certified professionals thus driving the certification process.

Given the domain is Product Management or Product Marketing, I’d classify this as an epic fail on those promoting certification. They, of all people, should understand market forces and how to drive market demand for their product.

One question you might have asked would be to those hiring managers, and whether they require, prefer or seek out certified candidates.

I’d like to hear your comments on this topic as well. Do you agree/disagree or have another perspective?



10 responses to “The value of PM certification

  1. How do you define “credibility in the market”? Even in today’s down market, there are a number of product management jobs on Monster right now that require or desire Pragmatic Marketing training/certification including HP and Fidelity National Information Services. There are also hundreds of people with the Pragmatic Marketing Certification logo on their LinkedIn profile, which I would take as a sign there is some market value for these individuals to display it.

  2. >>>>>>>>>>>>WRT to Product Management, there is not even a simple and clear
    >>>>>>>>>>>>standard definition of the role, so how can there be certification?

    We have been using very clear definitions and built a comprehensive body of knowledge based on these definitions. Consequently, it is possible to create a complete product management certification program. Here are the core definitions:

    1. “Product Management” – occupational domain which contains two professional disciplines: product planning and product marketing.

    2. “Product Planning” – ongoing process of identifying and articulating market requirements that define a product’s feature set.

    3. “Product Marketing” – outbound activities aimed at generating product awareness, differentiation and demand.

    By the way, a more expanded definition would be that “Product Management” is an occupational domain that is based on general management techniques, focused on product planning and product marketing activities. “General Management” is a collection of activities in the areas of decision making, employee motivation and process application; that lead and direct a business organization.

    I hope this helps. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments.

    Thanks and Best Regards,
    Gabriel Steinhardt
    Managing Director | +972-54-6860473 |
    Blackblot – Product Management Expertise™

  3. With all due respect to my esteemed colleagues, the proliferation of different definitions leads to role confusion, process mis-interpretation, and inefficiency. This is not acceptable.

    I can count 3 or more ‘certifications’ out there. All I can say is the value of certification is in the eye of the beholder. There isn’t enough of a ground-swell sufficient to suggest that there is standard body of knowledge around which to be certified (a la PMI). And there’s too much variability in how companies treat product management.

    Forgive me for shameless self-promotion, but this is precisely why I spent close to twenty years doing the job and managing teams who did the job… and… benchmarking companies all over the world, across industries (both in my corporate life and my current company) to figure out what product mangers and marketers in these companies did (along with their bosses) when their products were successful…and… close to two years of my life writing the 23 chapters that make up “THE PRODUCT MANAGER’S DESK REFERENCE.” I did this to put a stake in the ground for the establishment of a standard body of knowledge for Product Management (that’s with a capital P and capital M).

    If I had the dough, I’d personally give a copy to every product manager – and their bosses – and their CEO’s. Imagine if everyone actually used the same vocabulary, called a document by its correct name, and managed the ‘business of their product’ consistently?

    I’ll rest my case on certification in the future. I don’t personally and professionally place any credence in a piece of paper that says you read some books, take some classes, and take a test. That’s only a test of knowledge. When I led product management groups, what I cared about, and what go my attention were people who consistently demonstrated astute business acumen, leadership, product knowledge, creativity, strategic clarity, market insight, customer intimacy, competitive fortitude, financial know-how, great sandbox behavior, political savvy, and above all, delivering the goods! That’s profit, market share, and customer sat. Period.

  4. Graham, Gabriel,

    Thanks for your comments.

    In my comment on the CrankyPM site (and as reproduced above), I stated a couple of situations where certification becomes important. The second bullet:

    > 2. A certain minimum (hard — i.e. clearly measurable) skill set is needed to
    > competently perform a task or job, and there is wide market agreement
    > that the skill set is best attained via training or education.

    There is NOT any wide market agreement on the definition of Product Management, let alone the skills needed to be successful at it.

    @Graham — the credibility in the market I refer to is the credibility of the certification process and output. It’s good that some hiring managers reference specific vendor training, or even certification, but is there wide acceptance and demand of that certification? Clearly no.

    @Gabriel — I don’t doubt that various vendors have their definitions of the various roles: PM, PMM etc. but I said there is not a “simple, clear and standard definition” of the role. And by “standard”, I mean from an industry perspective, not a vendor perspective.

    Again, it comes down to demand. Are employers (the ultimate buyers) demanding certification? If so, what percentage of them are? If not why not? In my experience, very few hiring managers understand that these certifications exist, let alone understand the value of them.

    I’ve only been asked once in my career about any specific Product Management training, and the question of certification was a nice to have at best. On the flip side, While I’ve seen some resumes where the candidate indicated certification, I paid little attention to it and none of the candidates raised it to indicate it as a differentiator WRT other candidates.

    This is why I used the term “epic fail” in my original comment. If neither side of the equation can demonstrate value from these certifications then what value do they deliver?

    I’m not trying to defame any of the vendors who deliver certification, but to answer the original question posed by the CrankyPM. It’s a good and relevant question.

    The PM profession is immature. We can probably all agree on that. The fact that multiple certification tests exist, is part of that immaturity. The real solution is for the vendors to come together, define a standard by which all PMs should be measured and then compete on how best to educate the masses — both practitioners and upper management — on the value of that standard.

    Is that going to happen soon? I don’t know. But until that happens, I don’t see the value of these various distinct certifications as being all that significant.


  5. It’s a telling sign that of the four comments preceding mine, one is from someone who says they have some value, one is from the blog’s author, one from an author of a well-known book about PM< and one from a certification vendor. Nice 🙂

    Note to authors and certification vendors: if you have to comment on blogs to show your pervasive relevance to the industry, you’re only proving the opposite is true. E.g. if you really were de-facto standards, you wouldn’t have to advertise.

    I give Haines some props, though, as his book is frequently included on recommended reading lists by various PMs and PM orgs. I’ve never read it, I don’t work for him or his publisher, just making an observation.

    As far as the cert vendors go, I give props to Pragmatic Marketing. From my pseudo-scientifically survey of anecdotal experiences (aka memories from various happy hour conversations), Pragmatic Marketing had the highest name recognition, at least in Silicon Valley. Now that I’m in the midwest, I can’t make the same claims – hell, I’m lucky if anybody here even knows the Product Management title exists.

  6. Paco – TWO of the preceding comments are from certification vendors (Pragmatic and BlackBot), not just one. I wonder how much of these vendor’s revenue streams, and the various partner consultants who teach, are derived from certification tests and training classes.

  7. Having taken the Pragmatic Certification, it was more of a test of whether you had paid attention in class than anything else. It doesn’t hurt to have but I don’t expect much out of it beyond my own education.

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  9. Saeed: Definitely agree there is a long way to go before we have anything that remotely resembles PMI (now almost 40 years old). It might be enlightening to research exactly what the founders did to kick off the group back in 1969. Any idea how they started?

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