How Did The Project Management Profession Get Into This Mess?

How did project management get into a mess

This is a guest article by Jerry Ihejirika. Jerry is a Nigerian-based project manager who writes his own blog and whom I interviewed recently. I think his views on how project management education has evolved and where it should be going are very interesting (and certainly a perspective I have not heard before ) and a teensy bit controversial. I’d be interested to see if you agree. Share your thoughts in the comments below.

And now I give the floor to Jerry…

With the high rate at which “professionalism” is being demanded in the world of project management, project management practitioners are constantly trying to improve their skills to cope with the demand. This has resulted in several project management organisations launching new certification or chartered ‘products’. How these new products would improve the quality of practice of the profession is yet to be seen.

However, there are a lot of existing project management certifications and this is causing some certificated-confusion among various companies, industries and sectors of the global economy. And even more new certifications are constantly been added!

HR departments are confused as to which certification they should demand or focus on when hiring for specific project management roles. Most of these HR departments are also not noticing the efforts of some universities in producing qualified project management graduates because of the global mass marketing of project management certifications.]

How Did We Get Into This Global Certificated-Confusion?

The education sector, referring here to our universities and colleges across the world, has left its duties or maybe sold its “rights” of maintaining the “standard” of the project management education to the hands of profit-seeking project management organisations.

Some might say it is because the project management education is still new. New in what sense? Let me take my dear country, Nigeria, for example: FUTO (Federal University of Technology Owerri), where I graduated from, produced its first batch of project management graduates in the 1987/88 academic session and has been producing project management graduates ever since then.

From that year till now, how would you rate the institution or its project management department’s collaborative efforts with the government and private sector in terms of promoting the project management profession and creating opportunities for its graduates? How many organisations in the public and private sectors in West Africa turn to FUTO, or any other university offering a degree course in project management in the sub-Sahara region, if they needed persons with project management skills?

Having spent 27 years of both project management research and producing project management graduates, FUTO is supposed to be one of the foremost institutions that the government should consult if it is to set up its own tailored project management methodology or to set up an independent and professional project management body, but is that the case?

There is obviously a growing demand of persons with project management skills, but because our universities around the world have failed in their own capacity to take charge and produce qualified project management graduates who would fill in the needed job positions, some project management organisations have taking the advantage of these global opportunity and spent huge amounts of money on marketing their products to the extent that it looks more appealing than a project management degree.

Some even produce a 4-day-trained ‘professional’ on a weekly basis tagged with some form of certificated-status. Oh, my dear industry!

The project management profession has even gotten to a stage where one organisation would sue the other for trying to produce a ‘product’ that it think might be highly competitive even if such ‘product’ might not necessarily advance the profession. Cash generated from membership fees and the sale of their certifications, which were meant to be channelled into further research and development of the profession are now being spent on court cases. The battle is more of who gets the largest share of the global market and less of advancement of the profession.

Jerry Ihejirika quote

How Can the Project Management Profession Move Out of this Mess?

Do not get me wrong: I’m not against getting a project management certification that will add value to your project management career. In fact, I am looking forward to getting a project management certification this year.

However, for us to overcome this certificated-mess that’s creating more confusion in the industry and among HR departments than it could solve, our universities across the world need to get back their “rights” as the first to be consulted in terms of standardising and advancing the project management profession.

The universities need to find a way to make our companies and industries value the project management degree as they do in many other professions. Our universities should be at forefront in terms of research and development of the profession.

Whether we like it or not, our universities are the only body that can unite the project management profession because there is less confusion as to what a “project management degree” is, irrespective of the level. They should not shy away from their obligation to partner with governments and the corporate sector in moving the project management profession forward.

When it comes to building or impacting the basic project management knowledge coupled with the social and cultural understanding that project management students need know to become better project leaders in the future, a 4-year project management degree course in the university is far better than a 4-day training course.

In short, if project management graduates from our universities are not employed as the foundation or building blocks upon which the future of our project management profession is to be built, then this certificated-mess or certificated-confusion will continue to grow and jeopardise the standard of the profession.

The universities themselves should continue to strive to make sure that companies value the project management degree by meeting the global standards of excellence in both teaching and research as regards the project management profession.

How do you think we can solve this certificated-confusion in our project management profession?


  1. Hi jerry! Going for internship in a reputable company that suits your interest in project management…..Will it be of any help? Moreover,after having got the degree and the necessary experience needed,be it with a top (experience)PM without a certificate to show for it except your degree certificate, how would they(employer) know you actually have garnered some needed experience to be qualified for the position?……just curious!

    1. You can demonstrate your experience on your CV and application form, and they can ask you about it at interview. An internship would allow you to gain the experience to be able to put it on your application or talk about it at interview.

  2. Thanks for initiating an interesting discussion, Jerry. Academic programs take years to create and are slow to evolve. It’s difficult to keep a program current or even relevant in a fast-changing field. Project management is not evolving as quickly as, say, software development, but it is definitely changing faster than accounting. An academic program consisting of core courses with a series of practitioner-led seminars could keep up with the trends, but few institutions are willing to embrace a curriculum that they can’t completely control.

    For-profit trainers who tailor their offerings to professional certifications tend to make their content reflect the examination, in order to better market their courses. Naturally, this means that their content is only as relevant as the exam: they are following the certification body. Thus, the ideal situation might be a certification body which updates their exams based on practitioner role studies, and trainers who use that exam content to present seminars in a university context. I know of several universities in North America that follow such a model.

    All that aside, few things matter as much as experience for any form of management. I would argue that project management should be a mid-career option, not an entry point.

    1. Hi Dave,

      Yes, it’s kind of interesting and maybe a little bit controversial *smiles*. Good points you raised there, Dave. The universities are slow at keeping up with the pace of change in the real world. In my article titled, “Shaping the Future of Project Management Education in Nigeria”, I talked about most of those things like updating their course curricula maybe every 3 years and organising seminars for the PM students so they can stay current on what’s happening in the world of project management.

      I’m also in support of PM graduates pursuing some certifications, even those outside the scope of project management, that will boost their career. For example, as an aspiring Digital Project Manager I’m more interested in pursuing a Scrum or Agile certification because most of what we were taught in school were based on the waterfall or traditional methods. Outside Scrum or Agile certification which are PM certifications, my interest lies in non-PM certifications.

      Yes, with the management skills they have, they should be able to start from a mid-level career position. Often times, moving up career-wise from an entry-level position is difficult, but if one is not prepared for mid-level positions, then the person should consider the entry-level positions.

      Thanks for your comment and a great blog you have there, “The Practicing IT Project Manager”.

  3. Hi,

    Well, the discussion above is quite in an academic field. But let’s try to imagine real word.

    I have just graduated and have a degree in project management. I spent 4-5 years, and have all the theoretical knowledge I need to manage a project now. But! I’m still 20-23 years old.

    Would any serious business rely on an experience of a young person like me? No. Would anyone put a young person like that in a leadership position to manage a team of established and experienced professionals? No, I hope.

    So now my only way to project manager’s roles is through junior project manager, project manager assistant or project coordinator. And it will take about 4-5 years more to prove myself. And, yes, at the age of 28, someone will think that I’m disciplined and experienced enough. For what? Well, a small project to begin with where I can use all my skills and knowledge I got at the University.

    But wait! I don’t need a project management degree to become a junior project manager. There is nothing I really need to start working as junior PM.

    So, this 8-10 years career path to PM doesn’t look appealing for any youngster. Moreover, during this period candidate will most probably compete against personal traits and characteristics rather than education degree.

    I did not see many companies requiring PM degree even for Senior PMs. Moreover, I know that there are many countries in Europe where there is not a single University that provides PM degree. And the problems is that universities do align their output will the requirements of a country they operate in. Why would they produce PMs with the diploma when the market does not require them much. What would any government do with that bunch of unemployed PMs graduates?

    So the problem is not at the University level. It is at the market level. There is no demand for young PMs with degree. No one needs them, and most probably they are not cost-efficient.

    On the other hand, PM is a leaders role. And leadership is a conscience choice that you must make on your own. A university can’t compel you to make that choice.

    1. Hi Dmitriy,

      I’m glad you have a degree in project management but you first need to learn how to apply the knowledge practically. That you have a bachelor’s degree in project management does not qualify you as a project manager, however it qualifies you for entry-level positions in project management. The misconception here is this: Most recent project management graduates are busy looking for a project “manager” role with a fat salary and at the end of the day, they get frustrated when they keep seeing the qualifications that are needed for such roles. How fast you learn depends on you, the company you’re involved with and your willingness to learn. What might take you 8-10 years, might take others 5-7 years. There’s no fixed formula to that. Why would a company require a senior project manager based on degree only? Why would a company require a senior business manager based on degree only? Why would a company require a senior marketing manager based on degree only? Why would a company require a senior financial manager based on degree only? A lot of PM degree graduates are focused on the money that they would earn as a senior project “manager” and not on the practical learning process that they would have to undergo to earn that status. Most of our current senior project managers or PMP spent years learning the profession before and after they switched career into project management, so you don’t expect to have the same status quo with them because you have a “degree” per se that’s not backed by any form of experience. The market is there for those who can showcase their PM skills. It is not there for those who sit at home and pray or wait till their CV gets noticed. You can volunteer and use your PM skills to practical good use instead of being idle and waiting till the market notices your PM degree. It won’t notice it. I have seen young and experienced project managers with PM degrees too. Irrespective of what you major on, be it project management or accounting or marketing or law or economics, you need to gain practical experience for some years before any big company would recommend you for a senior management role. So, good luck to your career.

      Thanks for your comment.

      1. Jerry, the problem is that it is not about you or me. Your point in the post above was:

        “The universities need to find a way to make our companies and industries value the project management degree as they do in many other professions. Our universities should be at the forefront in terms of research and development of the profession.”

        And I tried to answer to it. Universities can not be at the forefront because to qualify for an entry-level position in project management you do NOT need a PM degree.

        But it is easy for me and you to talk about benefits, salaries, and the “correct” way to become a project “manager”. We are already there. That way or another. But from a position of any applicant, it is questionable to commit to project management degree. For example, it is more appealing to get a degree in computer science and get a PM certificate in four days. And now you can qualify for a management position in Google or Apple;). Not vice verse.

        And Dave’s comment below is just another great point against Universities.

        I think there is only one way to achieve your desired goal. PM with a degree should prove that they are much better and bring more value to an organisation even at the entry level. However, it is not always the case.

        1. Sure, you do not need a PM degree to qualify for entry-level positions but you do need something. And it’s not bad if it’s a PM degree. A PM degree may not be appealing for now but I don’t see it fading away. The degree of some professions were not appealing some time ago, but today they are. With a PM Degree and a recognised digital or software certification, one can get into Google or Apple as an aspiring Digital/Software Project Manager. Also, with a PM Degree and a recognised HRM certification, one can get into those companies, too, as an aspiring Human Resources Manager. As long as he/she can display the digital, software or human resources skills to a good level, the person is qualified for any of those companies. So, it’s also a matter of people knowing where they want to channel their career to and how to make whatever degree or certification they have look relevant.

  4. Hi,

    I don’t believe in university degree for project management. It’s not something you can learn in books, and about the basics, which basics are we talking about ? Plans ? Budgeting ? Communication ? Solving conflicts ? Managing people ? Managing suppliers ? Managing customers ? Be a leader ?
    Sounds like you want something like a MBA for project managers… see where that road led to

    I do believe that someone will come to project management by choice for his/her career. You want to be a good project manager, find yourself a mentor and start your journey.
    I don’t believe that you need to know the field to apply for that ’cause a project manager doesn’t need to know the details. They are quick learners so they can manage that part and gain knowledge quickly.

    A mistake project managers does is to think that they plan, manage all alone but that’s a big mistake, a project manager should gather around him the experts to build the plan etc

    Certificates and graduates are just for HR administration.

    But maybe the first think to clarify is what is a project manager ? What do you expect him to do and be ?

    1. Hi,

      Do you believe in one becoming a project management professional after a 4-day training?

      You said, “I don’t believe that you need to know the field to apply for that ’cause a project manager doesn’t need to know the details. They are quick learners so they can manage that part and gain knowledge quickly.” If they don’t need to know the details and are quick learners, then why are there more project failures than success over the past 50 years? I do think that the lack of knowledge is one of the reasons to that. And due to the fact that almost everything we do in life is a project, a lot of persons now claim to be professionals in project management.

      Again, why is it that when we talk about project management, people keep talking about a “Project Manager” only? Is it the only relevant position in the world of project management? Or are other positions below it not relevant in the profession?

      Certificates and being a graduate are proofs that you have gained some formal knowledge in a particular profession.

      Thanks for your comment.

      1. Hi,

        The failures are lack of self-knowledge, to be a good one, no matter if you are a project coordinator, a project manager, a program manager, a PM Officer, you need to look at yourself and understand your mistakes, your own failures. If you’re not able to be true to yourself don’t expect a project to not fail ’cause it will.

        I see a project or program as a child, and as you raise a child you need to try and learn. I worked with a lot of PM’s that think that they know everything. What is project management ? Been able to understand the big picture, to apply to the company strategy and sell the vision of the project to your final customers, the users ! The vision is so important, you need to understand your project from bottom to top, from right to left, from center to border, from border to center. If you don’t, no one will believe you’re in charge.

        You can plan but if you don’t talk to customers, you’ll miss the real purpose of the program. Most of the time a PM will communicate and take people with him/her to make sure the program/project is viable. 90% of the time we communicate in so many ways and so differently. My team is there to do the work, I’ll do everything to make sure they have what they need to work.

        You can have all the certificates you want, if you’re not able to analyse a situation, propose realistic options to risks, create a team that will collaborate, create a vision and sell it to people, show and prove that they can count on the PM, you’ll lose.

        Everyone wants to be a project/program manager cause it’s fancy, most of them don’t understand what it means but again it’s soooo fancy.

        Look around you, and how many real PM are you seeing ? Is there 2 PM you would work with without hesitation ?

        Realistically, how many projects really failed because the PM didn’t knew ? How many failed because the PM was too administrative, was too techy, wasn’t able to create a vision, was too many micro-managing, was too much in the details and got lost.

        I’m from the financial sector, never worked on healthcare, pharmaceutical, but I was in charged of big critical programs in those industries and got no failure.

        Project management or call it as you want, is not a position, it’s so many in one. And we should be realistic, it’s so hard to find one person for one position, how could you expect to find one person for so many positions, it’s like selecting a CEO…

        Interesting exchange !

        1. Hi,

          You raised some good points. Education I think is one of the trusted route of building self-knowledge, although it might not necessarily be within the four walls of a university. To me, it’s not much about the degree paper but the loads of knowledge and little experiences you will get while pursuing the degree. It’s like gaining some needed knowledge on how to raise and take care of a “child” and not waiting until when the “child” comes before you would start your learning process on how to raise a “child”. That sounds so ‘accidental’ to me!

          A lot more projects failed in the past because people who managed the projects learnt on the project. I’m advocating for people who would manage projects in the future to be “project-management-educated” first. Secondly, to learn practically with a project team before being assigned with the responsibility of managing projects, most especially mega projects. That way, they must have gained some knowledge and experiences on how to raise and take of a “child.” However, that doesn’t mean that some projects won’t still fail in the future, but proper steps need to be taken now that would prepare us for less failure in the future.

          I agree with you, project management is not a position. For it to be considered a position at least, something must be attached to or before it. Examples: IT Project Manager or CONSTRUCTION Project Manager and Project COORDINATOR or Project ANALYST can be considered as positions in some industries.

          I’m enjoying this conversation as I’m learning from it, too. Thanks for your comment.

          1. Hi,

            What do you expect them to learn on a degree ? Methodologies ? Which ones ?
            I don’t understand the point of a long degree and I don’t believe in 4 days training neither.
            I do believe in practical trainings, follow a senior PM and learn from him/her.

            A lot of projects failed because the chosen one was not the right one, was selected because he had knowledge, experience but not had the right soft skills. Again a PM is not supposed to be an expert on the domain but on soft skills needed to be a good PM.

  5. A very good article Jerry, i disagree with some of your suggestions like:
    ” FUTO is supposed to be one of the foremost institutions that the government should consult if it is to set up its own tailored project management methodology or to set up an independent and professional project management body, but is that the case?”
    Project management is not about a 4 or 5 years certificate from university but it is all about competent built overtime in managing projects; universities focus on class-room teaching while field work is the reality of what project management is all about. A student could be a genius who knows how to read and at the same time knows how to give back to his lecturer during the examination and at the end of the 5 years course he could be affirmed the best graduating student and the truth is that he could lack the necessary competency to manage a project successfully.
    My take is that building competency in individuals should be the major pre-requisite in employing a project manager and not the celebrated and hyped certificate in quote.
    These universities professors are not practicing project management, they have little experience, were never in tight behavioural situations of conflict, crisis or team building challenges and use a very weak management framework against which they develop their courses. Even at definition level we start to have problems.- Wessel Pieters (Vice President APMSA).

    1. Hi Seyi,

      When you say “competent”, what do you mean? What does being “competent” really mean to you? To me, I think being “competent” means having the ability to practically apply a certain “knowledge” to solve problems or create solutions. Until when you are able to effectively and efficiently apply project management “knowledge”, you are NOT “competent” in the profession. So you need to first get the basic “knowledge” before thinking of learning how to apply it and that’s where your degree is relevant. It shows you have gotten the basic knowledge to apply for entry-level roles in project management which upon gathering more experience, would now make you a “competent” Project Manager. And even the IPMA ICB has competence level for beginners in the field – the Level D. The Level D is indirectly telling us that a basic knowledge is critical to achieving the higher levels. I’m not a member of IPMA but you are. Now, you talked about “reality”. How “real” can one get without the basic knowledge of project management? Knowing how to read, passing exams and being the best graduating student doesn’t make one a “genius”. It shows that the person was serious with his academics, is willing to learn and that the person is teachable. How would you start to build “competency” on someone who just finished his/her secondary school and wants to pursue a professional career in project management? Is it not by first advising the person to have a basic knowledge of project management?

      Our project management lectures are in the education sector, so lecturing is part of their practice even though some might not be doing it well. One who fails to succeed in the world of project management should blame him or herself, and not the lecturers. Their job is lecture, your job is to learn, educate yourself and plan your career.

      In conclusion, if you are a student with years ahead of you and you want to become a successful project manager in the future, you will need to first get a strong foundation knowledge of the profession. And nothing beats a degree on that. Also, I might give a different advice to those who want to change career into project management because most would not have the time to pursue a degree.

  6. I agree that there are too many certifications competing. What i disagree on is whether a degree in project management is the right route. What many graduates find on getting into industry is that employers expect project managers to have business experience in their area of Project management, be that construction, IT, event management or something else. Many of us started not with a PM degree but an IT degree or other technical discipline. We spent years working through the business until we reached a level of maturity that require Project management skills. We then got certification and applied the learning to our other business skills. I would be wary of employing a project manager into a major IT project that had no grounding in IT.

    I believe a key problem, as i see in my employer’ s graduates, is that graduates expect to go from a degree straight into management. Graduates should expect to start at the bottom like we did and gather sound business skills before attempting Project management as a career choice.

    Universities should stop fooling our younger generation that you can get straight to major project management with just a degree in PM. I do not believe that this is the right route to mature qualified and certified Project managers that we need.

      1. Hi Seyi,

        Nothing beats experience in any profession. However, it’s easier to train someone with the basic knowledge of that profession than one without. You are a bachelors degree holder in project management technology. With that knowledge, you can be easily trained in the field of project management than in the field of biochemical science.

    1. Hi Paul,

      There’s a misconception among project management degree students who think that having a degree in project management would qualify them as project “managers”. And there’s also a misconception among practitioners thinking that a project manager’s role is the lowest role in the world of project management. No company, not even in the legal, health, energy, financial or telecommunications sector would employ a recent graduate in a senior “manager” role. However, why do those professions recommend people to get a degree relating to the profession? Answer: It’s to have a stronger foundation of the profession, and I do not see any other qualification that gives a greater understanding and a stronger foundation of project management than a degree qualification. Any recent graduate in any profession would have to start from a lower or entry level position, gain practical experiences and move their way up the career ladder, so it is in project management too. A degree gives a person many points of view in project management, and not the one-sided view that most 4-day trainings give. A project management degree also teaches in depth techniques in other areas such as strategic management, operations research, project accounting, risks management, materials management, project cost estimation, etc. With these knowledge, one can apply for a project coordinator or junior project manager role. And universities are NOT fooling our younger generation, they are impacting them with the basic or foundation knowledge that they will need to survive in the future. It’s left for the aspiring project manager to define his/her career plan after graduating.

      Thanks for your comment.

    1. Thank you Lindsay. Yes, I remember reading that article on your blog and I reacted to it on my blog. You shared some vital points on the project management degree education. Maybe the universities are not the right answer, but will those with the “right” answer be willing to collaborate?

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