"E-certification is more efficient"

"E-certification is more efficient" 16.10.2012 - Interview with Antje Funck, M.A., IAPM Representative EU

The IAPM’s new project management certification system kicks off a project quality campaign that targets both German and international organisations. Freelance journalist and marketing expert Martin Droschke talked to the IAPM’s German representative, Antje Funck, about the advantages of her organisation’s unique e-certification system, dynamic global economic developments, global participation and employee values.

Let's imagine the following scenario: I’m a project manager and I want to get my project management competence certified, so I’m calling various certification providers to ask them for information. I call you. What do you say to me?

Antje Funck: That’s a scenario that we get all the time - and the number of calls we’re receiving is on the increase. First of all, I’d say “Welcome to the International Association of Project Managers“, a young association with vast experience.

What do you mean by ‘vast experience’? I was told that your association is a newcomer.

Antje Funck: Many people aren’t aware that we were established back in 1997. When we officially launched ourselves as the IAPM in 2010 we’d already held a number of international congresses and done a lot of preparatory work. Right from the outset, the IAPM’s objectives have been to support project managers around the globe in their work and provide a genuinely helpful certification programme that is geared to the continuous improvement of the project management profession and, in particular, global networking in project management. One of the things we discussed at our first meeting in Helsinki in 1999 is the impression we had that many of our competitors didn’t have “continuous optimisation” as an aspect of their vision purely by virtue of its merits. Leading project managers from around the globe travelled to that first conference to discuss the idea of developing a programme for project managers and a sustainable personal certification system. Afterwards, we held further meetings in Houston, Berlin, Budapest and New Delhi to define the relevant standards and approve the IAPM Project Manager‘s Guide 2.0 as the project manager’s toolkit and basis for certification. It takes time to get from the initial idea, through all the necessary coordination processes, to putting it into practice.

How do I profit from these many years of preparation as a certification candidate?

Antje Funck: Shall we stay in your scenario? When you call me, I ask you first of all whether you’re asking about certification for your organisation or whether you’re looking for the best deal for your own personal certification? Then I can talk to you about your special requirements.

What are the benefits for organisations?

Antje Funck: Obviously, everyone knows that there’s a competitive advantage associated with certification. Confirmation of project management competence from an international association opens doors and helps you to attract key international customers.

The advantages are undisputed...

Antje Funck: Yes, certification is definitely an established success driver for project management employees and project managers. Yet I still hear organisations voicing their concerns because of their ingrained belief that you should “Never touch a running system.“ Companies need options that won’t impair their existing team structures or day to day operations. And with good reason, because most staff at organisations introducing certification for project management personnel will immediately realise the benefits for their own career. However, there will always be a few people who believe that it casts doubt on their competence. We discussed this problem in detail in our set-up phase. It’s a psychological problem that you simply can’t explain away.

Have you found a solution?

Antje Funck: The problem, which is really a HR-related problem, is that not all potential employees are highly motivated individuals, yet organisations still have to fill their vacant positions. Here at the IAPM we take an integral approach to problem solving. We’re the only association of our kind to have an electronic certification system. The IAPM is the only certification body where certification candidates don’t have to sit an exam on a fixed date or be present for workshops or assessments. We also offer all project managers the opportunity to assess their knowledge in an online test before certification. By giving the project managers maximum freedom within a given framework so that they can choose when, where and how they learn for and take the certification exam, we soon change the critics‘ minds. They generally reject the idea of certification initially because they fear losing face with colleagues if they fail the exam. Failure isn’t an option at the IAPM. If the critics do actually lack some areas of project management knowledge, they can easily fill the gaps and learn on their own without having to feel embarrassed in front of colleagues.

In my fictitious company, everyone thinks it’s a great idea...

Antje Funck: There’s another advantage associated with IAPM certification. We’re a certification body that guarantees minimal interference with your day to day operations. That’s because of our online process. Your team doesn’t have to take time off work to attend workshops. Each one of them can prepare for the examination individually outside their core worktime and, if they like, they can arrange for additional personal coaching. Everyone sets their own examination date and takes the exam from any PC at the office or at home. There are no travelling requirements at all.

That’s a lot of freedom. I’m a company owner, so I have to plan ahead. How can I ensure that my employees actually get the certification within a reasonable timeframe?

Antje Funck: As partner to our organisations, we know that their management is able to influence the certification process. And the extent to which we assist the project managers in their development. We offer immense advantages in terms of flexibility and time management. The unique design of our e-certification process means that none of our certification candidates have to sacrifice other commitments to meet certification requirements that demand their presence. We can establish the optimum process for each employee within your organisation’s specific structures. And we don’t leave any members of your team to fend for themselves. I don’t want you to get the wrong impression. Our workshops with personal coaches are a very important part of our successful certification concept. However, they are just one of many options and they are not mandatory. This approach saves time, money and organisational effort.

Let’s change the scenario. What would you say if an employee was on the phone?

Antje Funck: Here, too, I’d explain why certification as compliant with international standards will give their career a boost. Employees who call us know this, otherwise they wouldn’t be ringing up to compare the IAPM to other certification providers.

True. And the advantage here is probably the e-certification process again, isn’t it?

Antje Funck: Exactly. Both organisations and individuals benefit from e-certification. Our certification program can be accessed 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. There’s no need to travel to courses and candidates can take the certification exam on their home PC. The other advantage is anonymity. All individuals are equal to the computer that calculates the examination score. It has no emotional empathy or antipathy, and it doesn't discriminate against gender, race or religion. In the IAPM Certified Project Manager examination, for example, candidates don’t need extensive experience. The only thing that counts in this examination is verifiable knowledge. So the online certification process is objective and much fairer than a verbal examination. Vice-versa, this is also one of the reasons why the IAPM certificate is so highly appreciated by employers.

In what ways do they appreciate it?

Antje Funck: We’ve received some very positive feedback from project managers and their organisations. It confirms our belief that quality is the only factor of success for a certification provider like us. People appreciate the fact that an IAPM certificate confirms top-level competence. It documents that an organisation or its employees are right at the forefront of international project management.

What are the IAPM‘s certification criteria?

Antje Funck: Well, as I've already mentioned the IAPM has a long development history. We invested the most time and effort in the IAPM Project Manager‘s Guide 2.0. It includes everything that a project manager has to know and it reflects uniform global standards. In other words, the competence criteria that are included in our IAPM Guide facilitate regional, national, international and intercontinental compatibility in project management. I know that sounds a bit cliché-like, because other certification providers use the same argument, but the IAPM goes one step further.

Are you talking about your vision of gearing certification costs to a country’s gross domestic project and so that companies and project managers in poorer countries can also operate internationally?

Antje Funck: Yes. Participation is one of the most important aspects of our concept. That’s why we’re busy preparing Spanish, Portuguese and French certification documents. Right from year one in 1997 we’ve been committed to the non-exclusion of any economic area. That’s why our conference venues have been all over the world. They were attended by project management experts with detailed insights into the daily routines in different countries. This is essentially what I meant when I said we go one step further. Industrial nations are increasingly establishing closer relations with developing nations and these international partnerships will become even more dynamic over the next few decades. Conventional project management certification only reflects currently prevailing national, bilateral and transcontinental business relationships. IAPM certification, on the other hand, gives organisations the platform they need to operate in brand new markets and countries that are going to be more significant in the future. Our concept provides organisations and their employees with long term security.

What exactly are the criteria in the IAPM Guide?

Antje Funck: The IAPM Guide differentiates between hard and soft factors. The hard factors include all the analytical, planning and monitoring aspects of the organisation’s structures and processes. We’ve defined 19 hard factors. They are each tested in the certification. One important aspect of this phase of certification is naturally the standardised use of project management terms. Although there are only eight soft factors, we believe that they are equally important. They cover areas such as team building, motivation and personal success. The project manager is also a person and relationship psychology is becoming increasingly significant in this profession.

You keep coming back to “people”. Aren’t processes, efficiency and standardisation the main aspects of your work?

Antje Funck: The two things don’t rule each other out. An organisation where project management is a key function can only be as successful as the people who work there allow it to be. We want both the organisation and its people to profit. Then the objective of certification has been achieved. Maybe I keep bringing up the people perspective in our conversation because of the impressions I've gained over the last few months. There’s a battle going on out there. Not just for the best customers but for the best people. Employees and employee satisfaction are growing in importance and we're talking to more organisations that have been planning to get project management certification for quite a while, but only decided to set the ball rolling now because they want to be a more attractive employer. By the way, recent studies show that this trend of organisations gaining project management certification is rewarded by young people. This generation of recent graduates embarking on their careers believes that individual employee competence is crucial when appointing people to positions of authority in departments. Pure hierarchies are no longer contemporary. The IAPM supports the managers and the organisation to optimally integrate these highly qualified and motivated career starters and ensure their long-term loyalty.

Thank you for talking to us Antje.

Antje Funck: Thank you for the insightful questions that gave me the opportunity to provide such comprehensive information.

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