It is a common sight in the project kickoff meeting room: as the introductions move round the table, people explain what they do, what they know, what they have worked on. This gives everyone else a succinct insight into what their role in the meeting and project will be, and what can or should be expected of them. And then somebody will add their Prince2 practitioner certification to their auto-description, even though the project is not being managed using Prince2 and they have never actually worked on a Prince2 project. What's the point?
The cynical view (and I do so love to take the cynical view) is that our intrepid Prince2 practitioner is either a poor judge of what's actually relevant to the situation, or is hoping that everyone else is. However, it is probably just a project manager desperately trying to let everyone know that they have verifiable IT project management skills, even if the only proof they have of it is both irrelevant and unimpressive.
Some may consider this assertion to be a little bold. Even if Prince2 is not being used on a project, it still contains many useful tools and embodies many best practices with potential for broader application. But a properly equipped project manager needs a diverse toolkit, drawn from more than just one methodology, and an understanding of the underlying principles in order to apply those tools appropriately. And Prince2 certification does not necessarily demonstrate that at all.
Many people who have the certification pass the open book exams after a one week cram course, which is typically their first contact with the methodology. The experience is not exactly conducive to learning anything other than how to pass the exam, and then forgetting anything apart from a couple of isolated factoids. With some course providers quoting pass rates as high as 98% or 99%, it is hard to argue that being able to pass the exam demonstrates any special qualities. A qualification which anyone can pass without previous knowledge or long-term learning tells you precisely one metric nothing.
What we have here is a credentialing problem. Organisations find it difficult to assess the knowledge and skills that they need in project managers without actually having the candidates manage a project first. Using past project successes as a guide does not tend to help, because the IT industry is one where pretty much any project outcome short of blowing up the sun and casting all the many lands into gloom and shadow tends to be classified as a successful delivery. So they look for an objective measure they can tick off instead.
This kind of proxy assessment can be effective, assuming its judgement is adequate. Prince2 certification is not. More appropriate certifications exist - postgraduate degrees, BCS membership - but require significantly more effort, time and expense to acquire and in consequence are rarely used. There's a need for a middle ground which is not currently being fulfilled, but even so, certifying people who do not practise Prince2 as Prince2 practitioners is more like a bad zen koan than a rational means of validating general IT project management skills.
John Prior is a senior consultant at Sense Internet
This was first published in January 2009