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Which project management certificate shall I choose – PMP vs PRINCE2 vs IPMA? – part 1

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There is a very good time of the year to make a New Year’s resolution. One resolution in the professional life can be: ‘to obtain a certificate in project management’. But you can easily find several different certificates that are issued by different organizations. Which one to choose? I hope that, this article will help you make a good decision, which you will not regret.

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A brief research shows that you can apply for certificates issued by the following organizations (mentioned alphabetical order), the list is not exhaustive and it does not include experts certificates like PMI-RMP or PMI-SP:

AIPM (Australian Institute for Project Management)

  • Level 4 (Project Team Member)
  • Level 5 (Project Manager) 
  • Level 6 (Project Director)

AMA (American Management Association)

  • Project Management Certificate

APM (Association for Project Management)

  • Certified International Project Manager
  • Senior Project Manager
  • Certified Project Manager
  • Associate Project Management Professional

APM Group Ltd

  • Prince2 Practitioner 
  • Prince2 Foundation

ASAPM (American Society for the Advancement of Project Management)

  • Senior Management (SP)
  • Resource Managers (RM)
  • Project Office Manager (PO)
  • Project Director (aCPM3)
  • Project Manager of large, complex projects (aCPM2)
  • Project Manager of medium or less-complex projects (aCPM1)
  • Project Team Members (TM)

IPMA (International Project Management Association)

  • IPMA Level D – Certified Project Management Associate
  • IPMA Level C – Certified Project Manager
  • IPMA Level B – Certified Senior Project Manager
  • IPMA Level A – Certified Projects Director
  • Program Management Professional (PgMP)
  • Project Management Professional (PMP)
  • Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)

As you can see, you can get a real headache, when you try to choose the correct path of certification, either for themselves or to their employees. Usually, you do not have to bother with such a wide choice, and you can narrow options to one of the three most popular certification tracks proposed by: APMG, IPMA and PMI.

PMI – Project Management Institute

Certificates issued by PMI:

  • Program Management Professional (PgMP)
  • Project Management Professional (PMP)
  • Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)

The most famous certificate issued by the PMI and the most wanted by project managers is PMP – Project Management Professional. PMP rules in rankings for the most sought certificates in IT, as well as it has the greatest impact on an income of its holders (Techrepublic account required).

To obtain the certificate you need to pass the 4-hour exam consisting of 200 test questions from: PMBoK Guide, general knowledge of management and the PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. But to be able to take the exam you must first demonstrate experience in projects – 36  months within last six years (for people with higher education), and take at least 35 hours of project management education (I recommend to take it at an accredited by PMI training company, but the accreditation is not a condition). The exam is considered rather tough and questions are often very tricky. The cost of the exam should be considered moderate – 300 USD for CAPM, 555 USD for PMP and 1800 USD for PgMP (prices can be reduced by joining PMI, it is worth because for PMP the result is that you’ve been given a ‘free’ year of PMI mebership – which means for example: PMBoK Guide, annual subscription of Project Management Journal, and many more benefits).

Even when we are happy holders of the three letters suffix, we still have to maintain our certificate. We can do this by gathering points called PDU – (60 PDU within three years for PMP and PgMP), or passing the recertification exam (only option for CAPM). Points can be given among others for: managing projects, sharing knowledge, publications, activities in the PMI, self-training, taking part in the relevant courses, giving presentations on conferences, and so on.

As the requirements for the experience or the difficulty of the exam was a barrier for many people wishing to obtain PMP certification. PMI has decided to create CAPM certificate – Certified Associate in Project Management. This is the ‘lighter version of PMP,’ it is mainly for new project coordinators and members of project teams. 

PMP has become so popular therefore certified senior project and program managers with many years of experience wanted something more. There was a need to distinguish from several hundred thousand of other PMPs, so PMI decided to create PgMP certification – Program Management Professional with more difficult requirements to meet  for experience (four years of managing projects and four years of managing programs), test, 360 degrees evaluation by 12 people (PgMP certification is like IPMA certifications).

It is worth mention that to apply for higher level certificate it is not necessary to have a lower level certificate.

The undeniable advantages of PMI certification are a global recognition, requiring experience from candidates, certificate holders are required to renew, so that the certificate presents more value for potential employer. The shortcomings of PMP certification is a lack of practical skills assessment, candidates are judged only by their knowledge.

But despite everything, it seems that PMP keeps a good balance between the requirements and accessibility. PMP certification may not always be the most appropriate choice, but certainly it will be at least a good choice.

IPMA – International Project Management Association

There are four levels of certificates IPMA:

  • IPMA Level D – Certified Project Management Associate
  • IPMA Level C – Certified Project Manager
  • IPMA Level B – Certified Senior Project Manager
  • IPMA Level A – Certified Projects Director

I think that, certificates issued by IPMA (from the C level) deserve special attention because they attest not only holders’ knowledge or experience (compared to the PMP exam it is done more accurately) but also confirm managerial and interpersonal competencies.

The undeniable advantage of IPMA certification is the interview part (sometimes it is also the workshop part – it depends on country where you are getting your credentials) during which your skills and personal traits are assessed.

Disadvantages: The complicated process of evaluation caused the high price for the certificate (at C level – it’s about three times more expensive than PMP – but it depends on mostly a country).

The certificate is not linked to any specific methodology – it can be considered an advantage (a versatile certificate) or a disadvantage (an extra training from the employer methodology may be needed).

IPMA certificates gain popularity, especially in Europe. They are considered new generation certificates for project managers because they guarantee that the holder has relevant: knowledge, experience and skills to manage a project. It is a pity that they are not as recognizable as PMP or PRINCE2. It is worth taking into consideration that IPMA certificates require to be renewed (Level D Certification is an exception) – at A and B level once in 5 years, and at C level once in 3 years.

APM Group Certificates

  • Prince 2 Foundation
  • Prince 2 Practitioner

PRINCE2 Foundation and Practitioner credentials certify knowledge of PRINCE2 methodology and its application in projects management. Certification can be obtained on two levels: basic (Foundation) and advanced (Practitioner). To obtain these two certificates you have to pass an appropriate exam (in addition to obtain the practitioner certificate one must be first certified on Foundation level – but the exams can be taken one after another). You can become happy PRINCE2 Practitioner credentials in one day (of course you must first well-prepared for these exams).

Foundation exam test consists of 75 questions, for a Practitioner exam there are nine test questions, where answers will be given basing on the accompanying case-study. For PRINCE2 Practitioner exam you can use the PRINCE2 manual.

PRINCE2 exams are the most popular in Great Britain. These certificates may be also very useful in working in public administration in most of European countries.

PRINCE2 Foundation certificate is granted for life (for PRINCE2 Practitioner you have to pass recertification exam after 5 years), so there is no requirement for recertification. Examinations fee is not excessive, and both can be passed for an amount equivalent to the cost of PMP exam (Foundation exam – 200 pounds, Practitioner exam – 370 pounds).

If your company applies PRINCE2 or executes projects for public administration those certificates are very useful (if you want to work in Great Britain it is “must have,” indeed), otherwise I recommend PMP or IPMA certification. Undoubtedly, the weakest feature of PRINCE2 certification is that the only requirement is to pass the exam. Therefore, PRINCE2 certificates aren’t valued much by employers evaluating candidates for the project leaders.

Here I present a comparison of project management certificates on two levels:

  • How specific is the certificate (is it closely related to a methodology) ?
  • With which career level does the certificate correspond?
Project management certificates comparison pmp ipma prince2
Project management certificates comparison pmp ipma prince2


In the next part (should be posted next week) you will learn what you need to take into account when choosing a certification, what questions you should ask yourself before making the decision. I will also put a table with requirements comparison for the different certificates.

Details on these certificates can be found here:

PMI Certifcates

IPMA Certifcates

Prince2 Certifcates

 I am waiting for your opinions, maybe you can share your experience with us.

The second part of the post.

I would like to thanks all of you who sent me comments to this post (via email, comments or entries on forums). Your remarks were taken into account. If you have more remarks please, do not hesitate to send me them.

Comments (25)

  • PRINCE2 may be for life. However, there is a successful candidates register that necessitates re-certification for Practitioner every 5 years. For employers the register is a means of validating certification status – you drop off the list if “out of certification”. The qualification is gaining traction outsde the UK and I am led to believe there is a specific run on demand in China. I am interested to watch how the training market, and qualifications mix, shifts as the Agile methods gain traction.

  • hii being a project engineer i need to increase by technical aspects in projects.i had been looking for the PMI and found it to be effective source to know about PMI .Thnaks keep updating and do you have an idea about the course in italy

  • Very nice article. I appreciate the global perspective you’ve given in this article. It’s hard to get a good understanding of Prince2 from inside the U.S.

  • Hi

    I have found the first part very useful as I have Prince 2 foundation and worked as a support manager for a few years in the finance sector, I am currently out of contract and am looking to gain my next useful qualification but am not sure which one to go for.
    When will the next part be?

  • Hi,
    I’m very glad to here that you liked the first parst. I’m working on the next part this week. I’ve been very busy recently, and also I had to do upgrades of the blog.
    So, this week you will see the next part.

  • Hi

    Will you be publishing part 2 soon

  • Thank you for the work you put into this. It gives me an idea of what to pursue further and what to drop.

    I couldn’t find the link to “part 2” yet. It would be great to read more.

  • The usefulness of any of these certificates is questionable and having one does not guarantee that you are being hired over someone who doesn’t have a certificate. In the end it largely depends on a company’s business environment and their willingness to buy into certifications that might or might not apply to their established corporate standards.

    Personally, I would hold off on running out to get certified unless your client (or company) really requires it.

  • There is also PRINCE2 Approved Trainer certificate, above P2 Practitioner and Foundation, but maybe its specialistic….generally speaking for trainers and for being accredited training organisation…

  • God dag! Kan jag ladda ner en bild fran din blogg. Av sak med hanvisning till din webbplats!

  • Hi, thank you very much for this article. I have worked as a Project Manager in the Third Sector for less than two years and I’m looking for a certicate that could help me getting a job in an international NGO or in an European Institution…What do you think of the IPMA Level D – Certified Project Management Associate? Thanks

  • A fantastic summary of the differences between apm, pmi and prince 2. When will we get part 2.

  • Ładne podsumowanie, ale to nie jedyna strona gdzie ono się znajduje.

  • Two comments about your chart. First, specific vs. general might be of some interest, but the more important dimension is rigor: how hard is it to obtain the credential? On this scale, the IPMA certifications are head and shoulders above those of PMI. More and more employers are recognizing that passing a multiple choice test doesn’t say much about a person’s ability to actually manage a project. Second, the PMP should be much further to the left. You do not need experience as a project manager to sit for the PMP exam.

  • Witam,

    Chciałbym zapytać czy słyszałeś może o Arabskiej certyfikacji do zarządzania projektami uwzględniającej tamtejszą specyfikę regionu. Certyfikacja powstała bodajże w 2002 roku. Jestem bardzo zainteresowany jej rozwojem bądź upadkiem. Kiedyś udało mi się o niej czytać w przypadkowo znalezionej witrynie internetowej, nie mogę niestety jej ponownie odszukać.

  • Any news yet on the second part. Do you think we will se a trend for these qualifications to be rationalised. I think the APM and OGC in the UK may be moving towards a merger of Prince2 and APMP (IPMA level4)

  • Prince2 or pmi it’s not relevant, what counts is your experience based on successfully completed projects. Certificate won’t land you a nice job, it’s pretty much useless.
    I used to work for consultancy Deloitte they sent me to pmi but I gave up and didn’t go for recertification.
    The truth is that they’ve spawned certificates solely to make stacks of money what is hidden behind publishing expensive books, trainings, exams etc.
    This is just the repetition of the text book knowledge based on scenarios, in the real life there’s no way one can benefit of such approach

  • hi
    i am PRINCE2 practitionor and APMP, so as APMP equivalent to IPMA-D, CAN I SIT DIRECTLY TO IPMA-C?


  • Hi all,

    I think PMP requires 5 years experience and CAPM 2 years what about Prince2? I’m thinking of taking a Prince2 certification from Firebrand Training, should I go for this or a PMP? What’s the difference?

    Thank you.

  • Obecnie level D w IPMA również wymaga recertyfikacji i przyznawany jest na okres 5 lat.

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