Portfolio management is complex and challenging.Project Portfolio Management is the process of selecting which projects or programs to execute and how to finance them while keeping in view the organisation’s long terms goals and objectives. Whereas project or program management is about execution, portfolio management is about bridging the gap between strategy and execution, or as the Project Management Institute (PMI) puts it — “Formal portfolio management is the most effective way to implement strategic initiatives because it bridges the gap between strategy and implementation.”

PMI’s 2015 report, Delivering on Strategy: The Power of Portfolio Management, found that organizations that have mature project portfolio management practices in place gain a significant advantage over competitors in that they “complete 35 percent more of their programs successfully, fail less often and waste less money.”

Portfolio management is a profitable niche requiring one to be able to make the right choices amidst the backdrop of industry trends and the available mix of resources and finances. PMI’s Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP) credential will enhance your marketability as an employee with the knowledge and ability to arrive at correct policy decisions. In short, PfMP is more than just “doing work right,” it’s knowing how to do the “right work.”

A PfMP is a stamp of advanced competency in management decision making. This is why PfMP holders are typically found working in senior positions within their organization.

Holding a PfMP is a great way to position yourself for senior management roles. Jobs that list a PfMP as a requirement are rarely advertised in open forums and it’s unlikely that you will find these openings listed on a typical job portal. Such positions are almost always filled via references or internally.

For those responding to job adverts, a note of caution — there are adverts which list PMP, PgMP and PfMP certifications as nice to have, all for the same position. This could be because the employer is looking for one person to fill multiple roles, or more likely the recruiter who wrote the job descriptions has a limited understanding of the certifications and accompanying skills. A discussion on the exact roles and responsibilities of the position should be done before committing to any such job

PfMPs are rare, having only been in existence since May 2014. As of August 2016, there were just 332 PfMP certified professionals worldwide as compared to more than 700,000 PMPs. The credential is even more unique here in India with just 17 PfMP professionals.

The credential is geared towards executives or senior-level practitioners whose responsibilities include managing multiple projects and programs within organizational parameters and goals.

The prerequisites are by themselves impressive. Candidates are required to have a:

  • Minimum of eight years of professional experience
  • Secondary degree (high school diploma, associate’s degree or the global equivalent)
  • Minimum of 10,500 hours of experience managing portfolios

For candidates with a four-year degree (bachelor’s or the global equivalent) only 6,000 hours of portfolio management experience are required. All portfolio management experience must have been accrued over the last 15 consecutive years. Most professionals who qualify for certification typically have 20+ years of experience and invariably hold senior management positions in their respective fields.

The credentialing process consists of a review panel and an exam filled with strict steps and deadlines. The process is as follows:

Application: Your application will include all of your portfolio management experience. Just compiling this information is a demanding task — make certain you document and verify your experience. PMI prefers all applicants apply via their online certification system, but they will allow printed applications on a case-by-case basis. Once you begin the application you have 90 days to complete it.

Application review: PMI will review your application for completeness. This typically takes 10 days.

Fees: You can’t schedule your exam until you pay your fees. Exam fees are based upon PMI member status. It pays to be a PMI member — the exam for members is $800 U.S., non-members pay $1,000 U.S. If you apply for membership before submitting your application for the credential make certain that your membership has been confirmed, otherwise you will be charged the higher non-member rate. I encourage you to join PMI, there are significant benefits to membership.

Audit: Fortunately not many applicants are selected for an audit. If you are randomly selected you will have 90 days to submit supporting documentation that includes diplomas, and signatures of supervisors for all of the projects and programs listed on your application. PMI will review your audit as soon as they receive it. Failure to provide the requisite information will cause you to fail the audit. If you complete the audit successfully you will move on to the panel review.

Panel review: The panel review will assess professional experience based on your responses to the Portfolio Management Experience Summaries on the application. The review panel is made up of portfolio managers selected by PMI. Each of the panel members are subject matter experts in portfolio management and trained by PMI to evaluate your experience. In order to avoid bias, your identity and location is kept confidential throughout the process. The review will verify that you have directly independently managed one or more portfolios. Experience summaries based on theoretical knowledge and no direct experience are almost always rejected during the panel review.

This step takes approximately four weeks to complete. Failure to clear the panel review means that you will be contacted to discuss your status and what you will need to do or improve upon before applying again. Passing the panel review means you are cleared to sit for the exam.

PfMP exam: Once you clear the review panel you will have up to one year to sit for the exam. The exam is computer based and consists of 170 multiple-choice questions. 150 questions are scored, while 20 are non-scored pre-test questions placed randomly throughout the exam. These questions are used to validate potential questions for future exams.

Be prepared for some serious seat-time as you will have four hours to complete the exam. While you are permitted to take a break if you need one, unfortunately there are no scheduled breaks. If you take a break the exam clock will continue ticking. Additionally, a tutorial precedes the exam and a survey follows it. Each is optional and takes approximately 15 minutes. If you fail the exam you can retake it two more times during the 12-month period following clearing the panel review

The examination covers five domains:

  1. Strategic alignment
  2. Governance
  3. Portfolio performance management
  4. Portfolio risk management
  5. Communications management

Portfolio management is complex and challenging.The questions are situational and the responses have to be based on the processes defined in PMI’s Standard for Portfolio Management. I recommend a thorough reading of this publication. There are also a number of classes and boot camps to help you prepare for the exam. Two that I found useful are the PMO Advisory and Knowledge Hut.

The most popular publication for Indian PfMP aspirants is the PfMP Exam Practice Tests and Study Guide by Dr Ginger Levin. This is also a must read. One exceptional online training experience for offered by the international consulting firm, Management Square. Their PfMP training is conducted by Prasad Kamath, the world’s first PMI certified PfMP.

Most PfMPs feel that, prior to the exam, a reading of the PMBOK and the Standard for Program Management are a great help. Practice tests can also be purchased and worked out before the exam. As per online feedback from candidates, both Dr Levin and Mr Kamath are available for mentoring and very prompt with their responses in clarifying doubts and helping with correct answers

The PfMP should preferably be taken up only by those planning to continue working in this field as the credential must be renewed every three years by earning 60 Professional Development Units (PDUs).

PMI’s PfMP is considered the epitome of management certification validating “advanced competency in the coordinated management of one or more portfolios to achieve strategic objectives.” Armed with a PfMP credential, you can have a significant impact on decision making in your organization. So don’t delay. Get started with your PfMP application now!