Program Management certification is for serious project managers.A program is defined as a group of similar projects managed together in order to incur benefits that would not otherwise accrue from managing the projects separately. Program Management is the art of successfully managing a program of grouped projects to meet an organization’s targets and strategic goals.

A Gartner research paper published in 2007 on the evolving landscape related to project, program and portfolio management states that: “By 2013, we will see a new function evolving in many organizations, one which crosses the IT business boundary and is concerned with optimized and actionable investments, aimed at achieving strategic organizational goals, typically implemented as large-scale programs.”

PMI’s Program Management Certification (PgMP) validates a project management practitioner’s ability to successfully manage similar projects as a program. According to PMI you should apply for a PgMP or Program Management Profession certification if you want to be a “standout PMP.” The PgMP is a visible sign of a project manager’s advanced experience and skill and gives you a distinct advantage in employment and promotion.

The demand for the certified professionals is growing and jobs which list a PMP as a desirable certification are increasingly asking for PgMP certification.

It should be noted, however, that the PgMP credential is not a substitute for the PMP. While PMP is a certification which validates that you have the knowledge and training to managing projects, PgMP is for professionals who can “managing multiple related projects and navigate complex activities that span functions, organizations, regions or cultures and to align results with organizational goals “

Working as a project management consultant for IT firms, I’ve come across organizations that follow different methodologies for project management and delivery. Some adhered religiously to defined principles of PMI or other organizations, while others managed projects arbitrarily preferring to focus only on technology requirements.

Organizations that did not follow processes showed widening gaps between strategy and execution which usually led to missed targets and reduced growth. According to PMI’s 2015 Pulse of the Profession report, with program management maturity 75 percent of projects were successful as compared to 54 percent who operated without program management maturity

Organizations that registered growth over long periods of time had the distinction of always adhering to defined program and project management processes. Leadership in such organizations are always on the lookout for qualified pros and a PgMP certification can help position managers for strategic and senior roles.

As of June 2016 there were only 120 PgMPs in India — the third largest pool of PgMPs worldwide after the U.S. and Canada. This number is significant and should be noted in the context that the cost of completing the PgMP in India is Rs. 53,000 for PMI members and Rs. 67,000 for non-members which is comparable to the average tuition fees for graduation

PgMPs usually hold top or mid-level positions in organizations. They are also very experienced — most have more than 15 years of project management experience and at least five years in program management, although the requirements for certification are four years of program management and four years of project management experience if you possess a graduate level degree.

Candidates for certification

Although a PMP or CAPM is not a mandatory prerequisite, the PgMP is a prominent and high-level certification suitable for candidates who:

  • Have been working as program managers and intend to continue in similar roles managing large programs and business units for at least the next five years.
  • Are working as consultants providing project management training, consultancy and mentorship to organizations and individuals in program and project management.

If you are not currently working in program management and are considering earning a PgMP to enter the field, then this credential may not be the right one for you. PgMP will add value only if backed by relevant experience, and the evaluation process has a panel review where questions have to be answered based on experience. Hands-on experience is such a crucial aspect of the PgMP that approximately 10 percent of those who fail do so during the panel review stage.

To submit an application for the PgMP, you will have to answer a number of scenario based questions, and each response is evaluated by a panel of program managers from PMI. The Panel consists of certified PgMPs. No personal information such as candidate names, demographics, or employment information is made available to the panel members. If your responses are not aligned with PMI’s program management methodologies the application will be rejected. Most rejected applications are because the candidate’s response is based on “project management” concepts. So, when submitting your application, take care that your responses adhere to “program management” principles.

Once your application is accepted by PMI you have one year in which to complete the exam. The exam consists of 170 multiple-choice questions to be completed in a four-hour time frame.

Exam preparation

Program Management certification is for serious project managers.Preparing for the exam isn’t something you do overnight. Adequate preparation will typically take you anywhere from six to eight months. Preparation is based on PMI’s Standard for Program Management and will include the reading of our old favorite, the PMBOK Guide and Standards.

The exam requires you to be proficient in the five following domains:

  • Strategic Program Management
  • Program Lifecycle
  • Benefits Management
  • Stakeholder Management
  • Governance

For a deeper-dive into the examination contents, click here.

Formal study courses are offered by local PMI chapters and PMI registered education providers. In addition there is a lot of material available online with sample questions and answers which should be attempted rigorously.

Two publications that are popular with PgMP® aspirants are:

  • PgMP® Program Management Professional Exam Study Guide, by Dr. Paul Sanghere
  • PgMP® Exam Practice Test and Study Guide, by Ginger Levin and J. LeRoy Ward

I recommend both publications if you can, but if you’re limited on funds, at least use one during your preparation.

The PgMP requires considerable investment in time and money, so the question arises, is it really worth it? On the surface, as of May 2016, there were only 1,626 PgMPs worldwide, and few job advertisements at present are asking for PgMP certification. However surveys do show that PgMPs earn higher salaries than garden-variety PMPs and frequently hold key positions within their organizations.

While it is probably a safe bet that the demand for PgMPs will increase in the future, the real value of acquiring the credential lies in enhanced knowledge and “intrinsic” leadership skills which will help you move up in your career.