Does a PM need qualifications and training, or can a good PM "grow" and "evolve" into the role based on just good experience and observation, with no exposure to the theory? What are the risks that such an approach can introduce?

  • PMI and IPMA are investing millions just to give you a "YES" answer to this question.
    – yegor256
    Apr 1, 2011 at 8:16
  • 1
    No doubt they are, and no doubt they consider it money well invested, but what do practising PMs (many of whom will have qualifications) believe?
    – Iain9688
    Apr 1, 2011 at 11:40

9 Answers 9


Qualifications are not necessary in a project manager. You can, like any field, learn on the job; but that might mean that you miss key, fundamental knowledge in your field, and that you get burned on newbie mistakes that you will inevitably make.

Looking at the flip-side, Project Management is not really well-established as a "proper" position or career path in many places around the world. (That's what PMI is attempting to address -- formalizing project management into a professional career.)

Even if you theoretically had some credentials -- a PMP, a Six-Sigma Black-Belt, and others -- what good are they without experience? Perhaps, like myself and many of my friends, they can be the key to open the door to a career change. But you will not and cannot excel as a project management without both fundamentals and experience.

Having a novice project manager is a risk to the project, and should be placed as such on the risk register. The project manager should be mentored by the PMO and experienced project managers until he or she is proven capable.

  • Accepted, as I take from this that experience is necessary but not sufficient, and qualifications / training is what can make the difference.
    – Iain9688
    Apr 4, 2011 at 8:03

Can't hurt, and it might help :)

One benefit that humans have over other animals is the ability to learn from the mistakes of others. It is a rare problem in project management that has not impacted thousands of other project managers. How do you estimate how long it will take to complete a project? Ask someone who has run a similar project or try some of the academic estimation methods out there. The theory and best practices provided in the PMBOK or with other frameworks/methodologies like Prince2 or Agile provide frameworks that have worked well for others in managing their own projects.

That said, there is nothing like sticking your hand on a hot stove to learn to not do that. Similarly, a project manager needs to be burned a few times by undercommunicating or not spending enough time planning, or not managing the sponsor's expectations to truly understand the "why" behind some of the recommendations you will find in classes and books.

Will passing a certification exam get you your dream job? Probably not. Can you apply the lessons learned to your own projects, raising your value to your employer? Definitely.


Managing projects has been around since the early human. In fact, you can observe lower level species manage "projects", like a pride hunting prey. We have been managing projects successfully long before formal PM training and the development of theory. PM is first and foremost a function of work before it is a profession.

Formal education and training are great, but unlike many other professions this is one where OJT is probably the biggest contributor to a PM's strength in his/her capabilities. In fact, since PM education has been introduced in colleges and universities, there is still little to no evidence in its efficacy. So the jury is still out on that. Until we collectively find that formally trained PMs out perform the rest, you cannot legitimately substantiate additional risk.


A PM will take longer to be known as a good PM if he only learns by experience than if he has proper training (or at least search for proper material, just like this site we are discussing now).

A teammate that joined the company with me several years ago had a very tough experience managing a team with no project knowledge, no project documentation and no PM expertise. Results: The project succeeded, but the whole team suffered because the PM was learning with his mistakes. It burned out the team, he lost some of his own self-confidence, but he's still managing.

Some people are natural leaders, and it is easier to them to manage a team. But leading people and managing people are different things that cannot be misunderstood. If you're a good leader, you might have success as a PM. But having proper training will make you feel much more comfortable managing your team.

  • I guess there is also a difference between managing the people and managing the processes of project management - for example, reporting, risk management, writing documents, creating work breakdown structures, planning, etc. It is in these areas that training will be more obviously helpful.
    – Iain9688
    Apr 2, 2011 at 10:47

Great question! I literally just wrote a blog on this subject and posted it a couple hours ago.

I ran across blog and study that showed IT Execs put the PMP certification at the bottom of their list for deciding to hire someone. Well my initial reaction was to reject the reality and substitute my own. On deeper reflection I found I agreed with the fundamental concept.

Certifications will get your resume looked at, they will help you get your foot in the door. But a certification will not get you the job, only your skills and accomplishments will. A lot of certified PMPs were accidental PMs and had a lot of experience before they got their certification.

Related to this, someone with no project knowledge can succeed as a PM. To do so, they need to focus on the people aspect. If you can manage people, you can manage a project. It's all about communication.

If you're interested in the complete blog article I wrote, you can find it here: A Project Manager's Poker hand


There is no training like experience. PM is all about OJT - no amount of "book learning" will take the place of actually working under fire. That Said, going through the effort to attend a course from Pragmatic Marketing is time very very well spent.

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    Life is too short to make all mistakes by yourself. You need to learn from other people's mistakes. And that's what training is all about. Apr 1, 2011 at 13:36

I think it's mainly a question about how many mistakes you will make before being competent at the job. You will make some anyway, and you will still make some once you got good at PM, but in my opinion you will make more of them if you got no training and have to learn everything the hard way.


Like many people, I got into my first project management (PM) role by accident, rather than by design. I had no PM training, and as it turned out, neither did the PM's for whom I had worked for as a software engineer and team leader. It was only later on after I had done my PRINCE2 training did I realize that I had been repeating many of the same mistakes that my previous PM's had made.

To a large extent, project management is common sense, but it is amazing how common sense seems to evaporate when issues come up on a project and fire-fighting mode takes hold. Since I am familiar with PRINCE2, I will say what I believe to be one of its key benefits: it is based upon good project management best practices. Why repeat the mistakes from the past when we can learn from them instead? So, instead of "evolving" I think some solid project management or PRINCE2 training would certainly help because it will focus your mind on the key things to think through and on the controls that you need to put in place to ensure your project has a better chance of being succesful. Without these things, then yes, it certainly is risky!

After saying that, don't think that purely focusing on the more technical aspects of managing projects by atttending, for example PMI/PMP or PRINCE2 training will be enough. At the end of the day, project management is about managing people, not things, so the better you are at communicating, delegating, leading, motivating (plus a hundread and one other soft skills) the better you will be in a project management role.


Anyone can learn to grow or evolve into a project manager role, especially if they already have strong aptitudes at organization/communication/planning + they're in an environment with good mentors. But there are many inexpensive ways to get PM training, and even if you've been a PM professionally for 2-3 years, there may be some small piece of information in that formal training that helps shore up or expand your OJT experiences. If nothing else, you may come away with one or two bits of information that help you work just a little bit smarter, or give you new insight on working with teams.

Depending on your previous job experience, you may not find getting the formal certification to be of value. It's a good way to help show that you're serious about changing your career direction, or focussing on moving into project management (from, say, software or front-end web dev); but if you've already had more than a few years as a PM, I'd go for the learning, but not necessarily for the formal certification. I wouldn't shell out thousands of dollars for a multi-day or even a quarter-long class, and I even give the side-eye to many of the test prep courses out there that charge upwards of $500; but I will gladly pay for and annotate the living daylights out of the PMBOK (Which you get a free exclusive-for-you electronic version with your PMI membership, so that's a factor to consider.)

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