Top 10 Project Management Certifications in 2017

Project management is a very complex discipline that is practiced (or not) by most organizations regardless of their employee base. PMI or the Project Management Institute recently released their 2017 Pulse of the Profession and it has shown that project success is steadily growing over the years. Here are some of the takeaways that highlight just how important project managers are:

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Top 10 project management certifications in 2017

  • 31% of organizations report high benefits maturation reality : This means that organizations identify benefits at the start and progress through the project with these benefits in mind. As much as 1 in 3 organizations are able to materialize these benefits into reality by following Project Management best practices.
  • For every $1 billion spent on projects, $97 million is wasted : That means approximately 9.7% of project budget is wasted due to one reason or another. Granted, this is usually factored in by project managers, best practices could be better implemented to further reduce the wastage. That said, the previous year was said to have 20% higher wastage or approximately 11.64% of project budget.

High project success

Organizations that have the perfect equation, that is, an enterprise-wide PMO, engaged stakeholders and adept project managers enjoy as much as 88% project success with 90% of projects completing on budget and 92% of projects achieving the defined business goals. Truly, project management has become strategic for organizations to implement.

With more and more organizations leaning towards structured project management, now is the time to finally get that certification and make yourself a key, valuable asset that the company will appreciate for years to come. There are tons of PM certifications available in the market today. Among the 5 key certification providers, there are 18 exams in total (among others) that you can choose. Some do have prerequisite exams while others are standalone or can be taken as entry level. Check out the list below and determine which one applies best to your needs.

1. Project Management Professional (PMP)

There is no question that Project Management Professional is the de-facto gold standard certification for project management. PMI’s Earning Power Salary Survey shows that holders of this certification enjoy a 20% higher salary on average. Employers also enjoy higher project success with minimal overheads on schedule and budget when they have PMP certified project managers. To apply for PMP certification, one needs a lot of things namely:

  • 7500 hours leading and directing projects for secondary degree holders or
  • 4500 hours leading and directing projects for 4-year degree holders
  • Plus 35 hours of PM education regardless of the degree

PMI has an audit process in place for all applicants. That said, you need to encode all your experience and education and there is a small chance that you will be selected for the audit. This audit is necessary in order to ensure that only those with true real-world experience and education are taking the exam.

Exam Details:

  • Time allotted: 4 hours
  • Questions: 200
  • Type of exam: multiple choice
  • Passing score: N/A – it is never revealed. Candidates are encouraged to aim for 75% or better.

PMP certification must be maintained every 3 years by way of professional development units. 60 should be attained and this can be achieved via numerous ways:

  • Additional training or courses
  • Organizational meetings via third parties or PMI chapters
  • E-learning
  • Self-education via whitepapers, books, articles and PM blogs
  • Volunteering
  • Creating content on
  • Practicing your profession


  • Popularity: 10
  • Difficulty to attain: 8
  • Salary ROI: 8
  • Typical pass rate: 60 – 70%


The Certified Associate in Project Management is PMI’s entry-level PM certification. In order to take the CAPM exam, you need the following:

  • 1500 hours of project experience and a secondary degree or
  • 23 hours of PM education

Exam Details:

  • Time allotted: 3 hours
  • Questions: 150
  • Type of exam: multiple choice
  • Passing score: N/A – it is never revealed. Candidates are encouraged to aim for 70% or better.

CAPM is valid for 5 years and doesn’t require any Professional Development Units (PDUs) to renew. Rather, you need to retake the exam as it will incorporate changes to the PMBOK guide that have transpired in the past years.


  • Popularity: 8
  • Difficulty to attain: 6
  • Salary ROI: 6
  • Typical pass rate: 70 – 80%

3. Certified Scrum Professional (CSP)

Known as the Certified Scrum Professional credential, this credential sets holders apart as experienced Scrum practitioners. CSP is the foremost scrum credential with no exam required to achieve. Rather, you will need to finish the prerequisite entry-level credentials namely CSPO, CSM and CSD and have verifiable experience and education.

Further info on the 3 prerequisites:

  • CSM has an exam which requires takers to get 24 questions correctly out of 35
  • CSPO only requires you to finish a course
  • Either tracks of the CSD will require you to complete an assessment.

Scrum Alliance, similar to PMI, requires candidates to apply on their site and encode their work experience. At least 36 months’ worth of Scrum experience should have been accumulated in the past 5 years alongside 70 Scrum Education Units for an application to be successful.


  • Popularity: 6
  • Difficulty to attain: 7
  • Salary ROI: 9
  • Typical pass rate: n/a

4. PRINCE2 Foundation

PRINCE2 stands for PRojects IN Controlled Environments. PRINCE was initially designed to be applied in the IT environment only. However, as time passed, it was also being used in other environments prompting the rise of PRINCE2 during 1996 establishing it as a generic project management method.

Foundation is the entry-level PRINCE2 certification. It is aimed at aspiring project managers as well as those already practicing the profession. The main goal of this certification is to ensure that one has sufficient knowledge of the PRINCE2 method that allows projects to be handled by teams in a PRINCE2 environment.

Exam Details:

  • Time allotted: 60 minutes
  • Questions: 75 with 5 trial questions effectively giving 70 scored questions
  • Type of exam: multiple choice
  • Passing score: 35/70


  • Popularity: 7
  • Difficulty to attain: 6
  • Salary ROI: 7
  • Typical pass rate: 85 – 87%

5. Project+

CompTIA offers only one project management certification and that is the Project+. Project+ offers an easy yet comprehensive entry-level exam that verifies the knowledge of practicing or upcoming project managers.

Exam Details:

  • Time allotted: 90 minutes
  • Questions: 100
  • Type of exam: multiple choice
  • Passing score: 710/900

While the exam is claimed to validate fundamental project management skills, it is highly recommended that exam takers have at least one year experience managing or participating in small to medium projects. If not applicable, sufficient project management education should be procured.


  • Popularity: 5
  • Difficulty to attain: 7
  • Salary ROI: 6
  • Typical pass rate: 70 – 80%

6. MCSD: Application Lifecycle Management or MCSD: App Builder

While other project management certifications are vendor-neutral, Microsoft brings us the Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer certification for those who want to work specific to the Microsoft environment.

MCSD: Application Lifecycle Management is currently the only Microsoft certification geared towards IT project managers. By March 31, 2017, the certification will be officially retired and it will be replaced by the MCSD: App Builder certification. Here are the key distinctions between the 2.

MCSD: Application Lifecycle Management

With the current certification state, you can get certified simply by passing 3 exams namely:

  • 70-496 – Administering Microsoft Visual Studio Team Foundation Server
  • 70-497 – Software Testing with Visual Studio
  • 70-498 – Delivering Continuous Value with Visual Studio Application Lifecycle Management

Passing these 3 shows your expertise in development as well as managing the development lifecycle.

MCSD: App Builder

The new certification route allows you more flexibility. To attain this, one needs to start first with a prerequisite certification. This can either be:

Both of these require you to be an MTA: Developer beforehand (pass 1 exam) and then you need to take subsequent exams. This is illustrated fully below.

While it does seem taxing, the new certification path is built to ensure that certified folks are both knowledgeable of the development and application lifecycle side of projects.


  • Popularity: 6
  • Difficulty to attain: 6
  • Salary ROI: 6
  • Typical pass rate: 80 – 85%

7. PgMP

Program management is the next level of project management and PMI covers that with the Program Management Professional Certification. With this certificate, you prove yourself to be worthy and capable of managing multiple projects with the company’s strategic goal in mind. Coordination is further highlighted and benefits realization is targeted at the program level. To apply for PgMP certification, one needs a lot of things namely:

  • 10500 program management hours for secondary degree holders or
  • 6000 program management hours for 4-year degree holders
  • 6000 project management hours regardless of the degree

It is worth noting that PgMP applicants need to pass a rigorous panel review prior to taking the exam. As much as possible, be sure about the professional experience you encode as they will base it on that. Like the PMP credential, 60 PDUs within 3 years are also needed to maintain PgMP certification.

Exam Details:

  • Time allotted: 4 hours
  • Questions: 170
  • Type of exam: multiple choice
  • Passing score: N/A – it is never revealed. Candidates are encouraged to aim for 80% or better.


  • Popularity: 7
  • Difficulty to attain: 9
  • Salary ROI: 9
  • Typical pass rate: 55 – 60%

8. PRINCE2 Practitioner

Practitioner is the next level of the foundation certificate and has different prerequisites. It is possible to sit the Practitioner without the Foundation certificate as long as you have a PMP, CAPM or IPMA level A-D certificates. Starting with the practitioner level, exams are no longer multiple choice denoting the level of experience and expertise candidates should have.

Exam Details:

  • Time allotted: 150 minutes
  • Questions: 8 questions with 10 items per question for a total of 80
  • Type of exam: objective test
  • Passing score: 44/80

Due to the objective nature of the practitioner exam, it is open book in nature provided that the candidate only uses official PRINCE2 materials.


  • Popularity: 7
  • Difficulty to attain: 7
  • Salary ROI: 8
  • Typical pass rate: 70 – 75%

9. PRINCE2 Professional

The peak of the PRINCE2 pyramid is the professional certificate. Certification is not on-demand but rather scheduled. This is because this is in the form of an event accredited by APMG that runs for 2.5 days. It isn’t a course or seminar but rather a panel of sorts where you are continually assessed by an evaluation team on your acumen on running real-world projects besides the theory.

You will need to work with others in group exercises and activities to accomplish a project based on a fictional case study. You will also need to justify your actions and identify solutions to problems put forward. You will be graded on 19 performance areas and the panel will determine who will be awarded the PRINCE2 Professional Qualification.


  • Popularity: 6
  • Difficulty to attain: 9
  • Salary ROI: 10
  • Typical pass rate: 50 – 65%

10. PfMP

Portfolio management is an even higher one-up of program management. Basically, with portfolio management, everything is being overseen at an executive level with the strategic goal of the company in mind. Resource allocation, budgeting and investing are all done with the strategy in mind.

With aligned focus of programs and projects under the portfolio, tremendous value is being brought to the company by the portfolio manager. Interested individuals should look no further than the Portfolio Management Professional exam by PMI. To apply for PfMP certification, one needs a lot of things namely:

  • 10500 portfolio management hours for secondary degree holders or
  • 6000 portfolio management hours for 4-year degree holders
  • 8 years professional experience regardless of the degree

There is also a panel exam for PfMP candidates, similar to PgMP. It is advised that executive or senior level practitioners attempt certification due to the tremendous requirements. Still, once you’ve accomplished this, it is quite a feat that only selected few are able to surmount.

Exam Details:

  • Time allotted: 4 hours
  • Questions: 170
  • Type of exam: multiple choice
  • Passing score: N/A – it is never revealed. Candidates are encouraged to aim for 85% or better.

Just like the PgMP, PfMP requires applicants to pass a panel review. 60 PDUs also need to be obtained within 3 years for maintaining the credential. These PDUs have the specific requirement of being on portfolio management topics in order to qualify.


  • Popularity: 7
  • Difficulty to attain: 10
  • Salary ROI: 10
  • Typical pass rate: 45 – 55%

Weigh in the Numbers

There is no better time than now to get certified in Project Management. The industry has long been in place but not everyone is certified and not all organizations are embracing it fully. Just think, it may be with your help that your organization finally pulls of a decent project success rate and cuts on costs at a considerable rate. We mentioned earlier the statistics from PMI’s 2017 Pulse of the Profession, here are other takeaways from other reputed sources.

According to CompTIA:

  • The number of project managers that hold certificates only amount to 44%. That’s less than half which are certified.
  • Only 25% of IT executives believe their projects will succeed.
  • 67% or 1/6 IT projects end up spending 200% of the allotted budget and take 70% longer to finish.
  • 40% of projects fail because the strategic priority of the organization changes.
  • 80% of efficient or high performing projects are being led by PMs that are certified.
  • And finally, 97% of organizations believe that project management is key to organizational success.

According to a survey by tom’s IT PRO:

It is estimated that job openings on job boards require the following:

  • 08% looking for PMI CAPM/PMP credentials
  • 63% looking for Scrum Alliance CSP credentials
  • 12% looking for AXELOS PRINCE2 credentials
  • 17% looking for CompTIA Project+ credentials

While these numbers may be intimidating, it would still be wise to go with what you feel is applicable for your organization. For example, if your organization is fond of AXELOS, you can go with an ITIL + PRINCE2 path. On the other hand, if your organization is following Agile Project Management in a Windows environment, you’d do well to get CSP and MCSD: Application Lifecycle Management. Whichever the case, good luck in your project management endeavours!

Free Practice Questions:

The following are some of the free practice questions for project management certification exams:

About Dharmalingam N

Dharmalingam.N holds a master degree in Business Administration and writes on a wide range of topics ranging from technology to business analysis. He has a background in Relationship Management. Some of the topics he has written about and that have been published include; project management, business analysis and customer engagement.

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