That’s the most commonly asked question when people see my business card. No, I didn’t misspell “pimp”. That’s PMP…Project Management Professional. It’s a global certification for project management training regulated by PMI, the Project Management Institute. The fact that I get asked this so much by people in the games industry gives you some immediate insight into the value of the certification.

As a producer, I originally pursued the cert because a) I thought it would help me land a project management job outside of games if it ever came to that, b) at the time I was an Activision employee and received reimbursement for the cost of the prep class and exam, c) I was led to believe that I would be viewed as more valuable to studio management (which was false), and d) I was led to believe I would receive a raise commensurate to my new status (also false). I was hoping to find something in the material that would be applicable to improving production at my studio, too, but I didn’t have enough faith in that idea for it to earn a place among points a through d.

There actually was a great deal of useful information within the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) that I studied, but it’s very difficult to apply most of it to game development without buy-in from the project lead and studio head. Knowing about risk management procedures and network diagrams and proper closure protocol is great and would undoubtedly lead to company-wide improvement if wisely implemented, but it’s like any other aspect of making a game: if management can’t immediately see or hear the value, it’s unlikely they’ll be willing to invest in it. Especially when We’ve Always Done It This Way And It’s Worked Just Fine So Far (crunch time and missed deadlines and wildly fluctuating personnel needs notwithstanding). It will fall to you to determine if it’s worth your time to represent a milestone with a Work Breakdown Structure or analyze the project with a Risk Analysis Matrix. The PMBOK does present a lot of useful tools for organizing the project work, but you’ll need enough knowledge of game development processes to effectively weigh the cost/benefit of employing those tools. In short, the knowledge represented by a PMP certification is a great addition to the toolbox of someone who’s already a producer, but it’s not a viable method for training someone to become a producer.

The fundamental distinction between PMI practices and the reality of game development is this: nowhere in the PMBOK will you find any form of the word “creative”. It’s all geared toward factors you can read from a chart, gather from samples, or estimate with a reasonable degree of certainty from the laws of physics or market prices. Each project is very Waterfall-esque in that you create a charter to describe your project, you create a project baseline, and then manage changes to the scope as needed throughout execution. Big documents up front, etc. Nowhere in any phase of the project does the PMBOK say, “And here’s where you rearrange your schedule because the hook of your game wasn’t as fun as you thought it would be.” You can imagine why such a certification hasn’t gained much traction in the games industry.

The takeaway is that there are some valuable certs out there in the realm of project management (like CSM, which I plan on talking about in my next post) but I wouldn’t advise anyone in the games industry to spend time pursuing a PMP unless they have some very definite plans as to how to advance their studio or career with it. If you’re thinking of building something more predictable like hospitals or bridges, however, perhaps a PMP is a good choice for you.