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Letter from the Editor – Ides of March and the Certification Quest

The Ides of March are coming. Officially marked on the Roman calendar as March 15th as the date Julius Caesar was assassinated in Rome and which put a rather definite end to his career.

If Emperor certification existed in ancient Rome, it might have saved him from that fatal sponsor meeting. The Emperor Book of Knowledge must have an entire chapter dedicated on how not to be stabbed in the Senate. Talk about sponsor management!

Certification is a relatively new thing in our existence. For many centuries the Master, Journeyman and Apprentice system was in use. Masters of the craft would teach Journeyman and Apprentices their craft working with each other side by side for many years. Eventually the Apprentice becomes the Journeyman and the Journeyman becomes the Master. Although we don’t use these terms today in business, you can certainly see these roles being played out. In the modern world, we take certification tests to prove our knowledge after we have an enough experience in the profession.

My certification journey started off when I was a director of project managers and I was meeting with the PMO director and CIO. In this meeting, we were talking about PMBOK 1.0 and how some of these concepts could be used within our organization to drive our projects more effectively. When the subject of certification came up, we passed on the idea. A few years later I’m in a similar meeting discussing PMBOK but in this meeting my leadership turned to me and said, “I think to make yourself more credible as a leader of Project Managers, you should get this certification”.

I was a leader of other Project Managers and good at my craft of Project Management. Being asked to prove my expertise to body of folks outside the organization was terrifying. What if I failed? Did that make me a “fake” project manager? Would my leadership and team really view me differently with a certification? It was clearly a situation where failure wasn’t an option. Failing the test in my mind would mean I failed at Project Management and that I shouldn’t be a manager. I had to ensure triumph and victory.

I spent the next 3 years studying and preparing. I did not take just one PMP Prep Course – I took several. I took Project Management training classes on all subjects. I grabbed a copy of the PMBOK and read every word over several times. I got the flashcards and simulated tests. I took that simulated test over a dozen times. Every question I got wrong went on a list. I analyzed that list and dug into the materials to find the correct answer. By the time, I was finished taking the simulated tests, I was getting only 1 or 2 questions wrong.

I gathered up my work history and all the projects I worked on over the years and spent an entire Monday putting it all together. I remember clicking the submit button on the application like it was yesterday. The next day I got the confirmation. I scheduled the exam at a local exam center in 2 weeks. After I got off the call, I started sweating. Am I ready? I mean REALLY ready to take this exam?

I build my brain dump paper of all the formulas and things that I thought I would need during the exam. Two pages of glorious detail memorized. I practiced making sure I could write it all out perfectly with in 10 minutes.

Two days before the exam, I stopped. No studying, no simulated tests, no practice – nothing. I stopped thinking about it cold turkey. I took the day off work telling everyone I was going on some personal errands – I just couldn’t get enough courage to admit I was going to take my certification test. On the day of the test I got in my car and drove to the testing site. I reviewed my brain dump paper and took a deep breath. “You just have to pass”, I kept telling myself, “70% is enough to pass. You’re not going to know it all. All you can do is your best.”

I walked in, signed in and probably got frisked for contraband but I don’t remember. I sat in front of relic of a computer, took a deep breath and was given the all clear to start. In less than 3 minutes my brain dump paper was completed. I was nervous and on hyper drive at that point. I then started the computer exam. I finished in one hour, then looked up at that clock and total panicked. Did I go too fast? Am I missing everything? I went through the test again worried I totally fouled it up. I changed a few questions which every prep class out there tells you is never a good idea but I did it anyway. Over and over I went through the questions until there was 15 minutes left. Should I spend more time?

I held the mouse pointer over the finish button for several minutes just staring at it. I just couldn’t click the button. This was the point of no return. I took a deep breath and clicked. A survey popped up. “How was your experience today?” it asked cheerfully. Now you want me to take a survey? I think in some small way I lost it. I just clicked all over the page to get rid of that survey. And then it happened. After a long pause that moment I feared and dreaded was upon me. The answer to all my efforts was on the screen.


I’m not sure but I probably floated out of that testing center. I know for certain I had a big smile on my face. It was spring and sunny out when I walked to my car. I got into my car and wore out the battery in my cell phone calling everyone I knew to tell them I passed. You couldn’t wipe that smile off my face for days.

Certification is life changing. It’s hard and requires a significant amount of time and dedication to complete. There is great reward in achieving this milestone and It has certainly helped my career many times over the years. Beware the Ides of March? Caesar didn’t make it out of his test but I certainly did.

This month’s featured articles are about certification. We hope you enjoy the great stories and journeys to get certification as told by real Project Managers and business Analysts. Don’t miss a single week’s issue!

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