the PGMP® (Professional Program Manager) certification of PMI, an interview with Martial Bellec

I congratulate Martial Bellec who recently passed successfully the PGMP® (Professional Program Manager) certification of PMI.

Michel: Hello Martial, how would you differentiate the PgMP® and PMP® certifications of the Project Management Institute?

Martial: Hello Michel, essentially, the 2 major differences between PgMP and PMP are:

  • While the project aims at delivering tactical objectives (cost / quality / duration), the program attempts to sublimate the sum of the tactical objectives of each of the projects, to transform them in strategic "benefits" for the organization (governance / benefits / stake holders)
  • While the process of PMP® certification consists of a single test, that of the PgMP® contains 3 major stages and requires much more time

Michel: it Is necessary to be beforehand a fully qualified PMP® to become PgMP ®?

Martial: PMI does not require to be a PMP® in good standing but I deeply recommend however to do it. First of all, the eligibility requirements for PgMP® are tough enough that the PMP® examination is not difficult for a candidate PgMP®. Besides, it allows to get acquainted with the PMI formalism for significant benefits for the PgMP® as, anyway, a good knowledge of the PMBOK is mandatory.

Michel: what are these criteria of eligibility?

Martial: similar to the PMP® in terms of general education with 4 years of experience in project management and 4 years in program management (6000 hours) over the past 15 years.

Michel: what is the process to be followed to become PgMp®?

Martial: it is a long process which took me 8 months in total.
Having received 6 days of training in June and September 2010, the process included:

  1.  Documentation of more than 6000 hours of program management experience
  2.  Documentation of more than 6000 hours of project management experience
  3.  Submission of my on-line request on October 4th, 2010
  4.  Application reopened asking to resubmit again with a few recommended minor modifications
  5.  Re-submission of the request
  6.  Acceptance of my general information and the eligibility criteria
  7.  The random audit for verification was for my file. The process of the verification audit had to obtain all the information hand signed, in an envelope sealed with signature on the seal (to avoid frauds)…
  8.  Audit OK: acceptance of the verification audit
  9.  Panel Review by already certified professionals: Request for more strategic answers on program management
  10.  Resubmission of my request with more strategic and empirical data
  11.  Acceptance of the request and the qualifications (through a review by a committee consisting of 3 PMI PgMPS) and finally
  12.  4 hours examination at Prometric Paris (covering all the phases of the program, its processes and its domains of knowledge)
  13.  Multi-assessor Evaluation (MRA for Multi-Rater Assessment)
  14.  Congratulations e-mail received from PMI on February 24th, 2011 …

Michel: what can you tell to us about the examination?

Martial: it is a multiple choices questionnaire lasting 4 hours. It contains 170 questions, available only in English, it is held at the Paris Prometric center. The examination surprised me a lot because the questions which I had studied during the preparation and on internet were very different from those of the online test.

Michel: and what is this MRA investigation which you mentioned?

Martial: The objective is for PMI to get an overview, a kind of 360° review of the candidate. At least 12 supervisors’ responses (4 superiors, 4 peers and 4 subordinates) are needed so that the MRA is validated. After the examination, I sent a request to my contacts and 3 full weeks were necessary to collect their answers. I was able to follow the number of responses on a dedicated PMI website.

Michel: according to your experience, what could be the optimal calendar to obtain this certification?

Martial: administratively, 10 weeks at least are required. It took me 9 months between « Let’s do it » and the congratulations e-mail of PMI. The personal investment is very important, you should really not lose sight of the objective: I read several times the PgMP BOK, I did not count my time, in the evening, during travel times and dedicated to it the last 2 whole weekends just before the examination.

Michel: why going through so much pain?

Martial: after 20 years of experience in the management of telecoms project, this examination was for me a way to get my experiences and skills certified by worldwide organization. It allowed me to set time aside to take a checkpoint on my job and also to feed my continuous introspection approach.

Michel: I know that beyond the diploma, the biggest value of this exercise lays in the preparation and in the necessary depth of understanding of the concepts and the methods you encountered. What did the preparation of this certification bring to you?

Martial: beyond some aspects of the approach which can seem "a little bit scholar", especially for the examination, it really was the opportunity to review my knowledge, to perform a self-criticism on my own practices, to learn from it and to improve my actions as the person in charge of programs in my everyday life.

Michel: and on the recognition side?

Martial: the Anglo-Saxons consider the title of PgMP® as very prestigious because the "project" family of jobs is very present in their mind, and there are few that succeed (approximately, 1 PgMP® for 700 PMP®). Numerous buyers demand the project management certification for their projects, what is thus a differentiating factor for suppliers. In Europe, being the fourth French person to obtain it, it remains rather confidential but communities of certified PMs, in particular French-speaking PMs, strive to get it recognized that project manager's (and also program manager’s) job requires expertise, experience and finally some specific and not so well mastered techniques, in particular in business or engineering schools…

Michel: and for your organization, what are the benefits of your certification?

Martial: Orange, launched a program of PMP® certification and this community grows regularly. In particular, Orange Labs of which I am a member, have at present several dozens of fully qualified PMs with now a first PgMP®, they opened the way forward. For my program, I invite the project managers to become PMP® (they will recognize themselves, LoL), or at minimum to follow the PMBOK! It gives a solid and common reference basis which enriches our internal quality referential. The best practices of PMI are of use as background to the working groups between fully qualified PMs with the aim of continuously improving of our internal processes quality.

Michel: what "advice from the trenches" could you give to those who are going to make a commitment to this tough endeavor?

Martial: Settling on this objective is a very personal initiative: it is thus necessary to be obstinate, to get beyond the moments of discouragement, in particular at the time of the administrative document round trip exchanges with PMI or during the first trial tests which are much tougher than those of the PMP® exam. It is necessary to surround yourself a lot to improve your chances of success. Orange Labs accompanied me from the beginning – I thank Frédérique Millo – for the training with PMGS. I also thank Jean Gouix, PMGS consultant, PgMP® certified, who always supported me (LoL!) with a lot of empathy and experience. Finally, I was a member well before of the LinkedIn Group « PgMP Credentialed Networking Group » created by Jeff Hodgkinson that I now try in my turn to feed.
I found the examination very stressful, because I was not prepared for the questions which were put forward to me. I lost a lot of time on the long texts to read and understand. The rhythm of 50 questions / hour was intolerable and I was not able to review all the answers where I had hesitated. Well, as it finally worked out, I believe that, my experience in the everyday life as a person in charge of programs finally served me a lot in the background. You should not cheat with yourself even with the eligibility criteria.

The MRA seems easy but I consider that this stage consists essentially in proving to yourself and to PMI that you have a healthy and consequent network in your professional circle of acquaintances.
Having savored this success, I am not only going to try to still improve in my practices but also to contribute to the development of the PgMP practices and its community.

Michel Operto

I've been leading IT projects for more than 20 years at telecom and computer manufacturers: Thomson Sintra, Digital Equipment, NCR, Nortel Networks, Orange Business. My passion is Project Management and leadership and I run a blog on the PM best practices at