Business Process Management: The great certification debate

Business Process Management (BPM) certifications are offered by a number of vendors, non profit organizations, and consultancies and are often seen as the first step to a career in Business Process Management. But with full on certificates running into the thousands of dollars - does that piece of paper actually make you more likely to succeed in BPM? Alternatively, though, is it wise to rely on just learning from experience?

There is definitely some value in a certificate. A BPM-related certificate demonstrates the attainment of a certain level of knowledge and competency in the subject. If the certification is well designed, that should mean, you will be more competent than before to carry out a BPM project. It’s a bonus that the certification should also make you more appealing to employers by demonstrating that you’ve achieved an objective standard of knowledge.

Can you rely on learning from experience alone?

The second, is that in undertaking formalized training you are likely to be exposed to new ideas and tools that you otherwise wouldn’t have encountered. This was the case for Frederic Fontanet, a certified business architect and consultant, who says that he had participated in BPM projects before undertaking a formal certification and found formal training gave him a much deeper understanding of the tools and methodology.

"The OMG BPM certification [provided] me [with] a very deep knowledge of what BPM really is. It also introduced me to many topics I hadn’t encounter during past projects including a deep understanding of what BPM was (BMM, enterprise strategy, Six Sigma, workflow design patterns, business rules, SOA, etc)."

Finally, a certificate helps to ensure a certain standardization in the methodologies and approaches shared in common by particular profession, helping to transmit ideas that others have seen work over time and should in theory, reduce the risk of BPM project failures.

However, as Nischala from Wipro wrote earlier this year, a certificate by no means guarantees success. A project could be stuffed to the hilt with BPM certified consultants and practitioners and still fail.

"’TRUE’ understanding of BPM really comes for [sic] experience…," Nischala wrote. "Experience in talking to customers, experience from being part of several BPM implementations (of different scale) and actually see the difference (positive / negative) a BPM solution has actually played in an enterprise! And in my view, this knowledge and understanding can NEVER be amassed from any number of certifications."

Most practitioners would agree that that practical experience is a necessary component of BPM training. Jeremy Winter, Senior Project Manager at AT&T, says that those training programs that audit practical experience are more in demand than those that don’t.

"Experience is truly the gauge for future success but the most valuable [certificates] available provide auditing of experience hence their preference in the marketplace," he says.

A combined approach of BPM training and formal certification coupled with an emphasis on learning by doing is likely going to be the best approach because as Emiel Kelly, BPM consultant and blogger puts it succinctly: "in the end there’s only one person that certifies if you have done BPM well; the customer of your processes."

What do you think? Is BPM certification the necessary first stop for anyone wanting to practice BPM? Are you more likely to fail if you don’t have any formal training?