The PMP vs. MBA: The ROI debate continues on LinkedIn and beyond!

The PMP vs. MBA: The ROI debate continues on LinkedIn and beyond!

cost-of-study-I listed my recent post titled “Is the PMP a better investment than the MBA?“, on various LinkedIn groups to see what other project management professional thought about that idea, and the responses were more diverse and larger in quantity than I expected.  Here are the groups that I listed the post on and the comments returned from highest to lowest:

Group Responses
PMI Career Central (an official PMI group) 39
PMI Credentialed PMPs 16
PMO – Project Management Office 7
The Project Manager Network – #1 Group for Project Managers 5
The Association for Project Management 1

These groups were chosen because they have some of the highest number of PM members, are focused on general PM topics and have many members who are PMP certified and MBAs at least from what I’ve seen with all the PM groups I’m involved with.  I probably could have used the poll feature, but then I might not have gotten the diversity and depth of responses I got.  Nevertheless, some common themes were revealed in almost all the responses which is graphed below:


Here’s a pie chart breakdown showing the distribution percentages of the themes above from the total 68 responses I received:


Here’s a breakdown of the comment themes and what they represent from highest to lowest:

  1. Get the PMP & MBA – This was the most common theme with the many respondents giving the logical advice to get the MBA for broader general business education, then the PMP after working a few years in a project management capacity if your goal is to manage projects.  Also was the theme that this was the ticket to moving up the executive ranks such as a future position as a PMO director or VP of Program/Portfolio Management.
  2. Unsure or no comment either way – Many had no opinion either way or said the options and career motivations were so diverse that it could not be recommended in such a clear cut fashion.
  3. Get the MBA only – Some felt that you should only focus on the MBA since the general business education and knowledge you receive as well as the networks (especially if from a prestigious university) will serve you far into the future than a certification ever would.  Others just recommend that the focus should be on the MBA first then seek certs as you see fit.
  4. Irrelevant question – Running in a tie with the above was some who felt the question was sheer nonsense.  Others felt I was wrongly comparing “apples to oranges”.
  5. Don’t get any certification and/or advance degree – This group felt that experience trumps everything to where some said these are totally irrelevant to others who said don’t get these at the expense of acquiring valuable experience.
  6. Get MPM, PhD, etc. in project management – A small minority felt that you should be getting an advance masters or doctorate in the project management field.

Great responses and diversity of opinions.  I’d also like to mention that I received 7 comments from the PM central discussion board on and those opinions fit pretty much within the themes above.  Of course what I’d like to do now is respond in full and give my own editorial opinion on the comments.  I was originally going to reply to the specific groups and/or individuals but the quantity and diversity of opinions has prompted me to consolidate and articulate my responses here.  It is a very important topic worthy of such a detailed response!

First of all, I think some misinterpreted or did not read my original post.  I was not making an overall comparison of the ROI benefits of the MBA vs. the PMP, but rather the point that for a person who is a mid to late career professional that is typically aged 35 to 45 and is a project manager, if your choice was to get an MBA or a PMP the better ROI from a practical perspective would have to be the PMP in my opinion.  At that stage in one’s career as a PM, an MBA would not give you much of a competitive advantage since your experience starts to count more than an advanced degree at that stage.  Being that a PMP is almost a prerequisite and/or “strongly preferred” for jobs in project management these days, the cost and time to obtain it is small compared with the benefits received in your career as PM.  I don’t think if your in your 40s and above and work as a project manager that the cost of obtaining an MBA at that stage in your career is worth it especially in terms of the cost and time it takes to get it in return for the benefits obtain.  The only caveat would be if your employer was grooming you for an executive spot and are willing to pay for you to get an executive MBA.  In that case getting both would probably be most optimal.

Next is the idea that getting an MBA will educate and distill knowledge for you in the broad general business context and provide you the skills necessary to thrive in a business environment.  This holds for the PMP as well for general project management knowledge and applicability.  I especially contend with the notion of getting an MBA as a prerequisite for entrepreneurship or adopting the entrepreneurial mindset.  Don’t get me started on people who believe an MBA is needed to start a business!  As former business owner of several retail outlets and still on the side entrepreneur, I know this is not the case.  Entrepreneurship and starting and running a business is something you do rather than learn about in a classroom and then do based on that learning.  But I digress and for those project managers looking to be more entrepreneurial, I leave you to read my articles on what I term the projectpreneur.

To me, getting an MBA indicates that you sat in a series of lectures from academic professors, read the books required from them and took exams and wrote papers indicating and understanding of topics set forth from those professors.  The same holds for the PMP as well.  It was Mark Twain who said, “I never let my schooling get in the way of my education” and in that same light, the MBA and even the PMP is mostly about the schooling on a body of knowledge and your ability to answer and pass examinations on that schooling, rather than how well you are educated in that body of knowledge and especially your ability to apply and implement that knowledge to actual business and projects.  My point is to not confuse schooling with education or with the wisdom to apply that education.  These are very, very different things.

And lastly, I’d like to question the idea of getting an MBA as a ticket to an upper management position.  Aside from the known facts pointed out in my original post that “a combination of soaring tuition costs, glut of MBA graduates entering the workforce and general dilution of the graduate degree” is making things like an MBA less viable (with signs of this possibly happening for the PMP), with our ever changing workforce that’s being downsized, re-organized and consolidated to death with an upper management lifespan that is typically 3 – 5 years or less, is this a realistic scenario?  If you do move into an upper management, executive level position and get laid off late in your career will having an MBA give you an edge when competing for the small slot of high ranking executive positions with others who have your same experience, credentials and advanced degrees?  Sure, some of you may get such a high ranking position that when you are let go you get a nice golden parachute to set you for the rest of your retirement, but my feeling is that a very minute population of corporate executives get to this level.

In conclusion, my feeling is that many of us are still to stuck in the outdated model of a career that will progress in a nice linear pattern from worker bee to upper management and possibly executive level that requires a host of advanced degrees and certifications to ensure lifetime employment at a big company.  I’m not saying this is totally outdated, but in light of our highly dynamic, increasingly automated and outsourced/offshored business environment where companies, especially in the US are able to increase profits despite high unemployment, that we need to keep our options open and broaden our understanding of what a lifelong career means and the education and skills, not just schooling or certifications that will be required to thrive in it.

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