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10 top project management courses and certifications for 2021

Obtain skills and certifications that demonstrate competence in the growing in-demand field of IT project management to further your career or change course.

Project management is hot. In fact, research by the Project Management Institute has found that employers will have to fill some 2.2 million new project-oriented roles every year through 2027. Whether it's software development projects, network infrastructure deployments, or PC and system upgrades, that's a lot of opportunity across the IT landscape for those with the right IT project management certifications and courses under their belt.

Whether you simply want to gain more control of your projects or are looking for a career change into IT-based project management, there are any number of certifications that can help you meet your goals. Many of them are offered by the PMI, and some are offered by international organizations such as the Global Association for Quality Management (GAQM). There are even some free courses that are worth checking out for those with tight budgets looking to get started in project management.

What are the best project management certifications?

1.     Project Management Professional (PMP)

Certification details: One of the leading providers of IT certifications for project managers, the Project Management Institute's (PMI) professional examination development processes stand apart because they align with certification industry best practices, such as those found in the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing. The Project Management Professional certification, for example, has also been accredited to the internationally-recognized ISO 17024 standard. In fact, because the PMP examination is now vital to earning a professional project management certification, it's become imperative it accurately reflects current best practices of the project management practitioner. Qualified Project Management Professional certification holders write and extensively review all questions on the exam, which have also been tracked to at least two academic references. The exam covers people, the challenges that come with managing staff; process, executing projects successfully; and business environment, a project's impact on the business.

The Project Management Institute estimates there will be 5.5 million project-oriented job openings in information services and publishing from 2017 to 2027.

Exam price: PMI member: $405; non-member: $550

Duration: 4 hours

2.     Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)

Certification details: The CAPM certification from PMI recognizes practitioners interested in or just starting their career in project management. Individuals who do not have project experience but are interested in project management can benefit from this certification as well, as it demonstrates professional knowledge from on-the-job experiences that help develop growing levels of competence in the practice of project management. Those who carry the CAPM designation enjoy a high level of credibility with Project Management Professional certification holders, project managers, employers and peers. CAPM takers are expected to understand -- among other things -- the five project management process groups and the processes within each group; be able to identify factors and assets that may impact outcomes of a projects; understand a project manager's sphere of influence; and comprehend the seven project management processes in the project integration management knowledge area.

Exam price: PMI members: $225; non-members: $300

Duration: 3 hours

top 10 project management courses and certifications
Become an IT project manager or advance your skills with these courses and certifications.

3.    Program Management Professional (PgMP)

Certification details: The Program Management Professional certification from the Project Management Institute recognizes advanced experience, skill and performance in the oversight of multiple, related projects and their resources aligned from an organizational objective. PgMP certification holders oversee the success of a program -- a way to group multiple, related projects to achieve benefits not realized by managing the projects separately. As employers increasingly demand program managers who can support strategic objectives, PgMP certification holders will gain a distinct advantage in employment and promotional opportunities. The exam consists of five parts: strategic program management, program lifecycle, benefits management, stakeholder management and governance.

Exam price: PMI members: $800; non-members: $1,000

Duration: 4 hours

4.    PMI Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP)

Certification details: The PMI-Risk Management Professional certification from the Project Management Institute recognizes the value of risk management in the IT project management profession. As a certified PMI-RMP, an individual has more competence in the specialized areas of assessing and identifying project risks and mitigating threats than a general project management practitioner. Employers can trust certification holders to possess the skills, knowledge and experience to contribute directly to crucial projects through risk management skills and a basic competence in all other areas of project management. The exam consists of five parts: risk strategy and planning, stakeholder engagement, risk process facilitation, risk monitoring and reporting, and specialized risk analysis.

Exam price: PMI members: $520; non-members: $670

Duration: 3.5 hours

5.     PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)

Certification details: The PMI Agile Certified Practitioner has become the Project Management Institute's fastest-growing certifications, as highly agile organizations responsive to market dynamics complete more projects successfully than their slower-moving counterparts. The PMI-ACP certification recognizes a person's expertise in using agile practices in their projects, while demonstrating increased professional versatility through agile tools and techniques. In addition, the certification carries a higher level of credibility than a typical project management examination because it requires a combination of agile training, experience working on agile projects, and knowledge of agile principles, practices, tools and techniques. The PMI-ACP spans many approaches to agile such as Scrum, Kanban, lean, extreme programming and test-driven development.

Exam price: PMI members: $435; non-members: $495

Duration: 3 hours 

6.     Certified ScrumMaster

Certification details: Those who want to delve deeper into agile project management can go for the Certified ScrumMaster certification from the ScrumAlliance. As a Certified ScrumMaster, project managers will receive the training they need to help a company's Scrum team perform at its highest level. Through the certification process, they learn the Scrum framework and gain an understanding of team roles, events and artifacts. Scrum masters also protect agile teams from both internal and external distractions. With this certification, students will expand their career opportunities across all industry sectors adopting agile practices, demonstrate an attainment of core Scrum knowledge, learn the foundation of Scrum and its scope and role, and engage with agile practitioners committed to continuous improvement.

Exam price: $29 (courses start at $315)

Duration: 1 hour

7. Professional in Project Management (PPM)

Certification details: The Professional in Project Management certification offered by GAQM is comprised of modules on how to plan, execute, control and complete projects. The core exam focuses on key trends in managing projects and demands on the project managers. Students will find the PPM certification useful for developing schedules, measures and approaches to project control. The exam demonstrates an ability to develop, lead and motivate project teams. By passing the PPM, an independent third party validates a student has met standard requirements of project management knowledge and experience. The course includes project management fundamentals, such as effective planning and scheduling, team building, risk management and crisis management.

Exam price: $210 

Duration: 2 hours

Where to study project management for free

Want a career in IT project management but short on cash? Well, all is not lost. Some credible free courses offer degrees and certifications in the field.

But don't expect that they'll carry the same weight as courses from, say, the Project Management Institute. However, in terms of getting your foot in the door or impressing your boss to get that promotion, there good options out there.

Word of caution: Be careful when searching for "free" project management courses. Usually there are strings attached and many of them can lead consumers astray. Even a reputable organization like Alison charges for a diploma. Students can take and benefit from their courses, however, and they do receive confirmation of course completion for free, which can help you on your career track.

1.     Diploma in Project Management

Course details: This free course from Alison offers a comprehensive view of project management, such as methodology, tool sets and documentation. It also covers the project lifecycle, including planning, analysis, design and evaluation, and includes a project management case study.

Price: Free for course and proof-of-course completion; a framed diploma costs around $160 

Duration: 6 to 10 hours

2.     Project Management Short Course

Course details: This free project management course from Oxford Home Study College has been divided into three essential topic areas: an introduction to project management, an exploration of the role of the project manager and a breakdown of the project life cycle. 

Price: Free

Duration: 20 hours

3.     Kickoff by Project Management Institute

PMI offers a free learning tool that guides students through the basics of project management, so they can effectively launch and manage projects from start to finish. Students takes a short quiz at the beginning of the course about their current projects, and the course revolves around that.

Price: Free

Duration: 45 minutes

Project management study resources

There are any number of Project Management Professional exam prep courses, but we recommend you at least consider what the Project Management Institute offers first. There's an online prep option and opportunities to study with a local chapter of the institute. We also list the more reputable third-party preparation courses for the exam. Some careful shopping might save you a few bucks.

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