The Cranky Product Manager has started a poll about the value of product management certifications. Do you think that a certificate from some reputable organization like Pragmatic Marketing, AIPMM, or PDMA magnifies your career possibilities, or makes your daily job easier? Or do people treat them like honorary degrees from Harvard?

Earlier this year, PM certification provoked some interesting dialogue on this blog. Other product management blogs also regularly take notice when this topic reappears, or start the conversation rolling on their own.

Why does certification set the PM bloggers a-jumpin’? I don’t think it’s that product managers feel unappreciated, and therefore need to cling to whatever validation they can get, even if it’s limited to a 21" by 27" frame. There’s more going on here.

An optimistic interpretation might follow this line of logic: Technology companies realize that they’re not getting the adoption they deserve. When the economy dips in a southerly direction, they also don’t get the revenue. Therefore, they’ve come to appreciate that (a) they need people who can stay on top of use cases, customer requirements, competitive threats, and the like; (b) the skills needed be competent at this particular combination of computer science and social science don’t grow on trees; (c) we haven’t really done more than throw people into the PM role with no training, and no career development; so (d) we need some outside help in training PMs at core job functions. And, to be brutally honest, to help companies understand what those job functions are in the first place.

A pessimistic interpretation might look like this: People are under increasing pressure to justify what they do in technology companies. Product managers aren’t alone, but since many people don’t  understand what they do, and why it’s important, an extra layer of justification is necessary. Certification, therefore, sends the message that, yes, product management is important enough to be certified, and the qualifications are more demanding than just having opposable thumbs and yeoman-like skills using Microsoft Office.

Go take the poll, and ponder the subject for yourself. Whatever the real value of certification, the more interesting part may be the discussions about certification.