PgMP vs MSP is an important question if you need a program management certification. Both reflect the latest thinking on running successful programs across all sectors and industry types.

Neither duplicates the other, so it’s not an either / or choice. They’re complementary. And, together, they represent the totality of global knowledge available to a program manager.
But one of them is better.

Quick Overview

The purposes and audiences for PgMP and MSP are different:

  • PgMP is presented as a standard
  • MSP is presented as a set of guidance

This gives PgMP and MSP very different styles and depth of content

The PMI “Standard for Program Management” is essential for Program Managers seeking certification as Program Management Professionals (PgMP). The concise presentation of the theory sums up the knowledge they should have and are able to evidence, not only by examination, but by documenting illustrative examples and stories gained through practical experience over several years and many hours of program management implementation.

The “Managing Successful Programmes” Guide provides a set of implementation guidance based on a structured framework, primarily intended for those who are involved in the direction, management, support and delivery of programs.  This includes program leaders, program sponsors, program managers, business change managers and program office staff.  MSP is widely regarded as a program management methodology

Governance and Leadership

The emphasis on governance is strong in both but PMI descriptions are kept brief and at a high level.  MSP goes further to give expanded sets of activities and processes and more detailed descriptions of the typical contents of program documents, which are included as an appendix

MSP places a greater emphasis on leadership and stakeholder engagement. The MSP Guide says that, for successful business change, an organization must implement and integrate a business change approach with program management. In other words, an organization must support and lead its people through the crucial cultural change that is likely to be a critical success factor for any major program.

PMI focuses most on the role of the Program Manager with brief descriptions of the other program roles. MSP, on the other hand, provides extensive descriptions of many roles including the Sponsoring Group, Senior Responsible Owner, Program Board, Program Manager, Business Change Managers and Program Office.   MSP also presents variations on possible program management organization structures built upon these core roles

The Business Change Manager (BCM) is a mandatory role in MSP.   The BCM role is benefits focused. It’s a ‘business side’ role providing a bridge between the program and business operations. Programs may have many BCMs, possibly supported by business change teams, roles taken on by operational managers whose areas of the business are impacted by the changes being brought about by the program.

Using Tranches

Another element of MSP which is not in the PMI standard is the concept of a tranche. A tranche is a group of projects structured around clear step changes in capability and benefits delivery. Grouping projects in such a way helps with the planning process, aids governance, and the transition of new capability into business operations.

The Program Business Case

Like the PMBOK, the PMI program standard refers to the business case infrequently. Although acknowledged as a key input, the guide contains only 4 references to this document, and no template.  MSP regards the business case as the program life support system to ensure the ongoing viability of the program. This is backed up with a template and the MSP Adding Value principle which justifies the existence of the program vs managing a collection of projects separately.  MSP also provides a health check framework to verify the status of the business case.

PgMP vs MSP certification

PMI have set the bar very high for PgMP certification. If you have a 4-year bachelor’s degree the minimum needed is four years (6,000 hours) of project management experience and four years (6,000 hours) of program management experience. MSP has no experience requirements

I think of MSP certification like learning to drive – you learn a skill and then take a test to certify your new ability. PgMP is more like becoming chartered in a profession – you practice for several years and then take a test to certify your knowledge and experience.

This big difference explains the very low uptake in PgMP exams vs MSP. It also means that PgMP rarely features in job ads. If employers demand this certification they severely restrict their choice of candidates.

PgMP vs MSP – which is better?

While there is real value in both, one of these standards has 8 years’ seniority on the other and 100 times larger user base.

MSP is better than PgMP for 4 key reasons:

  1. MSP goes further and in more depth. It provides much more than the core knowledge base requirement. MSP gives you examples to explain the theory described and suggests techniques and tools which can be tailored for your program’s context. It’s had longer to mature and the length and depth of the material reflects this. While neither book is prescriptive or a ‘how to’ manual MSP comes closer to providing support for implementation. The additional detail and concepts aid the development of understanding of practical application built on solid theory.
  2. MSP focuses on the business case and program value.  Programs exist to add value to your organization.  MSP places this requirement at the center of the program and provides more guidance and support than PgMP
  3. MSP certification has lower barriers to entry. If training and certification is easily accessible to program teams this facilitates faster adoption of a common standard which benefits the sponsoring organization.  If you want rapid application of international program management standards, MSP is a better place to start.

MSP is the clear global leader.   While PgMP has certified 1,100 people since 2007, MSP is certifying this number every month and has 100 times more users globally.   MSP is program management’s best kept secret and the clear global standard for managing multiple complex projects.