Making a Certifiable Cake – Part II

Tips for New Certification Organizations:
Making a Certifiable Cake from
Start to Finish – Installment 2 – The First Layer

by Cheryl L. Wild, Ph.D.

In the last issue of ICE News, we began a series of articles on building a certification program. We used the analogy of making a cake for the certification process.

Installment one of the Tips for New Certification Organizations series discussed and provided information on resources to build the foundation and the basic understanding needed to plan a certification program. Installment two discusses the first layer of the cake, the layer that holds up each additional layer, planning.

Today’s Tip: Planning, including strategic planning, market analysis and business planning, should occur before you start developing your certification program.

What does planning include?

  1. Identify the mission of the certification program – purpose, certificants and services provided.
  2. Review of the opportunities and risks for the certification program – competitors, economic impacts on the program, government and legal impacts on the program, size of the potential certificant population, etc.
  3. Review of the strengths and weaknesses of the sponsoring organization and the implications of those factors for the certification program.
  4. Identify measurable goals which address the mission, opportunities, risks, strengths and weaknesses identified earlier.
  5. Develop a project plan including steps required to achieve the goals, responsibilities, budget, timeline and monitoring responsibilities. (I would like to emphasize two ideas at this point. One, this is a plan for getting you to the point where you will have a detailed business plan for your certification program, not the final plan. Secondly, it is critical to achieving your goals that you develop a habit of not only setting goals, but also reviewing progress on these goals – quarterly reviews by an advisory committee would be one way to go.)
  6. Conduct market research – including research on both the potential certificant and their employers.
  7. Determine the marketing strategy you will employ for the certification program and the products and services you will offer.
  8. Determine your final business plan (products, services, schedule, assigned responsibilities, budget, partnerships, etc.). This plan may require several iterations (back in the kitchen, our eyes may have been bigger than our stomachs – the analogy is alive and well).
  9. Monitor the progress on your business plan as you proceed.

The omission of the planning stage before developing a certification examination is one of the most frequent mistakes made by volunteer groups starting a certification organization. In my experience, novices to certification believe that every certification program will make money, developing a certification program will only take a few months and anyone who says otherwise must be an obstructionist (or a consultant out to make money).

The organizational professional is often in a difficult position due to this widespread misconception. The truth is that a certification program typically does not make money in its first few years, requires several years of planning and requires expanded staff resources expertise to develop and maintain. Sally Harthun, the Manager of Certification at the American Society for Quality (ASQ), offers her view of the importance of planning and encouraging volunteers to plan. She shared the following:

“Planning is essential to the success of any certification program. ASQ has developed a document called Guidelines for Establishing a New ASQ Certification to share with our members. The guidelines describe the various steps involved in developing a certification, including a market analysis and plan for the certification which shows a sufficient, definable, continuing market for the certification and an expenditure plan and financial analysis which shows the financial impact to the sponsoring organization and the ongoing support required to make the certification program a success.”

For more information or a copy of the Guidelines for Establishing a New ASQ Certification, please contact Sally at

Readers who are interested in learning more about planning for certification programs might also be interested in The Business of Certification, A Comprehensive Guide to Developing a Successful Program, by Joan and Lenora Knapp (published by the American Society of Association Executives, 2002).

Reprinted by permission of the Institute for Credentialing Excellence. Dr. Wild is currently the president of Wild & Associates, Inc., a consulting firm that helps organizations improve the reliability and validity of their tests and surveys.

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