Happy International Project Management Day. I am going to celebrate the day by providing the answer to a question I received the other day from my friend Debbie.
Hi Vicki, so I am seriously evaluating my career. Based on my skills and what I excel at, I am very interested in getting into Project management. Can you offer any advice on how to start? My resume is mainly in sales so I am lost as to even get started. Let me know your thoughts.
It dawns on me that Debbie is likely just one of many wanting to transition into formal project management. Here is my quick start guide to beginning your career in project management.
- Go through your experience and resume highlighting the things that you have done that fall under the umbrella of project management. The best resource to know what this looks like is the A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK© 5th Edition). This linked mapping of tasks to Knowledge Areas and Process Groups from PMBOK © 4th Edition provides an easy reference of what those “things” are. Most people have done activities that fall in this area, but articulating what these activities are and the projects supported will be a big help to taking the next step.
- Begin exploring entry-level project positions that may be a good fit. Some common titles you may find are Project Coordinator, Project Expeditor, Project Assistant, or Project Scheduler. Indeed.com is a great resource for exploring the types of jobs that are available in your area.
- Join the Project Management Institute® (PMI). Your membership and involvement shows commitment to the profession. Further, the network and education you can get through membership is extremely valuable in heading down this road.
With these steps, you will understand how your own experience fits into the project management field, know more about what jobs are out there, and begin building your knowledgebase and network for a smooth transition.
Project managers, what advice do you have to those wanting to explore a move to project management? Please share.
I recommend Project Management Minimalist: Just Enough PM to Rock Your Projects for all seasoned and up and coming project managers. Michael Greer takes a different approach by focusing on the core best practices that are critical to project success, in some cases combining two or more PMBOK tasks into a cohesive step for managing the project. The PM Minimalist is a great reference for project managers that will specifically help in cases where…
- Someone assigned project manager who has not had significant experience and exposure to best practices. They will get great insight to some of the more critical project management best practices that will help make sure project success without having to become an expert on all PMBOK processes.
- The seasoned project manager who needs to streamline project management practices that are not adding value to the overall success of the project. This book will offer insights to help prioritize and effectively streamline these practices when appropriate.
Each steps includes an overview, expected results, process, and practical tools, guidelines, and examples. The one item I would add to the core list is some level of risk management. I do see an opportunity to apply the minimalist approach to this work, but do not recommend it be left out of the mix altogether. Risk management does land in the author’s previous top 20 of project activities, The Project Manager’s Partner, Second Edition so I know we are not far apart in our thinking.
Each project has its own personality and level of complexity. Project managers will need to use their expertise and common sense to decide where the minimalist approach is best for their project and where formal processes are required. Giving processes the “minimalist squeeze” will help project managers make sure they are spending the team’s time, as well as their own, in the most productive way.
The second part of this book is especially helpful to project managers and developing their own leadership abilities. These lessons really apply to all in many situations. I think of it as a mini self-help that all project managers will benefit from broken into two main sections; the people stuff (working with team), and taking care of yourself. Quotes, examples, and stories help project managers in the softer skills required by project managers. Additional references are provided for those who wish to explore further the idea.
More information on publication is available through the author’s website.
Updated 7/27/2013 with a second student LL.
A student of mine just sat for the PMP exam and passed on his first try! Yay!! He took the extra step of writing up his lessons learned to share with his classmates. I am now sharing with the world (with permission).
Congratulations JC!!!! And thank you for sharing.
Although I passed the PMP exam, it was actually a pretty stressful experience for me and there were a few lessons learned for me that I think are worth sharing without getting into the actual questions.
First of all, I made the mistake of not skipping the hard questions. I’m stubborn, so I just didn’t want to move on to the next question until I could at least make an educated guess. I felt like I was doing pretty well on the first few questions, but then I ran into this one formula question, where I could not figure out how to arrive at any of the answers using the formulas. After spending way too much time thinking about it, I finally gave up and made an educated guess without using any formulas. Because of this, and the fact that I’m a slow reader, I ended up spending almost an hour on the first 25 questions or so… So of course, I panicked and had to really rush for the rest of the exam. And being in panic mode made it hard to concentrate on questions, especially long ones. I was finally able to get through all the questions with about 20 minutes to spare for reviewing, but I wasn’t able to review all of the questions I marked. So you might want to practice the technique of skipping the hard ones the first time through.
Another mistake I made was that I drank too much water leading up to the exam and I did not go to the bathroom just before the exam. So I ended up going to the bathroom twice during the exam. And because I was in a rush for most of the time, I answered many questions while wanting to go to the bathroom…
Also, taking a bathroom break may take an extra few minutes than you think. And if you’re in a rush, you might wanna try to take your break when other test takers are not at the testing room entrance. Every time you go out of the testing room you have to check out, the test administrator has to help you sign your name and time. And before you can go back in, you have to go through the strip search again and then sign your name and time. If there is anybody else that’s checking in or out at the same time, then you have to wait your turn.
Other notes about the security:
- The strip search involves rolling up your sleeves to show your wrists, turning all of your pockets inside out, pulling up the bottom of your pants to show the top of your socks, answering the question of where your cell phone is, and having them wave the metal detector on you front and back. So you might want to wear clothes that’s easy to show your wrist and socks and with fewer pockets.
- However, the testing room had the air conditioning blasted, so it was freezing cold in there! I had a long sleeve shirt and slacks with a jacket on, but I often had to rub my hands and thighs to warm them up. I had only brought my jacket because it was cold in the morning and I had planned to take it off inside, but I ended up zipping up my jacket in the testing roomJ
- Next to the locker, there was a rack to put your drink and snack outside of the exam room. You don’t want to put your drink and snack in the locker, because you CANNOT access your locker during the exam. They give you the key to your locker, but they put a plastic strip on your locker that prevents you from opening your locker until you are done with the exam. I think this is to prevent you from accessing your cell phone during your break. So I’m not sure, but I don’t think you are allowed go outside during your break either.
- I brought my ear plugs, but I had a plastic case for my ear plugs, which they told me I had to put in the locker. Only the ear plugs were allowed and not the plastic case. I’m glad to have had the ear plugs just to eliminate the loud noise of the air conditioner. There were headsets at every desk, but I didn’t try them.
- They also told me that I had to put my handkerchief in the locker… So I guess you have to take a break if you need to wipe your nose or hands (or use your sleevesJ)
- I walked in the testing center around 7:50, but since there were many people ahead of me, so I ended up starting my tutorial around 8:15. So you will wanna get there early if you want to start on schedule. If you’d like to know exactly what to expect when you walk into the testing center, here is what happens. When you walk in, they ask for your last name (no need for print out of reservation), they take your ID, stack them in a pile, give you a list of rules to read, and have you wait until it’s your turn. When you’re called, you get a numbered locker key, you put things in the numbered locker, place drink and snack on a rack, and then you get strip searched. Then they ask you for your email address that you applied with, check-in by using the same signature on your ID and they give you the time to write down. Then they hand you a stapled set of scratch paper and pencils (which you have to bring back out with you when you’re done with the exam and give it back). When they first escort you into the testing room, they ask you to wait by the door until they check your numbered seat and then give you the okay to go there.
Lessons Learned #2
I left 1.5 hours early after a good night’s sleep, a light breakfast, but didn’t overdue it on the coffee or water – based on JC’s recommendation.
I made the mistake of clicking on the END TUTORIAL at the end of the tutorial, which immediately started the exam. This means I forfeited the time to jot down my cheat sheet. Although I think this was mentioned in class, I still fully expected a START EXAM option.
Another odd thing was that time at the testing center is much faster than at home. I took a lot of practice exams, several with 100 questions and a full 200 question practice the day before my exam. At home I was never anywhere close to using up all the time, even including bathroom breaks etc. Similar to Jason’s report, I ended up being very rushed and paying close attention to the clock. Especially since at one point I’d fully convinced myself that since the was testing our project management skills, simply finishing within the allotted schedule might in itself affect the score.
I was very happy to have spent extra time practicing Earned Value. A few of the questions requiring formulas where however posed in such a convoluted manner that I ended up just giving it a best guess instead of figuring. I’d then note the question number on my scrap paper so that I could go back to it at the end of the test, if I had any extra time.
Understanding the differences between the various types of charts, diagrams, analyses, etc were not straightforward to me – so I refreshed my memory in this area the evening before the exam. I’m glad I did.
I didn’t spend additional time studying up on network diagramming, but only because I’ve had a lot of scheduling background, so this seemed fairly straightforward to me. I could likely have invested more time here, especially around calculating float.
I told myself I’d take a quick break at the 100th question. Of course someone walked into the ladies bathroom right as I headed there. I used the men’s room instead, and reported to the officials that they needed to restock the paper towels. I have no shame in this area.
I focused on remembering to take deep breaths at least three questions. Since it seemed that I wasn’t completely certain how to answer most of the questions, I was pretty certain I wasn’t going to pass. I reminded myself that I was doing the best I could and failing wouldn’t be the end of the world. I reminded myself that the end of the world is the only end of the world. Everything else is an inconvenience.
I created the following study guide for students of my PMP prep courses. I post this now with thoughts of those sitting for the exam in the next six-weeks, before PMBOK 4th Edition testing ends July 31, 2013. Please comment with your own study suggestions for others.
- Create crib sheet
- Create your own. Doing it yourself will force you to write the solutions which will help with memory retention. It will also make more sense to you as you will document knowledge in the way that makes the most sense to you. Suggestions for crib sheet include (in priority order):
- Earned Value Formulas
- 3-point estimating formulas
- Communications Channels
- Present-Future Value Formulas
- Conflict Resolution Types
- Types of Power for the Project Manager
- Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
- Contract Types
- Organizational Structure Characteristics
- Sigma Percentages
- Cost Estimate Range Table
- Slack, Forward, and Backward Pass Formulas
- Risk Response Strategy (Positive Risks)
- Risk Response Strategy (Negative Risks)
- Communication Model
- PTA Variables
- Review PMBOK section 3 – Inputs, Tools & Techniques, & Outputs by Knowledge Area (also available in combined slideshow)
- Practice PDM
- Practice EMV
- Play Rita’s Process Game – Start Page 43
- Play Rita’s Numbers Game – Start Page 260
- Take sample test of at least 100 questions (http://www.headfirstlabs.com/PMP/pmp_exam/v1/quiz.html)
- Review score and identify missed questions by knowledge area
- Review Rita’s Book*, the PM Answer Book*, and PMBOK*, for each the three weakest knowledge areas
- As needed, go to PMI 24/7 Books (eReads) – http://www.pmi.org/Knowledge-Center/Virtual-Library-eReads-and-Reference.aspx
- Search through library to find additional resources that will help increase knowledge of that area (many books have practice exams by knowledge area that will help you test your knowledge)
- Repeat steps 2 – 8 noting any changes in comprehension by knowledge area and adjusting as necessary
A note about practice test:
- DO – use test results to determine knowledge areas that you are weaker in
- DO – use test to get comfortable with format of questions and strategy for answering
- DON’T – use test results as a final indicator of the score you will get on the final test
- Recreate crib sheet from memory (cheat only if needed)
- Review PMBOK by knowledge area (inputs, tools and techniques, outputs)
- Review PMI-isms (Rita page 15-17)
- Review Chapter 14 – the PMP Exam (Rita’s book)
- Play Rita’s Process Game – Start Page 43
- Play Rita’s Numbers Game – Start Page 260
- Recreate matrix of Knowledge Area and Process groups from memory
- Take sample test of at least 100 questions (Transcender or http://www.headfirstlabs.com/PMP/pmp_exam/v1/quiz.html)
Night Before / Day Of
- Determine any urgent study needs from test results and study
- Verify test location and time
- Find your exam schedule notice and set aside where you will NOT forget the next day
- Take a break – put it all aside, relax, and take care of your self
- Don’t over do
- Get a good night sleep
- Eat a healthy meal
- Review your crib sheet, matrix of Knowledge Area and Process Groups
- Remember your exam schedule notice
- Pack a healthy snack and water
- Get to test site early
- Review your crib sheet again paying special attention to difficult to remember formulas (don’t try to crash memorize more than 3 or you’ll fill up the brain)
- Go to exam room (they will likely let you sit for the exam early if you get there early provided they have a test station available)
- Store your personal items in locker provided
- Use the restroom
- Once you are at the test station
- Recreate your crib sheet on paper provided
- Use the time available to get comfortable with the computerized test (allowed 15 minutes)
- Start the clock when ready
Principles to Remember
- The Project Manager has authority within the parameters of the charter
- Stakeholders include everyone including the team and project manager
- For any decision or problem
- Identify the problem
- Analyze the Impact
- Evaluate Options
- Prepare a Recommendation
- Communication is candid yet empathic with problem solving in mind
- All project information is transparent unless confidential (for a reason)
- The Project Manager is always proactive toward the project and bettering project management practices within the organization
- Address problem and potential issues head on
- The Lazy PM
- Emphasizes planning
- Stakeholders are privy to plans for smooth transition to response eliminating “fire fighting mode”
- Read the entire question and possible answers before settling on an answer
- Dissect question – what is it actually asking
- Look for extraneous information
- Look for double-negatives – translate to positive question
- Look at the potential answers
- What is the sequence of events based on the PMBOK
- Sequence the possible answer to determine BEST NEXT
- Review the sequence with possible answers of lists to rule-out or identify the best answer
- Does a single answer have a mix of concepts that are not in context with the question – rule it out
- Does a single answer sound like a good practice, something you would do, BUT is not covered in your study or PMBOK – rule it out
- When comparing two answers – is one more formal then the other? The more formal answer may be the correct one with the informal answer being the “good idea” that is not the official answer
- What is the sequence of events based on the PMBOK
In Reviewing Questions During the Test
- Run through the test once answering the easy questions and flagging the not-easy questions.
- Run through the test a second time to answer the flagged questions. Unmark those you are relatively comfortable with, keep marked the ones you want to come back to
- Take a break!!!!
- Run through the test again for only the marked items, verify your answers – have a darn good reason for changing if you had answered. Your first instinct may very well be the right one.
- In your final run through look for
- Questions that may have been tricks
- Wordy questions
- Answers include similar lists of items
- Seemed too good to be true
- The first 20-50 questions that you answered as your frame of mind may not have been ready for a trick
- Take a break!!!!
- Last run through as you determine necessary – look for potentially obvious mistakes you may have made. Again, if you are waffling between two answer, your first instinct may be correct – consider leaving the original response
- Know that is normal to stop breathing the second you hit “done”
- There may be a slight delay and a survey on the test experience will be presented (SERIOUSLY!?!?)
- There may be a slight delay and then a message on the overall test results “Congratulations, you have passed.”
- The test proctor staff will provide you with proof.
- Email Vicki@project-pro.us (I want to hear!)
- PMI will mail you certificate and other goodies to accompany your PMP.
A failing test score is not a failure!! You only truly fail when you give up. Remember, the test was designed to only achieve a certain level of passing attempts. Also remember, it was designed expecting test takers to already be experienced expert level project managers. You should take the opportunity to take the exam again. See http://pmstudent.com/4-steps-to-recover-from-a-pmp-exam-fail/.
The books listed here were used for classes relating to the 4th Edition of the PMBOK. Look for the most current editions if planning to sit for the exam after 7/31/2013. See The Project Pro’s Bookstore, PMP Prep shelf for these and other titles.
- Rita’s Book – Or ther study book such as the Andy Crowe version
- Mulcahy, R. (2011). Pmp exam prep, seventh edition. RMC Publications
- A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (4th Edition)
- A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (4th Edition)
- PM Answer Book
- Furman, J. (2012). The Project Management Answer Book. Management Concepts Press.
Permitting and inspections is to fire fighting what planning and communication is to projects.
Even firemen take time for maintenance, operations, and process improvement.
Last weekend I attended the Cirque Du Soleil show, Amaluna. While most of the audience was mesmerized by the beauty and awesomeness of the feats, I was mesmerized by the demonstration of what great teamwork can accomplish. Here is a quick run-down of my observations on the benefits of great teamwork.
Trust in Others
The troupe is truly putting their lives in each other’s hands. With high-flying acrobatics and water stunts, the impact of something going wrong can truly be life threatening. It takes a huge amount of confidence to entrust your life into your co-workers hands, but the results are astounding. When thinking of who needs to trust whom, it goes beyond other performers who are putting their safety at risk, but also the engineers and riggers.
What could you accomplish in your current project if you had that much faith and trust in your teammates? Would the project have better flow and less resistance? Do you give your teammates the trust they deserve? We are each experts in our own rights of our own domain. Trust in that and keep conversations on using the various areas of expertise to achieving the goals of the project. Identify underlying issues to deal with the root cause to address team members you believe not to be trustworthy.
Slips happen…recovery gracefully!
Don’t think for a second that every show goes off without a hitch. I saw a couple of “slips” (some obvious, others not) and am sure I missed many more. What keeps the show amazing is the graceful recovery. The most obvious slip I noticed, the performer just kept going and tried again. She succeeded and the audience was amazed. Other slips were covered by their team performers adjusting their movements to minimize the impact on the show, the performers, and keep the show entertaining for the crowd.
We often experience slips in projects. Maybe there is a slip in schedule, defects in code, or risks that turn into issues. It is okay. Our project plans help us decide the graceful recovery in advance. There may be an unforeseen issue that affects the project. The issue is what is it is. Focus on the graceful recovery in support of the project. Refer to point number one and trust that your teammates will contribute to the graceful recovery.
Here is a quick side note. The music in Amaluna was live. It would be very difficult to recovery gracefully if reliant on a soundtrack that prevented needed corrections.
Bad things happen when you are not trustworthy. A performer in Amaluna would not feel safe to give a 100% on feat where their safety was in my hands and I’m not trustworthy. I may lose opportunities to perform. The show would lose a great deal of awesomeness with the troupe not trusting in each other to give 100%. Signing up to perform a feat that one is not ready for, performing when physically compromised, or not being reliable in showing up for rehearsal could destroy valuable trust and compromise the show.
Are you trustworthy when it comes to your projects? Do you make meetings on time, participate fairly, complete assignments as agreed? Do you refrain from gossip, always give honest status on the project, and help your teammate recover from their slips? The person who can do this with integrity, consistently will be a very important contributor to the project. Only when all teammates, including yourself, are trustworthy will you have the level of trust needed to pull off amazing acts. It is the rare project that is delivered on time, on budget, and with promised scope that brings value to the business…a truly amazing feat.
Here is a short promo video of Amaluna to amaze you. A fourth secret follows.
A fourth observation? Yes, risk management. Telling you this is admitting to what a nerd I truly am. The video shows the scene with the contortionist in the water splashing all around. My mind realized that water on stage could be deadly to those that follow her act. Brilliant risk management is at work here.
- Large cloths blanked the stage around the bowl.
- After they moved the bowl and blankets, they had performers performing wiping the stage down with towels
- The next act was the high wire, not conducted directly on stage but the high wire with cushions below
- Then intermission
Four strategies to mitigate the risk of water on the stage endangering the performers.
Please share your stories and thoughts on what makes for amazing teamwork.Photo by Cirque du Soleil at http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/en/shows/amaluna/default.aspx
How often have you been called upon to remember past projects? Are you prepared to respond to “tell me about your favorite project and why it was your favorite”? If you are pursuing professional certification, a new job, or promotion, be ready for this question. If your brain is like mine, it is an overflowing file cabinet with some of the best material buried in the back corner. It is not always easy to access the things you have done in the past, especially when new projects are always sitting on the forefront of the mind. As a result, you will likely shortchange yourself by relying on the more accessible recent experiences that may be less relevant in the context of the position. Perhaps you come up short on needed hours experience for that professional certification because you had forgotten about that part time project you worked on when in a different position. There is a remedy for this. That is your Project Portfolio History.
I created my Project Portfolio History when applying from Professional Project Manager Certification from the Project Management Institute. It was a necessary step for completing the application, but I quickly saw a multitude of uses for this listing. The list includes:
- Project Title
- Start Month
- End Month
- Number of Months
- Project Description
Customize your Project Portfolio History to meet your specific needs. You may add a column for percentage of work time spent on the project, the project sponsor, team members, project methodology…whatever makes sense to you. This is your reference and a supplement to your resume, not a replacement. You may opt to share with recruiters in which case it might make sense to keep a “private” version in addition to the “public” version with the private including key words or signals that you want to remember without sharing. My private version has notes to remind me of my favorite projects, least favorite projects, projects where I learned the most, and many of those other common asks when discussing your project past.
The project description should help describe each project and what made each unique. What technologies and methodologies where used? What was the team structure? Who were the users of the solution and how the accessed it? You do not need to answer each of these questions – rather you are looking for what about this project sets it apart from others.
This document has helped me in describing experience in resumes, cover letters, and in interviews, as well as document hours for both the PMP and the Certified Business Analyst Professional (CBAP®) certification. I use it when customizing my resume to the job I am submitting for, developing my cover letter, review prior to an interview for a fresh look, and I even request to keep the document out and handy during an interview. I have yet to be refused to have my “cheat sheet” handy. Recruiters and interviewers have requested a copy. Remember to have a public version available. One recruiter I worked with said, “This is great! Every project professional should have this.” Start putting your together today. I have linked a Project Portfolio History template so you can get started on yours today. Start with your current project and work backwards. You can always add rows to fill in gaps if you miss something along the way.
Please share your experiences with this or a similar document by commenting on this post.
Have you ever been on or lead a team where confusion over who should do what existed? Maybe there was a ‘roles and responsibilities’ document or even RACI chart on the wall, yet team members struggled. Struggles commonly persist when a task was not included in the document or the team members did not accept the assignments. Have they even seen and reviewed it? Unclear expectations and lack of communication leads to team conflict, something we all want to avoid. Below is one exercise I have done with teams that has resulted in a better understanding and respect in team members’ roles.
Generate team discussion and agreement on who is responsible for the completion and quality of project tasks.
All team members for a small team or a representative of each team discipline for larger teams. No discipline should go unrepresented. For best results, ask for an independent facilitator so that the project manager can be a full participant.
- Large index cards or sticky notes
- Empty walls for posting cards
- Felt pens
- Write out a team task, one task per card (may be hand written with felt pen or creating labels to stick to the cards may save some time) – Sample Set of Labels
- Create a card for each project team discipline (e.g., developers, business analysts, test team) including single person roles (e.g., project manager, sponsor)
- Use the team discipline cards to create areas for columns, or groups, of tasks on meeting room walls. Additional groupings for “ALL” or “TBD” may also be represented.
- Leave some blank cards and felt pens around the room for team members
- Organize your pre-written cards so that can easily get to the most controversial tasks easily
- Explain the goal and process for the meeting to team members
- Goal – Assign all tasks to project sub-team or members with full team agreement
- Process – Ask the meeting participants where each task belongs as far as who do the task. Encourage discussion of “why” when there are differences of opinion. There are no right or wrong answers. Whatever the team agrees to is correct. The project manager may suggest best practice, but not dictate the final assignment.
- Start with a few more obvious tasks such as “write program code”
- Post the card in the in the group that the team agrees
- Where differences of opinion, ask those most directly affected to explain why they choose that role or discipline
- See if team members agree after hearing explanations
- If still no agreement, offer the project managers view on where the assignment belongs
- See if team can agree to the project managers view, specifically those most affected
- If still no agreement put task aside or post in “TBD” to come back to
- Limit the time per card to about 2 minutes
- Move on to the tasks that are likely to generate the most discussion once team members have a handle on how the process works
- Team members may propose new tasks for discussion by writing out a card
- Stop about 10 minutes before the scheduled end time to get agreement for handling remaining tasks. Possible options include:
- Extend meeting time
- Schedule a follow-up meeting
- Assign delegate to propose assignments for any remaining tasks and send to team members
- Inform the team how the results will be documented and where available for future reference
This exercise focuses on who does the work. There is still a need to document who reviews, who approves, and so on. This can come in a RACI-type chart later. Another option is to mark each card as team members discuss the assignment. Choose whatever method will get to team acceptance the quickest.
I mention a RACI-type chart for a reason. When creating a matrix of roles and responsibilities use the terms best represents how work is approved in your team and organization. “Responsible”, “Accountable”, “Communicated”, and “Informed” may not hold a lot of meaning to your team members where “Leads”, “Approves”, and “Informed” may be clearer. Let the team help decide on the categories to capture so that the resulting document is meaningful.
I hope this exercise, or some variation of it, will help to avoid confusion and conflict in your project teams. Please comment or email me if you use this exercise on your project. I am interested in how it went for your team; especially any adjustments made that provided even better results.