Vicki James, PMP, CBAP, PMI-PBA, CSM

formerly of Professional Project Services, LCC

Tag Archives: pmp

Get Ready for PMP Exam Changes Coming in January 2016

PMI© has announce changes coming to the Project Manager Professional (PMP®) examination beginning on January 11, 2016 (postponed from original schedule of November 1, 2015). The changes represent a 25% overhaul to the exam questions. While the exam is changing, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide®) 5th edition, is not. If you are scheduled to take the exam prior to January 11, 2016, do not change your course of study. However, if you do not pass prior to this date or are otherwise scheduled to take it afterwards, you will need to change your study strategy to include the exam updates.

Continue reading…

PMP Exam Lessons Learned

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.

pass


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.

Good luck!


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.

PMP Study Tips with Timeline

passI 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.

Week(s) Before

  1. 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):
    1. Earned Value Formulas
    2. 3-point estimating formulas
    3. Communications Channels
    4. Present-Future Value Formulas
    5. Conflict Resolution Types
    6. Types of Power for the Project Manager
    7. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
    8. Contract Types
    9. Organizational Structure Characteristics
    10. Sigma Percentages
    11. Cost Estimate Range Table
    12. Slack, Forward, and Backward Pass Formulas
    13. Risk Response Strategy (Positive Risks)
    14. Risk Response Strategy (Negative Risks)
    15. Communication Model
    16. PTA Variables
  2. Review PMBOK section 3 – Inputs, Tools & Techniques, & Outputs by Knowledge Area (also available in combined slideshow)
  3. Practice PDM
  4. Practice EMV
  5. Work through a PMP Exam prep study guide on your own paying special attention to exercise.
  6. Take sample test of at least 100 questions (http://www.headfirstlabs.com/PMP/pmp_exam/v1/quiz.html)
  7. Review score and identify missed questions by knowledge area
  8. Review study guide, the PM Answer Book*, and PMBOK*, for each the three weakest knowledge areas
  9. As needed, go to PMI 24/7 Books (eReads) – http://www.pmi.org/Knowledge-Center/Virtual-Library-eReads-and-Reference.aspx
  10. 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)
  11. 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


Day(s) Before

  1. Recreate crib sheet from memory (cheat only if needed)
  2. Review PMBOK by knowledge area (inputs, tools and techniques, outputs)
  3. Review PMI-isms (Rita page 15-17)
  4. Review Chapter 14 – the PMP Exam (Rita’s book)
  5. Review study book exercises
  6. Recreate matrix of Knowledge Area and Process groups from memory
  7. 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
      1. Recreate your crib sheet on paper provided
      2. Use the time available to get comfortable with the computerized test (allowed 15 minutes)
      3. 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

In Reviewing Questions During the Test

  1. Run through the test once answering the easy questions and flagging the not-easy questions.
  2. 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
  3. Take a break!!!!
  4. 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.
  5. 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.james@watermarklearning.com (I want to hear!)
    • PMI will mail you certificate and other goodies to accompany your PMP.

What if…

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 4 Steps to Recover from a PMP Exam Fail (PMStudent.com) and 10 Tips for Passing the PMP Exam…the Second Time (Watermark Learning).

* Notes

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.

  • PMP Prep Study Books
  • PMBOK
    • 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.
  • Find more on PMP Exam Preparation from Watermark Learning

6 Easy Ways to Earn PDUs for your PMP

Are you up to date on your PDUs? Is your renewal deadline fast approaching? Here are some ideas, in ease to earn order, to help you get your PDUs in time for your certification renewal. Full detail for categories is available in the PMP Handbook. Refer to your copy for additional information to plan for and record your PDUs.

Category F* – Working as a Professional In Project Management

You can earn up to 5 PDUs per year, 15 per certification cycle, for working full time as a project manager. Your 25% on your way to re-certification!

*Subject to maximum of 45 credits combined in categories D, E, and F.

Category C – Self Directed Learning

Anything you read, watch, or discuss related to project management may count towards your PDUs. Keep records of the time you participate in these activities along with any notes and record your PDUs. One PDU per hour of activity up to 30 PDUs in your certification cycle is allowed.

  • Webinars
  • Podcasts
  • Articles
  • Books

There are hundreds of self-directed learning opportunities on the web. Check out these links to find out more. Sign up for their email lists to get notice of opportunities directly in your inbox.

  • pduOTD.com – PDU of the Day provides PDU opportunities from all categories. Many are self-directed activities. Opportunities listed provide information includes category information, recording requirements, and anything else you need to know to make the most of the opportunity provided.
  • PDUInsider.com – This is a portal to many PDU opportunities of various categories. Find an event calendar of opportunities or browse for on-demand activities that are available. Also includes a link to information on the PDUPodcast.com, an opportunity to earn PDUs through recorded podcasts.

Category E* – Volunteer Service

Have you volunteered with the PMI, maybe within your local chapter, or reviewing an upcoming standard on PMI.org? This also provides PDU credit. Find out more on volunteering at the PMI Volunteer page.

Volunteering is not just a great way to get PDU credit, it also is a great way to expand your network and your skills while benefiting PMI and project managers everywhere. You earn 1 PDU per hour up to the 45 PDU limit in your certification cycle.

*Subject to 45 credit limit for activities in categories D, E, and F.

Category B – Continuing Education

Did you know that you get credit for all project management training, not just training provided by PMI Registered Education Providers? That’s right! That is what category B is all about. Participate in any formal training session and get credit for that time of the curriculum that is project management specific. So go ahead and sign up for the project management workshop you want. It does count!

Category D* – Create New Project Management Knowledge

Do you write or train on project management? Well give yourself credit. PMI grants PDUs for sharing knowledge through writing, presenting, and training. You get PDU credit for preparation and presentation time hour for hour.

*Subject to 45 credit limit for activities in categories D, E, and F.

Conferences, Congresses, and Seminar Events

This is perhaps the most fun and efficient way to earn PDUs. Not only do you get a large selections of topics to see presentations on, but you get to meet project managers from around the world and see what is happening in the world of vendors and tools. You might not even have to record your PDUs  for PMI.org sponsored events as they will often do this for you from your registration and attended sessions.

A Final Note

Make managing your PDUs easier by recording as you as you earn them. This will make the overall task easier and provide an easy to follow view of where you are in your certification cycle. Record your PDUs online on the Continuing Education Requirements System. Got too many? No problem…you can roll over up to 20 PDUs for your next cycle.

* Categories D, E, and F are grouped as “Giving Back to the Profession.” PMI has placed a limit on the number of PDUs allowed in these categories to 45 per certification cycle.
Image credit: nikolaev / 123RF Stock Photo

Number One Benefit of Achieving the PMP

I taught my first week long PMP Exam prep class last week. I recall when I first learned of these boot-camp style classes and my original thought. “Great, you learn how to pass a test. Did you learn anything about project management?” I often comment on my study experience that I learned more in studying for the PMP then I did in a 9-month university certification course and prior experience. The challenge for this course became to incorporate true learning into the crash course – to motivate the students to see how the processes, inputs, tools and techniques, and outputs would make their projects more successful.

I scheduled one-on-one briefings on the last day of class. One student, Marcus, talked of his father who had recently passed the PMP while in a long career in project management. We also had a few “seasoned” project managers in the class. Marcus questioned the value of the PMP for these folks with the reasoning that they had been successful project managers in their careers without the PMP. “Have they been successful with a reported project failure and challenged rate of 65%?” The bottom line is that even a successful project manager can learn new ways of doing things based on industry best practice and increase the chance of project success. There is no room for complacency in managing projects with millions of dollars at stake and an unstable economic market. Learning is the number one benefit of achieving the PMP.

Marcus went on to asked about case studies to support the benefit of PMP. I suggested that PMI would have plenty of information published through pmi.org and offered up the two following books for further exploration.

Remember this next time a non-certified project managers claims that a PMP is not beneficial –

Never become so much of an expert that you stop gaining expertise. View life as a continuous learning experience. Denis Waitley

Disclaimer: I do not profess that someone who has a PMP is superior to someone who does not. Only that one will have learned and demonstrated more knowledge than before attaining the PMP. See The  Chef or the Cook: Choosing the Right Candidate

Additional Resources

Related articles by me

Secrets of the PMP Exam

This was my submission for the The PMCAMPUS 60 PDU Online Giveway contest. The tips here apply to the CBAP examination as well. I hope you will find some valuable tips that work for you as your pursue your chosen credential.


Congratulations on your decision to pursue your PMP. What an exhilarating adventure. Stressful, yet exhilarating. I will offer you some practical tips to help you pass this strenuous exam. Following the advice here will reduce your stress for the exam itself. I’m not going to focus in PMBOK’isms, models, or formulas, but rather stress the importance of the questions themselves.

You are likely to hear about the difficulty in understanding and answering the questions. I cannot stress enough how true this is. Using the strategies I describe here you will be in a better position to understand the questions and possible answers, and select the “right” answer.

Practice Tests

Take many, many practice tests. The goal here is not to memorize potential questions and answers. Questions you find on a practice exam are not going to appear on the real test. Actual test questions are carefully guarded. Instead, you are going to focus in getting familiar with the question format and gain practice in analyzing the question and possible answers.

There is also benefit in getting a baseline on where you stand using the practice exams. Don’t put too much stake in the results you get. Many practice tests are actually harder than the real exam, and some are easier. What they will point out is in what areas you are weak. Use this information to prioritize your study.

Analyze the Question

Read each question multiple times. I recommend not looking at the possible answers yet. They may sway your understanding. Read the question as if they are trying to trick you (maybe they are) – don’t let them get away with it. Can the question be rearranged for a different interpretation? What information is extraneous to the core question? Consider these questions and use your best judgment to reframe the question in a way that makes sense to you. Review the question after you have reframed it to check that you haven’t read too much into it, or let wishful thinking lead you somewhere else.

Scrutinize the Possible Answers

You will find that three of the questions seem correct 50% of the time and two of the answers appear correct 75% of the time (my guess). You need a strategy to help weed out the wrong answers and find the right answer.

Questions will commonly be stated as “what is the next best step?” Here is the trick. Put the possible answers in activity sequence. Go back to read the question, and then check the sequence. What is the next best step? Now you are ready to answer the question. Use a similar strategy to organize possible answers by Knowledge Area and Process Group where needed.

Use Your Tools

There will be time when a scenario that ties into the next several questions. You won’t know this is the case until you move on. Often times in these cases the questions relate to a PMBOK tool. For example, one scenario may call for the need to draw a network diagram. The first question related to the scenario might be straightforward. You might be tempted to shortcut and just answer it. I recommend you do the full exercise and draw the network diagram. It may help point to a less obvious answer that is correct. It may also help you answer the next few questions. It will help you confirm the answer, much like checking an algebra equation.

Take many, many practice tests. It is worth stating again.

Additional Quick Tips

  • Understand and believe in PMBOK processes and how they will improve your projects
  • Do not go hungry
  • Review all your notes and formulas in the car prior to going into the exam
  • Use the scratch paper provided in the test cubicle to brain dump all those notes and formulas in your head
  • Flag and skip questions you are not sure about to go back after your first run through

Please save this article to review the day of the exam. I hope you will email to let me know how the exam goes and more tips you would like to pass on to future test takers once the ordeal is over.

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Related Articles

PMP “Marathon” Completed by David J. Kearney, PMP – describes time and costs pursuing certification.

Check out these Professional Project Services recommended PMP Prep books

Image: Keerati / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Chef or the Cook? Choosing the Right Candidate

How do you balance hiring decisions when given a choice between someone with education and certification, and someone with experience only? I often hear, and agree, that certification does not guarantee a qualified person for any position. As a certified Project Management Professional and Certified Business Analysis Profession, I could not agree more. I will use the scenario of the Chef and the Cook to discuss the differences and explore how this could apply to other professions such as a project manager, business analyst, or accountant.

I always look forward to checking out the Chef’s special when I go into a restaurant. Often the Chef’s special is something a little different that highlights their talent as a chef. The dish is something that the Chef has created using his extensive knowledge of ingredients, flavors, and a talent to combine food, herbs, and spices in a way that tantalizes the taste buds. The Chef must also manage the kitchen crew and keep up with the demands of the restaurant to ensure a great restaurant experience for the patron.

Have you noticed that chain restaurants do not have Chef’s specials? They may have day of the week specials, but these are set every week. That is because the menu and the recipes are established by a corporate office and have proven to be true winners for the brand. The difference here is that the chains employ cooks. Those who can competently follow a recipe while keeping pace with the hustle and bustle of a restaurant.

The Chef will likely have a passion for food, experience in the kitchen, and advanced training from a culinary school, whereas the cook often found a job that they did reasonably well and has gained experience over time. (More on the difference between a Chef and Cook).  Advance training often involves gaining a broader foundation of techniques and proven best practices of those great chefs that have gone before. These foundations make it easier for the Chef to create, innovate, and successfully adapt recipes. Does certification or graduation from the culinary school guarantee a competent chef? Does lack of a culinary program infer that someone would not be a competent chef? Absolutely not. The school may provide additional knowledge and tools to become a better chef, but some may inherently get this. On the same note, having the education may not be enough if the talent for food and kitchen management is not there. “A fool with a tool is still a fool”. My conclusion is that the combination of experience and education, mixed with natural talent, increases the likelihood of hiring the right candidate. Experience and education is what can be most effectively measured when recruiting.

Consider what candidates bring to the table in both experience and education when recruiting for your next position. Certification is an indicator of retaining and being able to apply learning at the conclusion of the educational experience, but not an end all to be all. The below chart should help you gauge how an individual’s education and experience qualifies them for that job you are looking to fill. But recruiting is always subjective, so don’t forget to use your instincts. Be sure you are getting the person you need. Often times a cook will better suit the need.

Matrix of Education and Experience for Qualification

Qaulification Matrix

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