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Helping you earn and maintain your PMI certification. Passing the PMP Exam is tough, but keeping your PMP Certification alive is just as challenging. Preparing for the exam requires an in-depth study of the PMBOK Guide and dedicated study discipline. And once you are PMP certified, then you are required to earn 60 Professional Development Units (PDUs) every 3 years to keep your certification alive. Let me help you make this journey easier with tips and tricks on how to prepare for and pass the exam as well as efficiently earning your PDUs once you are certified.
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The 7 Questions Every PMP Student SHOULD Ask Their Coach

The Project Manager's Dirty Little Secret (Hint: It's Made by Microsoft but it's not MS Project...)

The 7 Questions Every PMP Exam Student Asks Their Coach

The Three R's You need for Your PMP Exam

PMI-ACP Exam Lessons from Those Who Have Been There

The 7 Questions Every PMP Student SHOULD Ask Their Coach

In our previous article we discussed the 7 questions that most of our PMP Exam coaching students ask us as they start out their journey. However, over the years we have identified a second set of 7 questions - the questions students SHOULD be asking us but they don’t. Here they are:

1. What’s the most important brain dump or diagram to learn?

This is an easy question! It’s Table 3-1 in the PMBOK® Guide. This covers the Project Management Process Group and Knowledge Area Mapping. It’s a complicated matrix and a very important visual representation of Project Management Body of Knowledge and Project Management framework. It is very much a guiding tool for approaching the PMP exam and one of the most important brain dumps that you could have in the testing center to help you.

2. What formulas do I need to know for the PMP exam?

There are many formulas in the PMBOK® Guide; upwards of 20 or 30 that could be referenced in the PMP exam. A PMP exam coach would tell you that you will probably only see somewhere in a range of around 15 formulas on the exam itself.
If time is short and you want to focus your learning on what will really make a difference to your success in the exam, identify the formulas that are most likely to come up and make sure you fully understand those. A formulas study guide, coach or PMP exam tutor will be able to pinpoint the most important formulas for you. Start by memorizing those to maximize your learning time.

3. What are these Inputs, Outputs, Tools and Techniques (ITTOs)?

ITTOs tend to scare a lot of PMP students and some exam candidates have confided that they didn’t understand or know about them before they took the exam! They are very important for understanding how project management concepts and processes fit together, both for the exam and also for managing projects in ‘real life’ after the exam.

Make sure you spend enough time learning about their structure, and how you are likely to encounter them on the PMP exam. You can do this through studying the PMBOK® Guide, and using other study guides and flashcards. Taking practice PMP exams is another good way of testing your knowledge of ITTOs as you will get to see how the questions are framed on the exam and learn how best to respond to them.

4. What are some tricks to answering these long scenario-based questions on the PMP exam?

This is an excellent question that PMP exam coaches don’t hear often enough! The best students want to know how to deal with the long paragraphs that they see on the PMP exam.

These long questions are often a source of great difficulty for many students. The content of the question is often in a strange order and there are facts that are added in simply to distract you. The answers are also often longer than normal, so scanning through and making a quick judgment about how to answer is tricky. So how can you deal with these scenario-based questions?

Something that works well for many exam candidates is to read the last part of the question first. You can also use a process of elimination on certain answers by referring to your brain dump of Table 3-1, the Project Management Process Group and Knowledge Area Mapping, or your formula sheet.

Practicing with an exam simulator and talking to your colleagues and coaches will help you understand and practice these long scenario-based questions.

5. How can I manage my time on the exam day?

Four hours seems like a very long time and in the past students were often able to complete the exam comfortably within this time. Now PMP exam tutors learn from their students that the test seems to be taking longer. You can still complete it within the 4 hour window allocated, but students are reporting that it is taking the full allocation of time so they don’t have the opportunity to leave early.
This could be for any number of reasons, including that students are now better prepared and are marking more questions for review. It could also be that earned value calculations are playing a great part in the exam and for many students, they add additional time. Whatever the reasons, you do need to manage your time carefully on the day to ensure that you have enough time to finish without being rushed.

Once you get on top of your time management you have a much better chance of passing the PMP exam.

6. What’s the best approach for learning all the content?

The best approach for learning all the content (and there is a lot of it!) depends on your learning style. Some people learn best by reading and absorbing information in their own time. This allows them to make notes and create their own flashcards, for example. If that sounds like you, a PMP study guide would be a good starting point.

Other people learn best through visual means, and if that sounds like your preferred learning style then the best approach that you could possibly take would be to find yourself a world class set of video learning lessons which will provide you with all of the content on all of the processes, the framework, and the body of knowledge in a visual way.

Others learn best in an environment with other people. A classroom course or PMP exam tutoring in a group can be a good solution if you prefer to learn in the company of others. Of course, you also have the option to learn one-on-one with a study buddy (a peer who is studying for the PMP exam at the same time as you), a mentor or PMP coach. Don’t limit yourself to having to meet in person as there are online options that also give you the personal touch without physically having to be in the same location, such as coaching via Skype.

You may want to use a combined approach to suit your situation so mix and match your learning options until you feel comfortable that you have a study plan that meets your personal needs and preferences.

7. How many practice exams should I take and what score should I score?

How many exams you take depends on how much time you have! It’s more important to make sure that you have access to practice exams that provide you with questions that are known to be almost exactly like the ones on the real test. Try to find a source of questions that are highly regarded to be very realistic. When you get to a point where you are repeatedly doing simulated exams at scores of 80% or better you know you are ready go in and pass that exam.

Do you feel better prepared for your PMP exam knowing the answers to these questions? We hope so! As you can see, it’s very difficult to give definitive answers in some cases as every student is different. The main message is to ensure you dovetail all of this advice together, making sure that you are studying in the right way, learning on the right timeline, taking the test questions right, and getting ready for the exam. Good luck!
 

Posted on: May 05, 2015 02:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

The Project Manager's Dirty Little Secret (Hint: It's Made by Microsoft but it's not MS Project...)

Categories: PM PrepCast

Here’s a little secret for you -- everybody does it. At one point or another during their careers, every project manager will use Microsoft Excel to manage one of their projects!

That in itself is not surprising. After all, budgets are often tight and companies may not want to invest into full blown project management software. And if they have such a software there are only a limited number of licenses available, which means many stakeholders cannot access the tool. So we project managers make due with what we have. And practically everyone has Microsoft Office.

But what is surprising is the fact that we just improvise. We will simply use Excel to the best of our often mediocre knowledge in order to somehow force a project schedule into those cells.

Well... enter Doug Hong (http://www.linkedin.com/in/doughong/en) and his series of seven free Microsoft Excel tutorials, that you can find at http://www.exceltraining101.com/excel-project-management/. In these seven short videos Doug shows you how to use MS Excel and create professional Gantt charts, work breakdown structures, checklists, pareto charts and more. All for free.

And because I liked the free approach I decided to invite Doug and ask him when and how we should use MS Excel, what Excel features we should learn about to better use it for our projects, and how we can identify the moment in our projects when Excel is really no longer the right tool and we have to upgrade to something more solid.

Until Next Time,

Cornelius Firchtner, PMP, CSM

Posted on: March 30, 2015 05:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

The 7 Questions Every PMP Exam Student Asks Their Coach

When students start their Project Management Professional (PMP)® exam prep (for the first time, or again after having failed the exam), there are a number of questions that come up time and time again. In this article we share the top 7 questions that every student asks us in our role as their PMP exam coach. Whether you have a coach or not, knowing the answers will help you get started more quickly with your own exam preparations.

Let’s dive straight in with the first question

1. Why did I fail the PMP exam when I studied so long and so hard?

Everyone is different, but you probably became overwhelmed during the exam as you didn’t approach it with the proper preparation and mechanics for taking the test. It’s not enough to go online and gather tidbits from other people about how to study. A Google search for “How should I study for the exam?” may tell you what to memorize and you’ll find some tips that have worked for other people. Reading the PMBOK® Guide really isn’t even mandatory for the exam, let alone reading it two or three times!

The scenario-based questions you faced in the exam are in depth and difficult, and you also need to be able to manage your time during the 4 hour exam. It’s hard and when you see the nature of the exam and the nerves kick in… all that leads to sub-optimal performance on the day.

Using a range of resources like videos, practice questions, flashcards, study guides and PMP tutoring can all help boost your chances of passing next time, if you combine them with practical preparations and test-taking strategies.

2. I am terrible at mathematics and at formulas. How will I ever be able to do all these earned value questions?

Have confidence! It’s not rocket science. If you’ve had an exposure to something like high school level math then you have the skills to do the math questions. It is just a matter of approaching these math questions in a formulaic kind of way.

First, memorize the formulas that are most likely to show up on the PMP exam – a PMP exam coach can help you identify which ones those are. When you have a theoretical understanding of these formulas and can see whether they are talking about planned vs. actual, variances or forecasts -- you will be able to understand the logic behind the math. At that point, practice, practice, practice! This is rote learning and with enough practical exercises and repetition you will achieve an “AHA” moment! Once you have done them often enough you’ll see the math is no longer a problem for you.

3. I took a few practice tests and I did OK with them so why I did I fail the PMP exam?

You probably weren’t using a very good set of practice questions. Make sure you are using the best quality question banks you can and take plenty of practice tests. Some practice tests aren’t the full length of the 4 hour exam, so be sure to attempt a few full length practice exams too. This will help you plan your time and develop test-taking strategies.

You really need to be dealing with practice PMP tests of 200 multiple choice questions and scoring 80 per cent or more. The reason for that is because there will most likely be a number of factors that could cause your score on the real test date to drop below what it was in your practice exams. Don’t forget that you might be nervous and you will be in an environment that is not comfortable to you because it is not where you did your studying. If you are only just above the passing threshold or achieving mediocre scores on your practice exams then you may drop below the success mark on the actual day.

PMP exam tutoring can help you identify the most realistic sets of PMP-style practice questions and with preparing for the rigors of the test environment.

4. Can you help me with Risk and Quality please?

Yes! These topics must be mastered for the PMP exam. Review all those little things like the 7 basic quality tools and the difference between quality assurance and quality control. Go through all of those risk processes and make sure you understand the whole sequence from planning risk all the way down to creating risk responses and the differences between qualitative and quantitative risk analysis.

Start there and drill down deeper, making sure that you understand all the concepts of risk and quality because they are going to make up a good percentage of the questions that you see on the exam.

5. What do I have to score in order to pass the exam? And can I get below proficient in more than one category and still pass?

The actual score to pass the exam isn’t made public and any passing percentages anyone mentions are just their best guess.

You should be aiming to score Moderately Proficient or Proficient in all process groups and an excellent PMP exam simulator will provide you with those scores. However, it is believed to be possible to pass the exam even if you are below proficient in more than one category.

6. How long should it take me to study effectively and pass the exam?

It depends! Everyone has different things going on in their lives from work, family and other commitments, so the time available to you to study is going to be personal depending on your circumstances. This will influence the length of your study schedule.

We see good results from students who can attack their studies aggressively and spend around 1-2 hours per day studying for the exam over a 1-2 month period. Students who put together long study plans of 4-6 months tend to see diminishing returns on their ability to pass. But remember that everyone is different. Working with a colleague who is already a PMP, a fellow student or a professional PMP coach can help you put together a personalized schedule that is realistic for you.

7. Do I really have to read the PMBOK® Guide twice like everyone says?

No, you do not, but it may help! The PMBOK® Guide is a useful reference guide and every good project manager should have one. You can also use a PMP prep book, a dedicated series of learning videos or the skills of a PMP tutor and have the PMBOK® Guide on hand to clarify further any concepts that you might not understand fully.

There you have it. These 7 questions are the most common questions that students ask their PMP coach when they start out with the PMP exam studies. Asking the right questions helps you prepare more effectively so if you are struggling with something related to your PMP exam prep, ask a colleague, a professional PMP tutor or another trusted individual for their advice. Knowing the answers will make you feel more confident and ready to face the exam and in turn, increase your chance of success on the day.

Posted on: March 26, 2015 07:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

The Three R's You need for Your PMP Exam

As part of the process of preparing to take the Project Management Professional (PMP®) Exam you have most likely read about the use of a Responsibility Assignment Matrix (RAM), Roles and Responsibilities, and the Resource Breakdown Structure (RBS). Each of these tools & techniques are discussed within A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Fifth Edition, Project Management Institute, Inc., 2013, the globally recognized standard and guide for the project management profession. In this article we not only look at each of these tools & techniques individually, but also how they interact with each other.

What is a Responsibility Assignment Matrix (RAM)? It is a tool used as part of the Plan Human Resource Management process that relates the organizational breakdown structure (OBS) to the work breakdown structure (WBS) and is used to ensure each project activity is assigned a specific resource. A RAM can be used at a high level, a low level, or a combination of both depending on the size and complexity of the project. A high-level RAM may show that Company A has been hired to complete the engineering portion of a project. A low-level RAM may show that Joe Smith of Company A will be completing the electrical engineering for the design portion of the project.

One of the most widely known and used type of RAM is the RACI chart. RACI stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consult, and Inform. A RACI chart is simply a table with project activities listed along the left and specific individuals or groups identified across the top. This creates a grid where each activity and individual or group intersect. An R, A, C, or I can be placed in each of the intersecting boxes and at least one accountable individual or group is assigned to each project activity. For large activities there may need to be more than one individual responsible for completing the work. There can be multiple individuals or groups who need to be consulted or informed, but be careful to make sure that each is identified correctly so that not too many unnecessary individuals or groups are being consulted when they may just want to be informed.

What are Roles and Responsibilities? They are used to define the project role, authority, responsibilities, and competencies required for the role. Clearly defining and documenting the specific Roles and Responsibilities necessary for each project resource are essential ingredients of an effective Human Resource Management Plan. The best way to determine the specific responsibilities required of each role on a project is to document these roles in the form of specific job descriptions that must be matched with specific project team members in order to properly execute the role’s responsibilities.

The four key items to be addressed when developing Roles and Responsibilities are role, authority, responsibility, and competency. Role is the function an assigned person would take on such as designer, engineer, or tester. As part of a role it is also important to define the authority, responsibilities, and boundaries of the role. Authority is the right to make decisions, sign approvals, apply resources, accept deliverables, and influence others to complete project activities. Responsibility is the assigned tasks and work the individual is expected to complete. When developing roles and responsibilities it is important that the authority and responsibility match. For example, if an engineer is responsible for making technical decisions it is important they have the authority to implement those decisions. Competency is the skill set and experience required to complete assigned project activities. If the wrong competency is assigned to a role project progress can be hindered by some activities not being performed.

What is the Resource Breakdown Structure (RBS)? It is a graphical representation of the hierarchical structure of resources by category and resource type where each level is broken down until it is small enough to be used in conjunction with the work breakdown structure (WBS). The goal is to have all resources on a project, not only human resources, linked to specific activities in the WBS in order to plan, monitor, and control the project work. Being able to link resources back to the WBS is essential in ensuring that each activity will be successfully performed.

One thing to remember when taking the PMP Exam is that the acronym RBS has two meanings in the world of project management; Resource Breakdown Structure and Risk Breakdown Structure. If you read the questions carefully and understand the context of the question context (i.e., are they asking about resources or risks?) you should not encounter any problems.

How do the Responsibility Assignment Matrix, Roles and Responsibilities, and Resource Breakdown Structure interact? The RBS will provide the project manager with information concerning the resources required to complete the project work. Once the RBS is decomposed to the same level as the WBS then identified resources can be linked to specific activities. A RACI chart can then be developed based on the identified resources in the RBS and the activities that need to be completed in the WBS. The documented Roles and Responsibilities provides the project manager with specific information such as the responsibility, authority, and competency level of the role that each human resource is assigned to. This also helps the Project Manager complete the RACI chart because it provides them with important information such as making someone responsible or accountable for an activity fitting within the role they fill.

In this article we were able to take a brief look at three very important project management topics and how they interact with each other in practice. A popular RAM, the RACI chart, is an extremely useful tool used to identify who is accountable or responsible for or needs to be consulted or informed with regard to specific project activities. Roles and Responsibilities can be thought of as job descriptions that define the role itself along with the authority needed to perform the role, the responsibilities of the role, and the competencies required by the role. The RBS graphically displays what resources are necessary for successful completion of the project, broken down by both resource category and resource type. For the exam, it is important that you understand not only how and when to use each of these tools & techniques, but also how they interact with each other.

Posted on: March 02, 2015 03:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

PMI-ACP Exam Lessons from Those Who Have Been There

Are you thinking about studying for and obtaining the Project Management Institute® Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)® certification? Are you wondering what study tools and methods others have used to successfully pass the PMI-ACP® Exam? Are you interested in reading about and learning from the exam experiences of those who have already passed the PMI-ACP Exam? Then there is a forum you should check out on The PMI-ACP Lessons Learned Forum website. All of the posts are lessons learned and tips from those who have recently passed the PMI-ACP Exam, who have become Agile Certified Practitioners, and who probably started with many of the same questions and concerns that you have right now.

One example from this forum was written by Michael Mondie after he successfully passed the PMI-ACP Exam. He shared his personal study plan and what items he reviewed the day he took the PMI-ACP Exam.

Some of the things Michael did as part of his study plan included:

•    Watching The Agile PrepCast™. He also noted that this will take dedication because there are many hours of podcast material in The Agile PrepCast.
•    Reading PMI-ACP Exam Prep, Premier Edition: A Course in a Book for Passing the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) Exam book by Mike Griffiths, PMP, PMI-ACP, CSM, and taking the quizzes that are included.
•    Completing the 50 question sample exam included in The Agile PrepCast Student Workbook
•    Finding a method for learning terms. Michael described his method as using a dry erase board to document made up words or acronyms that meant something to him that he could use to recall phrases.
•    Reading the PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct

The day of the exam he did the following to increase his chances of passing the PMI-ACP Exam:

•    Reviewed his dry erase board items and brain dumped all of this information when he got into the exam room
•    Reviewed the Roles for each Agile method

Another example from this forum was written by Martin Gagne, who passed the PMI-ACP Exam on his first try. Some of the tips he shares are to:

•    Look into taking training by your local PMI Chapter. He took the training offered by his local PMI Chapter, which consisted of three days of training in a row.
•    Read the prep book ACP Exam Prep Plus Desk Reference written by John Stenbeck, PMP, PMI-ACP, CSM, CSP. He suggested reading this twice in its entirety.
•    Purchase and follow the training offered by Cornelius Fichtner’s Agile PrepCast
•    Learn the Agile Manifesto Values and Principles.

And in a final post from this forum by Larry Samlin, who also recently passed the PMI-ACP Exam, he shares these steps that he followed to successfully study for and pass the PMI-ACP Exam:

•    Used Andy Crowe’s, The PMI-ACP Exam: How to Pass on Your First Try and purchased a 30 day access license to sample question bank
•    The main tip from Larry is that the key for him was to take as many practice tests as time would allow
These are just a few examples of suggestions and tips left by those who have recently passed the PMI-ACP Exam. Most of those who have recently passed the PMI-ACP Exam are more than willing to share what worked for them, and this forum is an excellent place to access all of that knowledge. Just remember when you pass exam to pay it forward by sharing your tips, study tools, and exam passing suggestions to this forum to help others on their journey to passing the PMI-ACP Exam.
 

Posted on: February 01, 2015 12:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
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