Examining the ongoing challenges of delivering high-quality, value-added ERP services in Higher Education.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Reflections on the PMP

It would be unethical to give away details about the Project Management Professional (PMP) examination I passed early last month. But let me say this much: I was woefully under-prepared and I am grateful to have survived.

Project management has been central to my career since… basically forever. Before I had heard anyone referred to as “project manager” I unknowingly used project management techniques (detailed project schedules, milestone lists, communication plans) all the time. Immediately after college I worked on a sell-side M&A deal for a company specializing in PM software. And when I moved into IT consulting, my boutique employer expected every consultant to partake in project management. Before long, when people asked what I did for a living I replied that I was a project manager.

Yet I never pursued credentials. There were several factors in this decision, but largely it was because I wasn’t convinced the PMP was worth the time, effort, and expense. My skepticism grew in part from a handful of paint-by-numbers project managers I had encountered along the way—individuals who could quote chapter-and-verse from the PMBOK but could not facilitate a meeting—and in part from the fact that so many of the excellent project managers from whom I learned were not PMPs. So I continued leading projects, with no intention of sitting for the test.

Earlier this year, two things made me reconsider: First, another certification program – the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) – which I pursued early in 2011. Second, the availability of high-quality online training from Element K.

For those who are not familiar, ITIL is a framework of good practices (I would have said “best” but according to ITIL good is better than best…) for managing the design and delivery of information technology services. For experienced practitioners, the concepts are old hat– but the strength of the framework is the shared vocabulary and a careful delineation of roles and functions. When I reached the unit on responsibility charting (“RACI”) a light bulb went on: I need to do the PMP.

Online training was important because of both my hectic workday schedule and an almost-crippling distaste for classroom training. Element K to the rescue, with a comprehensive 35-PDU-granting PMP class. By squeezing in an hour most days before eight, two or three hours every weekend, I found myself engrossed in the rhythm of the PMBOK: inputs-tools-outputs, inputs-tools-outputs, inputs-tools-outputs. For a career project manager, few aspects proved revolutionary but the material certainly wasn’t dull. I found myself hesitating before saying “task” when I was talking about an “activity” and looking back at old projects to map the deliverables we created against the required outputs from the PMBOK (by and large our work stands up to the test). The quality of my own project management documents has absolutely improved thanks to the online class and subsequent exam prep.

How did I end up feeling so grossly unprepared? Mainly I should have done more homework on the actual exam preparation; instead, I finished the Element K training class and downloaded their exam prep tool, extrapolating from the quality of the class itself that the prep tool would be equally strong. Much to my surprise, all the questions suggested rote memorization would be the key: the practice exam almost exclusively asked questions such as “How many inputs are there to the Control Project Schedule process?” whereas I had expected scenarios. The practice exam had perhaps one question on earned value, schedule performance index, EAC/BAC, and the other formulas that I had assumed (rightly, as it turns out) from the class to be really important.

I spent several days doing drill—counting the inputs, tools, and outputs; memorizing which ones didn’t update the project management plan and which ones didn’t have organization process assets as an input; reciting aloud the matrix of process groups and knowledge areas. After a great experience learning the PMBOK, I was disheartened and slightly panicked. I rushed to the Internet and searched for sample questions, just in case the Element K tool was misguided. Luckily I stumbled across Oliver Lehmann’s site and found the questions I had been expected. In an 11th hour frenzy I mastered these questions (but it was too late for me to acquire the famous “Rita’s Book”—I may be the only PMP around who can claim that!) and read the PMBOK twice more. I was as prepared as I could be under the circumstances... Thank goodness for the re-take policy, I thought.

The words that keep coming into my head are subtlety and common sense. In comparison to many standardized exams I have taken in the past I had a tough time gauging my certainty regarding the answer I had clicked. I started second-guessing myself, looking for hidden agendas in the questions—what are they really trying to ask me here? That is a dangerous tactic, talking yourself into changing your answer. Fortunately I managed to stop myself, clicked the button to end the exam, and waited for my results.

In retrospect, the exercise was absolutely worthwhile and despite my decade-plus managing large projects, I feel better positioned than ever for our current slate of ERP projects. I am eager to participate more actively in the project management community and encourage my team to standardize processes and templates around PMI standards. I still believe there is no substitute for hands-on experience, but I see the value of being vetted by a community of experts.

I only have one question for you PMPs out there: what am I supposed to do with the lapel pin?

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At October 20, 2014 at 8:05 AM, Anonymous shella said...

As we all know the PMBOK® Guide is the global standard for project management. It provides fundamental practices needed to achieve organizational results and excellence in the practice of project management. I also took my PMP Classes from PMstudy. You can have a look at their offerings.


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