So…you’re thinking about becoming a Project Management Professional (PMP)? There’s lots of reasons to do so. However, there are also a lot of other ways that you could spend your time. Therefore, my first lesson learned is to really think hard about whether the financial commitment (more about that below) and more importantly time commitment to study for the PMP is right for you at this time.
Lesson Learned #1: Do an “alternatives analysis” (i.e. consider how else you could spend your time) and think about whether now is the right time to pursue the PMP.
If you’re still reading, I am going to assume you are ready to make the leap! The next step is to take a look at the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) eligibility requirements. You will be asked to document everything so spend time upfront making sure you have the 4,500 hours leading and directing projects experience (note: this sounds more challenging than it is, you can and should count any time you’ve spent supporting a PM or in general helping with the project management of a project) and 35 hours of PM education (this can be undergraduate/graduate school classes, free online trainings, etc.). The important thing to note is that to qualify for PMI, they must have an exam at the end and a certificate given at the end of the course to serve as a receipt that you took it so be sure to save them!
Lesson Learned #2: Document everything in case you get audited.
Next, budget a solid 6-8 hours to do your application. It requires you to attribute all 4,500 of your hours to a process area and to a project, which can be burdensome (my recommendation, as much as possible, would be to limit the number of projects you list on the application to only your biggest ones that can get you to your threshold, as more projects mean more people to reach out to if audited). Additionally, AND THIS IS IMPORTANT, they also require you to write out your project contributions in 200-250 characters or less USING PMI-“ISM”s. This is critical. I did not spend adequate time writing my project contributions in the language PMI uses and I happened to be one of the lucky few who got “randomly” audited. This required me to send in ALL of my documentation, transcripts, and to get all of my managers from all of my previous projects to attest to my hours. After sending all that information (through the mail…) to PMI I received an e-mail a few days later saying that I had been rejected as my project contributions were not “correctly worded.” At that point I had been studying for 2-3 months and was frustrated. After that, I sat down with a current PMP and had her review my application and we changed it significantly. On the second submission, it was accepted. Therefore, my recommendation would be to apply shortly after beginning your study plan (you have up to 1 year to take the exam after you are accepted) and have a current PMP review your application before submitting!
Lesson Learned #3: Apply before (or shortly after) you begin your study plan and HAVE A CURRENT PMP REVIEW YOUR APPLICATION.
So at this point you’ve begun studying, submitted your application, and been accepted. Awesome! I created a 3-month study plan that typically featured 2-3 two hour study sessions during the week and then 1-2 sessions on the weekend or a 4 hour practice exam. I also was diligent in putting it into my Google calendar and sticking to it as much as possible. It’s important to note that everybody studies differently – what works for me may not for you, so take this as a suggestion. My main study strategy (in order) was to:
1. Read the PMBOK 6th edition cover to cover, covering 1 chapter in each sitting. There are no exams at the end of each chapter, so I would find a free exam online and take that. While the digital version is free with PMI membership, I bought the book as I like to have a hard copy (also, a lot of the reviews say its unreadable because of the new printmarks - but it’s hardly noticeable and wasn’t at all distracting). Cost = $60
2. Read the Rita Mulcahy PMP Exam Prep 9th edition cover to cover (I ended up reading this first, but in retrospect I think it would be more helpful to have done it 2nd) and take the exam at the end of each chapter. Cost = $76
3. Every 3rd or 4th study session, I spent a study session only reviewing questions that I had missed.
4. Once I finished reading the first book, I began to schedule practice exams about once every 2 weeks. I used the PM Prepcast exam simulator and it was AMAZING. The questions were extremely similar to the actual exam and even its interface is similar. I attribute a lot to this tool and I would highly recommend it. Cost = $139
5. A few weeks out from the exam, I peppered in other topics and spent time reviewing some of the “core” concepts on their own, such as the ITTOs (Inputs, Tools & Techniques, and Outputs) – I’ve included a semi-helpful ITTO template I found online, the Rita process chart, memorizing the Planning processes, memorizing the EVM calculations.
So in terms of the financial investment, I spent approximately $260. While this number isn’t insignificant, a single PMP boot camp can easily run you close to $1,000. Again, everyone learns differently but I did talk to some people who did a boot camp and they didn’t feel it was worth the investment.
Lesson Learned #4: Create a study plan (and stick to it).
So you’ve applied, been accepted, given up weekday nights and weekends to study and now you’re ready to take the exam! Some lessons learned to share about the day-of the exam.
1. Take the day off from work. You don’t want to be stressed about some e-mail exchange right before heading into a 4-hour exam.
2. Bring water, snacks, etc. to eat during your breaks. The exam is 4 hours straight and the clock doesn’t stop when you leave, but I found it helpful to take 2-3 breaks throughout.
3. Get to the exam site ONE HOUR early. I made the mistake of getting there only a half-hour early, not realizing that they want you to begin going through security a half-hour before your appointment. I was rushed and I got off to a less than great start.
4. The exam interface allows you to “Mark” questions that you can come back to later. I didn’t realize this option existed but found it to be helpful so that I didn’t “linger” too long on any one question (also, the PM Prepcast exam simulator has it, which I didn’t realize until after the exam). It also allows you to right-click the answers to strike-through the answer. Also, my personal strategy is to use a sheet of paper to hide the answers until I’ve read the question. After reading, I try to think about what the answer might be. Then, I slowly lower the paper and reveal the questions one by one. In my experience, limiting the information helps me focus.
5. Relax 😊
Lesson Learned #5: On the day of the exam, take the day off, bring snacks, get to the exam site early, know your own exam-taking preferences, and relax.