PM Certified: To Be or Not to Be?

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Should you become a certified project manager? My answer to you is a resounding "Yes!" Before you shake your head and start making excuses like you're too busy, it's not a good time, or maybe you'll think about it next year, just read this article first. I'll show you why you need to start planning to become certified today. I'll explain the benefits and the background so you can figure out the WIIFM (What's In It For Me) and recognize for yourself why certification is for you.

And I'm not the only one saying the time for PMP certification is now. In a recent a survey of the readers of for the hottest certifications for 2004 (Nagel, Brenda – December, 2003), the PMP certification was the only nontechnical certification that made it to the top 10. Here's a quote from the article:

"More significantly, it's not an IT-specific credential-- project professionals from all industries pursue the PMP. And it's exactly this distinction that seems to make it so appealing for 2004. We all know the current reality of IT job hunting. Employers are demanding more than just tech skills, causing IT professionals to seek ways to document their business savvy. PMP appears to be an excellent choice to meet that need, offering proof of a truly useful soft skill."

I've been an IT professional for quite a few years, eventually becoming a project manager. But I had had no formal training in project management. I quickly found that project managers do a lot more than come up with schedules and estimate costs. As my projects became larger and more complex, I couldn't tell whether requirements were being met, how much remained to be done, or how late the project would be. I just knew some of the objectives would not be met. My projects were out of control, and I felt like I was in quicksand and sinking fast! There had to be a better way of controlling projects. And there was; I just didn't know it then. Today, I know that project control requires the discipline, skills, and knowledge of effective project management.

In my quest to become certified as a Project Management Professional (PMP), I passed through three stages of discovery, which I'd like to pass on to you:

  • Stage 1: Initiating--Setting the Stage for Certification
  • Stage 2: Planning, Executing, Controlling--Getting It Done!
  • Stage 3: Closing--Soaring to New Heights

Stage 1: Initiating--Setting the Stage for Certification

During the first stage of my journey to project management certification, a strange thing happened: I realized that we are all project managers already. Our work and personal lives are full of projects. These projects occur concurrently or follow one after the other. Some projects are quickly and easily accomplished; some get started but never completed; and yet others start, change significantly or are shelved for a period of time, and start over again. And some projects never even get off the ground!

People handle projects differently too; some handle projects efficiently and effectively, while others don't do any planning at all, waiting until the last minute to begin work and stressing out when things go wrong. What's the difference between effective people who consistently deliver successful projects and those who don't? No one wants to be like Fred in Figure 1, whose office and life seem totally out of control. I've found that the effective people know the secrets of project management; they have control of their projects, and therefore, have control of their lives.

Figure 1: Fred's projects are out of control.

I've talked about projects, project management, and project managers. Now, I'll define these terms so that we all have a common understanding of what each term means:

  • A project is the concerted effort of work performed by an individual or a group of people in a specific amount of time to create a unique result.
  • Project management is the utilization of certain knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to ensure project work gets done.
  • A project manager is the person responsible for the delivery of the result of the project.

Thus, we all have projects in our lives and we all must act as project managers to deliver the result of these projects. Project management skills and techniques enable us to be in control of the projects in our work and personal lives.

Stage 2: Planning, Executing, Controlling--Getting It Done!

During Stage 2 of my journey, I discovered the Project Management Institute (PMI)--not just the organization, but the people within the organization. I knew that I had found a place that was a breeding ground for learning opportunities, an organization full of project managers in control of their projects and their lives. And I was right; I learn something new from the networking and the presentations at every PMI chapter or leadership meeting I attend.

PMI is a global organization for project managers. Since its inception in 1969, PMI has been an advocate for the project management profession. Today, PMI consists of more than 100,000 members in more than 200 chapters in 125 countries.

PMI offers two project management certification exams:

  • The Project Management Professional (PMP) certification
  • The Certified Associate of Project Management (CAPM)--PMI has issued a review of the CAPM certification goals, so the requirements of the CAPM exam are not discussed here.

Both exams utilize the PMI published guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) as the basis for the testing material. This publication details the many principles of the disciplines of project management as a series of processes. These processes are combined into nine knowledge areas as well as five areas called "process groups." These process groups of Initiating, Planning, Executing, Controlling, and Closing provide a roadmap for any project in every industry.

Today, there are over 75,000 PMPs worldwide. It is one of the most sought-after nontechnical certifications in the world, and it maintains its ISO 9001 certification in Quality Management Systems as evidence of its commitment to professional excellence.

Taking and passing the exam requires commitment and planning, but it is worth it. First of all, you must qualify. There are two categories of qualification:

Category I Requirements:

  • A baccalaureate or global equivalent university degree
  • 4,500 hours within 36 non-overlapping hours of project management work experience in the six years prior to the application
  • 35 contact hours of project management education

Category II Requirements:

  • A high school diploma or equivalent secondary school credential
  • 7,500 hours within 60 non-overlapping hours of project management work experience in the eight years prior to the application
  • 35 contact hours of project management education

For further information on the application requirements and process, please see the PMP Handbook.

The computer-based PMP exam consists of 200 multiple-choice questions. To achieve a passing score, you must correctly answer 70% of the questions within the allotted four hours. For a blueprint of the exam, visit the certification area of the PMI Web site.

Now that you know the requirements for achieving project management certification, I'm sure you'll agree that getting your PMP certification is in itself a project. You must begin planning even before you send in your application, and you should document the details of your plan in something I call a "game plan." A game plan determines how the battle will be fought. It is the plan of attack and the strategies with which you'll reach the goals and achieve victory. The following questions will help you put together a well-thought-out game plan:

What's the Scope?

More than half of the exam questions are based on the PMBOK guide. But just the PMBOK guide and your own experience may not be enough to pass the exam. There are recommended readings and additional material you may want to utilize for areas you may be weak in. In addition to the five process groups, the exam covers nine bodies of knowledge (Project Integration, Scope, Time, Cost, Quality, Human Resources, Communications, Risk, and Procurement Management) as well as the performance domain of Professional Responsibility. You must be prepared to answer questions on any one of these topics.

What's Your Time Frame?

Of course, the goal is to take and pass the exam, but what strategy are you going to take? Is your aim to take the exam as quickly as possible? If so, do you have four to eight hours a day to dedicate to studying and preparing for the exam? A week or two of such diligent studying would prepare you for the exam. However, from my experience, it takes about two or three months to absorb the material well enough to not only pass the exam but also apply the concepts to the fast-paced projects of today's IT world increase your chances of successfully passing the exam on your first try.

Now that you know the amount of work involved, set up a time schedule for studying each day or each week. You may want to set certain milestones to make sure you keep on track.

How Much Do You Want to Spend?

The exam application fee and the membership fee to join PMI (if you are not already a member) will be approximately $550. You will need a hard copy of the PMBOK guide (a CD is provided when you join PMI) and, if you don't already have it, the 35 contact hours of project management education. You can obtain these 35 hours of education from PMI chapter workshops, online study, Registered Education Provider (REP) classes, corporate training programs, and local colleges and universities that offer day or evening classes. Prices vary significantly, so you may want to do some research or talk with others before selecting a training program. You may also want to purchase a study guide or additional readings to go along with the PMBOK guide to increase your chances of passing the exam on your first attempt.

What Are Your Critical Success Factors?

These were some of the key factors of my PMP achievement:

  • Studying with a group of two or three other PMP candidates was very helpful. Each person brought his/her insights, experiences, and perspectives to the study group. Working through sample exam questions with a study group helped me learn quick methods to determine which choices to keep and which ones to eliminate.
  • Talking with others who had recently taken the exam helped to give me the exam perspective. The PMI chapter dinner meetings are great opportunities for networking and meeting other pre- and post-PMP candidates. The PMI Web site can lead you to the Web site of your local chapter.
  • Taking pre-assessment tests was very useful in determining the areas in which I needed additional focus. For example, I had less experience in project risk management, so I purchased additional study material on this knowledge area.
  • Practicing taking timed tests with online multiple-choice questions helped me prepare for the PMP exam environment.

As I mentioned, most of the exam questions are from the PMBOK guide. And although the PMBOK guide is useful, it is not a quick read. You will find that there is quite a wide area of material to cover. The variety of material and the length and breadth of the PMP exam questions have stumped and intimidated many would-be candidates. The best method is to use an iterative approach: Do some planning, some executing (studying) to the plan, and some controlling or auditing (practice exam questions) of the results. You may find that you have to go back to planning or back to executing, and so on, until you have a good grasp on the material and are ready for the exam.

Exam FAQs

Many people have asked me what the exam is like, so I thought I'd include some FAQs:

Q: Where are exams taken?
A: In the United States and Canada, exams are taken online at a Prometric testing center near you. In some other areas of the world, however, exams are hard-copy.

Q: How long is the exam?
A: Up to four hours to answer 200 multiple-choice questions, each with four choices.

Q: Can you bring materials with you?
A: No.

Q: Can you take breaks during the exam?
A: Yes. You can go to the restroom, but the clock keeps ticking during this time.

Q: Are the test questions grouped by knowledge area, such as Scope, Time, Cost, etc.?
A: No, the 200 questions are randomly scattered across the process groups, the knowledge areas, and the professional responsibility performance domain.

Q: Can you take paper and pen into the test area?
A: No, pencils and six sheets of paper (one at a time) are supplied.

Q: Can you see both question and answer on the same screen?
A: Yes.

Q: Is there a way to mark out or eliminate options that you immediately know are not the right answer?
A: No, not online. But you can use a piece of scratch paper.

Q: Is there a way to mark questions you are doubtful of?
A: Yes.

Q: When you are done, can you review the test?
A: Yes, as long as you still have time left.

Q: Can you review only the questions you were doubtful about?
A: Yes.

Q: Do you get immediate test results?
A: Yes, if you are taking an online exam. After you hit the Send button, the exam is scored, and your resulting percentage of correct answers is displayed. A score of 68.5% or higher is a passing grade. A Prometric staff person will give you a detailed report of your results.

Stage 3: Closing--Soaring to New Heights

Figure 2: Achieving PMP certification is very liberating!

Stage 3 is my favorite stage. As shown in Figure 2, PMP certification gives you the ability to soar to new heights, and it also opens many doors. These are some of the benefits and lessons I've discovered:

  • Project management skills are needed for control of projects in both my work and personal life.
  • Certification proves my ability to set and achieve goals.
  • As a flag bearer for the field of project management, I've widened my horizons and opened new doors to opportunity.
  • Certification has strengthened my skills in mentoring, consulting, facilitating, and interacting with people.
  • The PMBOK guide provides a roadmap that can be used for any project in any industry with the inputs, tools and techniques, and deliverables laid out in detail.
  • Effective communication is one of the key skills of successful project managers. In fact, I've found that the common element in every failed project is ineffective communication.
  • Managing the expectations of the stakeholders is a key skill that leads to successful project outcomes.
  • People make projects succeed, and people make projects fail; therefore, effective project managers are leaders who can set the vision and get others to follow.
  • Certification is not a one-time deal. It requires continued involvement with the project management profession to increase and refine one's skills. The PMP certification requires a renewal every three years. Sixty Professional Development Units (PDUs) are required for each renewal. PDUs are earned by working, volunteering, and further training in project management disciplines.

So should you become a certified project manager? I certainly hope that now your answer is a resounding "Yes!" Now that you know the benefits, the background, and the requirements for certification, start setting your plans today. The PMP credential is within your reach. Show the world that you are in control of your skills and knowledge, of your projects, and of your life. In reference to Helen Keller's quote at the beginning of this article, you'll never know what miracles can be wrought in your life or in the life of another unless you do the best that you can. Go forth and be PMP certified!

Margaret Y. Chu is a founding partner of OuterCore Professional Development, LLC, in Newport Beach, California, a company that provides leadership and project management consulting, training, and development. She is also the author of Blissful Data: Wisdom and Strategies for Providing Meaningful, Useful, and Accessible Data for All Employees (AMACOM Books, January 2004) and co-author of Achieve PMP Exam Success: A Concise Study Guide for the Busy Project Manager (J. Ross, October 2004). Ms. Chu has managed IT projects in a variety of industries. She may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



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    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericDuring this webinar, you’ll learn basic tips, helpful tools, and integrated file system commands—including WRKLNK—for managing your IFS directories and Access Client Solutions (ACS). We’ll answer your most pressing IFS questions, including:

    • What is stored inside my IFS directories?
    • How do I monitor the IFS?
    • How do I replicate the IFS or back it up?
    • How do I secure the IFS?

    Understanding what the integrated file system is and how to work with it must be a critical part of your systems management plans for IBM i.


  • Expert Tips for IBM i Security: Beyond the Basics

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn this session, IBM i security expert Robin Tatam provides a quick recap of IBM i security basics and guides you through some advanced cybersecurity techniques that can help you take data protection to the next level. Robin will cover:

    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access

    Don't miss this chance to take your knowledge of IBM i security beyond the basics.



  • 5 IBM i Security Quick Wins

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn today’s threat landscape, upper management is laser-focused on cybersecurity. You need to make progress in securing your systems—and make it fast.
    There’s no shortage of actions you could take, but what tactics will actually deliver the results you need? And how can you find a security strategy that fits your budget and time constraints?
    Join top IBM i security expert Robin Tatam as he outlines the five fastest and most impactful changes you can make to strengthen IBM i security this year.
    Your system didn’t become unsecure overnight and you won’t be able to turn it around overnight either. But quick wins are possible with IBM i security, and Robin Tatam will show you how to achieve them.

  • How to Meet the Newest Encryption Requirements on IBM i

    SB PowerTech WC GenericA growing number of compliance mandates require sensitive data to be encrypted. But what kind of encryption solution will satisfy an auditor and how can you implement encryption on IBM i? Watch this on-demand webinar to find out how to meet today’s most common encryption requirements on IBM i. You’ll also learn:

    • Why disk encryption isn’t enough
    • What sets strong encryption apart from other solutions
    • Important considerations before implementing encryption



  • Security Bulletin: Malware Infection Discovered on IBM i Server!

    SB PowerTech WC GenericMalicious programs can bring entire businesses to their knees—and IBM i shops are not immune. It’s critical to grasp the true impact malware can have on IBM i and the network that connects to it. Attend this webinar to gain a thorough understanding of the relationships between:

    • Viruses, native objects, and the integrated file system (IFS)
    • Power Systems and Windows-based viruses and malware
    • PC-based anti-virus scanning versus native IBM i scanning

    There are a number of ways you can minimize your exposure to viruses. IBM i security expert Sandi Moore explains the facts, including how to ensure you're fully protected and compliant with regulations such as PCI.



  • Fight Cyber Threats with IBM i Encryption

    SB PowerTech WC GenericCyber attacks often target mission-critical servers, and those attack strategies are constantly changing. To stay on top of these threats, your cybersecurity strategies must evolve, too. In this session, IBM i security expert Robin Tatam provides a quick recap of IBM i security basics and guides you through some advanced cybersecurity techniques that can help you take data protection to the next level. Robin will cover:

    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access




  • 10 Practical IBM i Security Tips for Surviving Covid-19 and Working From Home

    SB PowerTech WC GenericNow that many organizations have moved to a work from home model, security concerns have risen.

    During this session Carol Woodbury will discuss the issues that the world is currently seeing such as increased malware attacks and then provide practical actions you can take to both monitor and protect your IBM i during this challenging time.


  • How to Transfer IBM i Data to Microsoft Excel

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_Generic3 easy ways to get IBM i data into Excel every time
    There’s an easy, more reliable way to import your IBM i data to Excel? It’s called Sequel. During this webinar, our data access experts demonstrate how you can simplify the process of getting data from multiple sources—including Db2 for i—into Excel. Watch to learn how to:

    • Download your IBM i data to Excel in a single step
    • Deliver data to business users in Excel via email or a scheduled job
    • Access IBM i data directly using the Excel add-in in Sequel

    Make 2020 the year you finally see your data clearly, quickly, and securely. Start by giving business users the ability to access crucial business data from IBM i the way they want it—in Microsoft Excel.



  • HA Alternatives: MIMIX Is Not Your Only Option on IBM i

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericIn this recorded webinar, our experts introduce you to the new HA transition technology available with our Robot HA software. You’ll learn how to:

    • Transition your rules from MIMIX (if you’re happy with them)
    • Simplify your day-to-day activities around high availability
    • Gain back time in your work week
    • Make your CEO happy about reducing IT costs

    Don’t stick with a legacy high availability solution that makes you uncomfortable when transitioning to something better can be simple, safe, and cost-effective.



  • Node Webinar Series Pt. 1: The World of Node.js on IBM i

    SB Profound WC GenericHave you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application.
    Part 1 will teach you what Node.js is, why it's a great option for IBM i shops, and how to take advantage of the ecosystem surrounding Node.
    In addition to background information, our Director of Product Development Scott Klement will demonstrate applications that take advantage of the Node Package Manager (npm).
    Watch Now.

  • The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security

    SB Profound WC Generic The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security
    Here’s the harsh reality: cybersecurity pros have to get their jobs right every single day, while an attacker only has to succeed once to do incredible damage.
    Whether that’s thousands of exposed records, millions of dollars in fines and legal fees, or diminished share value, it’s easy to judge organizations that fall victim. IBM i enjoys an enviable reputation for security, but no system is impervious to mistakes.
    Join this webinar to learn about the biggest errors made when securing a Power Systems server.
    This knowledge is critical for ensuring integrity of your application data and preventing you from becoming the next Equifax. It’s also essential for complying with all formal regulations, including SOX, PCI, GDPR, and HIPAA
    Watch Now.

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  • Backup and Recovery on IBM i: Your Strategy for the Unexpected

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates the routine tasks of iSeries backup and recovery, saving you time and money and making the process safer and more reliable. Automate your backups with the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution. Key features include:
    - Simplified backup procedures
    - Easy data encryption
    - Save media management
    - Guided restoration
    - Seamless product integration
    Make sure your data survives when catastrophe hits. Try the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Manage IBM i Messages by Exception with Robot

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Managing messages on your IBM i can be more than a full-time job if you have to do it manually. How can you be sure you won’t miss important system events?
    Automate your message center with the Robot Message Management Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated message management
    - Tailored notifications and automatic escalation
    - System-wide control of your IBM i partitions
    - Two-way system notifications from your mobile device
    - Seamless product integration
    Try the Robot Message Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Easiest Way to Save Money? Stop Printing IBM i Reports

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates report bursting, distribution, bundling, and archiving, and offers secure, selective online report viewing.
    Manage your reports with the Robot Report Management Solution. Key features include:

    - Automated report distribution
    - View online without delay
    - Browser interface to make notes
    - Custom retention capabilities
    - Seamless product integration
    Rerun another report? Never again. Try the Robot Report Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Hassle-Free IBM i Operations around the Clock

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413For over 30 years, Robot has been a leader in systems management for IBM i.
    Manage your job schedule with the Robot Job Scheduling Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated batch, interactive, and cross-platform scheduling
    - Event-driven dependency processing
    - Centralized monitoring and reporting
    - Audit log and ready-to-use reports
    - Seamless product integration
    Scale your software, not your staff. Try the Robot Job Scheduling Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • ACO MONITOR Manages your IBM i 24/7 and Notifies You When Your IBM i Needs Assistance!

    SB DDL Systems 5429More than a paging system - ACO MONITOR is a complete systems management solution for your Power Systems running IBM i. ACO MONITOR manages your Power System 24/7, uses advanced technology (like two-way messaging) to notify on-duty support personnel, and responds to complex problems before they reach critical status.

    ACO MONITOR is proven technology and is capable of processing thousands of mission-critical events daily. The software is pre-configured, easy to install, scalable, and greatly improves data center efficiency.