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 TCPmag.com 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?
- 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.
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?
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?
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?
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?
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!