Contributed by Christy Adams, PMP
Project = that thing you need to get done by a certain time within certain constraints.
Project Management = How you get that thing done in the most effective way.
Project Management (PM) certification = formal training using proven tools and techniques that will get that thing done better, quicker and cheaper.
There are a couple of different PM certifications out there. Two of the globally known certifications are Prince2 and the Project Management Professional (PMP)®.
PRINCE2 (PRojects IN Controlled Environments) certification, is most common in Europe. PRINCE was established in 1989 by the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency. This was later renamed the OGC (the Office of Government Commerce). PRINCE was originally based on PROMPT, a project management method created by Simpact Systems Ltd in 1975, and adopted by CCTA in 1979 as the standard to be used for all Government information system projects. PRINCE remains in the public domain while copyright is retained by the Crown. PRINCE2 was published in 1996, with contributions from over 150 European organizations.
PMP® certification, while also in Europe, is the primary project management certification in the United States. Currently there are over 500,000 PMPs in 180 countries around the world. The certification stems from the Project Management Institute (PMI)® which was founded in 1969.
How can PMP® certification improve someone’s career profile?
Scope management, time management, budget management, quality management, HR management, communication management, risk management, procurement management and stakeholder management.
You don’t have to be formally trained as a project manager to appreciate the importance of each of the knowledge areas listed above. Any person working in a project has experienced when one of these items slips, blows up or falls apart. More often than not, multiple items slip and change during the lifecycle of a project. You also don’t have to be formally trained to be able to make a project successful. Many folks can and do make projects happen successfully. So how is formal training and getting a certification going to help those folks who are already able to navigate projects successfully? That’s a little bit like asking how a college degree will help people who already have a job.
Attaining PMP® Certification in itself demonstrates your discipline and ability to successfully finish a project—a rigorous and challenging project. Most people have very busy lives and it’s quite difficult to carve out time to study, get the education hours and pass the exam. Additionally, once you successfully navigate this project and receive your certification, you have to maintain that certification through acquiring PDUs (professional development units). This certification is all about constant improvement. It keeps your PM skills up-to-date and sharp! As you absorb the materials in preparation for the exam, you will come across many tools and techniques that you’ve never tried to use. There are many tools and techniques that you’ll be required to learn that you may not ever have to use. The certification will establish you with a “toolbox” full of “tools” that will enable you to manage any project, anywhere—regardless the industry or size. These tools, aligned with practical PM experience, are an unstoppable combination and will improve your project success rate.
So how does that translate into improving a career profile? Once you receive your PMP® certification, you’ll be encouraged to sign up with a local PMI® chapter whose members generally consist of other experienced PMs. You’ll become a part of a professional group of individuals who share their experience and support each other as professionals. In the process of earning your PDUs, you’ll constantly be exposed to the latest trends in project management. You’ll get new and better ideas for handling tricky project risks. The training gives you a common language and a common set of practices and methods that have been proven successful over and over again. Your resume becomes more advanced and you become more attractive to potential employers with those letters behind your name. More organizations are requiring those credentials for positions within their companies. PMI® reports increased salaries for Individuals receiving their PMP® certification.
I personally did not get certified until I was well into my project management career. I learned to roll with the punches and dodge and weave between multiple obstacles to get to my happy ending. I was very dependent on my ability to read people and trust my instincts. You cannot beat real-life project experience (success and especially failures). I had more than my fair share of failures too. Once I got my certification, I realized I could have avoided many of those failures and improved my success rate. I learned things from getting my PMP® certification that I hadn’t thought of before. With my practical experience, the tools made great sense. I’ve become a much better project manager because of my certification. My team and my clients would agree.
How do I qualify and then take the exam?
A review of PMI.org will tell you it takes several years of experience to even apply to take the exam. If you don’t have a four-year college degree, it takes 7,500 hours of project leadership experience that you must document and be able to verify through a sponsor or supervisor who can verify the project experience you’re reporting. If you do have a degree, you’re required to document 4,500 continuous hours. In addition, you are required to take a minimum of 35 qualifying PM education hours. Generally, a boot camp or online course can satisfy these requirements. Those options also provide structured learning which is most helpful given the amount of material required to know to pass the exam. Once you submit the online application, be prepared to be audited. PMI® takes these applications very seriously and if you’re audited, your references better know that you submitted their name and what they’re supposed to be verifying. An audit can delay a submission by 2-3 weeks. Once you pass the audit, PMI® will send you an acknowledgement letter with a testing code you can use to schedule your exam.
Exams are given at Prometric locations (a partner with PMI®). They can be scheduled online at just about any time they have openings. First come, first serve. You can expect the exam to take the full four hours you’re allotted. You must bring two forms of ID with you on the day of the exam—make sure they’re not expired. There are 200, 4-option multiple choice questions.
Some recommendations for test day:
1. Get good sleep the night before,
2. Practice a ‘brain dump’ of the items you have the hardest time remembering. You cannot take anything in to the exam room with you but the facilities will give you scrap paper and a pencil when you sit down to take the exam. Take the first 10 minutes to write down your brain dump (equations or processes, etc.)
3. Look through the entire exam for the “easy” questions you’ll know immediately, first. This will get you familiar with the exam and help stir your memory as you look over the exam questions. Save the hardest and most time consuming questions for last. They’re all worth the same amount.
4. Expect to be very nervous when you go in to take the exam. You have spent a lot of time and effort preparing for this and it’s natural to be very nervous. Take a deep breath and try to relax. Once you look through the exam one time, you’ll have more of an idea what you are dealing with and can settle into the questions.
5. Pace yourself as you answer questions. You know you have 4 hours (there’s a clock counting down on the screen in front of you the whole time) and you know you have 200 questions. If you do the math, that gives you 1.2 minutes a question. Make sure you’re about a quarter of the way through after the first hour and so on.
6. Just remember, you can do this!
Getting that certification changed my life. It made me realize a much better way to do things and opportunities presented themselves as I became a better project manager. I became exposed to a wonderful group of individuals who shared my enthusiasm for bettering myself and the processes around me—professional project managers!