Taking the PMP
My company approached me about taking the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification test in November. I had wanted to take it anyway, so I jumped at the chance.
If you have not looked into the process to take the test, it can seem quite daunting. You have to apply online first, which takes six to 10 hours. The Project Management Institute (PMI), the custodian of the certification test and the best-known project management professional group, has some fairly stringent application requirements. The application requires you to prove at least 35 hours of project management training in the past three years, and 4500 hours of project management experience across three years. Applicants have to record the hours spent in a variety of project management tasks, across all five process groups (initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing). A colleague recommended I use a spreadsheet to collect my information before beginning the application; I would echo that advice.
By the way, PMI might audit your application. As the PMI has become more popular in the last several years, audit numbers have increased.
Once PMI accepts your application (or the completed audit), you can schedule your test. You will have plenty of options to take one nearby, if you live in a reasonably-sized city. The privilege of taking the test does not come cheap, however. It costs $550 and re-taking the test will cost $150 or more.
To begin studying, even before I filled out the application, I took a week-long, 35 hour course from Management Concepts. Overall, the class satisfied my expectations. The instructor could have shortened some of the exercises, and others did not relate very closely to content on the test. In addition, the instructor could not answer a few basic questions about the test; he could have done a better job staying current on the test. However, with that one exception, he taught the class excellently and kept us going at a brisk pace. He possessed deep content knowledge, and he occasionally took us into content not covered on the test, but still useful to know for its relation to content covered on the test.
After the class, I spent nearly two months studying the content. My study plan took three paths:
- I read Rita Mulcahy’s study guide. I read it closely once, and skimmed my underlines and notes after that. The guide has many exercises to do, only a few of which did I complete.
- I reviewed the slides from the Management Concepts class.
- I completed all the practice questions in the Mulcahy book, retook all the questions from the class and took three practice tests. Those tests came from a CD that Management Concepts gave class attendees.
All of these took quite a lot of time. I estimate studying for the test, after the class, took 50 to 60 hours. Perhaps I over-studied, but during the test, I felt well-prepared.
Beyond test preparation, I found a couple aspects of the test interesting. First, ethics and social responsibility plays a large role in the test, and in PMI’s expectations of PMPs. The PMI Code of Ethics contains some unique provisions. For example, it expects PMPs to proactively look for and disclose potential conflicts of interest. That ethos differs from, say, the legal profession, in which the person determines whether a conflict of interest exists and recuse himself. I find the PMI approach more ethically compelling, although I do not know enough about the legal profession to make definitive comparisons.
In addition, while the Mulcahy book and my class propounded continually that memorization would not allow one to succeed on the test, I found that memorization a key activity. PMI has its own structure, framework and terminology for project management. Knowing those inside and out helped me immensely on the test.
Finally, I did not read the Project Management Body of Knowledge, known as the PMBOK. Mulcahy and my class recommended reading it, but PMP friends did not. I went with my friends’ advice and it seemed to me that Mulcahy more that ably covered anything I would have found in the PMBOK.
In conclusion, I found the time and effort to obtain the certification useful. I like PMI’s approach to structuring project management and it has already aided me in my job.