How to make and keep habits

Eating healthy, exercising, and staying in shapeThe other day I read a chapter of the book The Social Construction of Reality, a noted work on the sociology of knowledge by Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann. The chapter I read, “Society as Objective Reality”, discussed what might happen if two completely different people met on a deserted island – for example, the castaway Robinson Crusoe and the Carib man he called Friday from Daniel Defoe’s famous novel Robinson Crusoe. Berger and Luckmann indicated that, at first, the two men would be very wary of each other, and much of their attention and focus would be taken up with trying to figure out what threats exist due to the other’s existence. Gradually, however, over time, the two men would start to discover and understand the other man’s habits. One man might prepare meat the same way every day at around the same time of day, and the other man would eventually start to recognize this habit as a non-threatening, productive activity, and even join in to help out. Eventually, even without a shared spoken language, the days of these men would be filled with comfortable daily habits that would allow their minds to relax and focus on other things.

Among other things, this reading stressed the importance of habits in human life. Without habits that we can rely on day after day, even simple tasks like making lunch or getting ready for bed would seem confusing or even life-threatening. With a little bit of initial effort, however, we can form useful habits that, after being formed, can enrich our lives and help us to dedicate our mental energies on matters more pressing than simple daily living.

Incorporating good habits into our daily lives

I’ve always been interested in good health and proper nutrition, so over time I’ve experimented with different changes in my diet and exercise regimen, including vegan, vegetarian, paleo, and gluten free diets. What I discovered from trying those diets is not the focus of this post, though I’d be glad to discuss health and nutrition with anyone who is interested. The focus of this post is how I incorporated those changes into my life over time.

I found that making an initial change is difficult. Take adopting a gluten-free diet, for example. If you’re going to cut gluten out of your diet – this includes items like wheat bread, pasta, noodles, pastries and much more – you may initially find it very hard to do. Your body is expecting gluten, because you’ve been eating it every day in your sandwiches, cookies, crackers, cakes, and breakfast cereal. It’s such a huge part of your life that the thought of cutting it out may seem preposterous. How could one possibly live without eating any of those things? Surely you’d starve!

Those initial few days are hard. You have to work to seek out substitutes for the things you’d usually eat, and discover new dishes to prepare that don’t contain gluten. You need to step out of your comfort zone to try new dishes – plant-based dishes like fruit and vegetable medleys, for example – that may not be what you’re used to. At first you might not like the taste of these dishes, for several reasons – for one, your body is not used to eating them, and for another, you’ve never cooked them before, so you may not yet be very good at it!

But after a few days, your body starts to change. The habit of not eating gluten becomes your reality. You find that you’ve become adept at creating gluten-free dishes, and your body comes to expect gluten-free nutrition every day. After a while, the thought of eating gluten is the thought that seems strange to you. Would your body be able to digest the gluten? Wouldn’t eating that big hunk of bread or piece of cake make you feel bloated or stuffed?

Good nutrition and frequent exerciseAnd there are many other changes that you can make to your lifestyle that will seem difficult at first, but will quickly become habits. Exercise is one. If you’ve been sitting on the couch every evening for the past several months watching TV, your body is not going to want to get up and go running around the block a few times. The thought seems alien to the sedentary lifestyle that your body has become accustomed to. But if you start going running every day at, say, 4:00 PM, after a little while, when 3:45 PM starts rolling around, your body is going to be in the mood to go and get some exercise. In fact, if you don’t go running, that’s when your body will start to feel strange.

Changing your habits to be more productive at work

If you’re working as a professional, there are many ways that you can incorporate daily habits into your working life. If you find that you often don’t arrive to work on time, or feel groggy and unfocused when you do arrive at the office, you can make a habit out of waking up early or eating something lighter and more nutritious for breakfast every day. If you find that you are unorganized, you can make a habit of taking 15 minutes each morning to take stock of your day and figure out what tasks you need to accomplish and when they should be done by. If you feel you’re not productive enough, you can make a habit of not checking your email for stretches of an hour or two each morning and afternoon, or of not checking Facebook or Twitter until lunchtime. You can also unbreak bad habits… if you are in the habit of checking Facebook every 10 or 15 minutes, it will be hard for you to get any work done throughout the day, as your mind and body will continually want to switch into “play mode” after only a few minutes of work.

Making habits to achieve personal goals

Creating effective habits is also a great way to achieve your dreams. For example, if you’re a project manager who is interested in getting PMP certified (a frequently discussed topic on this blog), creating habits around a study schedule is a terrific way to get there. When you first look at all of the steps needed to become a PMP certified project manager – gathering work experience, applying to take the examination, and then studying and mastering PMI’s project management framework – it can be rather daunting. But if you make a habit of spending half an hour every day preparing for the exam, after a few weeks have passed, you’ll be well on your way. If you study for only half an hour a day, after two months you will have studied for 30 hours! After half a year – 90 full hours of study! With this sort of preparation you’ll be well set to sit for the examination.

There are lots of other personal goals you can accomplish by applying daily habits. Writing a book, learning a computer programming language, mastering a musical instrument, trying out new recipes, volunteering to help others, or understanding more about your spirituality and self are some examples that come immediately to mind. If there’s something that interests you, sit down and figure out how and when you can incorporate it into your daily routine. When that time rolls around every day, ignore your body’s desire to do what you’ve always done instead. Force yourself to create the habit, and eventually it will become a comfortable part of your lifestyle.

Sticking to the habit

Remember that making habits is going to be frustrating for the first few days or weeks. Your mind might want to make a change, eager to get and stay healthy or to achieve personal or professional goals, but your body is perfectly happy doing what it’s been doing comfortably for the past several months, years, or even decades. In order to change your “body’s mind” you’re going to have to work hard, and it’s going to be very frustrating and seem unnatural at first. Just stick with it, and eventually those habits will become second nature. When that happens, it will be easy to stay on the path toward a better you.

I hope that you’ve found this post at least somewhat informative! If you have any habits that you’ve adopted that you’d like to share with me, I’d be pleased to hear about them. Good luck!

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How to get project management work experience without PMP certification

Getting PMP work experienceLately I’ve been getting a lot of questions on my post about whether or not it’s worth getting PMP certified. The most common questions I receive are about whether or not someone has enough project management work experience to apply to take the exam. According to PMI, in order to apply to take the PMP exam, you need:

4,500 hours (36 months) of professional work experience leading and directing projects if you have a bachelor’s degree, or,

7,500 hours of work experience (60 months) of professional work experience leading and directing projects if you have an associate’s degree.

Some people find there is a bit of a Catch-22 when it comes to getting project management experience to take the PMP exam. On one hand, you need to amass this project management experience in order to apply to take the test. But on the other hand, many project management jobs require that applicants be PMP certified project managers before they are even considered for the role. So how do you go about getting project management experience to apply to take the PMP exam if you are not already a PMP credential holder?

Here are a few ideas:

Get a job as a project manager without a PMP

Even without PMP certification, it is possible to get a job as a project manager. Some project manager jobs do not require certification; find those, and give it your best shot landing one of those jobs.

Smaller companies may be more open to hiring someone without a great deal of project experience if they show that they are an intelligent, positive, and hard-working candidate. Startups and similar small companies will be more likely to hire non-PMPs than might government or military organizations, where long lists of credentials and industry work experience are highly valued.

Work some project management experience into your current job

If you’re working as an engineer, software developer, quality assurance analyst, or some other technical profession, it might not be too difficult to get some On-the-Job Training (OJT) in project management. Volunteer to manage small projects for your organization, or ask to serve as an assistant or associate project manager.

You might also speak to your manager or human resources department about project management mentoring; if you can shadow an experienced mentor, you can learn a great deal about leading and directing projects. In turn, you can take some of your mentor’s workload away from him or her, which will likely be appreciated – project managers usually have a lot to do!

Finally, you can work as a team lead in your current position. While being a team lead might not equate to actual project management experience, you will still be managing people, timelines, and potentially budgets, which will be great experience that you can put on a resume and later talk to recruiters about when it comes to applying to project management jobs.

Be a member of a project team

Even just working on a project team can be quality experience for a future project management career. Technical experience is very important for project managers; in fact, I find that engineers, developers, and other technical employees make some of the best project managers. Getting quality experience as a technical member of a project team will, in my opinion, make you a much better project manager than someone who does not have a technical background or experience working on a multitude of different types of projects.

While you are working on projects, keep track of how the projects are going, and of what PMI process groups you are working in – initiating, planning, executing, monitoring & controlling, and closing. Knowing what areas of the project you’ve been working on will help you to “talk the talk” when it comes to applying for project management roles.

Get involved with your PMO

An company’s Project Management Office (PMO) offers project governance, advice, and templates for the entire organization. If you’re working in a company that has a PMO, why not step up to help out with some of this governance? This will give you a broad degree of project experience, and will show you what methods are used to manage projects in your company. And if your company doesn’t have a PMO, you might speak with your manager about getting involved in starting one up. Your company might appreciate someone who can serve as a central point of contact for project management information.

Take some project management courses

If you have the time and energy to do it, you might seek out some project management education. In order to get PMP certified, you will need 35 contact hours of project management education, so you will need to get it at some point! Why not get it sooner rather than later?

There are plenty of courses, both online and offline, that offer project management training, and if you are serious about being a project manager, you might consider getting a Masters degree in Project Management. While this still does not equate to project management work experience, having such a degree will certainly give you a leg-up against candidates who have not had any formal project management training.

Get CAPM certified

If you don’t have enough professional project management experience to get PMP certified, you might consider getting CAPM certified. CAPM stands for Certified Associate in Project Management, and it is designed for people who are interested in becoming project managers and are just getting started with their project management careers. You do not need to have any professional work experience to earn the CAPM credential; the test is based on PMI’s framework, as is the PMP, though the CAPM test is not as rigorous as is the one for the PMP.

As I believe that the PMP is a much more respected certification, I am not normally an advocate of CAPM certification. However, if you are having a lot of trouble finding a project management job without the PMP, perhaps the CAPM can help you to demonstrate to recruiters or the people in your human resources department that you are serious about becoming a project manager. Plus, by going through CAPM certification, you will learn about PMI’s project management framework, which is something you will need to know anyway if you do plan to eventually take the PMP exam. I’ve written a post about the pros and cons of getting CAPM certified here that you can check out to see if CAPM certification might be right for you.

Another option you might choose is to undergo a different, non-PMI certification. The two that spring to mind are the ScrumMaster and ITIL Foundation certifications. Agile Development using Scrum is very popular these days, and by undergoing an Agile certification you will learn how to manage iterative development projects using Scrum. Meanwhile, ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) is a British certification focusing on IT Service Management (ITSM) that is popular and respected, in the United Kingdom especially, but also in Canada and the United States.

Stay positive

My final piece of advice is… stay positive! When you’re walking into an interview, don’t focus on your lack of project management work experience, and any potential negatives that being inexperienced entails. Focus on the positives, and on all of the great things that you can do. Even if you don’t have professional project management experience, you probably have managed projects at school, as a volunteer, or even in a club or at church. Prove to your recruiter that you are an accomplished problem-solver, a team player, and a dedicated worker. If you can give recruiters a glimpse of the amazing project manager that you will one day become, they might decide to take you on to help you begin your journey.

Good luck!

Project Management

Improving communication with remote team members

Project management communicationWhen you’re working as a project manager for a global company, you will likely be speaking with a great number of different project stakeholders… clients, project teams, your Project Management Office (PMO), your project’s executive sponsors… the list goes on. And if you’re anything like me, you might be living and working in one part of the world while some of your team members are located in others.

For one particular project, I managed a team of people who were working in one country for a project that was located in a different country on another continent. Meanwhile, I was living and working in a completely different country on a third continent! In all, including client stakeholders and peripheral Support and Services project team members from my company, this team had members located in six countries on three different continents. It took a lot of effort to manage communication among the members of this team, and through the process of doing so I came up with a few tips on how to improve communication with your team members when team members are working remotely.

1. Schedule meetings to maximize member involvement

Team meetings are important. But when you’re working with an international team, team meetings can be a challenge to schedule and facilitate.

It is quite common for project team members to work from a variety of different locations… you might have team members in the United States, Canada, Germany, and India all working on the same project. Of course, the people living in these countries work different hours from the people living in others, so getting everybody together to hold a discussion can be a challenge. Most meetings you hold will take place over an international conference line; I previously covered some of the tips you can use to improve your international conference calls in this post.

When scheduling project meetings, make sure that you either pick a time that works well for everyone, or alternate meeting times so that it is not always the same person or group of people having to attend meetings very late in the evenings or early in the mornings. One week, you might hold a meeting very early in the day in the United States, but at a reasonable hour in the afternoon for your partners in India; the next week you might schedule your meeting later in the morning in the United States, but during the evening in India. Make sure that all project team members understand the reasons for attending the meetings you are holding. This will maximize member involvement and keep team members feeling valued.

2. Ensure team meetings are timely and efficient

Whether you are conducting meetings over the phone, over a video conferencing system, or using Voice Over IP (VOIP), make sure that your meetings are timely and effective. There are several ways to achieve this:

  • Start your meetings on time and end your meetings on time, and make sure that members are committed to joining the meeting at the appropriate time. In some countries, it is completely acceptable to arrive at meetings ten to fifteen minutes late… but in other countries, this behavior is seen as showing a lack of commitment and respect. Remote team members should understand the rules of your meetings and how they will be followed.
  • Distribute a meeting agenda so that all invited attendees know what the topics the meeting will comprise. A strong agenda will help to keep the meeting moving along, and will also help busy people prioritize their daily schedules.
  • Stay focused during the meeting. Don’t let individual issues or conflicts take over the meeting, swing it off track, and prolong things for everyone. If there are any important issues that should not be discussed during a team meeting, table those issues and schedule follow-up calls for the appropriate parties afterward.
  • Send meeting minutes to team members after the meeting so that everyone understands what was said during the meeting and why, and so that absentees can catch up on the material that was discussed during the meeting. Keep minutes to the summary level unless more detail is appropriate; bullet point lists are often most effective for meeting minutes.
  • Realize that daily project team meetings may not be possible. Agile Development using Scrum emphasizes daily scrum team stand-up meetings. However, if you have team members in, say, India, the Netherlands, Canada, and Australia, daily stand-up meetings among scrum team members may not be feasible. In this case, make sure that you meet as often as is required; alternatively, think about spinning off smaller teams with different product backlogs in different locations or continents, or holding daily stand-up meetings at different times in different locations for team members who are living and working in those places.

3. Communicate with team members individually when possible

While project team meetings are an important focus for project communication, constant dialogue among individual team members is also critical. Make sure that you schedule one-on-one meetings with your team members periodically to understand their progress with project tasks and to make sure that they are enabled, comfortable, and receiving whatever information they need from you, the client, and the rest of the project team in order to get their work completed on time. Also ensure that project team members are comfortable contacting each other to communicate, and that you don’t end up playing the middleman for all team discussions.

4. Use instant messaging services

Tools like AIM, Google Talk, XMPP, and in-house communication systems make it easy to share messages, files, and other project information with team members throughout the globe. Take advantage of these services to chat with team members without having to pick up a phone or initiate a video conference… these services are easy to use and very effective. Most instant messaging software includes the ability to start impromptu group chats with other team members, so one-on-one chats can grow to become larger project discussions if necessary. Don’t be afraid to turn off your instant messaging service if you need to get work done… sometimes, all those little windows popping up on your screen can be distracting!

5. Remember that you have a life

When you’re working with team members from across the globe, you’ll find that people will be looking for chunks of your time at all hours of the day and night. While it’s important to be there for your team and to work hard to ensure that project tasks are completed on time and on budget, it’s also crucial to remember that you’re just one project manager, and that your personal life, family, and health are key to your productivity and job satisfaction. If you’re stressed out and sick, you won’t be a very effective project manager! Take time to exercise, eat right, and stay healthy, and dedicate your free time to your family, your friends, your community, and yourself.

I hope you found these tips helpful. If you are working with team members from all over the world, I hope you are enjoying your experiences and learning new things about different people and places every day! If you have any tips or stories of your own to share about working with international teams, I would appreciate hearing about them in the comments.

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PMP vs. Agile: which certification is best?

Project management certificationsOn my post about the pros and cons of PMP certification, project managers (and wannabe project managers) often ask me: Which certification is best, PMP, or ScrumMaster (Agile) Certification?

I myself am both PMP and ScrumMaster Certified, and the short answer that I give is that I believe they are both worth getting. If you’re going to be managing projects for a wide variety of companies and clients, it’s in your best interest to know and understand a wide variety of project management frameworks that you can apply in different situations. I’ve worked on projects suited to Agile methodologies, projects suited to waterfall methodologies, and projects that have benefited from a combination of different approaches. The deeper your knowledge of different approaches, the better you and your team will be suited to tackle a wide range of problems.

That said, it can’t hurt for me to explain a little bit about the differences between the two approaches, and take a closer look at some of the trends in the popularity of each framework.

Waterfall vs. Agile methodologies

PMI’s framework is based on a waterfall methodology, while the ScrumMaster Certification is based on Agile. Both of these methodologies comprise very different approaches to software development.

Here’s a short summary of some key differences between waterfall and Agile methodologies:

Waterfall methodologies

  • Waterfall methodologies feature distinct planning, development, and testing phases
  • Software development projects are heavily planned during the planning stage, where little to no code is completed
  • During the build (development, or execution) phase, the product of the project is built
  • Any changes to product design are normally handled by change requests to the original project plan
  • After the build phase is completed, products are tested during a comprehensive testing phase. Clients (or customers) do not normally receive the finished product until all work on the project has been completed and delivered

Agile methodologies

  • Agile methodologies feature iterative development phases
  • Product features are gathered and prioritized in a backlog of features
  • Scrum teams take on development of product features during sprints, where they are designed, constructed, and tested – normally during a two-week period
  • After the sprint, features emerge as deliverable product
  • Clients are presented completed features from an individual sprint during a sprint demo
  • Product changes may not take place during sprints, but they are accepted at any other time, so products are constructed organically

The tale of the trends

So which framework is more popular, and which one should you consider getting certified in?

Let’s take a look at the tale of the trends, thanks to Google Trends. This is not the most scientific approach to be sure, but looking at Google Trends is an easy way to see what people are interested in over time.

PMP vs. Agile

First, let’s compare the general search terms “PMP” and “Agile”.

PMP vs. Agile

Click to enlarge the graphic. Here you can see that searches for PMP appear to have peaked at some point in 2008, and have recently declined. Meanwhile, searches for Agile, while spiking in late 2009, are generally trending upwards.

Note that this does comparison not take into account that people might be searching for PMP or Agile for reasons other than interest in project management methodologies – but I still found this chart quite interesting.

PMP Certification vs. ScrumMaster

The two most popular certifications for waterfall and Agile methodologies are the PMP and ScrumMaster certifications. Since you can search for ScrumMaster in different ways (ScrumMaster Certification, Certified ScrumMaster, and so on), I used “ScrumMaster” as the search term to compare with “PMP Certification”. Here are the results:

PMP Certification vs. ScrumMaster

Click to enlarge the graphic. You can see here that while ScrumMaster searches are trending upward, there are many more searches for PMP Certification. And I wouldn’t say that searches for ScrumMaster are skyrocketing – they appear to be relatively level. One interesting search that you might try yourself is a search comparing “ScrumMaster” and “PMI-ACP”, PMI’s own, and relatively new, Agile certification. I’d be glad to hear your opinions on that comparison in the comments section of this post.

Which project management certification is best?

It does seem to me that interest in PMP certification is level, or perhaps even waning, while interest in Agile methodologies is growing – though interest in the most popular Agile certification, Certified ScrumMaster, does not appear to be “taking off” as much as I had originally thought it might be. Remember, this is a very simple analysis using Google Trends, so I may be way off the mark here – please be sure to tell me if I am! I’d be interested in seeing any data or opinions contrary to what I’ve explored here. I should note that I have noticed that PMP certification appears to be growing in popularity in India… I get a lot of questions from Indian professionals, especially software engineers and test engineers, who are interested in becoming project managers and getting PMP certified.

I still haven’t answered the question “which certification is best”… a lot of factors go into making this decision, and it turns out that one certification may be best for some, while the other certification may be better for others. It seems to me that PMP certification is more powerful if you’re interested in applying for a job as a project manager – many recruiters require PMP certification of their project managers – while Agile certification is important if you’re working for an iterative software development shop, or want to learn about a methodology that is slowly but steadily gaining in popularity. In my opinion, Agile methodologies will see even more recognition in the future while interest in waterfall methodologies will continue to wane.

As I mentioned above, I personally recommend getting both credentials. In fact, I make it my own mission to continue to improve myself both personally and professionally however I can, whenever I can, and education is one of the surest ways of doing this. Whichever path you choose to pursue, best of luck to you!

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How to file your work experience on the PMP application

Applying to take the PMP examI answer a large number of questions on my post about whether or not it’s worth getting PMP certified – a great many experienced and budding project managers are interested in knowing whether or not PMP certification is a good move for their careers. In general, I feel that if you’re a project manager, and you’re interested in continuing your career in project management, it is worth it to go ahead and apply for, take, and pass the PMP examination to become a certified Project Management Professional. Though some project managers dispute the certification’s worth, it does seem to help project managers land project management jobs – or at least get their feet through the door.

Applying for the PMP examination

One of the most frequent (if not the most frequent) questions I am asked by potential PMP hopefuls is about the PMP examination application process. In particular, project managers would like to know how they should go about filing their work experience: how to document their hours of project management experience, how to report it to PMI, and how to prepare for the dreaded PMI audit, should it occur.

I followed a process of my own devising to file my own project management work experience in preparation for my application to take the PMP exam that seemed to work pretty well. I’ll share it here in case you would like to try it during your own application process, and I’ll include a template for you to use to record your own project management hours in case you haven’t already created one yourself.

Recording your project management work experience

In order to apply for the PMP examination, you need to have amassed 4,500 hours of project management work experience. If you do not have a bachelor’s degree, the work experience requirement is greater at 7,500 hours of experience. You need to have completed 36 months (three years) of unique, non-overlapping project management experience… that is to say that if you’ve completed all of your 4,500 hours of project management experience within a 12 month window, that is not sufficient to apply to take the PMP examination.

For each project that you have worked on during your career, you need to document the hours you have spent in each of the five PMI Process Groups. These groups are:

  • Initiating the Project
  • Planning the Project
  • Executing the Project
  • Monitoring and Controlling the Project
  • Closing the Project

After calculating the hours per Process Group for each project, you will arrive at a total number of project hours for that individual project. Once you have completed tallying your work experience for all of the projects you have worked on, you can then figure out the total hours that you have worked for all of the projects in your career. At this point, if you don’t already know, you will be able to figure out whether or not you have the requirements to apply to take the PMP examination.

Entering PMP work experienceTo figure this total out, I used an Excel spreadsheet that tallied up all of my hours of work experience per Process Group, per project, that I had worked on in my previous roles. I then used built-in Excel functions to figure out how many hours total that equaled. I have included a template like the one I used back then with this post, in case you’d like to use it to tally your own project management work experience.

You can download the template here.

Preparing for a possible PMI audit

The next and perhaps most important step you need to take before you submit your PMP application is to prepare yourself in case your application should get audited by the Project Management Institute. In order to do this, you will want to contact those managers who you have worked for in the past and send them the hours that you have indicated that you worked on projects while under their management in your Excel spreadsheet. You will then ask these managers: Should my application happen to get audited by PMI, will you attest that I worked the hours that I have indicated I worked on this spreadsheet?

If your managers agree to vouch for the hours you have indicated, then you’re in good shape! Should PMI decide to audit your application, you can simply have your former managers sign off on the hours that you have already passed by them. Any conflicts or disagreements about the hours you have worked while in their employ should have been resolved before you submitted your PMP application.

Special cases

There are a few difficult scenarios that you may encounter when preparing for a possible PMI audit. These include:

  • What if your manager no longer works for the company you’ve filed hours for, and nobody at the company can vouch for your hours?
  • What if you worked for your own company and did not report to anyone?
  • What if the projects you worked on were top secret, government or military contracts for which you cannot disclose any information?

In these cases I recommend collecting as much collateral as you can about the projects you’ve worked for in the past – project charters, work breakdown structures, project schedules and the like – to demonstrate to PMI should they ask for it; unless, of course, this information is classified by the companies you’ve worked for. In that case, I would go in armed with the truth – that there are hours that you have indicated you have worked but cannot vouch for, and the reasons that you cannot vouch for them. I am sure that PMI has received many applications from project managers working in military or top-secret organizations who cannot disclose information about the various projects that they have worked on. In that case, I imagine that you can work with PMI to find a way to approve your application without your having to deliver any separate artifacts to prove your experience.

I hope that this article and accompanying spreadsheet come in handy when it comes time for you or someone you know to file your project management work experience for the PMP application. Good luck with your application, good luck with your PMP exam preparation, and good luck on the exam!

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How to study for the PMP exam

Taking the PMP examAs a PMP (Project Management Professional) certified project manager, I often get asked by other project managers (or by others who are interested in getting into the field of project management) what the PMP examination is like, how difficult it is to pass, and how I prepared for it.

Even outside the field of project management, the PMP examination has an almost mythical status – many people that I’ve talked to who work in Information Technology or other project management-heavy fields have heard from friends or co-workers about the many challenges involved with applying to, studying for and taking the PMP examination – but don’t worry; in reality, it really isn’t all that difficult!

While it is indeed a worthy challenge to pass the PMP exam, with some hard work and proper preparation it is an achievable goal. Below are the methods that I used to prepare for and pass the PMP exam on my first attempt.

1. Study a variety of different sources

While preparing for the PMP examination, I consulted a variety of different sources. Below are three of the texts that I personally studied during my PMP exam preparation time; I’m not indicating that these are necessarily the best PMP references by any means – I do not have enough familiarity with the other PMP resources to be able to make that call. What I can tell you is that they seemed to work well for me.

The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK)

The Project Management Body of Knowledge, or PMBOK (pronounced pimbok), is the official source of information for the project management framework managed by the Project Management Institute (PMI). As the PMP examination is based on the information contained in this book, the PMBOK is an essential read when studying for the PMP exam.

Unfortunately, the Project Management Body of Knowledge is rather dry… you might need to down a few coffees during study sessions with this weighty textbook. Also, although the various process groups and knowledge areas are each explained in full detail in the book (with process inputs, outputs, and tools and techniques clearly identified where applicable), PMI’s illustrations of important process flows can be somewhat hard to figure out, and the book is laid out more like a reference manual (its primary purpose) than a teaching tool.

The PMBOK also does not cover all of the information that you will need to learn to pass the PMP exam; some concepts that are tested in the PMP examination (ethics being one) are not covered in detail in the PMBOK. As such, in order to study properly for the exam, you’ll need to consult secondary sources.

The PMP Exam: How to Pass on Your First Try by Andy Crowe

The PMP Exam: How to Pass on Your First Try by Andy Crowe of Velociteach is a good, basic introduction to the PMI process areas and knowledge groups. In this book Andy lays out the PMI processes in an easy-to-understand manner, and the way he presents the logical flow of the combined processes is more comprehensible than the manner used in the PMBOK.

Andy’s book also features a variety of practice exam questions; however, I found them to be relatively simple, and not up to the level of difficulty that is found on the actual PMP exam. As such, if you find that you are acing the questions in this book, do not assume that you will perform similarly well on the actual examination.

PMP Exam Prep by Rita Mulcahy

PMP Exam Prep: Eighth Edition by the late Rita Mulcahy is probably the best known of all PMP exam preparation textbooks. Rita goes into a great deal of detail when describing the various processes found within the PMI framework. In fact, one of the drawbacks to this book is that it is extremely wordy (and at times perhaps even a bit preachy), and will take you a long time to study. However, the time spent studying this book is time well spent, as Rita will bring to you a thorough understanding of what the PMP exam is all about. She also introduces the concept of PMI-isms; areas that PMI exam creators tend to focus on when creating PMP examination questions that you should understand and focus on when studying for the PMP exam.

Whereas Andy Crowe’s book’s questions are much simpler than those found in the actual PMP exam, Rita’s book features many challenging sample questions that are comparable to those you might find on the exam itself. As such, to get a good idea of what the PMP exam questions will be like when you are taking the actual examination, this is a good book to consult.

Studying all three sources

If I were to study all three of these books in preparation for the PMP examination (which in fact I did), I would recommend that you study them in the following order:

  • First: The PMP Exam: How to Pass on Your First Try (a solid introduction to PMI’s framework)
  • Second: The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) (a must-read that you might find be easier to digest after perusing Andy Crowe’s book)
  • Third: PMP Exam Prep (for a comprehensive understanding of the material, featuring realistic example examination questions)

2. Memorize the PMI processes and Earned Value formulas

Each of PMI’s processes contain one or more of the following:

  • Inputs
  • Tools and Techniques
  • Outputs

These are often referred to as the PMI ITTO (or ITTOs), and if you’re studying for the PMP exam, you will likely spend a great deal of time poring over these. You will discover that some processes are inputs for some processes and outputs for other processes; other processes do not seem to fit together with the rest of the processes very well, and need to be understood as somewhat separate from the others. Confusing, yes – but much easier to understand if you diagram the PMI process flows.

While preparing for the PMP examination I used rote memorization to get two pages’ worth of important information into my head. The first page showed a flowchart of the PMI processes, with arrows indicating how one process might be an output for another process, and an input for a third. The second page had a list of the important Earned Value formulas that you will need to know for the PMP exam: PERT, Cost and Schedule Variance, Net Present Value, and the To Complete Performance Index, among others.

On exam day, when I arrived at the Prometric testing center and sat down beside the computer terminal to take the PMP exam, the first thing I did was write out all of the PMP process flows and important Earned Value formulas onto a blank piece of paper (both blank paper and pencils were provided to by the Prometric testing staff). This is a perfectly legal and in fact recommended way to approach taking the PMP exam – perform a brain dump of all the important information you’re going to need to know for the exam right as the exam starts, and then consult this brain dump throughout the examination. I highly recommend this approach!

3. Answer as many sample exam questions as possible

The PMP examination is a standardized test, and therefore you should familiarize yourself with how to approach it and the sorts of questions it will contain. The best way to do this is to answer a whole bunch of sample questions that are comparable to the questions you will face when you take the actual exam.

Most PMP exam preparation books (and courses) provide sample questions for you to answer; some books provide more realistic questions than others. Even if you only study one or two PMP exam preparation books thoroughly, it’s not a bad idea to hit your local library or bookstore, take a variety of PMP exam prep books off the shelf, and answer a selection of sample questions from each one. Doing this will give you an understanding of how prepared you are for the actual PMP examination, and will show you in which areas you may be lacking knowledge and should allocate further study time.

Is it necessary to take a PMP exam preparation course?

A lot of people may tell you that it’s important to take a PMP certification course before you sit for the PMP exam, and in fact a great many people use a PMP certification boot camp course as their required education hours when applying to take the exam. I personally do not believe that a PMP boot camp course is necessary for passing the PMP exam; my own project management education hours that I used to prove eligibility for the PMP exam came from project management education outside of the realm of PMI’s framework. I found that by studying textbooks and diagramming process flows to come to a thorough understanding of the PMI process groups and knowledge areas, and by taking a series of practice examinations, it was relatively easy for me to pass the test itself.

All that being said, if you’re the sort of person that learns best by taking courses in a classroom setting, you should certainly look into taking a PMP exam prep course. Also note that you do have to have 35 hours of formal project management education in order to apply to take the PMP exam; it just doesn’t necessarily have to be in the form of a course teaching PMI-related project management material.

Preparing for the PMP exam

I hope that I’ve given you some good advice for how to prepare for – and pass! – the PMP examination. If you have any further questions about the test itself or about how to succeed on it, please let me know. I’d be glad to offer whatever advice I can.

International Business Language and Culture

What is Shrove Tuesday?

Pancake races on Shrove TuesdayToday is the Tuesday before the beginning of Lent; in England, today is called Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Tuesday. While some sources mention that Shrove Tuesday is commonly celebrated in other English speaking countries, I’ve spent most of my life living in either Canada or the United States and I’ve never heard to it referred to as such. Normally in those countries we recognize the Tuesday before Lent as the day of Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, a festive day in which people celebrate by eating a large quantity of fatty foods (and drinks!) before participating in the fasting that is traditionally an integral part the Lenten season. The meanings behind these festive days are quite similar, but there are some significant differences in the ways they are celebrated.

We’re currently living in Normandy, France, a region that houses a lot of British ex-patriates. As such, the British community commonly gets together to celebrate British special occasions, and Shrove Tuesday is one of those days. For Shrove Tuesday the group got together in a well-known park and had a Pancake Day celebration. The highlight of the day was the series of pancake races. In a pancake race, contestants line up along the starting line with a frying pan in hand, a cooked pancake inside of it. When the race starts the contestants must race from the starting line to the finish line, all the while flipping the pancake up into the air and catching it in the frying pan. If you dropped your pancake you had to pick it up and keep running. It was a fun and crazy race!

Afterward the group congregated at a nearby pub and had pancakes (or crêpes) with powdered sugar and lemon on top, as well as buttered scones with jam and hot tea. In all it was a very British afternoon, which was a fun cultural experience for me and my family.

Project Management Social Networking

Project Management on Pinterest

Project Management on PinterestLately I’ve been getting into using Pinterest, a social networking site designed to allow users to collect and share information by “pinning” things that they find useful or interesting onto “boards”; pages within a user’s hierarchy of pages dedicated to a topic of the user’s choice. You can also collaborate on boards; multiple authors can pin sites onto one board; this makes Pinterest useful as a group-sharing mechanism among like-minded individuals. So far Pinterest seems quite powerful, and the numbers are certainly there – analysis indicates that Pinterest has been experience massive growth over the past few months.

One thing that haven’t noticed much of is project management information on Pinterest. Searching for “project management”, “PMI” or “PMP” reveals very few pins and very few boards. It appears (just by browsing the site) that, as of February of 2012, the majority of users on Pinterest are women, and that the majority of posts are about clothes, fashion, food and education. So far it has been difficult to find project managers or other professionals interested in PMI or Agile methodologies on the service.

As such, I’ve set up a PMP Certification Pinterest board that I hope can become a collaborative board to share information about Project Management Professional certification, the PMP exam, and other PMI-related information of interest to project managers. I’m not sure how to advertise boards (I’m relatively new to the service) but I’m hoping that I’ll be able to find like-minded project managers who are interested in sharing information about project management online.

If you’re a project manager and you’re already sharing project management research, blog posts or other information on Pinterest, please let me know! I’d be glad to link up with you and help forward the profession on Pinterest.

PMP Certification Project Management

Should engineers get PMP certified?

A PMP engineerThe other day a lady serving as a technical lead at a software company approached me to ask a few questions about PMP certification. Her company had volunteered to sponsor her to undergo the lengthy process of preparing for and taking the PMP examination on the road to getting PMP certified. However, she wasn’t sure if PMP certification was right for her. She had several doubts:

  • Technically, she was not a “project manager”; however, her job did comprise functions that project managers regularly perform: risk analysis, work scheduling, monitoring and controlling development, team management, and cost control, among others.
  • She was unaware of other engineers at her company who had previously taken and passed the PMP exam.
  • She did not want to oversell herself or misrepresent the PMP credential by becoming certified without being an actual project manager.
  • Due to the above points, she was worried that her PMP application would ultimately be rejected by PMI.

I should point out that this lady had already taken a few PMP practice exams and had scored within a passing range on these exams. So it was not the knowledge she was concerned about; rather, that she was concerned that she was technically serving as an engineer and not as a salaried project manager.

This lady engineer also mentioned something alarming. She told me that she had spoken to one PMP certified project manager about her desire to become certified herself. This PMP was offended that someone who was not a “real PM” would attempt to become a PMP. This of course concerned her greatly that she was in effect “posing” as a project manager in her desire to become PMP certified.

Can an engineer rightfully become PMP certified?

One of the biggest questions around this lady’s desire to become PMP certified was, “is it ethical?” Can she (or any other technical workers not officially labeled as project managers) rightfully become a Project Management Professional?

Some may disagree with me, but I do believe that it is ethically correct for this lady to become PMP certified as long as she can rightfully claim in her PMP application that she has amassed the required hours of project management experience and education. Although this lady does not have the title of project manager, when looking over her work experience it is apparent that she does have the proper project management experience to get PMP certified. She has also studied project management extensively and has the knowledge and experience required to pass the PMP examination (by looking at her practice test scores).

I mentioned to this engineer (as I mention to everyone who asks me advice about preparing for a potential PMI audit) that, when filling out the PMP exam application, she should carefully document her project management work experience and education as accurately and truthfully as possible. Next, she should show her managers the experience that she has documented and explain to them that there is a chance that PMI will audit her work experience, and if they were to do that, would her managers verify that the information that she has provided on the application is correct? If they will do that, then she has ethically provided proof that she has the project management experience required to sit the PMP examination.

Remember that while you will need experience from all of the different PMI process groups in order to qualify to sit the PMP exam, you do not have to have spent your time equally distributed between those PMI process groups. You may have spent quite a few of your project hours in the project execution phase of a project. On some projects you may only have been involved in the initiating and planning phases of a project; for other projects you may have appeared on the project in the monitoring and controlling phase of the project, near project closing. It doesn’t matter – you can rightfully count the work spent on these projects in your PMP application as long as during your career you have amassed experience in all of the PMI process groups.

PMP certification for engineers and software developers

In my opinion it’s a good thing for engineers, software developers, business analysts, quality assurance engineers and other technical workers to become PMP certified. Having a strong technical background is very helpful when managing projects. I myself spent several years designing and developing software on multiple platforms and find that having this background is very beneficial. Not only do I find I have a greater understanding of the technical work being performed on a project, but the technical background also gives me some “street cred” when working with software developers, network administrators and other highly technical people. Being a PMP certified engineer can also help you to get jobs in the future. Being both technically adept and an expert in project management makes for a highly desirable employee.

As for the fellow who was offended that an engineer would want to become a PMP, I feel that he was way off base. As a PMP myself I was impressed and encouraged by someone showing such interest in the field of project management – so much so that she would like to dedicate a considerable amount of time and effort to becoming a PMP certified project manager. As a PMP I feel that it is my duty to encourage others to understand the importance of project management and to help others learn more about how to properly manage projects. Many projects fail spectacularly – it can only be a good thing to have more people out there who understand why projects fail and how to properly guide projects to success. Project management best practices are not practices that we should hide from others and guard close to our chests… they are practices that we should want to share, to debate, to discuss, to improve, and to implement wherever they can be of benefit.

And that being said, I’m always up for a good discussion about project management – please feel free to comment!

Agile Development Project Management

What is the Agile Manifesto?

The Manifesto for Agile Software Development was created by a group of like-minded developers at a Utah ski lodge in February of 2001. Calling themselves the Agile Alliance, the manifesto these developers put together summarized the core tenets of the Agile Development methodology. The Agile Manifesto goes like this:

We are uncovering better ways of developing
software by doing it and helping others do it.
Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on
the right, we value the items on the left more.

Kent Beck   James Grenning   Robert C. Martin
Mike Beedle   Jim Highsmith    Steve Mellor
Arie van Bennekum    Andrew Hunt   Ken Schwaber
Alistair Cockburn   Ron Jeffries   Jeff Sutherland
Ward Cunningham   Jon Kern   Dave Thom
Martin Fowler   Brian Marick

© 2001, the above authors
this declaration may be freely copied in any form,
but only in its entirety through this notice.

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

A scrum dashboardWhile processes and tools are great, a lot of development outfits tend to overemphasize the processes and tools. Put your development into the hands of individuals and allow them to interact to get the software done. Ask your development team what they think of the project in question, how they should get it done, and how much they believe they will be able to get completed in bite-sized chunks (sprints). Then, allow them to use the processes and tools that they find most effective to completing the job.

Working software over comprehensive documentation

A lot of companies tend to over-document before even touching a line of code. The Agile Manifesto indicates that it’s better to create working prototypes of software rather than to over-document before hand. In this manner the needs of the user will come out over time – before the code base of a project has been developed to such an extent that it is too late to make changes to the infrastructure.

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Instead of having an us-versus-them process of negotiating the finer points of a wordy contract, a development effort should be a collaborative effort between the developing organization and the client. Agile favors the discovery of the “final needs” over time, by developing working prototypes of software programs, over demanding that the client has a complete 100% understanding of their needs before a line of code is written. The customer and the developers should work together to come up with the right software to meet the client’s needs.

Responding to change over following a plan

Microsoft Project is a great tool for creating huge, complicated waterfall project schedules. However, Project may not be the best tool to use in an Agile Development software project. Agile projects need to be able to adapt to change, and therefore should not be planned out to the letter months in advance in a waterfall-like schedule. With such schedules changes tend to be feared and protested; in Agile Development, changes should be expected, welcomed and understood.

Using the Agile Manifesto

The Agile Manifesto is more than snappy prose; it indicates a way of thinking when developing software. If you’re an Agile shop, regardless of your methodologies and how you adapt them to your needs, when subjecting your development team to a change in process or even your corporate culture you should ask yourself: Does this change line up with the Agile Manifesto? Are we adding too much documentation – or even too much process – to our practices?