PMP Exam Prep – Part 2: PMP Exam Application Tips

Ook!

To a lot of exam candidates, submitting their PMP examination application can be a very daunting task. I’ve built up quite a lot of experience helping my students and colleagues with their PMP Exam Applications and so I decided to write this article in order to provide some tips and tricks that might end up saving you time.

Estimated duration: 20+ hours (no kidding!)
The average applicant takes a minimum of 20 hours to put together their examination application materials; format their experience into projects; quantify their experience into the project knowledge areas and finally click on the submit button. Click here to read up on the certification requirements in a previous post.

Why this much effort?

To understand the amount of effort required to put in a good application, you first need to understand PMI’s rationale. As a non-profit organization, PMI’s major sources of revenues are from membership and examination fees. But since most candidates only take an examination once in their lifetime, the bulk of PMI’s revenues comes from membership fees. In other words, PMI must be able to sustain it’s operations and growth strategies primarily from it’s pool of members.

It’s also a little known secret that the PMP examination is not difficult to pass; the fact that there’s close to 400,000 certified PMPs’ globally can attest to that. However the important thing that PMI has to constantly manage is the validity of it’s credential. In other words, what quality benchmarks attest to the PMP certification?

By implementing a rigorous screening process, peppered with blind audits, PMI has been able to maintain a successful certification program that can withstand the quality of the PMP credential from external auditors.

So what doe this boil down to?

  • The PMP examination is not difficult to pass. It reflects knowledge of a framework that is based on Industry Best Practice. If you have the prerequisite amount of experience, you would have encountered similar situations tested in the exam. 
  • PMI puts in place the rigorous certification requirements in order to defend the validity of the certification. As a PMP, I take pride in holding this credential, because I know that holders must have had to pass rigorous experiential requirements before they could even take the exam.
  • PMI wants you to pass the screening stage. They need more people to take their exams, pass and become lifelong members. That’s how they can grow their organization and keep adding tremendous value to the greater Project Management Profession at large.

Conclusion: Therefore, the exam application process may take time and effort, but it is totally worth the time and effort. Also, if another 400,000 people could have done this, then you most certainly could as well. They key here is strategy and planning and I’ve put down some steps to guide you in this process.

PMP Application Steps:

  1. Update your resume
  2. Start looking for previous work experience that constitutes as Projects
    1. Definition: Temporary/Unique Deliverable
    2. Role: Show career progression > role in earlier projects as a contributor and progressing to role of PM in more recent projects
    3. Identify 7-10 projects
    4. Each project should have a minimum duration of 300 hours (3 months – 1 yr)
    5. Each project requires a description:
      1. Scope/scale of project: x customers, y sites, z users
      2. Unique deliverable: what tangible product/service/result was the customer left with? Reports, documentation, application/site, process
      3. Role: What did you do?
      4. Responsibilities:
        1. Early career: Technical deliverables, design, contributing
        2. Lead to PM career: Reports, creating plans, identifying scope/risk
  3. Project hourly breakdown
    1. Out of 100% of hours in a project
      1. 10-15% initiating
      2. 15-25% planning
      3. 25 – 35% executing
      4. 10% monitoring & controlling
      5. 5%  closing

Let’s go through this in greater detail:

1. Update your resume:

You should make sure that your resume is up to date. Pay attention to dates and company information, as you will need this information when you upload all of your examination data to the PMI website.

2. Look for projects:

Now that you have an accurate copy of your resume, start listing out 7-10 sizeable projects from the most recent 5 or 8 years, depending on which category you fit into. (See my previous post for more information). PMI has no limitation of projects that you can list in your application, but for expedience sake, most candidates find that 7-10 projects are a sizeable number that they can work with effectively.

Each project should fall under PMI’s definition of a project. Meaning to say that the project should have a definitive start date and end date (and not carry on indefinitely) and the project should have a unique end-result or deliverable.

For each project, you will need to obtain the following information that I have listed in this example:

Project Title: Global Infrastructure Migration
Company Name: Monkey Business Inc.
(Company Address and phone number)
Project Duration: 13 months
Hours: 1500 hours
Project Start and Finish: December 2005 – January 2007
Project Description:
1. Scope: 20 locations globally, 3000 users, 350 servers. Team size:  30 IT team members globally. New York was one of six network hub locations within the global network.  I was responsible for the network sites in the North-East region (New York, New Hampshire, Boston).
2. Deliverables: Deliverables included the consolidation and migration of three Windows 2003 Active Directory Domains across 20 sites, 3000 users and 350 servers spanning a global network with offices in North America, Europe and Asia; integration of Exchange 2000 and Exchange 2003 messaging platforms; restructuring of network addressing and routing at offices in the North-East region; deployment of VPN connectivity to branch offices; collaborating with corporate engineers at several key network locations within the global IT infrastructure.  Responsible for updating project team during Weekly status update meetings with IT team, authoring technical elements of project plan, providing duration and cost estimates to project manager.

3. Project Durations

PMI categorizes project effort into 5 categories. Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring and Controlling, and Closing. I’ve provided some guidelines above on how you could break down your project effort into the different process groups. Depending on the phase and scale of the individual project you were working on, as well as your role, these proportions would vary for you. I’ve listed 2 examples below:

Example 1:

Role: Project contributor.
> I was an engineer and performed a lot of implementation work.
Hours: 1500
Initiating: (5%) 75 hours > I attended the kick-off meeting
Planning: (5%) 75 hours > I was involved in some of the initial design and planning work
Executing: (55%) 825 hours > I was heavily involved in the implementation of all sites
Monitoring and Controlling: (20%) 300 hours > I attended all weekly status meetings and provided regular status updates to the PM over the 13 month project.
Closing: (15%) 225 hours > I was involved in the final user acceptance testing and project closeout activities.

Example 2:

Role: Project Manager.
> I was responsible for the deliverables, reporting and risks for this project
Hours: 1500
Initiating: (15%) 225 hours > I attended the kick-off meeting
Planning: (30%) 450 hours > I managed all aspects of the project planning deliverables. I developed the project Budgets, Scope and Timeline and finalized the project risk matrix.
Executing: (10%) 150 hours > I performed Quality Assurance and audits
Monitoring and Controlling: (25%) 300 hours > I was responsible for monitoring project status, compiling progress reports and providing executive summaries to sponsors.
Closing: (20%) 300 hours > I was responsible for final delivery of the project and contractual signoff of all deliverables.

Conclusion:

This seems like a lot of information to put together for each project, but I want you to understand that by helping the application reviewers to get an understanding of the scale and scope of your projects, as well as what your specific responsibilities were; they’re better able to gauge whether you’re qualified to pass the screening. Don’t forget that the reviewers may not have your same industry-specific experience, so try to stay away from industry terminology and nomenclature.

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