PMP Preparation – Part 1: Overview

According to a post on the Critical Path blog, as of January 2011 there are a total of 417,475 Project Management Professionals (PMP) and no doubt that number has increased quite a bit since that time.  In the US and pretty much the rest of the world (with the exception of the UK and other European country who lean more towards Prince2), it has become a defacto standard as such to gauge the competency of a project manager for better or worse.  There has been and still is great debate as to whether the certification truly measures project management competency, and even whether it is a true certification at all, in the sense a CPA certification is regarded as a necessary step to becoming an true accountant.

Aside from these ideological battles, from a practical point of view, it will benefit a project manager more than harm him/her to get it and for the investment of around $1,200-2500 I definitely think it is worth it. Many PM jobs highly recommend and even require this designation, and if that helps you get a better paying job then the investment is worth it in my opinion. In addition, the certification has recently acquired ISO certification which is a world wide standardizing body and is the first certification to acquire it, which should help solidify the certification’s global as well as domestic standing.

As the title of the PMBOK suggests, it is a body of knowledge and not a specific process framework to follow, though it does outline guidelines that one could (and probably should) follow in developing a process within the typical project management processes of initiation, planning, execution, monitor/controlling, and closing that is advocated in the Guide. This is in contrast to the Prince2 certification that is popular in Europe. But what this suggests, is that the topics covered in the PMBOK which in turn influences the PMP, is quite vast and one would assume that there would and should be considerable investment of time and effort to study for it.

But in fact, some of recent PMP prep services that have cropped up due to the increasing popularity of this certification, would lead you to believe otherwise. As this article by Mark E. Mullaly, PMP states succinctly:

The worst offenders in PMP preparatory training are the boot camps that promise an intense, focused week of cramming and guarantee success in passing the exam. This is all well and good so far as getting a passing grade goes, but how well do we hold onto this information over time? If we were to write the exam again 12 months after the boot camp—or even two months later—would we remember sufficient information to pass with a comparable mark? Will we be able to demonstrate our ongoing understanding of the PMBOK? And if we can’t, just what was the point in taking the exam in the first place?

This type of preparation emphasizes the “binge and purge” type cramming done by many high school and college students across the nation (which I have been guilty of in my college days!), and encourages rote memorization, clever memory triggering schemes and techniques to evaluate the questions and answers to look for clues to find the best answer.

This is in opposition to the ideal way you should study for the certification, as Mark states, is to “learn the fundamentals of the principles being taught and, through a relatively deep understanding, be able to apply them to different situations and problems”. Of course I agree with this assertion and is in fact the way I studies for the exam. But I realize everyone has different goals, inclination for studying and retention, and most importantly, finding the time. For unlike the carefree high school and college days, everyone taking the PMP are working professionals and in a profession that typically leaves little free time.

In Part 2, I will go over three ways you can pass the exam as well as some specific test taking techniques.

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