Life is full of projects! Each project has a specific duration with specific goals, activities, schedule, cost, risk, stakeholders, you name it. When I first became a Project Manager (PM), I did not have much idea and just wanted to implement it. But along the way, I learned the importance of planning, budgeting, communicating, monitoring, etc.
It is quite difficult to measure the skill as a PM, but there are actually general guidelines and certificates to show you know them. Project Management Professional (PMP) is one of the few internationally recognized PM certificates.
After 5 months of study and 1-time failure, I finally passed PMP. It was a bit tough journey and this is big business as many people invest so much money to get this. This post is for anyone who is interested in PM and wants to have a PM certificate.
What is PMP
In a nutshell, this is a certificate for PM and issued by a US-based organization called Project Management Institute (PMI). Another major certificate organization is UK based “Prince2“. Just like any other certificate, it shows something tangible as you can say “here is my certificate” rather than self-declaring “I know project management, believe me!”
If you go through pre-requisite conditions (mentioned below) and pass an online exam with 200 multiple-choice questions (4 hours!!), you will get the certificate. To maintain your PMP (once you obtain), you have to earn certain credits by further learning or joining the conference. Otherwise, you will lose a certificate within 3 years.
Everyone has different reasons for choosing PMP, be it mandatory from your job, career step up, learning, salary increase, network. If you get motivated with a financial incentive, PMI always uses this catchy evidence: those with a PMP certification garner a higher salary (20% higher on average) than those without a PMP certification. I know two people who said they got their jobs because of PMP.
In my case, I wanted to meet people beyond my area of the profession, so that I can learn something new. Also, since PM can be relevant for any project including life journey (which I consider a big project), I am keen to prepare for any future project and/or entrepreneurship.
After deciding to get a certificate, how did I choose PMP over Prince2 mentioned above? I just happened to know someone who recommended PMP and I just had a small training a few years ago which served as one of pre-requisite (mentioned below).
3 steps to take PMP
Unlike other many certificate tests for which you just need to pay, you have to meet the following prerequisite (either one):
Step 1: Prerequisites
- Secondary degree (high school diploma, associate’s degree or the global equivalent)
- 7,500 hours leading and directing projects
- 35 hours of project management education or CAPM certification
— OR —
- Four-year degree
- 4,500 hours leading and directing projects
- 35 hours of project management education or CAPM certification
So you see it’s quite a complex process. In my case,
1. I showed my degree;
2. proved 3 years of extensive PM experience, and
3. luckily did not have to take any paid course to gain 35 hours, as I already had a PM course at my grad-school and 2-day training offered by PMI Mongolia.
Once you clear the prerequisite, you have to pay, which is also not an easy thing to do.
Step 2: pay the price
| PMI Member
(annual fee129 USD)
So you can see how expensive this is, right? Even if you become a member (which is recommended if you want to join the community).
step 3: choose the location and exam date
Unlike other exams for which you pay, decide the testing center and the date at the same time, PMP is quite different in that you pay an expensive fee first, then choose the location and date afterward (within 1 year). So once you make a decision to take the exam, you can pay for motivation, and start preparing.
Knowing when you are ready to take is quite important. And finding a testing center is tricky depending on where you live (e.g. someone like me who lived in Mauritania without any center). You can search for the available testing center here. You can choose the language of the exam, and as I wish to stay abroad, I picked English and started preparing with English materials only (I looked at Japanese terminologies later on, but it was too difficult to forget it was my native language, so choosing English was the right decision for my case).
How I passed PMP
How to gain a PMP certificate after all those steps? In one word, PRACTICE.
I failed once, and it was tough especially as I went to Paris to take the exam. In short, I underestimated a 4-hour long exam and didn’t learn specifics of PMPism. Below are my actions/tools and lessons learned.
- Assumption from personal PM experience: I already had PM experience and wrote about some learning from the past (10 Things Project Manager Need), but PMP has specific things you need to learn, and I failed partly because I didn’t learn what they call PMPism well (specific area of process and knowledge, which can be actually helpful).
- PMBOK (6th edition): What I did was read the guide textbook (PIMBOK) with over 600 pages. To me, it was not a very friendly book, and it felt like a dictionary, so it was good to understand what PMP is all about, but I didn’t digest much.
- Rita Mulcahy PMP prep book (9th edition): It was more narrative-based about PMP, so it was very helpful to understand.
- Free test: I was going to pass without spending much, so just did some free test. My learning/mistake from this experience was not taking 4-hour long mock test (which is usually paid one)
- Your own note: I wrote down/ draw whatever I thought was important.
- How I decide when to take the exam: As I lived in Mauritania where there was no testing center, I chose the nearest country (where I would like to do sightseeing, Paris!), so balancing with my work schedule was important. I prepared for 2 months after my work every day, and once I got over 60-70% of the score on the mock free test, I gave it a try.
- Actual exam: Lack of time and practice, period. I also wrote down my cheatsheet too long after the exam started. The tricky part was that I didn’t feel it was very difficult, but my score was horrible, so I even claimed to review the score (the shortcoming of PMP is that you cannot know the detail of your score nor passing score threshold). You get the result immediately after your exam, so I was down but had to move on for my sightseeing (which actually helped to calm down).
Here are my tools and lessons learned for the 2nd trial:
- Finding the motivation and timing: I failed in June, and I was not motivated enough to decide to take again until October (I moved to Kenya in September where there are testing centers and wanted to improve the status quo, so it was a big factor to resume my practice).
- Mock test simulation: The best take away from the first attempt was need to do mock tests much as possible. After several reviews, I bought PM Prep Cast. To be honest, I didn’t like this course as it was quite difficult, but in the end, it was good practice as the real exam felt much easier than this.
- Rita Mulcahy PMP prep book (9th edition): I reviewed this again, as it is good to grasp the big picture.
- Your own note: I didn’t go through PIMBOK this time. Instead, I reviewed my old note.
- How I decide when to take the exam: I used the above-mentioned full mock test 6 times which means over 30 hours (24 hours + review). My score was around 70% (borderline of passing and failing). My parents were coming to Kenya for 2 weeks, so before that, although I wasn’t fully confident, I tried to give it a try as you cannot keep studying this
- Actual exam: Unlike the first time, I didn’t take much time for my cheatsheet (just wrote down the math formula). And each question was much shorter than the mock test and somewhat easier. I had some more extra time to review. The actual test asked many things about how you solve problems on the 10 Knowledge areas.
Although I felt comfortable during the test (4 hours passed quickly), I wasn’t very sure until I saw the word:
It was worth it overall, and now I need to utilize this certificate to learn more from others. I am pretty sure that I will forget many tiny theories/knowledge, but will use it as a stepping stone to meet new people in different areas, exchange ideas and learn from them.
The learning of this time
Although the process and cost of preparing for PMP (project management certificate) were not easy, I could make it through failure, lessons learned and efforts, and now it is time to actually use it (certificate without use is just a paper).
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