Monday, May 4, 2015

The 7 Questions Every PMP Student SHOULD Ask Their Coach

The 7 Questions Every PMP Student SHOULD Ask Their Coach
By Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, CSM and Dan Ryan, MBA, PMP

In our previous article we discussed the 7 questions that most of our PMP Exam coaching students ask us as they start out their journey. However, over the years we have identified a second set of 7 questions - the questions students SHOULD be asking us but they don’t. Here they are: 

1. What’s the most important brain dump or diagram to learn?
This is an easy question! It’s Table 3-1 in the PMBOK® Guide. This covers the Project Management Process Group and Knowledge Area Mapping. It’s a complicated matrix and a very important visual representation of Project Management Body of Knowledge and Project Management framework. It is very much a guiding tool for approaching the PMP exam and one of the most important brain dumps that you could have in the testing center to help you.
2. What formulas do I need to know for the PMP exam?
There are many formulas in the PMBOK® Guide; upwards of 20 or 30 that could be referenced in the PMP exam. A PMP exam coach would tell you that you will probably only see somewhere in a range of around 15 formulas on the exam itself.
If time is short and you want to focus your learning on what will really make a difference to your success in the exam, identify the formulas that are most likely to come up and make sure you fully understand those. A formulas study guide, coach or PMP exam tutor will be able to pinpoint the most important formulas for you. Start by memorizing those to maximize your learning time.
3. What are these Inputs, Outputs, Tools and Techniques (ITTOs)?
ITTOs tend to scare a lot of PMP students and some exam candidates have confided that they didn’t understand or know about them before they took the exam! They are very important for understanding how project management concepts and processes fit together, both for the exam and also for managing projects in ‘real life’ after the exam.
Make sure you spend enough time learning about their structure, and how you are likely to encounter them on the PMP exam. You can do this through studying the PMBOK® Guide, and using other study guides and flashcards. Taking practice PMP exams is another good way of testing your knowledge of ITTOs as you will get to see how the questions are framed on the exam and learn how best to respond to them.
4. What are some tricks to answering these long scenario-based questions on the PMP exam?
This is an excellent question that PMP exam coaches don’t hear often enough! The best students want to know how to deal with the long paragraphs that they see on the PMP exam.
These long questions are often a source of great difficulty for many students. The content of the question is often in a strange order and there are facts that are added in simply to distract you. The answers are also often longer than normal, so scanning through and making a quick judgment about how to answer is tricky. So how can you deal with these scenario-based questions?
Something that works well for many exam candidates is to read the last part of the question first. You can also use a process of elimination on certain answers by referring to your brain dump of Table 3-1, the Project Management Process Group and Knowledge Area Mapping, or your formula sheet.
Practicing with an exam simulator and talking to your colleagues and coaches will help you understand and practice these long scenario-based questions.
5. How can I manage my time on the exam day?
Four hours seems like a very long time and in the past students were often able to complete the exam comfortably within this time. Now PMP exam tutors learn from their students that the test seems to be taking longer. You can still complete it within the 4 hour window allocated, but students are reporting that it is taking the full allocation of time so they don’t have the opportunity to leave early.
This could be for any number of reasons, including that students are now better prepared and are marking more questions for review. It could also be that earned value calculations are playing a great part in the exam and for many students, they add additional time. Whatever the reasons, you do need to manage your time carefully on the day to ensure that you have enough time to finish without being rushed. 
Once you get on top of your time management you have a much better chance of passing the PMP exam.
6. What’s the best approach for learning all the content?
The best approach for learning all the content (and there is a lot of it!) depends on your learning style. Some people learn best by reading and absorbing information in their own time. This allows them to make notes and create their own flashcards, for example. If that sounds like you, a PMP study guide would be a good starting point.
Other people learn best through visual means, and if that sounds like your preferred learning style then the best approach that you could possibly take would be to find yourself a world class set of video learning lessons which will provide you with all of the content on all of the processes, the framework, and the body of knowledge in a visual way. 
Others learn best in an environment with other people. A classroom course or PMP exam tutoring in a group can be a good solution if you prefer to learn in the company of others. Of course, you also have the option to learn one-on-one with a study buddy (a peer who is studying for the PMP exam at the same time as you), a mentor or PMP coach. Don’t limit yourself to having to meet in person as there are online options that also give you the personal touch without physically having to be in the same location, such as coaching via Skype.
You may want to use a combined approach to suit your situation so mix and match your learning options until you feel comfortable that you have a study plan that meets your personal needs and preferences.
7. How many practice exams should I take and what score should I score?
How many exams you take depends on how much time you have! It’s more important to make sure that you have access to practice exams that provide you with questions that are known to be almost exactly like the ones on the real test. Try to find a source of questions that are highly regarded to be very realistic. When you get to a point where you are repeatedly doing simulated exams at scores of 80% or better you know you are ready go in and pass that exam.
Do you feel better prepared for your PMP exam knowing the answers to these questions? We hope so! As you can see, it’s very difficult to give definitive answers in some cases as every student is different. The main message is to ensure you dovetail all of this advice together, making sure that you are studying in the right way, learning on the right timeline, taking the test questions right, and getting ready for the exam. Good luck!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Three R's You need for Your PMP Exam

The Three R's You need for Your PMP Exam
By Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, CSM

As part of the process of preparing to take the Project Management Professional (PMP®) Exam you have most likely read about the use of a Responsibility Assignment Matrix (RAM), Roles and Responsibilities, and the Resource Breakdown Structure (RBS). Each of these tools & techniques are discussed within A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Fifth Edition, Project Management Institute, Inc., 2013, the globally recognized standard and guide for the project management profession. In this article we not only look at each of these tools & techniques individually, but also how they interact with each other.

What is a Responsibility Assignment Matrix (RAM)? 
It is a tool used as part of the Plan Human Resource Management process that relates the organizational breakdown structure (OBS) to the work breakdown structure (WBS) and is used to ensure each project activity is assigned a specific resource. A RAM can be used at a high level, a low level, or a combination of both depending on the size and complexity of the project. A high-level RAM may show that Company A has been hired to complete the engineering portion of a project. A low-level RAM may show that Joe Smith of Company A will be completing the electrical engineering for the design portion of the project. 
One of the most widely known and used type of RAM is the RACI chart. RACI stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consult, and Inform. A RACI chart is simply a table with project activities listed along the left and specific individuals or groups identified across the top. This creates a grid where each activity and individual or group intersect. An R, A, C, or I can be placed in each of the intersecting boxes and at least one accountable individual or group is assigned to each project activity. For large activities there may need to be more than one individual responsible for completing the work. There can be multiple individuals or groups who need to be consulted or informed, but be careful to make sure that each is identified correctly so that not too many unnecessary individuals or groups are being consulted when they may just want to be informed.
What are Roles and Responsibilities? They are used to define the project role, authority, responsibilities, and competencies required for the role. Clearly defining and documenting the specific Roles and Responsibilities necessary for each project resource are essential ingredients of an effective Human Resource Management Plan. The best way to determine the specific responsibilities required of each role on a project is to document these roles in the form of specific job descriptions that must be matched with specific project team members in order to properly execute the role’s responsibilities.
The four key items to be addressed when developing Roles and Responsibilities are role, authority, responsibility, and competency. Role is the function an assigned person would take on such as designer, engineer, or tester. As part of a role it is also important to define the authority, responsibilities, and boundaries of the role. Authority is the right to make decisions, sign approvals, apply resources, accept deliverables, and influence others to complete project activities. Responsibility is the assigned tasks and work the individual is expected to complete. When developing roles and responsibilities it is important that the authority and responsibility match. For example, if an engineer is responsible for making technical decisions it is important they have the authority to implement those decisions. Competency is the skill set and experience required to complete assigned project activities. If the wrong competency is assigned to a role project progress can be hindered by some activities not being performed.

What is the Resource Breakdown Structure (RBS)? 
It is a graphical representation of the hierarchical structure of resources by category and resource type where each level is broken down until it is small enough to be used in conjunction with the work breakdown structure (WBS). The goal is to have all resources on a project, not only human resources, linked to specific activities in the WBS in order to plan, monitor, and control the project work. Being able to link resources back to the WBS is essential in ensuring that each activity will be successfully performed.
One thing to remember when taking the PMP Exam is that the acronym RBS has two meanings in the world of project management; Resource Breakdown Structure and Risk Breakdown Structure. If you read the questions carefully and understand the context of the question context (i.e., are they asking about resources or risks?) you should not encounter any problems.

How do the Responsibility Assignment Matrix, Roles and Responsibilities, and Resource Breakdown Structure interact? 
The RBS will provide the project manager with information concerning the resources required to complete the project work. Once the RBS is decomposed to the same level as the WBS then identified resources can be linked to specific activities. A RACI chart can then be developed based on the identified resources in the RBS and the activities that need to be completed in the WBS. The documented Roles and Responsibilities provides the project manager with specific information such as the responsibility, authority, and competency level of the role that each human resource is assigned to. This also helps the Project Manager complete the RACI chart because it provides them with important information such as making someone responsible or accountable for an activity fitting within the role they fill.
In this article we were able to take a brief look at three very important project management topics and how they interact with each other in practice. A popular RAM, the RACI chart, is an extremely useful tool used to identify who is accountable or responsible for or needs to be consulted or informed with regard to specific project activities. Roles and Responsibilities can be thought of as job descriptions that define the role itself along with the authority needed to perform the role, the responsibilities of the role, and the competencies required by the role. The RBS graphically displays what resources are necessary for successful completion of the project, broken down by both resource category and resource type. For the exam, it is important that you understand not only how and when to use each of these tools & techniques, but also how they interact with each other.

Three tools & techniques you may encounter as you prepare to take the PMP Exam are the Responsibility Assignment Matrix (RAM), Roles and Responsibilities, and the Resource Breakdown Structure (RBS). It is essential to understand each of these topics by themselves in order to plan, monitor, and control project activities. It is also important to understand how the RAM, Roles and Responsibilities, and the RBS interact.

For FREE PMP Exam Preparation tools, tips, and self-study materials visit PMLEAD.NET