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I’ve been a manager in the healthcare industry for over 25 years and managing projects in layman fashion as most overworked functional managers do. That all changed in 2014 when my employer initiated a multi-million dollar project where 9 full-time PMs (6 from the seller, 3 PM SMEs hired specifically to ensure internal interests were being met) were assigned to compress a 24-month project into 10 months. Tempers were high, patience was short and my staff and I were introduced to the language and processes of formal project management: “that’s out of scope, you’ll have to present that to the Change Control Board, that sounds like gold plating to me, looks like we need an Ishikawa Diagram pronto!” and other foreign terminology could be heard emanating from the war room on a daily basis. I felt a bit out of my league.
Thus, what started as the pursuit of knowledge (via a Professional Certificate in project management from the local college) turned into the realization that I had the experience hours to sit for the PMP! And on the evening of October 1, 2016, I joined the ranks of certified PMPs in good standing when I passed the PMP exam!
When the PMI notified me that my application had been approved on March 8, 2016, the one-year clock to pass the test officially started. I knew I needed a lot of studying so scheduled the test on October 1, 2016. The very first thing I did was buy two calendars (one for work, one for home) and wrote the countdown of “days until PMP” between the two dates. In other words, I gave myself 207 days to prepare for the test and the calendars served as reminders that each and every day was that much closer to test day.
The biggest challenge in passing the test was improving my organizational skills. There are SO many resources out there (countless books, videos, and expensive boot camps) that a solo beginner like me felt overwhelmed. How do you weed through all the eager experts pitching that their way is the path? And Fallout 4 seemed so much more fun than reading a textbook.
I read the PMBOK cover to cover. Admittedly a dry read with not a lot of real-world examples.
I found Jennifer Greene and Andrew Stellman’s, “Head First PMP” at the library and read that cover-to-cover.
On the advice of my mentor, PMP Michael Klinicke at Bellevue College, I purchased Rita Mulcahy’s “PMP Exam Prep” and read that cover-to-cover.
This turned out to be the perfect trifecta of information (PMBOK, Head First, and Rita) with each chapter in sync and each book presenting the same information from slightly different perspectives. My binder grew as the outlines of each chapter swelled with information. Flashcards of definitions, terms, and formulas grew from 1 inch to 4! My “trifecta notes” had me on the right path!
I found all of Shiv Shenoy's books on Amazon and poured through them. I watched YouTube videos and was particularly inspired by Arham Faraaz’s “How To Pass the PMP Exam in 2016” video.
The days kept clicking away…150 days…125 days…100 days…I took Shiv's advice to replicate table 3.1 from the PMBOK. I had stacks and stacks of table 3.1, the early versions with varying degrees of accuracy until, one day like magic, I could suddenly recreate the table on a blank piece of paper in under 10 minutes with perfect accuracy. Repetition works!
I turned my attention to the following formulas: EV, PV, SV, CV, SPI, CPI, EAC, ETC, TCPI, and VAC. I bought a computer microphone and recorded myself reciting the formulas. With the file transferred to my MP3 player, each morning bus ride to work I listened to myself repeat the formulas until I literally got sick of hearing myself! But, the strategy worked and I can repeat these formulas without hesitation!
Lastly, with 90 days to go, I purchased the 90-day access to Cornelius Fichtner’s “PMP Exam Simulator” for $125. I took 8 of the 9 practice tests. After each test, I took hours compiling the questions into study notes and learned that my 3 areas of weakness were Scope, Time and Cost. I went back to my trifecta notes and Shiv's books for further study in these three areas.
Test day arrived and, once seated in the sterile confines of a cubicle at my nearby Prometric Testing Center, I was confident. With my brain dump clear in my mind, I quickly recreated table 3.1, the formulas listed above, and other data (stakeholder power and influence grid, where the scope, schedule and cost baselines come from, data in/info out processes, and other areas I knew well but wanted to get down on the paper provided). I finished the test with exactly an hour left on the timer and, too brain fried to go back and second guess any answers, I clicked the “finish” button. (I’m not saying I advocate doing it this way, I’m just saying that’s how I did it.) My heartbeat immediately doubled as I waited for the outcome. Would I have to retake the test before my March 8th deadline? Had I prepared enough? Curses to you, Fallout 4! Should I have studied more and not done any gaming these past 207 days?!
I waited…and prayed…and waited some more…the screen went blank, I held my breath and…
“Congratulations! You have passed the Project Management Professional exam” flashed on the screen.
So I’m living proof that an old-school, long-time “do-it-yourself” project manager can learn the language and processes of the Project Management Institute. While I am now a certified PMP, I still feel like a rookie and I’m excited to learn even more of the universe that is formal project management! And the dining room table is back to normal so that’s a bonus!
Tom Harvey, PMP
The following user(s) said Thank You: Mark Wuenscher, PMP
Congrats on passing the PMP exam! Thanks for posting a very informative and entertaining lessons learned and exam experience. I enjoyed reading it. I can also relate to "still feeling like a rookie!" Great idea on how to memorize the formulas. Wish I had thought of that! Best of luck in all your endeavors.
Congrats on a job well done and good luck in your future endeavors. For those having trouble with the formulas, I recommend checking out the Papercut Project Manager's site at
. In the downloads section, he has some nice pneumonics for memorizing the important formulas.
This interview with Simona Fallavollita (LinkedIn Profile) was recorded at the magnificient Project Management Institute (PMI)® Global Conference 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. We discuss the how, what, why and when of the changes that are coming to the PMP exam.