Study Project Management Concepts before studying for your PMP® exam

There are three main reasons why we recommend the Project Management Concepts course prior to training for your PMP® exam. This article applies to you regardless of which provider you choose for your PMP® exam preparation training.

Assumptions

In this article, we’re assuming two things about you:

ASSUMPTION 1 You satisfy the PMI’s prerequisites

We assume that you meet the work and educational criteria demanded by the PMI®, that you can afford all the fees, and that you’re at the point where you’re choosing a course to prepare for the exam. There are many PMP® exam prep courses available. You can book for some of them through us.

ASSUMPTION 2 You want your exam preparation to be meaningful

The challenge

Some providers of PMP® exam prep courses or study aids rate their success according to the number of their students who pass the PMP® exam. Their offerings are therefore designed specifically to enable you to pass. At face value, this sounds excellent: the PMP® exam is expensive, so surely it’s best to do a course that has a high pass rate, where you know you’ll lower your risk of having to rewrite?

Unfortunately, in practice, this usually means that you’re being coached to become exam-ready at the expense of understanding the rationale and context. Many of these courses rely heavily on mnemonics and practice exams, and discussions centre entirely around the format and content of the exam questions, rather than around how to use what you learn to manage projects.

Not surprisingly, most PMP® courses also make no provision for developing any of the Personal or Performance competencies required by the PMI®‘s Project Manager Competency Development Framework (PMCD Framework, or PMCDF). Passing the PMP® exam without retaining any knowledge or other competencies, is not meaningful.

What we’re assuming

We’re assuming you would like your studies, and your PMP® credential, to be meaningful. We’re assuming that in the process of preparing for your PMP® exam, you actually want to understand a thing or two about what it would take to implement the requirements of the PMBOK® Guide in your work. (The PMBOK® Guide is the PMI®‘s standard for Project Management, and constitutes the bulk of what you’ll be tested on in the PMP® exam.) Besides gaining meaningful knowledge, you may even want to grow in some of the other competencies described in the PMCDF.

Some things you should be aware of

The PMCD Framework says that a competent project manager is adept at creating schedules, budgets and Earned Value reports using software to calculate the values as you track against a baseline. Typical PMP® exam prep courses do not provide training or practice in how to implement the the methods, techniques and processes in your actual work. You only learn the theory, occasionally working with scenarios, and you’ll be expected to recall the formulas used in the calculations.

If you want to learn how to do it for real, we’d recommend doing the whole Practical Certification Programme (rather than just the Project Management Concepts course), or ad hoc Consultative Tutoring to address specific Project Management requirements.

Three reasons to do the Project Management Concepts course first

The benefits of doing the Project Management Concepts course before preparing for your PMP® exam, work synergistically. These benefits may be summed up as habit, context and critical thinking.

Habit

Habit is needed for effective study. (Habit is also essential to building project manager competencies as described in the PMCDF.)

Project Management Concepts is designed to help you build the kind of study habits that will stand you in good stead in any other self-directed study after the course. This is particularly important to retaining what you learn.

Cramming is like binge-eating: It fills your head with information, but after the exam you’re left with information diarrhoea.

During the course, we track your online activities to support you in sticking to your personal plan. In addition to articles on how to build habits in the study context, we also provide you with the Project Management rationale for habit-building and other aspects of the course design, so that use your learning about learning to up your game as a project manager.

Context

The challenge

In your PMP® exam preparation, you’ll devote a lot of time to studying the Project Management processes set out in the PMBOK® Guide. In the exam, you may be tested on how well you can recall the definition of, say, the Plan Schedule Management process. You may be asked identify its Knowledge Area and Process Group, its inputs and outputs, and any tools and techniques used in this process.

Because the PMP® exam mainly tests your knowledge of a specific Project Management standard (the PMBOK® Guide), most PMP® exam prep training doesn’t devote much time to the essential underlying principles of Project Management. It’s perfectly possible to pass the PMP® exam and still wonder why you’re struggling to get senior management’s support for projects which they’ve signed off themselves!

How Project Management Concepts helps

Project Management Concepts provides you with more Project Management context, so that you can start asking better questions about your work—questions which can eventually lead to answers to these real-world dilemmas. (The course presentation is also entirely question-centred.)

Because Project Management Concepts draws from a variety of Project Management standards (rather than merely from the PMBOK® Guide), it also allows you to juxtapose the PMI®‘s approach to other standards. This allows you to identify what is common to Project Management in general, and what is specifically prescribed by the PMI®. It is also useful to note the respective benefits of different standards, methodologies and frameworks.

In addition, Project Management Concepts encourages you to confront key Project Management concepts not covered in detail by the PMBOK® Guide. In his Guide to Project Management (not to be confused with the PMBOK® Guide), Paul Roberts names the business case as the most important document in any project. The PMBOK® Guide barely mentions this make-or-break document, because (in PMI® terms) it is created before the Project Management process kicks in. Project Management Concepts exposes you to this broader context, so that you can start to identify where Project Management problems come from, rather than merely knowing what steps to follow in an ideal environment. (In the ideal environment envisaged by the PMBOK® Guide, the bosses do PMI®-aligned programme management, the processes described in Guide are already in place for everyone to slip neatly into their textbook-defined roles, and the project manager manages only one project at a time.)

Project Management Concepts also exposes you to studying in the context of the PMCDF.

Throughout the course, you’ll be introduced to models and disciplines which are not covered in most Project Management courses, but which can be valuable when addressing complex systemic problems in Project Management.

This brings us to the final benefit of the Project Management Concepts course: critical thinking.

Critical thinking

The course is structured to foster critical thinking, a key characteristic of the Personal dimension of the PMCDF. Critical thinking is also an essential skill that must be sharpened before any PMP® exam preparation course, if your aim is to understand and retain what you learn rather than to just obtain a piece of paper.

As you study for your PMP® exam, you will become aware that being a competent project manager by PMI® standards relies heavily on being able to do decent documentation. Once the basics of spelling, grammar, punctuation and syntax have been mastered, the next level centres around selecting, structuring and presenting content. Critical thinking plays a key role in the development of the required skill.

The PMCDF stresses the importance of developing your skill towards the creation of the myriad project documents decribed in the PMBOK® Guide. The PMP® exam, however, does not require that you write a single sentence to prove your competence in this key area, so if you’re no good at writing, you can still pass.

This clearly illustrates the difference between a Project Management Professional and a project manager who is truly professional. If your aim is to be the latter in addition to the former—and if documentation is not your strong point—then the short daily writing assignments in the Project Management Concepts course will be invaluable to the development of your project manager competency.

There’s a difference between just being a Project Management Professional, and being a project manager who is truly professional.

 


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Tania Melnyczuk

Director of Programme Design at ProjectManagement.co.za and the Collaboration Director of the Autistic Strategies Network.

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