Last week, I earned the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification. In completing this project, I learned a great deal about the art and science of project management. In today’s post, I will share some lessons learned from the experience. I intend for this article to be helpful to anyone working toward a challenging goal, especially one involving education or professional development.
1. Finding Your Why For The Goal
In late 2014, I went through Michael Hyatt’s goal setting course 5 Days To Your Best Year Ever. In that course, Hyatt explains the importance of knowing our why for any goal we choose. In my case, I had several reasons to pursue this goal. Here are just a few of the “whys” behind why I decided to pursue this certification.
- Increased skills and capabilities. I’m interested in expanding my skills in project management and I liked the comprehensive approach that PMI takes.
- Increased income. According to the Project Management Salary Survey (8th Edition) conducted by the Project Management Institute, project managers with the PMP certification tend to earn higher incomes than those without the certification.
- Impressed by PMI Southern Ontario. As one of the largest PMI chapters in the world, PMI Southern Ontario has impressed me with the quality of the events and the people involved. By earning a PMP, I will be able to contribute and volunteer to this great organization even further.
Lesson Learned: To build and sustain your motivation for a challenging goal, take the time to write down several reasons why you are interested in the goal. When you encounter challenges, you can review this list.
2. Identify Role Models and Resources
Who else has achieved the goal you are working on? For many goals, there are often other people who have achieved what you want to achieve. It makes sense to learn from their experience. In summary, this is was a positive lessons learned from my experience. I benefited significantly from the resources outlined in this section.
In my case, I found instruction and inspiration from a variety of resources to complete the PMP.
- University of Toronto Course. In the fall of 2014, I completed a project management course at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies to expand and deepen my knowledge of the field. Taking this course also fulfilled the formal education requirement needed for the certification.
- Other PMPs. As I met other PMPs, I asked them about their experience. Often, I would gain new perspectives on the process and learn how people prepared for the exam (most people stressed the importance of practice questions).
- Achieve PMP Exam Success (5th Edition) by Diane Altweis and Janice Preston. Cornelius Fichtner strongly recommended this book. I bought it and worked through the chapters (and end of chapter quizzes).
- PM PrepCast. This online PMP study course was highly valuable. Created by Cornelius Fichtner, the PrepCast is a great way to study in a variety of contexts. Most lessons are approximately thirty minutes in duration so it is easy to sit down for a brief study session. In addition, the course includes a number of extra interviews that explores issues in project management such as critical chain and lessons learned from new PMPs.
- PM Exam Simulator. Practice questions are generally considered the best way to prepare for the exam. This resource provided eight full length practice exams. I went through all eight exams, some of them more than once. I found that the simulator was a very good simulation to the actual exam I wrote.
Earning the PMP is a highly structured process so it makes sense that there are published resources to use. If your goal is less structured, published materials may not be available. In that case, I would suggest dedicating more attention to networking and learning from people who have first hand knowledge of the topic.
3. Make Course Corrections To The Plan
Several months ago, I scheduled the exam for March. However, I realized that I was simply not ready. Fortunately, I learned this fact weeks in advance. I was able to reschedule the exam without any penalties.
Whether you are studying for an exam or working on another goal, course corrections are helpful. In my case, I used the grades I obtained on practice tests to indicate my readiness for the exam. In other contexts, consider what markers you can consult to determine if you are still on course.
4. Proactively Manage Exam Day
Completing the PMP exam was a major accomplishment. However, it is also an unusual experience. Fortunately, I took measures in advance to reduce anxiety and reduce uncertainty. Here are some of the practices I followed to prepare myself for exam day.
- Visit the test centre in advance. It was reassuring to know exactly where the centre was located. I also had the chance to review the centre’s procedures with one of the staff.
- Take the test day off from work. I was fortunate to be able to dedicate the entire day to the exam. It made a big difference in being able to relax and focus on the task at hand.
- Arrive at the test center early. I arrived approximately one hour ahead of time, just in case test centre procedures took longer than expected.
In addition to the practical benefits of going through the above steps, I found it reassuring to go through these additional steps. As you work toward a goal that has uncertainty and risk, look for ways to reduce that uncertainty.
5. Celebrate Success
Obtaining the PMP certification was one of my greatest goals for 2015. As a result, I was looking forward to celebrating as soon as I read the examination report. I celebrated in two ways – I went out for dinner with my wife afterwards. I also treated myself to a few books from Amazon that I’ve been wanting to read for some time (Letters from a Stoic by Seneca, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande, and The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement by Eliyahu Goldratt).
If you are highly motivated by achieving results, you may be tempted to simply start working on the next activity. Instead, I encourage you to give some time to celebrate, whether it is is an individual goal or a group goal. We all have disappointments and problems in life and one way to cope with them is to have fond memories of celebration and success to fall back on.