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8 Steps to PMP Certification

March 3, 2012

After deciding it was time to do project management full-time, it took me about 3 months before I became PMP (Project Management Professional) certified. I will not go into the reasons as to why I wanted to become a PMP (e.g. pros/cons ), but rather focus on outlining the entire process so that other potential candidates would know what to expect.

PMP Eligibility Requirements Overview

Suggested Steps

1. Become a PMI member

Duration: less than 1 hour

Cost: USD $129

PMI (Project Management Institute ) is an organization that provides various certifications in the field of project management, most notably the PMP certification. There are a few advantages to becoming a member:

  1. Get a free digital copy of PMBOK (A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge ). Courses and the exams are mainly based on the content of PMBOK, thus it is necessary to have a copy of this book in digital or hardcopy form.
  2. Get a USD $150 discount when applying for PMP, thus fully recovering the cost of becoming a member in the first place.
  3. Get access to a wide range of resources such as pm-related publications. I found the Project Management Salary Survey very insightful.

2. Complete online coursework

Duration: 40+ hours

Cost: USD $110+

One of the PMP requirements is to have a minimum of 35 contact hours. I found that enrolling into online courses was definitely cheaper than booking in-class sessions. It also gave me a lot more flexibility in terms of when to study and for how long.

I ended up enrolling in a PMstudy course which I had to complete within 30 days. The coursework was basically split into 11 sections covering all 9 Knowledge Areas along with sections related to the Project Management Framework and Professional Responsibility.

You may find the readings and lectures very dry, but the practice questions break the monotony. Always think about how your own experience relates to the study material.

By spending a few hours every day reading, listening, doing practice questions, and section tests, I was able to complete the coursework within two and a half weeks (while working full time). I wasn’t rushing through it either, as I wanted to get a good grasp of the terminology.

Make sure to keep a copy of completed contact hours certificate(s) as you will need to provide them to PMI in case you get audited.

3. Apply for PMP

Duration: 8-12 hours

Filling out a PMP application can be a tedious task, but don’t give up! I strongly suggest that you complete the application online, instead of completing a hardcopy.

You will need to list the following in your application:

  1. Personal information (name, address, contact info, etc.)
  2. College/university degree (optional)
  3. Number of contact hours completed and where
  4. All the projects you worked on that you want to count towards your project management experience

The project experience section will take the longest time to complete because for each project you need to list:

  • Start date, end date
  • Exact number of hours worked broken down by the 5 Process Groups
  • Point of contact and their contact information (e.g. manager, sponsor, colleague)
  • A description of the work you did using PMI terminology.

I worked on a lot of small projects, so I had to list 10 projects in order to meet the project management experience hour requirements. Basically, the smaller the projects you worked on, the more of them you are going to need to list, and the more time you will need to spend completing the application. The same amount of information about each project needs to be listed regardless of how many hours you worked on it.

I found Margaret Meloni’s application preparation guide very helpful for completing the application. You can download it for free.

The section I found took me the longest to complete for every project was the description. I first needed to identify the type of work I did on each project, shortlist relevant project management experience and then translate that into PMP lingo.

In order to help some of you, I have listed the exact descriptions I used for the projects in my application. Please use these only as a guide.

  • Estimated activity durations using historical duration information and assessed the need for contingency reserves. Created quality checklists based on the scope baseline. Performed quality audits to ensure project activities results met scope baseline requirements. Reported current status of issues and work completed by the team to management.
  • Developed the project charter which consisted of top-level overview of project requirements, budget, and schedule. Helped identify and classify stakeholders, namely types of users that were expected to use the final product. Defined the WBS, developed the schedule, and created the budget. Created project deliverables and verified them with the client. Finalized project activities and received formal acceptance from the client.
  • Collected project requirements by observing, brainstorming, and developing working prototypes of the product. Provided informal training to project team members in order to help develop their technical skills and improve productivity. Validated deliverables and change request implementation before submitting to sponsor for formal acceptance testing.
  • Researched existing system shortcomings before creating a high-level overview of project purpose, requirements, and risks. Created a work breakdown structure and a list of schedule

    milestones. After sequencing project activities, acquired human resources for project execution. Identified and mitigated risks throughout the project. Raised and implemented approved change requests. Tracked project issues in order to update lessons learned documentation at the end of the project.

Let me know if you would like me to list a few more.

Once you’ve submitted your application, you will find out within a week, whether you application was accepted. I found out in 2 days and it was the week of Christmas.

4. Submit payment

Cost:  USD $405 (member), USD $555 (non-member)

This is to be completed online and it’s pretty straight forward.

5. Complete audit

Cost:  mailing costs

Duration: 1-2 months

Once your payment has been submitted, you will immediately find out if your application requires an audit. The exact audit selection process is only known to PMI. The chances of being audited are small, but I was one of the (un)lucky ones to be selected. As a result, I can tell you what I needed to do to fulfill the audit requirements.

If you are not getting audited, you can immediately proceed to booking your exam.

In order to comply with the audit you will need to provide proof and references for all parts of your application within 3 months:

  1. Proof of your education. (e.g. photocopy of your college/university diploma)
  2. Proof of contact hours. (e.g. printed contact hour certificates)
  3. A signed reference letter for the contact person listed for each project in the application. If you cannot get a hold of that contact, you can use someone else who had the same amount of insight into your project. You need the original signed letter from each person, meaning faxed/photocopied/emailed letters will not be considered. And to top it off, each letter needs to be put inside a separate envelope, sealed, and the contact person needs to sign over the flap .
  4. Send all these documents together to PMI.

You can imagine why it took me almost two months to collect all the audit documents. I worked on 10 projects with 8 completely different clients. As a result, I needed to chase down 8 people which were now living in different cities and get them to follow the described protocol. In some cases I would not recieve any replies, and would then have to find a suitable contact replacement.

Thankfully, PMI provided auto-generated PDF documents for each project listed in my application separately. This allowed me to first email the PDFs to corresponding contacts, and allow them to look it over, print out, and fill out.

Some contacts mailed me back the signed letters and for those I specifically asked to also sign over the flap of the envelope before sending it. This meant that once I received the envelope, I didn’t need to open it as the signed letter was already inside, and the envelope signed over the flap. No need to send an envelope within an envelope!

With other clients I met for coffee where we were able to catch up and get the letters signed.

Once I had all the proofs and letters, I put it them in one large envelope, and sent them to PMI via registered mail.

Within a week, I received an email notifying me that my audit documents were received and under review. The next day I got the green light to proceed to book my exam.

6. Book exam

Cost: included in the cost of the application

Duration: < 1 hour

Exams can only be taken at Prometric centers. From what I noticed, exam slots are usually available during the workweek, so you only need to book a few days in advance if you wish. However, if you want to do the exam on a weekend, you need to book the exam a month in advance or more. It varies from one testing center to the next.

7. Study

Cost: free

Duration: 30+ hours

Everyone prepares differently for exams. About 2 months passed since I did the online PMP course, so I decided to read through the entire PMBOK again, and this time, take notes of certain formulas and definitions as I was going through it.

I found lots of free online practice exams. You can purchase online practice exams, but there seem to be enough free ones out there.

Here is the list of the practice exams I took and found very relevant:

I would strongly suggest that you actually set aside the 4 hours for each 200 question practice exam, and do them as if it was a real exam. Any answer you are uncertain about, make note to review it later. Once you finish an exam, go through all the questions you got wrong, as well as the ones you marked for review, and spend the time to understand the reasoning behind the right answer. I think that is the key to doing well on the exam.

8. Exam time

Duration: 4 hours

After going through a few practice exams, you should be ready for the real thing. Just pace yourself and you will be fine. I took the full 4 hours to do the exam and had just enough time to review a few questions I was uncertain about. I didn’t feel rushed, but just keep in mind how many questions you’ve answered vs the time remaining and try to keep ahead.

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