What’s Changing in the Way I Teach PMP® Exam Prep
Carl Pritchard, PMP®, PMI-RMP®, EVP
Once every four years, I have a flurry of business. Clients old and new suddenly decide two things—(1) they want to hurry up and get all of their people PMP’d before the exam changes (based on the updated version of the PMBOK Guide®, and (2) they want to know if they can wait to do anything until the changes are stable and life is back to normal. It all boils down to:
What changes are in the exam based on PMBOK Guide® Fifth Edition?
As one of the resident clairvoyants, I can tell you a few things about my game plan for dealing with this, and I would hope that it resonates and provides some insight on how you might go about coping with the changes.
Most of the exam will remain constant
Some of the old exam questions will clearly have to be pulled
Some of the new content will clearly have to be woven in in the near term
Remember that project management is still project management
As one of the authors of the PMBOK Guide® Fourth Edition, let me stress that we had, as a mission, guidance to keep changes to a minimum. The only time the ANSI standard was to change was when the change had real meaning about how project management was practiced overall. Otherwise, part of our role was to achieve stasis.
If you want to have a personal history lesson, dig out an old edition of the Rita Mulcahy, LeRoy Ward, Kim Heldman or Andy Crowe books on gearing up for the exam. Then compare them with the more current versions. The differences largely feel editorial. That’s because most of them are. The major content shifts are summed up in little white papers like this one. But that means from PMBOK Guide® to PMBOK Guide®, there’s a great degree of sameness. You can still calculate EAC multiple ways in earned value, and you still need to do a forward and backward pass to calculate total float.
Some terms and guidance invariably does change, but the lion’s share…greater than 80%…remains static from year to year. Don’t get the idea that PMI® is cooking up a whole new exam. They don’t have that kind of capability or energy.
GOING AWAY AND COMING IN
This is the part of this article that many of you wanted to see. It’s the summary of what’s gone and what’s new in the new edition of the PMBOK Guide®. The key is that I am NOT going to go through the standard line by line and try to identify specific minutiae in how the exam expresses our roles and responsibilities as project managers. As I teach in my classes, I believe the exam is a philosophy exam, so I’m trying to touch on how and where I’ll be changing my teaching approach to accommodate the new version of the exam.
The Front End
No real change with the application or the application process, except for the one thing that I’ve been warning students about for about a year now. PMI® is actively auditing more and more applications. They are investing in more auditors in the hopes of ensuring that sub-project managers don’t slip through the cracks. But the data they want and the forms in which they want it? Pretty much unchanged.
The First Three Chapters of The Guide
The biggest shift here is associated with PMI’s sudden embrace of the notion of the hierarchy of portfolios, programs and projects. These “nesting dolls” of organizational management find projects as the small component—subsets of programs within the organizational context and programs and projects as subsets of the entire organizational portfolio. Not a lot of emphasis on that in the past. It’ll show up going forward. In a similar vein, PMI is also talking about the distinctions between project management, operations management and organizational strategy. Project Management is a single game of billiards. Operations management is how we’re going to keep the table level and the felt on the table taut. Organizational strategy is the organizational vision of what good pool and a good pool environment looks like.
Tied to that is the notion that PMI is also driving home the notion of the various types of life-cycles and the language thereof. “Iterative” and “predictive” life cycle models are likely to appear on the exam, with the former being those that evolve over time, while predictive models assume a certain degree of omniscience for the PM in being able to predict behaviors front to back. Predictive models are tied to classic PM. Iterative are the stuff “rolling waves” are made for.
I’ve always told students to memorize page 43 of the PMBOK (It’s a table), but that table has now moved to page 61. The rules that I give students for easy memorization of that table are actually MORE right now than in the past!! Just memorize the executing column, and the other process columns should fall out naturally.
A couple of general nits on the exam seem rife for a host of new questions, and most of them relate to performance—
Those three show up extensively throughout the Guide, and the key is to understand the distinction. Data is undistilled and raw. Information is processed data. Reports are built on information.
Also, for those who have listened to The Portable PMP® Prep – Conversations on Passing the PMP® Exam, with me and LeRoy Ward, they’ve heard me talk about the various MANAGEMENT plans and know that I say that word with a little added emphasis. There are more MANAGEMENT plans in the new Guide than ever before, and it’s important to recognize that they are all about how we will manage our projects, rather than being about the actual management of activities. There’s a MANAGEMENT plan for every knowledge area of the PMBOK® Guide now.
No major league changes here, but a good introduction to something that seems to be infused through the Guide. That’s a sense that the soft skills and the political nature of being the project manager has rarely if ever been more prominent. Wow! We care about people. A lot. PMI® now sees us as being heavily involved in reviewing the business case, capturing a lot of the critical information. Not a big change, but the emphasis is notable.
A new piece of schtick I plan to add to my classes will be a head-up/head-down motion associated with Project Plans and Project Documents. Project Plans are the heads-up, forward-looking visionary kinds of paperwork. Project documents are heads-down, in the details, examination of project stuff. There are a lot of project plans and project documents sprinkled through the updated Guide.
One weird note on closing? (And I can already envision the question…) What are “accepted deliverables” when it comes to closing? (a) input (b) output (c) tool/technique (d) really important.
The correct answer is that they are an input to “close project.” Just one of those things that seems bizarre enough to be a question or two.
Like all of the process areas, this now has a home for a MANAGEMENT plan. It’s all about how we define, validate and control scope. That’s what all the MANAGEMENT plans are about. How.
One other new and bizarre note from the scope management component is the output list for “Create WBS”. The outputs do not include the WBS. They do include project documents that include the WBS, but it’s notable that it’s not a clear output of the step.
The chapter’s also noteworthy in that the term rebaselining only appears once. It has been supplanted by “baseline updates”. That’s a more apt term, given the different perspectives on what re-baselining implies.
Like all of the process areas, this now has a home for a MANAGEMENT plan. It’s all about how we…(haven’t we been here before?)
We’re getting more out of the “define activities” process now, as we’re getting milestones and activity attributes, along with the activities themselves.
Like all of the process areas, this now has a home for a MANAGEMENT plan. It’s all about how we…(getting repetitive, aren’t we?)
Perhaps the biggest changes in cost are associated with the shift in the notion of what’s included in the performance baseline. Contingency reserves are now a component of the performance measurement baseline. They were not before. Management reserves are now a part of the budget baseline. They were not before. This is a huge shift, and it’s important to ensure that you understand it clearly. The distinctions between the budget baseline and the performance measurement baseline remain the same, but where and how contingencies are applied are completely different. If you’re working from older materials, it’s time to shift gears on this one.
While we’re touching on earned value, it’s also notable that PMI is pushing hard on the third approach to calculating EAC.
AC + [(BAC-EV)/(CPI*SPI)] (Implies that both cost and schedule will influence the outcome going forward)
There was already a management plan here, so that’s not a big difference.
Just a few new areas of emphasis here, which include the distinction between precision (miles or millimeters) and accuracy (ability to hit the target).
PMI® is now jumping in with a lot of the quality circles in terms of the quality planning tools, and it’s a good idea to look at the quality tools that are now grouped in the PMBOK Guide® graphic. Also, since it’s new, I’d expect a question or two on the use and application of the interrelationship diagraph.
Human Resource Management
The updated appendix at X3 (which used to be Appendix G) includes a few more of the soft skills elements that pepper the new Guide. The emphasis philosophically is on a genuinely transparent and open communication between the project manager and the critical stakeholders. The emphasis on trust-building and coaching aligns very nicely with most organizations’ attitudes on supportive cultures and how they evolve.
A notable shift is PMI’s interpretation of the RACI chart. The old axiom was that there could not be two “R”s or two “A”s anywhere in the chart. Now, PMI® assigns responsibility as the role of “doer.” Accountability is where there can be only one leader on a task. Hence, a RACI chart can have a single task with two Rs, and not be construed as overdoing it.
A new tool in the project team acquisition process is the multi-criteria decision analysis. It’s an analytical hierarchy tool where we look at a variety of criteria to try to find the ideal team members to work with us on our endeavors.
On the conflict management front, PMI® seems to have finally settled on a set of terms that are the “official” approach to resolving conflict. In descending order, we opt for:
Those are conflict resolution strategies. For conflict management, we can also opt for…
Those won’t resolve the conflict, but they can soothe ruffled feathers.
This was pared down significantly with the addition of the Stakeholder Management knowledge area. With the exception of a few verbiage changes, this area has not changed significantly since the previous version.
In the communications model, they’ve added an acknowledgment to “Acknowledge!” It’s a step between a message and the feedback loop where the receiver acknowledges that a message has been received. It’s neither approval nor disapproval. It’s the nod, the head shake, or the knowing glance that affirms that a message has been communicated.
Also, in addition to the push and pull types of communication, a third has been added—interactive! That’s where it simply cuts both ways.
Before I dive too deeply here, a note to those of you thinking this will be helpful for the PMI-RMP® exam. These notes are high-level and PMBOK Guide® specific. The PMI-RMP® exam changes are tied not only to the changes in the Guide, but also to the changes in the exam blueprint, which are dramatic. For the PMP® exam, the changes are minor. For the PMI-RMP® exam, the changes will be far more significant, and aren’t addressed here.
Risk appetite and attitude are two new terms. The distinction between them is significant and begs for questions on the exam. Attitude relates to our perspective on risk and how we decide to feel about it. Appetite is primarily external. It relates to organizational tolerances and the willingness of the organization, the culture to take on risk. Those distinctions are likely to show up on the exam.
In risk quantification, one other statistical output is likely to become an exam question as well. It’s the Tornado Diagram. Tornado diagrams are amongst the easiest to interpret. The big bar across the top of a tornado diagram represents the task that has the greatest influence on time and cost. The little one on the bottom? The least influential.
This section underwent the least significant changes of any in the Guide, which means that if you study materials from the earlier editions of the Guide, the questions will be just as valid as those created for the current version of the exam.
Stakeholder management is the only section with a management plan that doesn’t start there! It starts with Identify Stakeholders, and then moves into the stakeholder management plan.
Like all of the process areas, this now has a home for a MANAGEMENT plan. It’s all about how we…(haven’t we been here before?)
PMI® will expect you to know the different classifications of stakeholder:
And the stakeholder engagement matrix identifies the current state of our stakeholders and the desired state. That’s another tool unique to the newer edition.
As mentioned earlier…this is also an area (particularly in the CONTROL step) where it’s “Data in…Information out”.
If you’re wrestling with the differences between PMBOK4 and PMBOK5, this should give you a relative sense of the ground that you have to cover. If you’re trying to figure out how to manage data from one exam to the next? This should give you a sense of the differences. And if you’re already a PMP®, but got your certification under one of the earlier versions of the Guide, this may serve as insight on what’s the “latest and greatest” in the profession.
As always, and as I say in every class, I remain at your disposal. I am always just an e-mail away and strive to respond within 24 hours. My e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org My office phone is 301-606-6519.
No matter your choices, GOOD LUCK!
Pritchard Management Associates, 521 Wilson Pl, Frederick, Maryland 21702
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