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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Tips to Clear the PMP Exam for the IT Professional

The PMP Exam is common for all businesses and is a valid qualification for people who are managing projects in their respective industries. But, these days IT Professionals form a bulk of the people who apply for and pursue the PMP Exam. As IT Professionals there is a lot of difference in how IT projects are managed and how projects in other industries are managed. So, it is imperative that as IT Professionals we understand how IT projects are different from other industries.
The purpose of this article is to summarize the common gaps between the experiences of IT project managers and other industries.

Exam Alert!!!
Don’t think that since you have been managing IT Projects for years, you will be able to crack the exam easily. Unfortunately, truth may be that the way you have completed IT projects and the way you understand IT project management may not be the way that PMI sees this industry. So, when it comes to passing this exam, you will need to stay alert to what PMI says about a topic in order to answer exam questions correctly. You can visit the “PMI Way of Thinking” series of chapters to understand them better

This post is split in several sections. They are:
• Conceptual gaps
• Experience gaps
• Key PMI Assumptions

Conceptual Gaps

Culture clash - Most IT Organizations have their own project management methodology and PM’s who are groomed in their organization are streamlined into thinking that way. It is important that you understand the PMI Way of project management and keep that in mind while answering the exam questions.
Unapproved practices - There are several project management practices and techniques used routinely within IT that are considered “inappropriate” by PMI. The single biggest example is “Slogging”. Team members in 2 out of 3 IT projects slog weekends and late nights to finish their projects. This is either because of inaccurate estimates or pressure from the customer to meet some deadline. From PMI perspective this is totally unacceptable and when slogging or adjusting estimates appears as an answer to a question about best practices in the exam, it will be incorrect.
The whole story - Most IT project managers lack experience in the complete lifecycle of project management. This is because most of the work done by IT companies is in the “Maintenance” phase and people spend a lot of time planning, executing & controlling. But, they have very little or no experience in the Initiating or closing phases. If you are one of those managers, it is important that you double verify your understanding of these 2 phases before you take up the exam.

Experience Gaps

These are areas where an IT Project Manager does not spend much time or has little or no exposure. If you are an IT Professional, you must ensure that you try to bridge all these gaps as much as possible before you appear for the exam.

Project planning - Of the 42 PMBOK project management processes, nearly 50% are with planning. As you can imagine, PMI's definition is much more encompassing than the project plans routinely developed by IT project managers.
Developing a project schedule – It is extremely common in IT projects where the Schedule is crammed up to accommodate the whims and fancies of people with power. Be it the customer or even your Relationship Manager. If a high-ranking official feels the project must take only a certain amount of time, that is what the project gets. No matter how complicated the project is, the time it gets is in almost all cases governed by someone upstairs. According to PMI this is a NO NO and totally unacceptable.
Creating WBS – In most IT Projects, the schedules are so tight that the team does not have time to create a full-fledged WBS and use it to create accurate estimates and schedules. But, PMI insists you do it as a mandatory step while planning your project.
Planning project management - PMI expects that all project management activities are planned and documented. So, if your project plan does not include supplementary plans, such as a staffing-management plan, a responsibility matrix, a communications-management plan, a quality-management plan, a scope-management plan, and a risk-management plan (for starters), you will want to focus on these and understand their value.
Tracking project performance -”Earned value” is PMI's recommended technique for tracking and controlling project costs, schedule, and scope. Earned value analysis is not a generally applied technique across IT, and many IT professionals have limited experience in managing project costs.
Risk management – Most IT Projects do not spend sufficient time in Risk Management. I doubt even if a Risk Register exists. As per PMI this is a mandatory step.
Quality management – For most IT projects Quality Management means getting in some extra testers and identify more defects. Unfortunately this is only one part of the PMI’s Quality management methodology.
Procurement management – As IT Project Mangers, most of us will not have any experience in this area. We don’t usually procure anything from anyone. In fact, we are the ones from whom our customers procure. So, to understand this knowledge area, think from the perspective of your customer and you will be able to make sense of the whole process.
Project selection – Most IT Managers get projects handed over to them. They don’t spend time doing any feasibility analysis or project selection. Most IT PM’s don’t even know what NPV or IRR or Payback Period is.

Key PMI Assumptions

According to PMI, the below mentioned things have to happen in any project. But, unfortunately that is rarely the case in real life IT Projects. So, I suggest you go through this list and keep your mindset tuned to the PMI Way.
• The project manager is selected when the project is authorized. This means that the manager is assigned to the project before any estimating or preliminary requirements gathering has started.
• The project manager is ultimately accountable for the project.
• PMI assumes you have historical records of past projects. (This is something most IT cos do. They have historic records that is accessible to project managers to understand how previous projects were executed in their company)
• WBS is the basis for all project planning.
• The project plan is the baseline that the PM uses to “control” the project.
• The project plan accurately describes the project activity. The project plan is realistic and can be used to measures progress.
• PMI assumes your organization has project management methodologies and quality-assurance procedures.
• The project manager does have Human Resources and team-development responsibilities.
• PMI assumes the project team is involved in all planning decisions and problem-solving situations.

A Last Word:

As an IT Project Manager you may be very good at your job. But, unless you understand the PMI Way of managing you wont be able to pass the exam. The exam is not to test how great a manager you are. It is to test if you understand the standardized project management approach. So, if you feel your practical management experience is very different from the PMI Way, I suggest you recap all the weak points and ensure you align your thinking to be in line with PMI

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