This is my journey from being a DBA to reaching my goal of getting PMP certification.
I started my career as a Database Administrator in 2004, and my vision was to offer the best database support services to my clients.
I was teaching students at APTECH how to manage data and operating systems during my busy work days and during my free days, I was deploying and managing databases for clients.
One day, I got a call from a student who referred me to a database deployment work. I was asked to be a member of the project. I agreed to take the project and I was taken aback when I was asked to attend the project kickoff meeting and I was introduced to the project manager.
Initially, I was very excited and I felt honored to be involved in the project planning process, but as the project progressed, I became angry and disillusioned because I was asked to write daily and weekly reports.
The decision to take up my PMP certification
I remember telling the project manager that my duty was to setup the database and leave, but the project manager would always paint the big picture of how everybody’s input was required for us to have a successful deployment.
The project manager demonstrated so much leadership that made me ask him how he acquired the skills and ability to manage and lead people in the midst of all these activities.
His response to my question: Project Management.
I eventually made a decision to become a certified project manager.
However, I got stuck in the world of work from 2007 till December 2015 when I decided to enroll for the PMP training at JK Michael training center, in Lagos Nigeria.
Attending this training, brought memories of every project I had embarked upon. I was excited to learn a whole lot ranging from schedule management, time management, cost management and my best knowledge area which is stakeholder management. I found that knowledge of your stakeholder strongly determines whether your project will be succeed or fail.
After the training in December, I joined the PMI and scheduled my exam in April, believing that I could prepare in 4 months.
Blockers I had to get past
However, my dilemma started when I wanted to read every resource I found online about project management. I joined a dozen blogs who shoved project management resources down my brain.
PMP Prep Lesson #1 – Choose your study resources before you plan your study.
Work didn’t make it any easy for me, as I was working with the IBM DB2 Lab services team. Weekend study was impossible, because my wife just had another baby boy and I had to help and support the project of taking care of the baby.
As I did, I saw a challenge, the PMBOK lays out its fact about project management in knowledge area format, Rita writes her book about project management in knowledge area format, but the questions that I was reviewing were based on the 5 process groups and 47 processes.
So my true challenge was how to create that link between the 5 Process Groups, 47 Processes, and 10 Knowledge Areas.
I couldn’t achieve that by April 2016, so after attempting the PMP exam, I failed the exam woefully. I got only 1MP in closing and 4BP in the other process groups.
Preparation for the second attempt
This experience really discouraged me and I stopped studying for the PMP till in November 2016, when I was sent an email about the expiration of my eligibility period. So I enrolled again for another PMP training.
As I studied again, it became clearer that the only way for me to pass the exam was to draft my own customized reading plan based on my studying capabilities, so I undertook a VARK Assessment.
The VARK Assessment revealed that ‘’I was a multi-modal learner, meaning that I was a visual learner who learned by watching videos, liked to read and take notes, but I don’t trust what I have learnt until I tested out my theories.’’
With this information from the VARK assessment, I built my study timetable which I have attached here as well for your study.
PMP Prep Lesson #2 – Identify your learning style and then choose your study resources accordingly.
My study plan required me to study by watching videos, reading and taking notes, and building practical scenarios of how a project should be managed.
During my searchfor videos on YouTube, I stumbled on two key personalities that made my PMP journey the best experience, I ever had.
While Sakeet introduced and demystified Project Management through his videos, Phil Akinwale showed me the missing connections that I was looking for between the processes, process groups and knowledge areas through his ITTO explanations and his acronyms.
With a combination of learnings from Sakeet and Phil’s videos, and a dedicated study of the PMBOK in less than 30 days, I felt that I was ready for the exam in January 2016.
However, a week before my exam, I was designated to a new project and this activity barely gave me time to finish my final exam preparations which was to solve questions.
So I got into the exam hall, fully prepared for the exam without any experience of what the questions would look like. I saw questions which had two answers and I spent the last one hour pondering in my head these set of questions.
On this second attempt, I made a lot of improvement, however, I flunked the exam again, even though I improved from 1MP to 3 MP in Initiating, Planning and Closing.
Third attempt: It’s now or never!
After this episode, I had a slight thought that maybe I should give up.
But I prepped myself up that I wouldn’t.
At this point, I figured that I had demystified project management and was very close to passing the PMP exam, but I needed to change my strategy again.
So I reviewed and modified my study timetable. I knew that the PMBOK alone wouldn’t be sufficient for my study.
So I went shopping for books, questions and test sites that would help me pass the PMP.
The first set of books I bought was from Shiv Shenoy and it was on mind mapping. The mind mapping book turned out to be helpful, because it gave me a big picture of what I wanted to do in order to pass the exam.
I drew this mind map on the board in my study and every morning, when I go into the study, the mind map is the first thing I see and the last thing I remember when I go to bed after my evening study.
The second sets of books I bought were,
- Eileen Allis PMP Simplified
- Phill Akinwale PMP Exam IQ Test
- John Estrella’s Sample Exam Questions
- Vidya Subramanian’s book on PMP Mathematics
These books were worth every dollar that I invested in them I studied them, inside out, cover to cover and I also solved all the questions in these books.
PMP Prep Lesson #3 – Never stick with just one study resource. Choosing varied resources will help you learn same content via various study means, which helps understand the information much better.
Plus, this gives you a broader perspective on PMP content, prepares you for your PM role like nothing else.
My PMP study approach
Let me share a quick summary of the study approach I took.
I started with Phill Akinwale’s PMP IQ Test. Two weeks to the exam, on a Saturday night to be precise, I solved Phill Akinwale Test which I paid for and I scored 59%. My weakness was in the area of ITTOs, Monitoring and Controlling and Executing.
I immediately brought out the PMP IQ Test book on Sunday morning and started trying to solve the ITTO quiz, there were about 41 of them, by the time I was done, it was 7pm and I had spent about 12 hours trying to understand ITTOs.
My light-bulb moment
That became the defining moment for me in the PMP journey, because I realized that every process is dependent on the ITTOs and that the building block of every project is the 5 process groups namely initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing.
These five process groups overlap or intersect with the 10 knowledge groups to create the 47 processes which comprises of each process ITTOs. So anyone studying for the PMP must understand the overlap in order to pass the exam.
Knowing this, I delved into PMP Simplified which was an excellent book that tried to make the PMP journey straight forward.
This book breaks the PMP into understandable 5 process groups and the 47 processes. I solved every question in the book and I was averaging over 70%. This book made the PMP study relatively simpler and as the exam date came closer, I became very confident that I was better prepared.
Week before the PMP exam
Three days to my exam, I started solving John Estrella’s Sample questions.
I solved Practice Test A to Practice Test D and during my review, I noticed that I was not getting the Math’s based questions, so I went back to my PMP mathematics book and practiced them.
My PMP exam-day experience
On my PMP exam day, I got to the new computer based test center (PMI had sent me an email in June notifying me that paper based tests had been cancelled in Nigeria and got me to reschedule my exam date to write at a computer based test center) and was treated to the most strict security measure.
PMP candidates are scanned with a metal detector, with identity document was scrutinized and all. After all the procedure, I started my exam.
On starting, the first ten questions were the toughest set of questions I have ever set my eyes on and instantly I made a decision to go and start from Question 200 and then go backwards from question 200 to question 1.
Doing this eased off my fears as I released that the questions from 200 backwards seemed a lot easier.
PMP Prep Lesson #5 – I also ensured that during the exam, I did not dwell too long on any question I cannot answer, rather I answered the ones I knew first then came back to the ones I did not know afterwards.
I spent roughly 3 hours answering the questions and the remaining 45 minutes to 1 hour reviewing them.
I made sure that I completed every question before the time ran out. As I completed the survey questions with trepidation, all I could do was close my eyes and wait for the screen to display how I performed.
And Yes, I passed the PMP this time with an Above Target in Initiating and Closing, Target in Planning, Needs Improvement in Executing and Below Target in Monitoring and Controlling.
Few tips to understand how processes are inter-connected
- Focus on the process of studying to become a better Project Manager rather than the narrow focus of preparing just to pass the PMP.
- Remember that the Initiating process is very imperative for the project to be successful and its key processes are Develop Project Charter and Identify Stakeholders.
- Remember that the project Charter is an input for identify Stakeholders, and develop Project Management Plan
- Planning is everything and that is why PMI devoted almost 50% of its processes (22) to planning.
- The Project Management Plan is an input into Direct and Manage Project Work.
- The Deliverables which is an output from Direct and Manage Project Work becomes an input for Control Quality.
- The Project Management Plan is an input into all the Monitoring and Controlling process.
- The output of the Validate scope process is Accepted Deliverable which becomes an input for Close project or phase.
- Close Project or Phase requires documenting lessons learned which become archives and Organizational Process Assets which can be used for planning and cost estimating on future projects.
That is it my friends, I hope you have got few points to include in your own quest for the PMP certification.
I wish you all the best.
Mike Onuorah, PMP