Friday, June 07, 2019

PMP Success Story: Credential With Real-World Applicability of New Project Management Concepts

By Varun Amirthakumar, PMP

I am Varun Amirthakumar and I am from Bangalore, India. In early 2018, I became a member of PMI® and by doing so, I gained access to the sixth edition of the PMBOK® Guide, along with the Agile Practice Guide. Then in the subsequent months of February and March, I attempted reading the PMBOK Guide, but found it to be too complicated and exhaustive.

I was also not able to grasp the contents of the PMBOK guide. Then I learnt about Satya’s classes.

Classroom Experience
I immediately enrolled myself in April 2018 for Satya’s 4-day classroom training. The tips and tricks shared in the classroom especially on how to remember the 49 processes across the 10 knowledge areas (KAs) and 5 process groups (PGs), on how to master the inputs, tools and techniques and outputs (ITTOs) for all of the 49 processes and the yogic tips shared across all chapters, really gave me the confidence that I can crack the exam of course by putting in extra efforts. 

Satya has a unique way of making everyone remember the 49 processes spread across the 10 KAs and 5 PGs. It helped me a lot. I strongly went by his advice “write down and practice – only then you will learn”. 

At the end of the 4-day classroom training, I was given this advice by him: "While taking the exam, for every question, look for options as a project manager, i.e., what would you do FIRST, before going over to others such as sponsor(s), stakeholders etc." Soon after, I went on to purchase the book: "I Want To Be A PMP".  

Towards end of April, 2018, I submitted my application for the exam. The sample application forms included in the book really helped me fill out mine. My application went through an audit by PMI and post that I paid the exam fee and scheduled my exam for March 7, 2019. Because I had a lot of work assignments and travel to do in between, I realized that I must have this examination taken up and completed in Mar 2019. 

As I was again pressed with a work assignment in March 2019, I had no choice but to push my exam to May 30, 2019. As time was too short for me, I instantly decided that I need to purchase Satya’s video package – “35 Contact Hours Online Course” as well. 

Review – PMP 35 Contact Hours Online Course
In this Online Course, All the chapters in this video package were synchronized to the layout within the PMBOK guide. Because of this, the PMBOK guide could also be read simultaneously without any difficulty. 

The most helpful part of the video package was the ITTOs, which Satya has explicitly mentioned for each process and the flow charts. These made a lot of sense in understanding the integration of the processes. The best part of this video package was that it was like a classroom session and I could replay any video as many times as I could, until I understood the contents. 

Remembering key ITTOs were made easy as they were highlighted wherever the process integrates and there were tips given to revise once you reach a certain level in learning. To top it all, the practice questions after each topic helped in gauging my understanding of each chapter. 

How I Prepared For The Exam?
The process spread in the PMBOK is known to most of us. For the sake of illustration, I’m only outlining these:
  • Project Initiation has two processes
  • Project Planning has twenty-four processes
  • Project Execution has ten processes
  • Project Monitoring and Controlling has twelve processes and
  • Project Closing has one process

Therefore, my first aim was to achieve an “Above Target” score for Project Closure and Project Initiation. My next aim was to achieve an “Above Target” score for Project Monitoring and Controlling followed by Project Execution and finally concentrate on Project Planning. I was very much confident that if one scores “Above Target” across all other Process Groups apart from Project Planning, there is always a strong chance for one to pass the exam – even in a worst-case scenario wherein one may achieve only a “Needs Improvement” score for Project Planning. 

I first thoroughly understood the ITTOs for each of the 49 processes by attacking the process groups one after the other in the order mentioned above. Next, I went through the Knowledge Areas and read the contents chapter wise to understand as to what are the emerging trends, tailoring processes etc. 

The only thing that I memorized were the mathematical formulae involved in certain Knowledge Areas as mathematical questions in the exam will have only one correct answer and such questions are easy to score in the exam. 

I then practiced over 3000 questions and answers applicable across all Knowledge Areas (with a mindset that I need to take no more than 72 seconds per question). By doing so, I was able to judge from the questions, four important things:
  • Which Process Group the question is talking about?
  • Which Knowledge Area the question is talking about?
  • What is the relevant information and what is the distractor within the question?
  • Whether the question is asking for a specific accurate answer such as the name of a project document or the name of a tool and technique etc. or whether the question is asking for the best answer from a list of choices? The last one is important.

What to Do a Day before and on the Exam Day?
I would advise the followings one day before the exam and during the exam day. Many such tips are part of Satya’s video package as well as the book. 
  • It’s advisable not to revise or memorize any last-minute chapter on the day before the exam.
  • A good overnight’s sleep is essential before the day of the exam.
  • It is advisable only to refresh your memory with the mathematical formulae in the morning hours on the day of the exam.
  • On the day of the exam, reach the Prometric Test Center well before time.
  • Before the start of the exam there is a tutorial for 15 min – it is advisable to read the tutorial with care.
  • Once the exam starts, do not straight away jump over to question 1 even though the clock starts ticking backwards from 3h:59m:59s.
  • It is highly recommended that one submits the exam rather than the computer (system) taking control of the exam submission. 
  • It is advisable to choose an answer for every question even though one may mark the question for review later on without choosing an answer. 

PMP Exam Experience
As the exam began, I spent a solid 5 min in writing down all mathematical formulae on the scratch paper which was very useful for me when the relevant question came up during the exam. I was able to finish 200 questions in 3 hours and 52 minutes. Of the remaining 8 minutes, I used the 7 minutes to review the marked questions and the final one minute to submit. 
I faced varieties of questions, some of which I’ve noted below. 
  • 50% of the questions were lengthy but had heavy distractors. There will be lot of redundant information, but the question is asking something else. 
  • Some of the questions were too short and of the direct scoring type, e.g., for activity B to start, activity A must be completed in full. What is the relationship involved here? 
  • Some of the questions were specifically framed to test if one as a PM is able to choose the correct project document, e.g., midway through a project, a new stakeholder was identified. Where would you record this information?
  • Some of the questions were tricky and had to be carefully interpreted, e.g., the sponsor just received an approved Change Request from the CCB and had the same passed over to the PM for implementation. What should the PM do next?  
  • Some of the questions were specifically framed to test if one as a PM is able to choose the correct tool and technique, e.g., answer choices had expert judgement as well as team judgement. There is nothing called team judgement! 
  • To the best of my knowledge, there were no questions on AGILE practices. But it’s wise not to skip reading this section. Read at least once from the PMBOK guide.

Tips for PMP Aspirants
  • Reading the PMBOK guide is a must. Read it two times at least – once in detail and once by fast tracking. 
  • Make it a point only to memorize only mathematical formulae.
  • Make it a point to understand all aspects of project management and associated processes via KAs, PGs and ITTOs.
  • Take more number of online practice tests. This will give you the confidence to complete 200 questions in four hours. 
  • Never panic before or during the exam: If a question is tough to understand move on and come back. Keep eight to ten minutes for review.  
  • While reading questions, straight away attempt to eliminate distracting information before looking at the best answer from the choices given.
  • Finally, God needs to be thought of just before taking the exam and while taking the survey questions of the Prometric Center when actually the exam report is getting generated.

Preparing and appearing for the PMP exam helped me in learning new concepts. I am now able to relate every Process Group (PG) and Knowledge Area (KA) to a real-world example and I am able to execute some of the concepts in my day-to-day work as well. 

Thank you for reading my experience and wish you all very best in your preparation. 

Brief Profile:
Varun Amirthakumar, PMP. 
I am currently working in the Pratt & Whitney Canada Center of Excellence for Cyient India Limited in Bangalore on aero engine maintenance and overhaul manuals, since 13.5 years. I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from R.V. College of Engineering, Bangalore, India. I completed my schooling from National Public School, Bangalore, India.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

30 NEW PMI-ACP Free Questions and Answers (Part - 2)

This is in continuation of the earlier series of questions for PMI-ACP examination. 

[This series - Part - 1] 

I would suggest that you take this one and earlier post of 30 PMI-ACP Freee Questions Part - 1 together, when you do your practice. Note that these are not verbatim  questions from PMI-ACP exam, however, these questions covers the domains, references books and guide for the exam. The questions are primarily from the new book -  I Want To Be An ACP, 2nd edition. 



Question – 16: For a customer service project which will be using robots, your team has been formed with a set of specialists as well as generalists. The team members are striving to be generalizing specialists. However, your team is small teams with rapid changes, you want to have your team members deeper experiences across various disciplines. What should you do?
A Team member should be encouraged to have broken-comb skills.
B Team members should be more self-aware, self-organized, self-managed, and cross functional.
C Team should have more intraspectives as well as retrospectives.
D Follow practices such as pair programming, whole team and sit together.

Question – 17: A release burndown chart for a project is shown in the below figure.

Based on it, you as the Scrum Master can interpret which one of the followings?
A On average 30 story points are added in every Sprint and also completed.
B On the 4th Sprint, the total work in story points is 180.
C While 30 story points were completed in 5th Sprint, 20 story points were also added.
D Being 4th and 5th Sprints, there has been no change in scope.  

Question – 18: For an infrastructure project, your designers are not sure of the architecture. Some of your key stakeholder proposed to have thin slice of the system, which can be used to determine the potential architecture of the system. The slice to cover all the possible layers of application to validate the potential architecture. This slice will be a prototype and will not be used in production, but only for demonstration. What should you do?
A Create a user story for the potential architecture.
B Develop an architectural spike to determine the potential architecture.
C Build analysis stories which will help to find other stories.
D Create a set of infrastructure stories. 

Question – 19: You are facilitating a planning poker estimation meeting, where your team is following the steps such as reading the story, providing an estimate and discussing the differences. For one backlog item, one team member informed that this story is pretty much nothing and very little work is needed. This is much lower than the features estimated to be 1 story point.  What should you do NEXT?
A Switch to T-shirt size estimation approach.
B Assign a value of 0 or 1/2 for this story.
C Mark "?" for this story and remove it from the backlog.
D Mark "∞" for this story and continue working on other items.

Question – 20: A product backlog has 400 story points worth of work and total budget estimated is $200,000. At the end of fourth iteration, actual cost is 42,500 and total story points completed so far is 90. If the baseline velocity is 25 story points, what can be set about this project?
A Project is ahead schedule, but over budget.
B Project is behind schedule, but under budget.
C Cost performance of the project is bad.
D Schedule performance of the project is good.

Question – 21: A user story is written as "As a <team member>, I want to know what the key stakeholders expect from the payment part of this system, so that I can find stories to work on." The story is not timeboxed yet and brought in for discussion in a backlog refinement meeting. However, as your team members are not sure what kind of story it is and how to proceed, you should FIRST inform, it's a:
A Spike story.
B Infrastructure story.
C Analysis story.
D Architecturally significant story.

Question – 22: Your team is working on to develop a social media product. Some of your engineers, including UX engineers, are part of other teams and work in your project as and when needed because of organizational constraints. Your product work progressed well and many items have been successfully reviewed in earlier two sprint review meeting. However, the stakeholders are not satisfied with the way the user experience has been addressed. What should you do FIRST?
A Have refined requirements for UX related items.
B Ensure all engineers are 100% dedicated to your team.
C Make the UX engineer part of your team. 
D Have a clear definition of ready for the UX items 

Question – 23: A team has working on a process improvement project with flow-based approach and using Scrumban method for its work. Whenever an impediment is identified and it looks to be blocking in nature, the team used swarming to collectively work and focus on the impediment till it is resolved. Which one of the following BEST describes roles in team swarm?
A Coordinators, Swarmers and TeamLets.
B Team Members, Flow Master and Process Owner.
C Swarmers, Mobbers and Coordinators.
D Manager, Doomsayer, and Tracker. 

Question – 24: For system development project your project is following Scrum Practices. For the current Sprint, your team has committed a number of items from the product backlog. Mid-way into the Sprint, the team strongly felt that they won’t be able to complete many items. As you checked and discussed with the team along with Product Owner, you found that if those items can't be delivered, then the Sprint Goal will be jeopardy and the Sprint will lose its value. What should you do NEXT as the Scrum Master?
A Cancel the Sprint.
B Abnormally terminate the Sprint.
C Ask the team members to deliver the items which they can.
D Let the team self-organize and find a way to resolve.

Question – 25: You are working as a project manager to develop the portal of banking organization. There are many requirement and technological uncertainties, which necessitates risk management. You have defined the risk probabilities and impact for this project before the first iteration planning meeting. Your team members are now identifying the risks. However, you want to have better visualization. What should you do?
A Create a risk probability and impact matrix and share with your team.
B Prepare a risk register and ask the ask the team to add new risks to this register.
C Have a risk map prepared, add color coded sticky notes representing the risks with severities.
D Find out the risk scores and prepare a risk burndown chart. 

Question – 26: You project has completed two releases and currently you are in the 7th iteration. There have been many risks identified throughout and now you want to check the effectiveness of risk responses in dealing with these risks and want to have a risk audit. Which one of the followings is the BEST place to conduct such activities?
A Retrospectives.
B Iteration planning meeting.
C Daily stand-up meeting.
D Product Demo.

Question – 27: A drug company is working on a new drug product where requirements are not fully known, the technology platform is changing and also has high uncertainties. The organization hence decided to use an agile mode development for this product. However, for the final drug approval, the Government agencies demand work to be stable, product to be known because the regular has clear process to work through on it. Which one of the following hybrid models will be MOST appropriate?
A Predominantly Predictive with Agile model.
B Predominantly Agile with Predictive model.
C Combined Agile and Predictive model.
D Agile-Predictive hybrid model.

Question – 28: Reviews in agile approaches are not only limited to product work, but can be used for other ones such as continuous improvement. Which one of the followings is not a type of review?
A Product demo
B Technical review
C Risk status review
D Team performance evaluation 

Question – 29: A media publishing house team has been using Scrum for its journal publications. The agile coach for the team continuously reminds the team to join the daily stand-up, update the burndown chart, complete the tasks and update them on the task board, among others. Which coach mode is displayed by this coach?
A The Nag
B The Heckler
C The Admin
D The Megaphone 

Question – 30: Your release is coming to an end which has 5 iterations. Currently, for the release retrospective, your team members are writing signi´Čücant events during the release on index cards and putting them on a timeline in a chronological order. Team members are then using color coded stick dots for feelings about those events, i.e., blue for sad, yellow for mad, orange for surprised and green for glad. Which activity (or activities) the team is performing?
A Team Radar
B Timeline with Triple Nickels
C Timeline with Color Code Dots and Mad Sad Glad
D Timeline with Color Code Dots

The question set is available in the embedded document below. The answers are also part of this document.

For all answers with detail explanation, subscribe to this site and send a mail (from your GMail id) to

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Book Excerpt: I Want To Be An ACP, 2nd Edition - Problem Detection and Resolution

This post is in continuation of the earlier post on the availability of new PMI-ACP Exam Prep book: 
Book for PMI-ACP Exam Prep: I Want To Be An ACP, 2nd Edition

The excerpt is from Chapter – 7: Problem Detection and Resolution. This is one of my favorite topics. In my sessions as well I focus many times on these areas because your ability to solve problems will enable you to be a better agile practitioner. The excerpt here talks about Technical Debt and Cost of Change.


Problems, impediments, risks, issues will come up during the execution of projects in agile development. It is natural. As a project manager, you would be already aware of it. But how you handle these issues, as compared to traditional environment, will differ.

As our first yogic quote says, problems will come, but you have to address them proactively – by identifying, prioritizing, and resolving. Also, you should improve your processes so that they don’t resurface.

In Agile, a strong focus is on minimizing the technical debt – a form of debt which if accumulates unattended, will have a high cost impact, when you try to change the system. Let’s take a real-world example. Many poor countries are poor because they took a lot of debt from outside bodies in their initial formation stages to build their countries, after being impoverished by colonial rule. Subsequently, due to bad fiscal management, poor governance and many times due to very high corruption, the debt kept on accumulating.  In fact, most of the yearly revenue generated by these countries goes into paying off the debts, which is euphemistically called “debt-servicing”. 

Real-world projects are similar. When you make a quick fix to meet a deadline or increase your delivery speed by cutting down the quality, avoid any form of documentation while coding, they lead to technical debt. And as is the nature of the debt – it never goes off, if you don’t work hard on it. Rather, it accumulates. When the debt reaches a very high level, you just can’t pay it off – because by that time cost of making those changes with respect to coding or documentation is going to be prohibitively high. Like our previous example with respect to countries, here, software systems or products developed with high technical debts are called as “legacy systems” – easier words in place of saying “unchangeable system”! 

In this domain, we see about cost of change, technical debts, impediments/impediment backlog, risk management; metrics to detect the problems such as lead time, cycle time, escaped defects and analyzing the variances and trends. We will also to see how to solve the problems that arise, the methodical steps to solve and various problem-solving techniques.

So, what this domain does? In simplified terms:
“Identify, prioritize and resolve problems, impediments and risks; Resolve and communicate status of them, have process improvement to prevent recurrence.” 

As per PMI’s Exam Content Outline, “Problem Detection and Resolution” domain has no sub-domains, but has 5 related tasks.

This domain, effectively, is about detecting the problems, visualizing the problems and resolving the problems.

Note: Going forward, I’ll be using the word “problem” as an umbrella one – for issues, threats, risks, impediments etc. Whenever needed specifically, I’ll be using the individual terms such as risks or impediments.


7.2 Creating a Safe Environment
The 5th principle in Agile manifesto says this:
“Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.”

You not only take motivated individuals in your project, but also give them the needed environment and support to succeed. Without a proper environment and associated safety, you just can’t expect the underlying/hidden issues or impediments to come up. This is why the first task in this domain is noted in the ECO as such.

“Task – 1: Create an open and safe environment by encouraging conversation and experimentation, in order to surface problems and impediments that are slowing the team down or preventing its ability to deliver value.”

As an Agile coach or manager, it is your job to provide the safe environment. Remember as a coach you also act as someone who guarantees safety? We have seen that earlier in Chapter – 5: Team Performance. A safe environment enables experimentation, failures and risk-taking ability. 

7.3 Detecting and Visualizing Problems   
Problems have to be detected early. The later they are detected, the harder they get to fixed and more importantly, the costlier it becomes to fix. There is a term, which notes this phenomenon – cost of change. 

7.3.1 Cost of Change 
Take the case of traditional development in waterfall model, which happens sequentially – from requirement analysis to deployment/operations. 

If a mistake has been made during analysis and it gets detected, then it is cheaper to fix. However, if the same mistake happens during the deployment or operation stage, then it becomes costlier (may be 100X costlier) to fixed. This is shown in the below diagram [3].

Simply put, cost of change is the cost involved to make changes possible in a system. As the time progresses, cost of change also increases – exponentially. 

The agile approach minimizes this exponential increase in cost of change. Here, we try to keep the cost of change as low as possible regardless of the point in the project’s life. The key idea here is this: a small change in requirement should result in a small change in implementation and hence cost. But, how does one do that?
  • Iterative approach: where we take a certain amount of work items (product backlog items) to be delivered in a small timebox. The work items are delivered just in time (JIT) fashion, without having high inventory of documentation or artifacts as in sequential waterfall development. 
  • Detecting problems and deficiencies early. And resolving them early too. In other words, keeping the technical debt – debt related to unclean code, low quality code, deficiencies in document - as low as possible. 
In Agile development, the cost of change is kept low. The inflection point – when the curve starts go up exponentially – happens early in sequential/traditional development. This is due to high upfront planning and a lot of documentation and hence high cost of change [3]. However, the curve is more flattened in agile as compared to the sequential because of JIT approach and keeping technical debt low. This is shown below. 

7.3.2 Technical Debt 
Like debt, which if not worked upon and allowed to keep on accumulating, can create serious financial problem, technical debt if not removed, makes it very hard to work with code. However, technical debt is not related only to code; other factors such as quality of code, development environment etc. can also come into play. 

Dan Rawthrone and Doug Shimp have defined technical debt in their book “Exploring Scrum: The Fundamentals”, which is noted below [21].  

“Technical Debt consists of deficiencies in the code, technical documentation, development environments, 3rd-party tools, and development practices, which makes the code hard for the Team to change.” 

Extreme Programming (XP) has been focused on producing clean code – code that the team can change easily. Technical debt is the one that prohibits in keeping the code clean. Also, as noted above in the definition, other than code, there are deficiencies which can also create technical debt.

Now, removal of technical debt is important as it helps in keeping the cost of change or flattening the cost of change, as seen in the earlier section of this chapter. 
If you plot the cost change with technical debt, the graph will come as follows. 

As the graph says, with low technical debt, the cost change remains pretty much flat over a period of time [3]. Types of Technical Debt
There are 4 types of technical debt according to Dan Rawthrone and Doug Shimp [21].  They are:
  • Lack of Tests: If the code isn’t tested, it will be very hard to change later. The developers working on the code later on to make the changes, will have very low confidence as the code has not been earlier tested. In fact, lack of tests, is the biggest reason for technical debt!
  • Bad Design:  Bad design happens when the code is structured in a poor way. 
  • Lack of Technical Documentation: Note that it is mentioned to be lack of technical documentation – not that you need to have exhaustive technical documentation. When a piece of code is written or changed, certain amount of technical documentation need to be there for the developers to understand. 
  • Poor Readability: These is primarily a piece of code which is difficult to read, popularly known as spaghetti code. Preventing Technical Debt
There are ways to prevent technical debt. As the well-known saying goes: prevention is always better than cure. The ways can be:


This chapter further explains on Risk Management in Agile environment covering: Risk Definition, Sources of Risk in Agile, Risk Management Workflow, Risk Probability and Impact Scales, Risk Map (Risk Grid), Risk Census, Risk Burndown Graph etc. Subsequently it addresses areas such as Impediments and Impediments Backlog, Metrics and Measurements, Cycle Time and Lead Time, Visualizing Problems with CFD, Escaped Defects etc.

Finally, it ends with "Resolving Problems", and "Problem Situations and Solutions", where many situational areas are covered and each one has been explained with possible solutions in addressing these problems. For example a problem can be: "too much complexity in product architecture leading to difficulty in estimation" with possible solutions such as "take a tracer bullet approach".

Some of the content in this chapter can be seen from the partial index of the book.

Book Available for ACP Exam Prep: