Wednesday, January 27, 2016

PMP Success Story: Listening, Reading and Reflecting for PMP Success

Prashanth Balakrishna believes that you should not only aim to be PMP® certified, but prepare and succeed with the intention of becoming a better project manager. He successfully cleared the exam with the new exam changes effective from January 12, 2016 and found the experience to be intense.

Prashanth was part of my class in November, 2015. A calm and composed person with deep listening and attention throughout the class, his questions were to the point. In fact, he got certified in a short period time. He has outlined his experience on the ancient Indian tradition of "Sravana – Manana – Nididhyasana", which he has elaborated in this post and has noted in the end. It is a unique way of learning. 

Go on and read how he did it.


I have been a project manager (PM) for more than fifteen years but never really had the time to take up structured learning of PMBOK® guide and attempt to gain PMP certification. In hindsight I wish I had taken my PMP exam 5 years ago and avoided many pitfalls. In 2014, I started leading a US Healthcare project, where EVM was the mandated form of reporting. This made me refer to PMBOK guide and as I started learning more of EVM my interest peaked the idea of getting PMP certified came to me.

Coincidentally, there was an email in my inbox advertising the PMP workshop, and it seemed like a sign from the universe. I decided to enrol to the workshop, which was delivered by Satya. I used my year-end holidays to complete my preparation for the PMP exam. My approach to PMP was a 3 stage process *
  • Listening
  • Reading
  • Reflecting
There are few things that worked well for me in each of the above stages. I have described them below. I hope my experience will help the readers of this blog. 

Listening - The Workshop
Satya’s workshop is interesting as he takes you through the grind, but makes it interesting with the anecdotes and challenges you with questions that make you think. He goes deeper into topics through numerical examples and used his own blogs to enlighten you on all the Knowledge Areas.

The best way to make use of the workshop is to come to it prepared. Pre-read the day’s topics from PMBOK guide so that your knowledge is supplemented through the workshop. And then revise the topics after the workshop so that knowledge gets solidified.

Remember, we tend to forget newly learned knowledge in a matter of days unless we consciously review the learned material. So my suggestion would be to go to the workshop when you have decided to take the exam in the next 3 months and then continuously review the material.

Reading - The Body of Knowledge
If you look at the first page of the PMBOK guide, you will see that PMI® calls it “A Guide to Project Management Body of Knowledge”. Project Management is a vast body of knowledge, PMBOK is a guide that will help you navigate it. So you really need to refer to multiple sources to gain the knowledge to become a successful PM. I chose to read the PMBOK guide and Headfirst PMP. Headfirst was a nice balance to the textual format of PMBOK. Both reinforced each other.

My advice is to read daily and reflect on the topic (See next section Reflection). I read the processes by Knowledge area and took tests at the end of each chapter to reinforce my knowledge. Just like a project you need to “Start with a Plan”, and track progress on a daily basis.
On certain key topics like EVM, contract types, quality, scheduling, motivational theories and some of the tools and techniques I referred to outside sources and the internet to reconfirm my understanding

Reflecting – Thinking like the PM
The PMBOK guide lists all the 47 processes that typically happen on a project. By truly getting into the spirit of a project and reflecting on the topics will help. These two things worked for me:
  • Using the data flow diagrams (DFD) in PMBOK and tracing through the inputs and outputs within a knowledge area helped me understand the relationships between processes. I did NOT memorize any of the ITTOs (Inputs, Tools and Techniques and Outputs).
  • There are several topics where you need understand nuances between topics. Things like quality v/s grade, deliverables v/s tools & techniques, QC v/s QA, accuracy v/s precision, contingency v/s fall-back. Reading and reflecting on these nuances will solidify your understanding. There are at least 50 such topics which are mentioned in the PMBOK guide. Internet is a good source.

Final Prep and Exam
As the exam date approaches, it is time to take tests. Taking tests in an exam-like setting with timing is very important. PMP exam is quite tough and was tougher than any of the freely available tests that I took online. Use the tests only as timing practice and to reconfirm understanding of some of the key areas. The actual exam was an intense experience with many questions having close answers. I used up most of my time (I spent up to a minute on most questions) leaving me with very little time for a second pass. This meant that I had to get the answer right the first time. The strategy paid off, and “Congratulations” flashed on my screen.

Finally, PMBOK guide and the PMP exam truly gears you up to be a better PM - not just pass the exam. If you listen, read and reflect with the intention of becoming a better PM the exam will be a smooth sailing. Best Wishes.

* Note: I have respectfully borrowed the “Listening, Reading and Reflecting” terminology from the ancient Indian tradition of “Sravana – Manana – Nididhyasana”. It is truly amazing to see that we can apply the timeless wisdom of ancestors even today.

Brief Profile: Prashanth Balakrishna is a Senior IT leader, heading delivery in a boutique IT services firm.


Prashanth’s online PMP profile is available at PMI’s online credential registry. 

I am thankful to Prashanth for sharing his experience and I believe it you help my readers in achieving the PMP certification.

Book Available for PMP Exam:
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Saturday, January 16, 2016

PMP Success Story: Understand the Concepts Well Instead of Memorizing and Have Sufficient Practice Tests

Rajelakshmi Mohan successfully cracked the PMP® exam in the beginning of this year. Her timeline was short, but determined as you can read in this post.

Rajelakshmi was part of my class in October, 2015. An enthusiastic person with a lingering smile, I rarely saw her energy coming down in my class. After being a successful PMP, she called from Mumbai to inform on the same day. I asked – “How was the experience”? She was not sure if she could really crack the exam while taking it, but continued with determination to answer. The end result is for everyone to see. She was indeed very happy to be a PMP. 

Below, she has outlined her experience – the learning from the classroom, her own preparation, notes/books she referred to and other practice questions. Go on and read her unique experience. 


Introductory – Why I decided to be a PMP?
As I am planning to switch my job role from a technical leader to project manager role, I was advised by few colleagues to get myself PMP certified as it will help me understand the role of a PM. Also it will provide added advantage to my career.

I was looking for suitable course which will help me understand the concepts in a simpler way as I am more of a technical person and have limited experience on handling projects end to end. After finishing the 4 day PMP training and relevant mock test you will receive 35 contact hour learning from the provider.

My PMP Training Experience:
The PMP classroom learning experience, led by Satya Narayan Dash, was awesome. The concepts were explained with day to day examples which helped me understand and remember them. Also Satya always encouraged to revise the concepts, which were taught.

The key takeaways in the PMP training were to learn and understand as much as possible during the training, understand the 10 knowledge areas rather than mugging them up, and revise the concepts continuously as there are high chances of forgetting them.

In the training, Satya had advised to prepare the initiating, executing and closing process group very well, as this will increase your chances of clearing the exam. Also to practise as many mock exams as possible.

My Own Study:
My study plan was to study one knowledge area per day, and read regarding that knowledge area from other reference books as well. Then answer all the practice questions pertaining to that knowledge area. After completing the 10 knowledge areas in 10 days, I practiced 2 mock exams per day and note down the grey areas, then revisit and analyse the gaps in areas where I lacked.

Initially, I spent 4 hours per day. However during December, I was studying almost 8 hours as it was vacation time. The books that I referred were:
  • PMP notes from the 4-day session
  • Rita Mulchay’s PMP book
For the mock exams I referred to the below links, they are free mock exams.

My PMP Exam Experience:
As I didn’t get a slot in Bangalore, and hence, had to book my exam in Bombay. My only strategy was to complete the 200 question in 4 hours, and to answer the questions which I am confident about. The ones on which I am doubtful, I would mark them and review it later.

The questions in the exam are tricky as the choices are very close, so it always better to understand the concept rather than mugging it.

You get mathematical questions like critical path, EVM. Hence, it always good to practise these kind of questions very well, since you are sure to score in these kind of question which will help you in clearing the exam.

During exam, somewhere I lost hope and thought I might fail since most of the questions I was doubtful about the answer. But the very thought that I have come all the way from Bangalore and my family also taking so much trouble for me. I decided to give my best in every question. I regained my composure and answered the remaining questions.

Suggestions for PMP Aspirants:
- Dos
  • You must be well-versed with different kind of mathematical questions.
  • Understand the concepts of the knowledge areas and how each of them are inter-linked.
  • Practice the mock exams and try to finish before 4 hours, as during exam you don’t know how time flies. 
  • If you are stuck in any question, mark it, move on to the next question, and come back later.
- Don’ts
  • Mugging up the concepts will not help you much, as the questions in the exam are not direct.
  • Don’t panic before and during the exam, as a calm mind will only help you analyse the question and help you answer.

PMP certification will give me the advantage to bag the Project Manager Role which I aspire to become in the next 4 months’ time within my organisation. Now my next plan is to get relevant training in handling projects within my organisation and move into a Project Manager’s role.

Brief Profile: I am Rajelakshmi Mohan and currently working as a Network Consulting Engineer at Cisco Systems. I have over six years of experience in networking domain.

Rajeslakshmi’s online PMP credential is available at PMI’s online credential registry.

I am thankful to Rajelakshmi for sharing her experience. I believe it will help you – the aspiring PMP – to get your own.

Book Available for PMP Exam:

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Monday, January 11, 2016

PMP Prep: Resource Leveling and Resource Smoothing

Starting with its Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®) 5th Edition, PMI® introduced resource smoothing as a resource optimization technique in the time management knowledge area. In earlier additions of PMBOK only resource leveling was available. A number of misconceptions exist with respect to resource leveling and resource smoothing:
  • Resource smoothing and resource leveling are similar terms and can be interchangeably used. According to the PMBOK, that's not correct. If they were same, the guide would have put them as synonymous words.
  • Resource smoothing happens after resource leveling--also incorrect. Resource smoothing doesn't have to happen after resource leveling.
  • Resource smoothing gives extra breathing space to project managers while scheduling. In fact, it's the opposite! Resource smoothing lessens the flexibility of the schedule.
These misunderstandings can create problems for test takers.

To understand resource leveling and resource smoothing, you need to understand two kinds of scheduling: 1) resource-limited or resource-constrained scheduling; and 2) time-constraining scheduling.

Resource Constrained Scheduling (RCS)
In RCS, a project is meant to be completed with the available resources, hence the name, "resource constrained." There will be an increase in the duration of the project if resources aren't available.

RCS considers both the supply (availability) and demand (requirement) of the resources. If the resource requirement exceeds the resource availability at any time during the schedule network analysis, some of the activities may be delayed until there's enough resource availability. This in turn may increase the duration of the project.

Note: Resource leveling is used in resource constrained scheduling.

Time Constrained Scheduling (TCS)
TCS, on the other hand, emphasizes the completion of a project within a specified amount of time. The time is determined during schedule network analysis. In TCS, project start and end dates are important and need to be respected.

TCS also considers both the supply (availability) and demand (requirement) of the resources. Here, however, there is a predefined limit on demand of resources, which can't be exceeded.

Note: Resource smoothing is used in time constrained scheduling.

Resource Leveling
Now, let's examine the definitions of resource leveling and resource smoothing according to the PMBOK. Resource leveling is defined as, "A technique in which start and finish dates are adjusted based on resource constraints with the goal of balancing demand of the resources with available supply."

As the guide explains, resource leveling can be used when:
  • Shared or critical resources are in limited quantities;
  • Shared or critical resources are available at certain times; or
  • Resources are over-allocated.
In resource leveling, the duration of the project can be changed. If resources are assigned to the activities on the critical path and are in limited quantities, it's likely that the critical path will increase in duration as we try to balance the demand for the resources with that of the supply. A similar situation can arise when the resources are available at certain times. Also, a project manager typically doesn't look for situations where resources are over-allocated or under-allocated. Rather, resources should be properly allocated and should work to their optimum capacities. If over-allocation (also called overloading) is there, then resource leveling is performed. 

Using Microsoft Project, I've created the following bar diagram during network analysis. The human resources (R1, R2, R3, etc.) needed for the project are shown next to the bars in the diagram

As you can see, resource R1 is needed by activities A and C in the first three weeks of the project. That means R1 is over-allocated. The critical path for the project is "Start | C | D | Finish," which has been highlighted in red.

Let's apply resource leveling so that all resources are properly allocated. Post-leveling, the chart changes to the following:

The length of the original critical path has increased from seven weeks to ten weeks.

Resource Smoothing
The PMBOK defines resource smoothing as, "A technique that adjusts the activities of a schedule model such that the requirements for resources on the project do not exceed certain predefined limits."

It means we want to have a constant resource usage (resource profile) over time. The reasons are obvious. When there are high fluctuations in demand of the resources during a project, project cost may increase because you may have to hire them to cover the peaks in the resource profile. Also, when there are valleys (or troughs) in the resource profile, resources will remain idle during those periods while still being paid. Both situations are undesirable. Hence smoothing is needed and applied. The name "smoothing" comes from the fact that the peaks and the valleys in the resource usage profile are smoothed out.

In resource smoothing, the requirement of the resources don't exceed certain predefined limits. The critical path won't be touched to ensure that the duration remains unchanged. It means we can adjust the resource profiles within the available float (or slack) for the given activities. If the floats are in short supply for the activities, then we may not be able to optimize all the resources.

Look at the simple network diagram shown below. Duration for the activities represents weeks.

Using forward and backward pass calculation, the critical path runs this course: "Start | C | D | E | F | Finish." All activities on the critical path will have float (or slack) of value zero. For activity B, the total float is 11 weeks; you could delay activity B by 11 weeks without delaying the project. Similarly, for activity H the total float is 12 weeks; you could delay activity H by 12 weeks without pushing the end date of the project.

In the diagram below, the required number of human resources has been shown along with the activity names in the diagram. "B(2R)" means activity B has a requirement of two resources.

At this stage, let us check the resource usage profile over the weeks. The number of resources need in each are added up (also called resource aggregation) and shown below the x axis under weeks. When put into a spreadsheet, the profile usage looks like this.

There are peaks in weeks 4, 5 and 6 and valleys in the latter part of the project. As I outlined earlier, these aren't desirable situations. Consider we that have a predefined resource limit, which is no more than seven resources in a week. Let's apply resource smoothing.

I can start activity B later since it can be delayed by 11 weeks without any impact to the project schedule. Similarly, activity H also can be started towards the end without changing the critical path. After making the changes, we get the following diagram.

When you lay that out in spreadsheet form, you can see that the valleys and peaks of resource usage have been smoothed out. It must be noted that in some situations, you may not be able to fully optimize the resources.

You should also note that after resource smoothing, the critical path has remained unchanged. However, the total float (and also free float) for activities B and H have been reduced. Hence, the flexibility for scheduling is now less for the project manager.

To help you remember the similarities and differences between the two resource optimization techniques, I've outlined them in the table below.



This article was first published by MPUG on 3rd November, 2015.