Project Management Institute

How to Conquer Certifications

How to Conquer Certifications

Anna Thornton first thought about earning the Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification a decade ago. But the prospect of committing time to pore through A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) and other study materials while working and raising toddlers seemed too ambitious.

So how did Ms. Thornton, of Aylmer, Quebec, Canada, eventually find the time to earn her PMP® certification? Simple: She applied project management skills during all phases of her pursuit. The certification already has delivered career benefits: Canada’s National Arts Centre recently promoted the former senior project manager of customer relationship and digital strategy to human resources manager of policies and programs.

She explains how she successfully juggled work, life and certification responsibilities by managing schedules, budgets and even stakeholders. It’s an approach others interested in earning a PMP certification can apply, too.

Why did you choose to earn your PMP certification?

When I acquired the title of project manager 10 years ago, I started thinking differently about my work. It inspired me to dig deeply into what it meant to be a great project manager; I wanted to represent the title and profession well. Plus, I wanted to earn the PMP for the challenge and recognition it gives to years of experience, dedication and hard work.

What steps did you take to reinforce this commitment?

Even before I’d completed the application process, I started telling people about what I was up to. The more I talked about my pursuit, the more committed I felt to seeing it through.

How did setting goals and objectives help your certification pursuit?

I work in the arts, where the show must go on! We’re intensely deadline driven, so I applied this mentality to managing the application process and exam prep. I set a hard deadline for myself to pass the exam, so that helped me develop a critical path of milestones for preparation and study. I was always focused on maximizing my investment and ROI through smart scheduling and spending on study and resource materials.

How did you juggle career and life obligations?

My family was the primary stakeholder throughout the process, and I needed to keep their needs for my time and energy at top of mind. So I set up a study schedule. By following my plan and attacking progress in a spreadsheet, I never had to think about what was next on my list of things to do or how I’d spend my spare time studying.

What did your studying schedule look like?

I read and studied on the bus to and from work every day, then again over lunchtime at work, probably two to three times a week. Then I studied again before bed most nights. I amped up studying on weekends closer to the exam. The more efficient, thorough and effective planning you do upfront, the easier implementation is along the way.

How did you measure progress?

Taking mini-tests after reviewing my study guide and each chapter of the PMBOK® Guide helped gauge whether or not I was getting the most out of my study efforts. My scores helped me track progress and showed me where I needed to go back and put in more time to arrive at the quality result I was striving for.

How did you relieve stress and maintain a positive focus?

My mantra was to breathe and smile — and to picture myself at the finish line with the certificate in my hand. I built positivity into my practice of preparation, and it has turned into a very positive habit.

What benefits have you realized?

When I’ve added scope and responsibilities to my workload, I’m able to tackle it all in stride — and with greater enthusiasm than I’ve felt in a long time. The experience has shown me that with good planning, a very clear goal, willpower and commitment, I can accomplish difficult, time-consuming projects.

How has it helped you beyond work?

I’ve applied the PMP certification to other areas, like tackling long-standing items on household to-do lists, including household organization projects and enhanced budgeting and communication practices. I’ve developed a more can-do, pragmatic mindset that has helped me approach projects with enthusiasm while still leaving room for fun with family and friends.

Any advice for those starting their PMP certification journey?

I took a long time to commit to achieving the PMP certification, but all along the way I immersed myself in PMI literature, PMBOK® Guide terminology and fabulous templates and articles that PMI makes available to members. When the language and vocabulary starts oozing out of you in casual conversation, it’s safe to say you’ve got the subject matter nailed. It’s nerdy, but it’s also a good feeling.