Creative PMP® exam preparation (3PMP)

Abstract

Creative PMP Exam Preparation (3PMP) is a project developed at BensaPM (a group of engineers and architects, working in Gorizia, Italy) to foster professional development. A creative method for professional development in the field of project management was created, including mind maps, flash cards, presentations, and video.

The project's objective is to develop a creative method for professional development in the field of project management and, at the same time, apply the method to develop project management skills and help participants pass the Project Management Professional (PMP®) Exam.

The main constraint of the project was time, because the team members worked full-time project management roles and could only devote a limited time to training.

The project was successful (four students passed the PMP Exam) and the method may be successfully applied to others, such as other team members within BensaPM, and as consultancy in small medium enterprises (SMEs).

Introduction

This paper presents a method of study applied to enhancing professional development in the field of project management, using creativity techniques.

The method was created during a project called 3PMP, which took place between January and August 2011, within BensaPM, a group of engineers and architects working in the field of civil engineering (design, construction management, security), based in Gorizia, Italy.

The 3PMP project stems from a recurring problem in relations between BensaPM and its customers: the need to manage projects with sponsors who are not aware of their role.

BensaPM is a projectized organization: there is no hierarchy – each team member may be involved in a project as project manager, consultant, or assistant, depending on his or her technical expertise and ability to maintain relationships with customers.

BensaPM customers are, mainly, small organizations (small medium enterprises [SMEs], businesses, government agencies, individuals, voluntary organizations) with different needs: construction of a building, plant maintenance, security management of a construction site, training in housing, counseling to reduce operating costs of a building, and so forth.

Each of these requirements is addressed with a project: in the simplest cases it is small project (e.g., one month, a value > 10,000 €, project teams consisting of two members), while in some cases a relevant project may be set up (e.g., one year, the value of € 1M, works with dozens of stakeholders).

Lessons learned of many projects have revealed that the most common problems (delays in delivery, increased costs, defects to be corrected) are often due to a common cause: the customer does not know project management, in particular the sponsor is not aware of its role and does not give the necessary support to the project management.

Talking to the sponsors of several projects under way, there were some very strong views against project management:

  • “Project management techniques are useless in small businesses. There are not enough resources.”
  • “The project is too short for a formal management according to the PMBOK® Guide. We need experience and intuition.”
  • “Do not waste time planning and evaluating the risks: just start working!”

Such a divergence of views between BensaPM (an organization based on project management techniques, using “PM” in its own name) and its customers has been faced with a series of projects with the following objectives:

  • Improve internal project management skills, with particular attention paid to micro-projects aimed at small organizations
  • Involve prospect sponsors in cultural promotion project management activities

In this article we will describe some methodological issues arising out of activities in this context that we have managed through the 3PMP project and other related activities.

Method and Creativity

“To reach the place you do not know, you will follow the path you do not find.” – Anonymous

Studying needs a method: after having spent decades hitting the books, even being a teacher in some courses, we have learned how to learn. The key to teaching people who know how to study is to get their attention and be more interesting than the last mail that came in or the phone calls that are waiting to be made. The study group is a group of people who graduated two to ten years ago, who have forgotten how to study.

This was a strong point, as it was easier to teach these students a new approach.

In the following sections, we will discuss a project that was started and that tested new formative approaches, including:

  • The use of mental maps (to study and read over the subjects)
  • Repetition after passed time
  • Use of icons and flash cards
  • Colored summarizing schemes (input/output/tools)

The mind map is a tool invented by Tony Buzan to keep both hemispheres of our brains active—the rational left side and the artistic right side. With only lists and charts we only use one part of the brain, but if we add natural forms, colors, and drawings, we also stimulate the right hemisphere. Doing this, and having fun, it is possible to examine a subject closely, to study it and find connections, and in this way we can both better understand and keep in mind the concepts.

It is important to re-read after time has passed – after a day, a week, and a month: re-reading the mental map after these time lapses makes it possible for the concepts to enter long-term memory.

Flash cards have been designed, using the same approach: colors for the five process groups have been selected, as have logos for each of the nine knowledge areas. We made flashcards for each of the 43 processes in the PMBOK® Guide, each characterized by a colour (for a group of processes) and a logo (for a knowledge area).

With those cards, reviews have been made to see the interactions among processes, input and output data, and tool data.

Cards used for studying processes and knowledge areas

Exhibit 1. Cards used for studying processes and knowledge areas

Summary charts have been made to highlight which documents appeared as input/output and to see which tools were used in the different processes, to find similarities and to make memorization easier.

We got to this result after brainstorming, “Which tools could be adopted to reach results in an effective and innovative way?”

Another important aspect is the creation of a study group: three people were already working together, and a fourth joined them. Doing this, the study tasks – preparing and making texts – were easier, even though people had different ways of studying.

Of great importance was the fact that during this same period, BensaPM was asked to teach a project management course to licensed people, based on the contents of the PMBOK® Guide, and as we know, “teaching is the best way to learn.” The students were asked to give us feedback, so we could see if what we had explained had been understood. Moreover, the class was divided into three groups of four or five people each, and we started a project, and teachers helped them put into practice what had been learned in theory. In this way, teachers were forced to dial with real questions about projects.

So, before taking on a new challenge, think creatively about new ways to reach your goal: the old ways, if you are lucky, could just be obsolete, if not misleading.

Lecture and Tutor

In January 2011, BensaPM decided to create a team of certified PMPs to enhance internal expertise in project management, and to offer this expertise to the marketplace.

The method chosen was a study program of about 6 months, based on individual study, lectures, and support of a mentor with appropriate experience.

A well-structured training program was provided by Walter Ginevri, an expert in PM training, currently President of PMI-Northern Italy Chapter,

The study program was based on best-practice vocational training:

  • Training schedule with tight deadlines (weekly lessons spread over 3 months)
  • Lectures focusing on PMBOK® Guide topics (each week a new Knowledge Area was addressed)
  • Individual study of the PMBOK® Guide
  • Exam simulations

3PMP Project

These activities were organized, as naturally for our organization, as a project called 3PMP.

Managing a study program as a real project, following the PMBOK® Guide, has proved a simple and effective way to gain direct experience on the topics concepts studied.

First, a project charter was developed.

A short stakeholders list was compiled:

  • Sponsor: Giorgio Bensa
  • Project manager: Fabio Morea
  • Tutor: Walter Ginevri
  • Team members: Stefano Matijasic and Anna Maria Sardon

The project charter included a list of deliverables (3 PMP certificates), milestones (e.g., exam registration by 1 June, exam passed by 31 July), and a preliminary risk analysis.

The idea of using creative techniques of study emerged during the risk analysis, in the planning stages of the project. One of the main risks identified was the possibility of delays due to difficulties of studying the PMBOK® Guide, which at first glance seems a very complex and potentially boring text.

A brainstorming session helped to identify a promising way to mitigate this risk: the students would address the study of the PMBOK® Guide in order to make it interesting, simple, and fun.

One participant suggested, “While you study, imagine having to explain a lesson to prepare the same argument to someone who has never worked in project management – for example, to sponsor one of our projects last year.”

Each student created educational materials, according to their study needs and their personal inclination to creativity, which included:

  • Mind maps about knowledge areas, processes, and specific topics
  • Flash cards using icons and colors to gain deeper knowledge about Knowledge Areas, Process Groups, and Processes
  • Presentations and lectures on specific topics

The following steps led to the creation of a WBS, and a detailed schedule for the whole project.

WBS developed within 3PMP project

Exhibit 2. WBS developed within 3PMP project

The 3PMP project was completed in August 2011, when 3 students obtained PMP certification. Another student, Massimo Iansig, joined the group and got his PMP certification in September.

Creativity: Other Experiences

Reaching the course goals brought out the fact that several ideas born during the brainstorming have been used to develop other courses and lectures about PM.

“Project Management on the Grill”

“Project Management on the Grill” is a learning experience for a group of educated or educating people based on the observation that:

  • Learning through experience has more impact on the individual than the theoretic one made in classrooms.
  • People like to do what is “in” and “fashionable.”

In Italy, cooking contests on national and foreign TV channels are trendy, and they can be thought of as a “learning experience” in the kitchen. People are divided into two teams and are asked them to cook dinner by a certain time, with a determined food budget and other counted resources, following the instructions given in a detailed project charter, handed out at the beginning of the contest.

The dinner, in which the teams and the moderators would have taken part, would have later been judged by two unknown guests.

At the end of the dinner, the teams would receive feedback about what they did, both from a quality point of view and an organizational one (timing, resource usage, problem solving, communication), and which are recorded as Lessons Learned.

In this case, it has been particularly challenging to decide which project management subjects to teach a group of people who have no theoretical basis in the field, especially considering the tight timeframe (from 6 to 11 p.m).

On several occasions, teams from small firms were used, who found practical hints to use in their companies straightaway.

Now we use “Project Management on the Grill” in introduction activities for the Chapter, and as a way to introduce project management to people who know nothing about it, be they aspiring project managers or possible project sponsors.

“Basis and Tools of Project Management”

“Basis and Tools of Project Management” is a theoretical and practical path for a dozen people without theoretical knowledge, who work in firms or volunteer associations, based on the observation that:

  • When people feel at ease they learn more and what happens to them becomes unforgettable.
  • The best way of learning is explaining to other people what you learned.

The course starts early on Friday morning with a meeting in a train station where, after a journey of an hour and a half, the participants are taken to a mountain location near an alpine lake.

During the journey the participants get to know each other through role play, followed by a few hours of classroom education using mental maps, then a project about an interesting subject is developed in a couple of hours.

At dinner, the group is split into two or three groups and each is given a project charter of what they have to finish within the next day: create a video that in a few minutes tells about what they have learned during the first day, having planned the day, using available resources and creativity, solving problems, and so on.

At the end the videos are seen and voted by the class. On the train during the journey back, they are guided in the lessons learned. Participants are “forced” to study what they have learned by having to put it into practice; the video they made will forever be a reminder of what they have studied.

Lessons Learned

We saw how a learning path can be done at home and how, in doing it, ideas, improvement, hints, and new business have arisen. Hint summary:

  • Before starting to study, make a study program and decide how you are going to study, read over and check what you have learned.
  • Create your own study materials, using your imagination and colors, as if tomorrow you will teach it to others.
  • Everybody studies in their own way: find the right method for you, but remember that even if you have always studied in a certain way, that does not mean it is the right way.
  • Create a study group.
  • Teach someone. “The best way of learning is teaching.”
  • Do not think about the PMP exam only to pass it, but also for personal growth.
  • When you will say “I am a PMP,” you will say it with another voice, another gesture, because it has not just been a mnemonic study.
  • Applied creativity gives you an idea surplus, which can be used in your job.

So, keep in mind that if you use creativity, you will gain information and ideas that you could decide to forget about or to use in other applications. It's great to be able to choose among so many ideas!

Conclusion

At the end of the 3PMP project – while other activities described in the text are still ongoing – we can talk about our lessons learned.

First, our experience has confirmed that the use of creativity in educational activities, even with people accustomed to the serious (sometimes boring) communication style used in the construction industry, can give excellent results.

Second, having a sufficient number of PMPs can effectively promote project management, even in small organizations and short-term projects.

References

Buzan, T. (2000). Use your head. London, UK: BBC Book.

Chan Kim, W., & Mauborgne R. (2005). Blue ocean strategy: How to create uncontested market space and make competition irrelevant. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation.

De Bono, E. (1985). Six thinking hats. : MICA Management Resources

Ginevri, W., & Moresco, M. (2008). Il Kit per la scuola primaria. Milano, Italia: PMI-NIC.

Mulcahy, R. (2009). PMP exam prep. Minnetonka, MN: RMC publications.

Project Management Institute. (2008). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) (4th ed.) Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

© 2012, Fabio Morea – Giorgio Bensa
Originally published as a part of 2012 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Marseilles, France

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