At the end of September 2017 I was presented with an unexpected opportunity to teach my first PMP bootcamp. I could not refuse it. It was something I was curious about ever since I attended one as a PMP aspirant back in the summer of 2014. Back then I was not ready to attend a bootcamp first and foremost because I knew so little about the exam; also I was not even sure if I wanted to take it. There is an ocean of information out there plus a lot of misinformation on the grapevine. One needs to be committed to take on this project seriously and go over it step by step to stand a chance at successfully passing it. Life has a way of teaching each one of us the lessons we need to learn and it did not spare me on this one.
The opportunity came out of the blue after a networking evening at our local PMI-CWCC chapter. A friend had it scheduled for the following week and could not do it anymore; still he did not want to cancel it. I said “Yes, of course” and started to prepare for it. It proved to be a challenging project to say the least. The venue was a new one and I decided to go there on the Saturday morning prior to make sure all details were in place. The hotel staff was very accomodating, I could see the room (looked a bit small) and spent about 45 minutes trying to locate the parcels with all books; good thing I did not postpone this task for the Monday morning, right? I found out there were going to be 16 adult students in attendance instead of the original number of 4 when we first discussed it. I guess the changes for the exam coming March 2018 are forcing fellow project managers to strongly consider taking it ASAP. Anyway the sheer number was a bit intimidating and overwhelming. I teach chess to kids between 6 to 18 years of age for a number of years now; still teaching adults is different.
During the weekend I looked in the book and over the presentation materials, made a plan of how much we were going to cover daily and added some contingency time to it just in case. Went on the Prometric website to see the availability dates for our Vancouver location and was surprised to see the first available date to take the exam was in 2 months time (end of November) for those wishing to register at the time. That was another indication of the higher than usual demand for it. By the time I finished the article, I found out more dates were made available in October and November. That was invaluable feedback from one of the students who passed the exam. I guess the lesson here is to check their calendar often when planning for the date to take it; websites can be prone to glitches.
I will not do a day by day recap. Like in any project things went more or less according to the plan. We had unexpected situations to deal with and of course we had to adjust with one another in order to finish the bootcamp. What feels more important today and will still be important as time goes by are the highlights and lessons learned for me as an instructor. Here they are in no particular order:
I stated my expectations in the morning of the first day; still I could see how the students had different ones and it took a while to bring them to a common ground as much as possible. Some of the students were very early in the process of considering the PMP exam and because of that they could not see how the focused information and tips about it could be helpful. I was in their shoes during my bootcamp in 2014 so I could relate. Other students were very focused, with one of them having the exam scheduled for the following week. They were the quiet ones, doing the tasks assigned and participating with the exam in mind.
Exam prep, dealing with time pressure
One of the regular activities we did was to solve exam questions under time duress (1 minute or so per question). My suggested approach for them was to do as many questions as possible, starting with the easier ones provided in the book. I had at least one student who chose to leave those questions for later on when she would be better prepared. In my view they should all have done the questions like an initiation if you want. One could always find more questions online.
Exam prep, PM Process Group and Knowledge Area Mapping table
Each day we did a simple exercise of doing a memory dump of it in time pressure and progressively adding the Knowledge Areas and processes covered up to that point. The exam does not allow anymore this memory dump before the time starts ticking; however I believe doing it at the beginning for no more than 15 minutes (including a number of important formulas) pays off big time for the duration of the exam. Before Dec 2016 one could do the memory dump before the exam, during those 15 minutes of familiarizing oneself with the computer software. Here I also had a number of students not doing that anymore by the forth day. I guess they will remember this as they will become more serious about preparing for the exam.
Exam prep, mnemonic preparation
This was by far the most appreciated component. There are several ways of doing it and several sources of inspiration. I am hoping all saw the benefit of using it and will look for more mnemonic tips working for them when time comes. Example: what does the following stand for?
“I Scoped Time, Cost and Quality with HR to Communicate Risks on Procurement with Stakeholders“
Exam prep, exam related details
It is important one gathers the latest official information and does not rely on the grapevine or superficial reading. One powerful example from this bootcamp was the one of a very experienced PM who discovered he did not have to take the bootcamp afterall, as he could have used previously taken PM courses to count for the 35 hours of education needed. He simply did not pay enough attention to the posted requirements and that cost him time and money.
The room proved to be too small for 17 people. This being a new venue, a detail like this should have been a very high impact/ probability risk to account for, especially when those doing the renting (headquarters in UK) did it without seeing it. I talked with the manager during the first morning day coffee break and she offered us a bigger room for the third and forth days. Ironically we experienced an AC leak in the morning of the second day, as it sometimes happens… We were lucky our caterer for the day was already preparing our new room and as a result we were able to switch rooms on the spot with minimum interuption. Of course kudos go to the hotel staff for being accommodating and quick to respond.
The materials provided, content
It should be tailored with the exam in mind and have as many references to the PMBOK Guide as possible. One of the slides made a point of saying:
“The exam is not a test of the PMBOK Guide”
However the PMBOK Guide must be used when preparing for it and the PMP aspirants must know it fairly well to answer the questions as PMI expects us to. The exam is testing that and not how each one of us would judge and react based on our own experience. One of the good aspects of the content consisted of sample exam questions for each Knowledge Area, as well as a full 200 sample exam questions chapter with detailed answers simulating a full exam.
The materials provided, correct information
It is important to ensure all material (with a focus on the sample exam questions and answers) is correct or everyone gets frustrated. We encountered mistakes along the way, some more frustrating than others because of either being silly or hard to explain. A number of exam questions as well as the sample ones are based on word play and different interpretations of the meaning of phrases used. I always found those dubious to say the least. Are we better project managers answering those correctly or are we worst when answering them wrong? In real life when something is open to interpretation we seek clarification and by doing so we put ourselves in a better position to judge the situation in front of us. There is no such luck during the exam, so having to deal with them is debatable in my opinion. Last but not least the most valuable sample exam questions are the ones clearly referencing the PMBOK Guide while explaining the answers provided.
Hope these lessons learned will be of value to our PM community.