Sunday, August 14, 2016

PMP Success Story: Not A Difficult Exam if You Put Your 100%



Sajith Vijayan believes PMP® exam is a not a very difficult one and you can definitely do it, if you try wholeheartedly. He was part of my class in February, 2016. I remember the batch to be quite lively with lots of questions. 


Sajith is a composed person with a deep listening approach.  One aspect he has downplayed, but which I want to emphasize is – his commitment, which you can see in this post. He is used to read in the cab while travelling, as it takes a long time to reach the office. Also he had booked a hotel next to the test centre to beat Bangalore traffic! Today he is a successful PMP.  I would say - well earned.

He has outlined his detailed experience in this post.  Go on and read his unique experience.

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Introduction
I heard about PMP for the first time around 3 years back from my colleagues. That time I was not so keen to get PMP certified. But over the time I have realized that PMP certification is a must to move ahead in this world of competitive job market. Around one year back PMP aspiration actually came into my mind and I decided to get PMP certified.

In order to avail the mandatory 35 contact hours, I googled for the authorized institutes and found Knowledge Hut closer to my home. Then enquired about the institute from my colleagues. One of them told me that his reportee did the course there and cleared the exam. I spoke to that person and got a good feedback about Knowledge Hut.

My PMP Training Experience
I have attended the classroom training at Knowledge Hut in February, 2016. Satya’s training was awesome. He is very knowledgeable, covered almost all the topics and his focus was to make us understand the concepts better. He used proper examples to make it simpler and easy to recollect. The exercises and study materials he has provided have helped me a lot for the exam.

Moreover, he shared a lot of tips and tricks during his sessions. His method of memorizing all the 47 processes was very good. We could recollect them like a story and had no need to mug up. He has created a few flow diagrams, e.g., flow of deliverable, which will help answering many questions right.

My Own Study
I would say my real preparation started after the training. I have read five chapters of PMBOK® guide. But every time when I read PMBOK it didn’t make me awake for more than half an hour. Later my colleagues suggested me to start reading Rita Mulcahy’s book. He also told me that if I am not planning to go through PMBOK I need to at least go through the glossary before appearing the exam. So I did the same.

Since my office is two hours away from my home I used to get 1.5 hours of quality time for reading in the cab. During weekends I spent around 4 Hrs. Meanwhile I scheduled the exam on 10th of August. 
One month before the exam my studies went into top gear. During this time, I finished reading Rita’s book two times along with knowledge Hut study materials and prepared my own notes. 

I took one week leave before the exam and started taking the mock tests, revised the topics using my notes and daily I spent almost 8 hours altogether. I could consistently score around 80% in the mock tests. I have decided not to study anything on the day before the exam.

My PMP Exam Experience
I have scheduled my exam at the Prometric Testing Centre in Prestige Shantiniketan, Bangalore. My schedule was in the morning as I wanted to write the exam with a fresh mind. Reporting time was at 8:30AM. The test centre was 24km from home. To beat the uncertainties of Bangalore traffic I have decided to stay at a hotel near the test centre. The previous day I went to the test centre and got the documents verified. They asked me to report at 7:30 AM instead of 8:30AM. So I felt the decision to stay near the test centre was right! If you are unaware of the location I suggest you to visit the test centre once before the exam. The campus is big and you may end up spending more time searching for the test centre.

I reached the test centre at 7:15AM on the D-Day. After verifying the credentials, they provided an instruction sheet and a locker to keep our belongings. They won’t allow you to carry anything inside other than your ID card and locker key. If you want, they will provide a manual calculator. I have collected one. Ear plugs were available at desk. I have used it during the exam.

There was a 15 minutes’ online tutorial about how to take the exam. I had some doubts which got cleared in that tutorial. Then the exam has started. My target was to finish at least 60 questions in an hour. But my answering rate was very slow. I could score only 37 questions in the first hour. Pressure started mounting on me. I realized that I won’t get time for review so I chose final answer for most of the questions though I marked a few questions for review. In the next hour also my answering rate didn’t improve. After two hours I answered around 70 questions where I am supposed finish 100 questions. I was under immense pressure when the timer shows 1.5 hours left and I couldn’t even read the questions properly. I literally became panic and started thinking about taking the test once again! 

Then I realized it won’t lead me anywhere and went out for a quick break even though I was lagging. I came back with a fresh and determined mind and started answering. I really caught up in the next 1.5 hours and finished answering all the questions just 1 minute before the exam ends! Immediately I submitted the results. While the results were processing in the background a survey about the Test Centre popped up. Within seconds after finishing the survey “Congratulations” flashed on my screen;-). I got 3 process areas ratings as “Proficient” and 2 are “Moderately Proficient”

The mistake I made was that even though I was 100% sure about the answers I kept reading twice or thrice to make sure that I didn’t miss anything while reading the question/choices because it was not the mock exam where I made lot of mistakes by not reading the question/choices properly. Some questions were very simple and straightforward. That made me think “WILL THE QUESTION BE THAT SIMPLE? OR DID I MISS READING SOMETHING?” – Believe me “NOT ALL QUESTIONS ARE DIFFICULT IF YOU STUDY WELL”.

Question Patterns that I remember:
  • Mathematical questions – Around 10- 12 questions.
  • Many are situational questions.
  • No questions from professional and social responsibility.
  • Some questions asked inputs/outputs of processes by describing a scenario.
  • 4-5 questions about Pareto chart!
  • One question on network diagram.
Overall the questions were not very difficult. If you prepare well you can easily pass the exam. 

Suggestions for PMP Aspirants:
- Dos:
  • Have a proper study plan and stick to it. 
  • Answer as many questions as possible before the exam. This will increase your confidence.
  • Take 4 hour tests and manage your time.
- Don’ts:
  • Don’t consider the mock exams as mock, consider it as a real exam.
  • Don’t over study.
Conclusion
As noted before, not all questions are difficult. You can definitely do it if you prepare well.

Brief Profile: 

I am Sajith Vijayan and currently working as a Lead Engineer at Sasken Communication. I have 12+ years of overall experience in IT.


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Sajith’s online profile is available PMI’s registry. 


I am thankful to Sajith for writing his experience. I believe it will help the readers of this blog to prepare and earn their PMP credentials.  


Friday, July 29, 2016

PMP Success Story: Build Your PMI Muscles, Enhance Your PMIisms and be PMPed Before the Exam



Falguni Das is a proud PMP® today. He had his credential in the beginning of this month. Post certification he had messaged me on his success. Later, when I spoke with him at length, he was indeed very satisfied on the outcome. Well, sincere work rarely goes in vain. 


Falguni was part of my class in the end of January, 2016. It was a big batch and he made his presence felt by actively participating. 

He asks pertinent questions, answers and chips-in wherever he can, enjoys the tricky questions and actively joins in situations where I ask participants to discuss with the team at the whiteboard.


No two experiences are same. Like he had less number of mathematical questions compared to others. And, that is what makes this exam unique. Also he has put certain interesting perspectives on PMP exam – like building your PMI® muscles, being PMPed before exam and so on. 

His experience is quite detailed. Go on and read his unique experience. 

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Introduction
The inspiration to be a PMP came primarily due to the knowledge I wanted to gain in the Project Management space and of course the brand value of PMP certification. 

In the pursuit of having good quality training and the support from the staff during and after the training period, I took advice from few of my friends and colleagues about the centre and the coach. Additionally, I did go through the reviews about the same in the internet too.

My PMP Training Experience
My classroom experience was really good. I got to learn from an experienced coach and fellow associates there. The key takeaways in the PMP Training were:
  • Deep understanding of certain knowledge areas such as Cost Management, Time Management, Risk Management and Procurement management. 
  • The subtle yet very important differences between different types of project documents.
I have very good experience in few of the project management knowledge areas (as PMI calls them), but less in few others. Post my class, I kept working harder on the weak areas and tried to enhance my knowledge in my strong areas by reading the PMI related documents, discussing more with my colleagues and senior managers. It is easy to set one’s priority based on the PMI-defined percentage of questions each process group will pose. However, it is quite important to know a good deal of each knowledge area as that helps one during the exam and also while handling real project work.

My Own Study
First I blocked my exam dates. I would call it “Initiating”, and also here I fixed the closing date. I spent two months preparing, i.e., Planning and Executing, for the exam apart from the 4 days of classroom training that I attended. Every day I spent about two to three hours for my preparation. From beginning, I focussed on my weak areas, so that I got maximum time to prepare for those. 

As soon as I used to finish one knowledge area, I used to attempt few quiz questions (around 20-40 questions) on the same knowledge area, which can be considered partly executing, partly monitoring and controlling. However, do note, none of the questions that one practices may appear in the real exam. In my case too, I did not get those. Nevertheless, practising those will help you clear the concepts and gain more confidence.

I kept practicing different sets – 20 to 40, 50, 75, 100, 200 questions from time to time in order to build my PMI-muscles and enhance my PMI-ism. For my preparation, I referred the PMBOK® Guide and the book by Rita Mulcahy.

One particular aspect during my study which I would suggest is this: Look for avenues to implement what you learn during your preparation time and beyond by applying them in the real time projects.

In few questions, where one is not quite sure of the answers, it may bring the whole morale down in minutes. But I kept my calm, stayed focussed and remained alert in the common sense front. No matter how confident you are, till the result is out, no one knows the actual outcome. The key is to remain confident and calm – as you don’t have any better choice.

My PMP Exam Experience
I scheduled the exam online at a centre in Mumbai, India. My strategy for the exam was as follows:
  • Plan was to answer all the questions in 210 mins and then review all the marked questions later. Though my planned time was 210 minutes, I finished answering all 200 questions in 225 mins, i.e., I had hardly 15 mins to go. As I had very few questions marked to be reviewed later, it saved the day for me.
  • I tried to solve the questions in first attempt itself. This helped me in avoiding the review later, as noted earlier. 
  • I read every question and answer choices thoroughly at least once. I was never too desperate to answer without reading completely, just because I thought one answer might be correct or the question seemed very easy.
  • I kept an eye on the time, so that I did not have to overspend on one particular question.
  • Finally, I stayed focussed, calm and confident throughout the 250+ mins.
There were a variety of questions. However,
  • Mostly questions were situational – almost 90% of them
  • Of those 90%, at least 25% questions were tricky (where the second best choice could not be that wrong or was equally good and possibly right)
  • Mathematical questions – 2-3%
I must note what happened to me on the exam day, need not happen necessarily to everyone else in the exam. While speaking with several other examinees, I heard different distribution in percentages of these aforementioned types. One exam taker mentioned that he got around 20-25 mathematical questions, which translates to around 10-12%.

I would say - do not lose your patience, do not get distracted. Read, re-read the questions to get more clarity. In case it is too tough, mark the question to be reviewed later and move on. If you want to make certain notes, please do that. 

Suggestions for PMP Aspirants
- Dos:
  • Read the PMBOK guide thoroughly. More importantly, try to understand the concepts (about the why, when and how). 
  • Practice and attempt different types of questions, varieties of scenarios.  
  • Define your own exam strategy, prepare your own notes. 
  • Understand the importance of different documents and know when to use what sort of tools and techniques. 
  • When you are unsure, use your common sense and experience. 
  • Be “PMPed” before the exam! By PMPed I mean, understand what PMI says about project management. 
- Don’ts:
  • Don’t procrastinate and push the exam date. 
  • Never lose confidence in yourself.

Conclusion
In conclusion, I would implement the project management learning in real projects as much as possible as that was one of my primary goals. As a whole, the complete process has been a great experience and learning for me.

Brief Profile: 
Falguni Das, Software Testing Consultant.  13+ years of IT experience primarily in BFSI domain.

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Falguni’s online profile is available PMI’s registry. 


Many get their certifications. In fact, there have been hundreds from my sessions. However, few share their own, which inspires others. And real and genuine experiences on the web are few. 

I am thankful to Falguni for writing his experience. I believe it will help the readers of this blog, who are PMP aspirants, to prepare their own. 


Thursday, June 30, 2016

Practical PMP with MS Project - Negative Total Float



Can negative float exist in a schedule network? What impact does it have? How does it impacts the critical path? As a Project Planner or Manager how should work on these cases?

These were some of the questions that came up in a recent session on Practical PMP with MS Project. The MS Project® version used was 2016 and PMBOK® version used is its 5th edition.

First, the definition of Total Float (or Total Slack). Putting it simply:  "This is the amount of time that an activity can be delayed without delaying the project finish date or violating a schedule constraint."

Taking an example - say you have a task "Task - A". This task can be delayed by 3 days without delaying the project's finish date. The total float of Task - A is 3 days.

Now, let us take a MS Project sample, which is shown below. There are many tasks in this project - each of these tasks have Free Slack (or Free Float) or Total Slack (or Total Float) shown. To see these floats - just switch to View tab -- Data group -- Tables -- Schedule table (or you can add the columns in the default Entry table).

Figure - 1: A Sample Project
In the above project, let us look at Task B. It is starting on Wednesday (July 1) and finishing on Friday (July 3), i.e., a duration of 3 days. The project's end date is Wednesday, July 8 (in next week). Obviously, you can push "Task B" by 3 days - Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (July 6, July 7 and July 8) - without impacting the finish date of the project. Hence the total float or total slack for Task B = 3 days. 

Note the critical path here: Start - Task E - Task F - Finish. It is the longest path or path having float values less than equal to zero. The critical path is highlighted in red. To see the critical path enable the checkbox "Critical Tasks" under Format tab -- Bar Styles group. There many other ways to see the critical tasks.


Next, let us see when the negative total float can come. 

Scenario - 1: Setting a Hard Constraint (MSO)

I'll be setting a hard constraint on Task B - a Must Start On (MSO) constraint. This can be done in the Task Information dialog box, which is launched when you double click on a task.

Figure - 2 : Hard Constraint Set
I have set the MSO on June 30 (Tuesday) for Task B, 1 day before the scheduled start of the task, which is July 1 (Wednesday). Next, I pressed the "OK" button in the dialog box. 

As I pressed OK, the below message popped up. I selected the 3rd option and continued by pressing OK button.

Figure - 3: Message while Setting the MSO

Next, the below message popped up. This is clearly saying there will be scheduling conflict if you set this constraint. 

Figure - 4: Message - Scheduling Conflict
We will go ahead as we know there will be scheduling conflict by setting a hard constraint on a linked task. I selected the 2nd option above and then clicked OK. 

Now, see the impact on the schedule. The new schedule comes as shown below with two critical paths now. But more importantly, the total float/slack of Task B is now changed from 3 days to -1 day.

Figure - 5: Total Float as Negative with MSO Constraint
The constraint is shown in the indicator column. As you can see B's total slack/float has turned negative. Similarly for the tasks it has been linked to. Also, another critical path has come in, i.e., Start - Task A - Task B - Finish. This is due to my setting for critical path - any tasks having a float value less than equal to zero will be critical.

By how it became -1 day (earlier 3 days)?

To understand that, let us draw the Schedule Network Diagram, where we will find out the Early Start (ES), Late Start (LS), Early Finish (EF) and Late Finish (LF). I am using Forward and Backward pass approach to calculate these values (as one would be doing while preparing for PMP Exam)
Figure - 6: Forward and Backward Pass Calculation

The legend on the top right of the above diagram shows the ES, LS, EF, LF values for each activity. 


Now total float is calculated as the difference between LS and ES or the difference between LF and EF. For example the total float for Task A = LS - ES = 4 - 1 = 3 days. Take the Task B, for it total float = LS - ES = 6 - 3 = 3 days. The result is same while being calculated with MS Project (refer Figure - 1). But that diagram does not show the ES, LS, EF, LF values. The below one shows (Figure - 7). To see Early Start, Late Start, Early Finish and Late Finish, you can add them as columns into the table of MS Project view.


Figure - 7: Forward and Backward Pass - Auto Calculated in MS Project

These values exactly matches what we saw in theory. 
For Task B, when it was scheduled, without any constraint:

ES = Wednesday (July 1) 
LS = Monday (July 6)
EF = Friday (July 3)
LF = Wednesday (July 8)
Total Slack = 3 days

Now, let us see what happens when I applied the MSO constraint. The values change as shown below.
Figure - 8: Forward and Backward Pass with Constraint
- Auto Calculated in MS Project

The values for ES, LS and also EF and LF have changed. By applying a hard constraint, we changed the dates for ES, LS, EF and LF.


This resulted in the Total Slack/Float as -1 day.


Scenario - 2: Setting a Semi-Flexible Constraint (SNLT)

In this scenario, I am setting a semi-flexible constraint on Task B, i.e., Start No Later Than (SNLT) constraint. I'll set the constraint in similar fashion as done before. The constraint date is June 30 again.


Figure - 9: Total Float as Negative with SNLT Constraint
As you can see, here again the total float/slack has turned negative for Task B. Here too, we have multiple critical paths.

Scenario - 3: Setting a Deadline 


In this case I am setting a deadline for Task B. Task B is scheduled to be completed by Friday, July 3. (Check the Figure - 1). I am setting the deadline as Wednesday, July 1. Deadline can be set from the Task information dialog box as shown below.


Figure - 10 : Setting Deadline for Task B
After I set the deadline, I pressed on OK button on the above dialog box. Now see how the schedule for the project looks like.
Figure - 11: Total Float as Negative with Deadline
In this case, again the total float has turned negative. There are now multiple critical paths as float value is negative for some of the tasks. 

Finally, coming back to our initial set of questions:

1. Can negative float exist?
Yes. As we saw, negative float can exist with various scenarios. If total slack or float is positive, it informs about the time that the task can be delayed without delaying the project's finish date. If total slack/float is negative, it informs about the amount of time that must be saved so as not to delay the project's end date.

2. Where does negative float come?
I have listed scenarios where negative float comes up for the schedules - primarily with constraints (deadline, if you think at a higher level, is also a type of constraint). So, negative total float can come up when you violate a schedule constraint.

3. What impact does negative floats have?
It lessens the flexibility of the schedule. A schedule with many negative floats is not a desirable one. The schedule also becomes quite unrealistic.

4. What impact does it have on the critical path?
There will be multiple critical paths in the network diagram now. This increases the risk of the project. Do note that critical path setting here has been done that way from Backstage View -- Options. 

5. As a Project Planner or Manager how should work on these cases?
Rework the schedule to remove the negative floats. In fact, there are cases when a schedule with negative float will not be accepted by your sponsor or sponsoring organization.



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