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Review: uCertify’s PMI-RMP Prepkit

uCertify logoIf you are planning to take the PMI Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP)® credential, then you’d be advised to get yourself some study materials. After all, the Practice Standard for Project Risk Management doesn’t exactly make riveting reading, and PMI itself recommends that you review self-study materials as well.

There are plenty of study aids on the market, and uCertify offers an online ‘prepkit’ which boasts a current exam pass ratio of 97%. I took a more detailed look at the tools included.

The basics

Cost: $139.99
What you get: Pre-assessment questionnaire, interactive ebook, quizzes, flashcards, simulated exam, exam readiness test, glossary.
Audience: Aimed at people who meet the PMI-RMP pre-requisites and are studying for the exam.
Duration: You should be able to complete it in 2-3 weeks.
Length of access: No limit.
Downloadable? No.
PDUs? Not that I could see. You do get a certificate of completion once you achieve a readiness level of 90% or more.
Free sample available? Yes.

Overview

The system is easy to navigate and the ebook covers the 4 areas that will be tested in the exam:

  • Risk communication
  • Risk analysis
  • Risk response planning
  • Risk governance.

You can search for topics and annotate them, which makes it easy to add your own notes. Each chapter ends with a ‘next steps’ section which points you to the relevant quizzes, flash cards and exercises or lets you jump to the next chapter. There are also keyboard shortcuts which let you jump around the materials easily.

The first thing to do is to take the pre-course assessment which lets you judge just how much you know about risk management before you start learning properly. Embarrassingly, I scored a measly 60% and failed all the risk governance questions. At least this told me where I should be focusing my efforts if I want to pass the exam!

Screenshot

My score on the pre-assessment test

Tests and assessment

One of the best things about this training course is the comprehensive assessment feature. The test history and performance analytics module lets you review what you’ve been studying, how long you study for and create a study planner. The study planner calculates whether you can hit your proposed exam date and be ready for it given the amount of work you are putting in at the moment.

Screenshot

Test Analytics homepage

There are lots of built-in quizzes including flash cards that you can use to assess yourself. A quiz is defined as about 30 questions, and an exercise is about 140 questions. You can take either a quiz or an exercise in ‘learn’ mode first and review the questions you got wrong. Then you can take it in ‘test’ mode and see how well you do. Regardless of how many questions you are taking, the default length of time for the test is 120 minutes although you can change this manually per test if you want to beat the clock (or remove it completely if you don’t want the pressure).

Summary

This is a very cost-effective way of studying for the exam and I was impressed with the quality of the materials. It would be good to be able to download the course book and flash cards so that you could study offline – personally I don’t find it very easy to read long texts on screen but I know this works for other people.

I tried quite hard to find something I would improve about this course and I couldn’t. I didn’t have massively high expectations as I hadn’t heard of the company before but I was pleasantly surprised at the usefulness of the materials and I really do think that they would help me pass the exam. That, of course, is the thing I haven’t yet done (and I don’t have any plans to sit it either) so I can’t make a final judgement as to whether this prepkit would be enough alone to pass. I have a feeling it would be, combined with the Practice Standard, but I’d be interested to hear your thoughts. If you are a PMI-RMP, what did you use to prepare for the exam and was it worth it?

Thanks to uCertify who provided me with free access to the PMI-RMP Prepkit for the purposes of this review. Read more about the course and try it for free here.

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Qualifications

What credentials should individuals or employers choose?

Project-related work and the number of project-related jobs are growing too quickly for our approaches to professionalism to keep up.

You don’t have to look to hard to see that the world of work is becoming more focused on projects. I don’t think it’s just project professionals who would say that – business leaders are also aware of the fact that projects are a core part of any company, and project management standards and approaches are being applied to more things. Ben Snyder even called his book Everything’s a Project.

In parallel to that, the role of the Project, Programme and Portfolio Office is growing. There are different types of roles available now to people who want to work in projects. You could be a PMO specialist, a risk professional or a project support officer. The management frameworks and organisation structures that support project-based work are in use in many companies.

But what does ‘project management’ mean?

While the growth is good, what I am also seeing is that project management has different interpretations for different people. Project management jobs are offered with salaries of £20k to upwards of £80k. That can’t possibly be the same job with the same responsibilities.

Project management ‘professionals’ (i.e. you and me) have taken the approach that industry bodies are the right groups to explain what project management is. In the US, this is relatively clear, as PMI sets the standards for what project management means. I don’t say this because I’m a particular fan of the Project Management Body of Knowledge or the PMP credential, but because in the US there isn’t as much competition between industry bodies.

In the UK it is a different story. We have the Office of Government Commerce, which produces the PRINCE2 and MSP frameworks. These are the de facto requirements for project and programme managers over here.  We also have the Association for Project Management which is affiliated to the IPMA. They have their own body of knowledge and credential scheme. Then we have a small but relatively active PMI Chapter, so there are people with PMP and other PMI credentials.

For employers, it’s a mess. Do you want a PRINCE2 Practitioner or a PMP, or someone who has both? What does APMP mean and it is better or equivalent to a Master’s degree in Project Management? If I want to recruit a PMO Manager, what should I be looking for? There is no national standard to help employers make the right decisions for their companies.

For individuals, it’s worse. Most employers advertise for people who are PRINCE2 certified, but that course won’t teach you to do proper scheduling and it certainly doesn’t reflect your experience in the field. So should you get PMP as well? What about the new Registered Project Professional designation from APM? This is in its infancy but the idea is that people who have RPP then adopt Chartered status and become Chartered Project Professionals when the APM is awarded its Royal Charter. That will apparently move those people into the same stratosphere as Chartered Accountants or Chartered Surveyors. So let’s say you want to go for that. Who will pay for it? Many employers will only pay membership fees to one professional body for you (or none at all). Do individuals have to pay for PMI membership and APM membership and ask their employers to send them on PRINCE2 courses every 5 years for recertification?

There’s no clear path to solving these problems

I don’t have the answers. This is a challenge for industry bodies, employers and individuals. Professional bodies won’t suddenly stop producing certificate-based courses. It is how they make money and how they convince employers that they are relevant to today’s working environment, and for the most part the courses and credentials are very good.

I don’t have an issue with the standard of project management education – I just worry that there is too much off it, which makes it hard for employers and individuals to know what is the best option for them.

I can’t see that any of the professional bodies in the UK would give up marketing their services because someone else is doing a similar thing. What I would like to see is more alignment and collaboration between them, so that it is easier to compare bodies of knowledge, standards, frameworks, certificates and credentials and whatever else is out there. This has started – there is movement towards bridge courses between credentials, and training courses are being marketed specifically at people who have a different qualification.

We need project management as a profession to hang together, not become more fragmented. The project-based workplace is here to stay, and the discipline of project management needs to catch up pretty fast so that companies see the value and know where to turn for professional advice. What should we be doing to help that happen?

This article is based on an interview I gave for The Project Management Podcast last year.

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Is project management training really effective?

There’s a whole industry around project management training. Job adverts declare that you have to be PMP certified or a PRINCE2 Practitioner. But does training actually make a difference to how you do your job?

Training can make you about 26% more effective, according to research by PM Solutions.

Only 28% of organisations bother to measure whether business results improve as a result of training, but these organisations see improvements across 8 measures:

  • Stakeholder satisfaction: 29% improvement
  • Schedule performance: 27% improvement
  • Project failures: 26% reduction
  • Quality: 25% improvement
  • Budget performance: 25% improvement
  • Requirements performance: 25% improvement
  • Productivity: 24% improvement
  • Time to market: 24% improvement (I don’t know how this is different from schedule performance).

Conclusive, right? Wrong

Of course, we can’t tell from the research whether the companies that don’t measure business results still see an improvement. Perhaps they do, but they don’t record it and can’t attribute it directly to training. Their project managers may still be performing better as a result of attending training.

The PM Solutions research doesn’t dig in to how businesses actually measure the improvement in business results. How do you attribute the fact that someone has attended a PRINCE2 course to the fact that they are now producing a result that is 25% more ‘quality’ than last week? This assumes that companies have robust measures in place already to track performance of these business metrics.

And in my experience, they don’t.

Let’s just guess if our training was effective

New research by ESI also casts doubt on the ability of companies to accurately record how useful training really is. Their study (which asked about 10 times as many people as the PM Solutions study) shows that 60% of respondents say that the main method they use for working out if training was effective is anecdotal feedback or guessing.

Guessing? Well, that really justifies my investment in training.

How can we make project management training more effective?

PM Solutions reports that instructor-led classroom training is the most effective method of training.

This was rated effective or very effective by about 70% of respondents. Instructor-led virtual learning, self-directed e-learning and technology-delivered training were all only rated as moderately effective.

“All the best preparation and training experience in the world can flounder if there is no follow-through at the workplace.” ESI research

The ESI study says that the top three strategies for ensuring what students learned on the course is transferred to the workplace are:

  • Providing students with the time, resources and responsibility to apply their new learning
  • Showing that their manager supports their studies
  • Taking a course where the instruction approach simulates the actual work environment.

It also concludes that post-learning tools are important to help transfer the knowledge the workplace after the course. These include post-course discussions with their manager, on-the-job aids, informal support such as social networks or online forums, communities of practice and coaching.

So, to make project management training as effective as possible, it should be:

  • Instructor-led classroom training with training material tailored to your project management processes and methods
  • Supported by your line manager
  • Followed up with on-the-job opportunities to practice what you have learned and discuss it with others.

My company doesn’t do that! What should I do?

First, be grateful that you have the opportunity to do training at all. Many firms are cutting back.

Second, if your company won’t provide that kind of support to help transfer your learning to the workplace, why not do it yourself? You will be the one who benefits ultimately. Making sure you assimilate what you have learned will make you a better project manager, and the better you are, the more career opportunities will be open to you.

So:

  • Prepare properly for your course. Take along examples of your project management templates and processes and ask the instructor how the concepts relate to your work environment.
  • Schedule follow-up discussions with your manager when you are back.
  • Take advantage of the networking opportunity the course presents: could you stay in touch with any of the other students for peer-to-peer coaching sessions?
  • Ask the instructor what support materials are available, or what online groups they would recommend. Then join them.

Project management training is an essential part of being a better project manager, but it is hard to quantify how effective it really is to a company, as these two studies show. Rather than rely on your company to help you assimilate the knowledge, take responsibility yourself for making it as effective as possible for you. The company will see the benefits if you deliver them.

What’s your experience of coming back to your job after a course? Have you been asked to demonstrate improvements?

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This entry is part 8 of 9 in the series Villanova Friday

Villanova Friday logoIt’s the last week of the Maximising IT/IS Team Effectiveness course that I am taking with Villanova University. The focus this week has been on managing others and establishing an environment that moves others through change. One of the lectures was on creating resiliency in your project team.

Why do we need resiliency?

IT projects are difficult. There is constant change on projects and it isn’t always the type of change you can see coming. IT project teams are under pressure to do more work of a higher quality with fewer people. There are time and budget constraints as well.

Resilient people can bounce back after setbacks or the announcement of change. Resilient teams react more quickly to surprise changes. They can help create a positive outcome and ensure things turn out OK in the end. Project team members who can do this are real assets.

“They need to be able to thrive in constant change, not just survive,” said Lou Russell, our online lecturer. “They need to be able to gain strength through being able to stand up to those changes.”

The 3 building blocks of resiliency

Lou explained that resilience is created through three things: emotional intelligence, problem solving and a ‘people radar’. These are all things that you can cultivate in yourself. You can also encourage them in your team members so that overall your team becomes more resilient.

Screenshot of online lecture

Screenshot of online lecture

Emotional intelligence

“It’s knowing what emotion you are experiencing right now, knowing why, and reacting appropriately in that situation,” said Lou.

She explained Daniel Goleman’s theory of emotional intelligence, which covers 5 elements:

  1. Self-awareness: help your team recognise their emotions and know their own strengths and weaknesses.
  2. Self-regulation: help your team practice self-control, especially when they get stressed, frustrated and angry; encourage them to be trustworthy and conscientious.
  3. Empathy: help your team to understand others’ perspectives; encourage diversity to create agile teams.
  4. Motivation: help your team understand what motivates them; explain what motivates the company overall (in terms of corporate objectives).
  5. Social skills: help your team influence others; manage conflict effectively; encourage collaboration.

Problem solving

Being able to solve problems quickly and effectively helps teams become adaptable and resilient.

“Take the time to do the analysis,” said Lou. “A lot of times, what makes your team less resilient is that they are not thinking.” Document what you have learned from the project and make sure this is actually learned, so it will help the team not make the same mistakes again.

“Accept that you are not perfect and share your mistakes with the team,” she said, “and that way everybody can learn together.”

People radar

‘People radar’ is the ability to read other people. You’ve probably been promoted to project manager because you have a better understanding of people than others. If you have the ability to understand others’ points of view and their motivational factors, you can coach your team in this skill, for example, by explaining organisational politics.

“Help them understand the importance of being able to understand where others are,” said Lou. She suggested that you get used to reading the emotions in the room during meetings. Encourage the team to discuss the emotions and agendas displayed during meetings after your guests have left and the environment is safe to talk about how the meeting went.

This dimension is also about being able to see change coming before it happens. Lou suggested testing your team with scenario planning and asking them what surprises they can see coming.

“If you are going to be a great IT/IS project manager the most important thing for you to do is to learn constantly,” Lou concluded. “Managing people is a journey, not a destination. There is always something new to learn. Continue to read and investigate what is important to your team.”

The Villanova course has been an interesting journey. Next week I’ll sum up my learning experience.

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Villanova Friday, Week 7: Damage Control

This entry is part 7 of 9 in the series Villanova Friday

Villanova Friday logoThis week on the Maximizing IT/IS Team Effectiveness course I am taking with Villanova University we looked at managing expectations. There was a whole lecture on damage control, which could have been subtitled When Project Managers Lie About Progress.

I once worked with a contract project manager who routinely reported that all his tasks were 80% complete at the weekly status meeting. I’m sure you know people who do the same, and projects that have overrun because project issues have only been uncovered at a late date. So why do people fail to communicate lack of progress effectively?

“They conceal known problems because that reduces the need for iteration in the short term,” said Lou Russell, the lecturer. People put off dealing with the issues as it means they don’t have to do extra work right now. Here are some other reasons for failing to tell to the truth about project status:

  • Concealing problems makes your job feel more secure as it reduces the likelihood that senior management will intervene
  • It seems like the project is higher quality than it really is
  • You delay coordinating a recovery effort and rework because you feel that there will be more resources available to deal with the problem in the future; it reduces peak resource requirements
  • Hiding rework requirements increases the chance that schedule delays can be absorbed into other phases
  • You cross your fingers and hope another area of the project will overrun, thus masking your problem or providing more time to resolve it
  • It appears to improve schedule performance which means critical deadlines can be met

“There are lots of really good reasons to lie but the outcome of lying is a disaster for projects,” she said.

Projects where the delays are concealed take twice as long as projects where the project manager is honest about delays

Lou shared research with us that showed that project managers who conceal the situation on a late project typically overrun by the entire duration of the planned work – in other words, the project takes twice as long.

Project managers who are completely transparent tend to suffer from project delays early in the schedule. However, this forces them to have the difficult conversations earlier, build strong relationships, and they tend to find ways to make up the time.

Dealing with disaster

Here are some of the options available to help you get a failing project back on track.

  • When in trouble, communicate
  • Tell the truth, and keep telling it until people hear it
  • Tell bad news early
  • Ask for help from people who can help, or anyone who can help.
  • Take responsibility
  • Push big scope decisions back to the customer; take them a proposal but it’s their decision
  • Isolate the existing people from distractions instead of adding more people
  • Escalate if necessary

Next week is the last week in the course, which means the final assessment is due. Wish me luck!

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Villanova Friday, Week 2: Personal Productivity

This entry is part 2 of 9 in the series Villanova Friday

Villanova Friday logoLast week, I started the Maximizing IS/IT Team Effectiveness course with Villanova University.  The online course has a weekly live session, but it’s held in the middle of my night, so I’m not able to attend.

The sessions are recorded, so this week I listened to the transcript of the first chat.  It was a pity I hadn’t been able to stay up that late and take part as it sounded interesting.  The combination of phone, text chat and slides seemed to work OK, once people had worked out how to get their microphones to work.  The group discussed who was a great leader and why.  Humility and selflessness came out as good leadership qualities, and President Obama was suggested as a great leader.

Joan Knutson, the course facilitator, said that it’s unusual for people to put forward people who are living as examples of good leaders.  I suppose that it is easier to look back historically over an entire career or life and see what a person has contributed, and the responses to that.  However, as project leaders, we don’t have the luxury of being able to wait until we’re dead for people to think we’re any good!  Hopefully the course will give us the opportunity to develop leadership skills now.

Joan Knutson presenting a lecture

Joan Knutson presenting a lecture

Logging in to the class website, I noticed it automatically defaulted to showing me all the course info for Week 2.  Confession: I hadn’t listened to the last two lectures from last week (although I’m ahead on the reading, thanks to a long train journey).  So I had to go back and finish those before starting this week’s lessons.

Luckily, a lot of those were about personal effectiveness, like managing time bottlenecks through prioritisation of tasks and being disciplined when responding to emails.  Like many project managers, I think I’m pretty good at time management, so I did some other work while Joan was talking at me.

It’s the end of Week 2, which means there is a test.  Last time I took the test, I failed.  This time, I used the reference books, took my time and scored 90%!  Very happy with that.

Reading time: a couple of hours
Lecture time: 1.5 hours (and there are still 4 lectures I haven’t played)
Class chat time: 20 minutes listening to the half the recording, which was 40 minutes long
Doing exercises: Erm, no time!

Disclosure: Villanova have provided me access to the course at no charge in exchange for me writing about it.

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