I was wondering this time around, should I renew my PMP? For anyone who is not familiar, the PMP is a professional certification for project managers. It stands for Project Management Professional. I started working in a lab after college in the specimen management department. I later transitioned to become a study assistant, working in the office side instead of inside the lab. Eventually, I worked my way up to be a project manager, overseeing testing in a central laboratory for pharmaceutical companies. The PMP exam was the hardest test I’ve ever taken. I know people who have taken it and not passed, and I know people who have taken it multiple times before getting the great news of passing! It was a journey to get my PMP, but I passed the first time!
I am a thoughtful, planned, and meticulous person. Before I was a project manager, I was the shipping coordinator within specimen management. This entailed coordinating global shipments of biological samples according to study timelines. I was thorough in documenting the process and working with stakeholders. At the time this was the sites, the pharmaceutical companies, and the project managers on the studies. It was a demanding job, and no one after me stayed in the position longer than a few months. Unfortunately, the company we worked for had a lot of issues. They were a startup in North America for a major lab company in Europe. The systems and codes and management systems that worked for them in Europe didn’t seem to work correctly in our lab. For example, things that were automatic for them were run manually for us through complicated spreadsheets and Microsoft Access functions. With the chaos and dysfunction of the company, I was always seeking order and a process to my work.
I was so excited to get the promotion to study assistant, and I left my gloves and lab coat in the lab! I now had a cubicle on the office side, and I no longer had to suit up and scan into the lab everyday. Once I was working on projects, I realized that I needed more order and organization to the work I was doing. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. To me, the project managers seemed overwhelmed, stressed, and disjointed. This affected the work I was doing because I was working across hundreds of studies, for all of the study sponsors. One of the project managers I worked with had his PMP. I was quickly interested in knowing more about it. I read articles online and researched the framework of the PMP approach to projects. I started to apply the processes to my own work.
When I was a Project Manager Assistant, I knew that I wanted to become a project manager. I worked on projects for several years before I started managing some of the older studies myself. Most of them were closed and needed things like final billing, archival, sample destruction, and frozen sample shipments. I coordinated the interdepartmental work to close the studies, and enjoyed whenever I could cross things off of my lists. I started seriously thinking about getting my PMP after being the lead on multiple projects for a year. I had been out of college for several years and I also wanted to have something to show for the knowledge and skills I acquired while working on projects.
I started studying for the PMP by taking a PMP Prep Course class at the local college. It was an excellent digest of the entire PMBOK. With the class we also got a subscription to their database of questions, with practice quizzes and even practice tests. A surprising fact was shared with us in that class: the PMBOK was changing from the 4th version to the 5th. The test was changing in just a few months. Our instructor informed us that the class and the materials were based on the 4th version of the book. He couldn’t guarantee how much the book and test were going to change. His recommendation was that we try to take the test as soon as possible. He said a lot of people take the prep course the week before taking the exam. Although I wasn’t planning on taking the exam right away, I now had a sense of urgency to take it. The class was valuable, but expensive. Although my company teased that they would pay for my classes and help me get my PMP, I paid for it myself. They were gracious in giving me the weekdays off to take the class. But it wasn’t as enjoyable because I was still answering emails and checking in on things during breaks from class. All of this was a little stressful, and not something I wanted to repeat. How much would the exam change? There was no way to know and I wanted to use everything to my advantage to pass the test. I heard from my coworker, everyone in the class, and friends how difficult the test was. I knew I needed all my stars to align if I was going to pass it.
I studied for the exam by reading the PMBOK one time through, and taking notes. Taking notes is a great way to study. I identified key vocabulary, drew charts and graphics, and added bullets. I did my best to memorize the 41 processes in the chart. I think a lot of questions on the exam come from this, so I was glad I did. I also made a “cheat sheet,” a double sided piece of paper with all of the formulas and things I had a hard time remembering. I studied this and used it to check my answers on practice quizzes. I had access to the quizzes from taking the prep course, and they were extremely valuable. I would read a chapter, and then take a practice quiz, which was a very helpful way to study. After reading the entire book, it was time to take the practice test. I mimicked the testing conditions as best I could and took the 4 hour practice test one Saturday morning. I don’t even remember if I passed it!
I read the PMBOK one time in its entirety. As I was reading, I was constantly giving the content context. The processes are specific, and yet can be applied to various industries. I applied the concepts to my own projects and restructured my thinking to be more like the framework. I think one of the reasons the PMP exam is so challenging is that the questions about the processes are very procedural. It helps to imagine that the question is being asked about one of your own projects. If you’ve been using the framework for some time then you can imagine the appropriate response in the situation. So reading the textbook while taking notes, as well as reading the textbook while integrating your own projects and reflecting on your own experience, are strategies that helped me prepare for the exam. After I read the book one time, I reread the sections that were challenging for me. These are the sections I did poorly on in the practice tests. My instructor’s advice was to read the PMBOK twice. This is what I was attempting to do but I ran out of time.
The exam is extremely difficult. It is the hardest test I’ve ever taken. The exam questions are very situational, and the answer choices sometimes show only slight variations. More than one answer seems right, but some are more right than others. For a lot of questions, I felt like it came down to if I knew the exact sequence of executing the processes. For a scenario, all of the answer choices would be appropriate and important to do. However, in the question they want to know which one you should do exactly after a particular event. For some questions I made a selection right away, confident that I remembered it from the PMBOK. For other questions I wasn’t sure, and the right answer was in a gray area. I flagged them for review, and later went back to answer them, still unsure of the nuances between the answers.
I have many more memories and feelings from the time that I was prepping for and taking my PMP exam. I was so proud when I passed my exam! It’s something I will never forget. When the time comes to renew my PMP every 3 years, I definitely get anxious. 60 PDUs is a lot. I appreciate how they have re-structured the PDUs so that you can get hours through self education. It used to be that there were less ways to earn PDUs. You had to attend costly member events, take a paid course, or give back to the community by publishing work. This made the content less accessible. This time around I’m logging most of my PDUs as self education. I’ve signed up for Linkedin Learning. They have tons of courses and videos on the topics I need: Leadership, Strategy, and Technology. I will also listen to podcasts, and read articles and blogs to fulfill the requirements. It’s a lot of work, but when I think about letting my PMP expire, I instantly think back to my 2013 self, working so hard and immersing myself in my work. I can’t let go of this. If you’re questioning whether or not to renew, do it. You worked so hard to pass the exam and earn your PMP certification, and you should hold onto it.
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