Mind Hacks to Make Studying Easier

Mind HacksWhat if you got a little buzz of guilty pleasure every time you thought about studying for your exam? What a difference that could make compared to a soul-numbing dread of having to do something you do not enjoy.

Our minds have systems to protect us and maximise our wellbeing. They do not always work, but overall, these mechanisms reinforce memories of good events and minimize negative ones. We can use these systems to make studying more enjoyable and effective.

By going out of our way to make studying pleasurable we begin to dread it less, then feel neutral about it, and eventually enjoy it. Things you enjoy are not chores, they are more like hobbies. But how the heck do you enjoy learning about earned value or resolving team conflict? To many people, these topics represent all the junk we deal with at work and what we try to escape in our personal time.

The key is to separate our emotions about the subject matter from the learning experience. Focus on making the studying enjoyable. Everyone likes different things, so chose what works for you. You could buy that indulgent chocolate that’s too expensive to justify and have a square when you start and every 15 minutes of study. You could get a fancy notebook for your preparation and a posh new pen. If you like working in social settings then find a great coffee shop and buy that mocha latte you know is overpriced, but oh-so-good.

Step it up a notch and form a study group that goes to a good restaurant after every meeting. Make the studying event good for you, don’t be afraid to indulge a little. The goal is to retrain your mind from “another 2 chapters, aarrg” to “great, seeing Alex again and trying that new Thai place”.

Obviously, some words of caution are necessary. If an excess of red wine or illicit activities are your indulgences then the subsequent hangover, memory loss, and guilt will have a net-negative impact. The treats must be defendable and morally acceptable. Things you are happy to discuss with family and co-workers. Beyond that, create a good environment for study, do what it takes to make it fun, use the very best materials and reward your hard work. This is a worthwhile investment in yourself and you should recognize it.

When we make a shift to positively associated emotions we remember and recall information much easier. Many people can recall vast amounts of information about their favourite sports teams, TV shows, or quirky hobby. They are not especially talented, instead, people remember and recall things they enjoy much easier than things learned under obligation - like perhaps details from the highway code for a driver’s test.

Being creative and doing what it takes to make studying enjoyable will not turn work topics into hobbies with effortless fact recall. It will, however, associate more positive thoughts to the overall experience and subject matter. This will help with making time for study, starting study sessions, and motivation to continue studying. These are important since most people give up on the process, not the material.

Another human nature trait we can use to our advantage is our brain’s association with locations and food. While we have evolved into complex creatures we still possess a primitive, reptilian brain stem. It is hardwired to remember where things can be found, sources of good food, and acts of sharing food. This deep but powerful association with food is why team building education often recommends bringing food. We are programmed to remember where we had it and build bonds with those we share food with.

Fine, but you may ask, how can I use these facts to help remember net present value calculations? We do so by making associations with locations and food memories. Memorization techniques based on location date back thousands of years and were written about by the Roman politician Cicero in 55BC.

Method of Loci (Loci is Latin for places) uses spatial memory to help us remember and recall information.

Using this approach, we take somewhere we are familiar with, maybe our house or local street and then associate items with distinct locations. So, imagine walking through your home in a logical sequence from your front door and then assign an item or concept to each location. Then, to recall the items or steps in a process in the correct order, we walk through our house again in our mind collecting items from each location.

There are many versions of Loci method. A popular one is called the Memory Journey and another is Roman Room - experiment and find one you are comfortable with. They all rely on our basic ability to recall locations and are often used by participants in memory competitions who compete at memorizing long lists of information. Personally, I like to imagine navigating a gourmet food store, associating things with the cheese, wine and chocolate collections which taps into our food and location aspects of our reptilian mind. However, unwanted weight gain might be a downside to this approach!

A 2017 study that used fMRI brain scans, found the spatial processing areas of memory champions were much more active than those in a control group of volunteers. The study went on to find that volunteers trained in the method of loci for six weeks saw similar brain function develop. The training-induced changes in brain connectivity matched the brain network organization that previously distinguished memory champions from controls. So, the good news is that in as little as 6 weeks of practice we can tap into these location-based recall techniques. Just don’t forget to start!

So, to help your studies make the process appealing. Make it social if you are a social person, make it silent and personal if you are a quiet person. Acknowledge and indulge your preferences to reward your study efforts. Next, don’t try to memorize things by just reading or highlighting, these have actually been found to be the least effective ways of studying. Instead, try location-based memory techniques that are proven to be effective and used by 90% of memory competitors.

 

[I first wrote this article for ProjectManagement.com here]


PMI-ACP Exam Prep Course with Mike Griffiths, Calgary, Alberta

Pmi-acp_exam_prep_cover_2nd_ed_updatedI am gathering names for my next Calgary based PMI-ACP Exam Prep course. Please let me know via email to Mike <at> LeadingAnswers.com if you are interested in reserving a spot on the next 3-day Calgary based PMI-ACP Exam preparation course held late May / early June 2018. We can do Wed, Thu, Fri or Thu, Fri, Sat – let me know your preference.

 

Evolution of the PMI-ACP Credential

Popularity has grown in the PMI-ACP from niche to mainstream with over 20,000 people now holding the credential. This makes it the most popular experience based agile certification and the credential of choice for hiring managers looking for the rigor of a ISO 17024 backed PMI credential. 

On March 26, 2018 the PMI updated the exam to align it with the lexicon of terms used in the new Agile Practice Guide. The course features updated materials and the new Updated Second Edition of my PMI-ACP Exam Prep book as an accompanying textbook.

 

My Involvement in the PMI-ACP Credential

I was a founding member of the steering committee that designed and developed the exam content outline for the exam. We based the exam on what agile practitioners with a year or two’s experience should know to be effective. We wanted a methodology agnostic credential that captured the agile practices used on most projects most of the time. The exam covers Lean, Kanban and agile approaches such as Scrum and XP along with servant leadership and collaboration. 

I worked with RMC to write their best-selling PMI-ACP Exam Preparation book. I recently updated this book to align it with the March 26, 2018 lexicon harmonization and change the chapter review questions to situational questions. The book is available from RMC here and is also included in the course.

 

Details about the Course

The course will be capped to 20 people for better Q&A and will likely take place at historic Fort Calgary which is close to downtown on 9th Avenue, has great catering and free parking. It includes the new Updated Second Edition of my book, colour printed workbook, sample exam questions, and additional materials. 

The course has a 100% pass rate and uses Turning Technologies audience response (clicker) technology to privately track your strength and weakness areas as we go. Following the course, each participant receives a personalized follow-up study plan based on their sample question performances. For more details see the Course Outline.

To express an interest and get pricing information please contact Mike <at> @LeadingAnswers.com.


Project “You” and Project “Two“


We work hard in our organizations on projects to build new products and services, or affect some kind of change. We are also constantly on the lookout for ways to make the work go faster, by removing impediments and improving efficiencies. Techniques like Value Stream Mapping analyze the value-adding activities and the non-value adding activities to identify queues and waste in our processes that can then be eliminated. Looking at our contributions and opportunities for efficiencies is like considering our work as a machine and trying to lubricate it so it will go faster and run more smoothly.

Cog 1

However, this view misses who is driving your work - you. In effect we watch the work, but not the worker. It is you that drives the contributions you make on the project.

Cog 2

Attempts to improve and optimize the project may not be as productive as improving our own performance. So, instead of oiling the process, increasing our capability is a great way to improve output.

Cog 3

Now with a bigger and better you, your project performance will improve.

“Project You”

This is “Project You”, the improvement and investment in yourself. “Project You” should come first, but often it is relegated to second or third choice, or forgotten completely, as work and home pressures take over. However, I invite you to consider “Project You” as your first priority and your regular project work as “Project Two”.

This may seem selfish, but it is not when you consider what is powering your project contributions – your capabilities. Investing in yourself will help your employer and project, it will increase your competencies and capacity to do more work.

More than Just Skills

Skills are just one aspect of you. Your Health, Happiness, and Relationships with others are also critical parts of your makeup that will hurt performance if they are not attended to and in good condition.

Cog 4


All too often people focus on work performance or skills to the detriment of another aspect such as health or supportive relationships. When this occurs your work and project performance will eventually suffer also.

 

Cog 5

Like having a faulty or unevenly developed cog wheel, mismatches in these quadrants will in due course limit your effectiveness at work. People cannot go on if they are unhappy, unsupported, or sick. Just like learning new skills, we need to invest in our well being and the well being of those close to us to remain productive.

A New Year, a Better You

As we start the New Year, now is a great time to assess our overall work engine. To perform a review of “Project You”, recognize and celebrate what we have working in our favour and make a commitment to improve the elements that are our weakest.

Focussing on “Project You” now will bring dividends to your “Project Two” and “Project Three” in 2018. Look beyond the usual sphere of just work and ask: “Am I happy?”, “Am I healthy”, ”Am I in and creating strong relationships?” Then, just as we would for planning the acquisition of new skills or certifications, create a plan of action for addressing the areas that need the most work.

It Nests Infinitely

Of course, the idea of “Project You” applies to all the team members on our project also. It is common to view teams as the interaction and sum contributions of the team member efforts. Then, as good servant leaders we attempt to remove roadblocks and communicate a clear vision of where we are trying to get to.

Cog 6

However, a better view of projects is to see the people components driving these contributions. When we consider our team members as more than just their skills and effort, but also take an interest in their health, happiness and relationships we discover more places we can help.

Cog 7

I remember working on a software project where a developer came up to me and explained he had just received a call from his wife who was sick, and he wanted to go home to see her. I could have just said: “Sure, no problem, go home and see her”. However, because I knew he walked to his nearest train station and took the light rail network to get into the office, I asked if I could drive him home, since I drove to the office and had my car there. He was very appreciative, he saved 30 minutes on his journey home and I was back in the office in under an hour.

It was no big deal to me; my team was very self-sufficient and diligent, and I was glad to help. However, that simple gesture to help with his relationship and the health and happiness of his wife was not forgotten, it helped strengthen our work relationship and was repaid many times over.

Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask Before Helping Others

It would be hypocritical of us to try and assist with the health, happiness or relationship success of our colleagues if our own lives were steaming piles of self-loathing and depravity. We don’t need to be saints, but we should try to get our own lives in order before helping others.

We will also be viewed as a more credible source of council if we have a healthy, balanced home and work life. So, start where you have the most influence, in your own life. See how we can address any imbalances and then look more holistically at your team members. Maybe share the “Project You” and “Project Two” concept with them and see if there is any way you can support them as they grow also.

Summary

Projects, by definition, are temporary endeavors, people, however, should take a longer-term view of their success. Our achievement on our current project and the projects to come will in large part be driven by our full-spectrum wellbeing.  The same goes for the colleagues we work with. So why not use this year as the opportunity to examine “Project You” and invest in your future?

[I first wrote this article for ProjectManagement.com, available here]


PMI-ACP Training Partner Program

RMC TPP ImageWhen I travel I often meet people who say they used my books or other training materials to help them pass their PMI-ACP exam. Plus, I’m also asked by others how to get permission to use my book as the basis for their own PMI-ACP training courses.

So, I am excited to announce the new PMI-ACP Training Partner Program from RMC Learning Solutions. For an introductory low price of $500 per year you receive:

  1. Use of a slide deck (290 slides) from our PMI-ACP® Exam Prep, Second Edition book

Note: These slides are an outline of our book. Our Training Partners use them as supplemental, reference slides as they develop their own course.  You can use some, or all, of these slides in your course.

  1. One Instructor License for the PM FASTrack® PMI-ACP® Exam Simulation Software – v2 (Downloadable exam simulator. This is a $199 value)

Note:  This exclusive Instructor License allows you to use pre-configured exams to focus on/test a specific knowledge area.  The Instructor License is not available outside of RMC and our Training Partners.

  1. Discounts of 35-55% off the List Price of selected RMC LS products you order at one time

Note: This enables you to include our training materials in the price of your course. It also includes discounts on my brand-new PMI-ACP Exam Workbook.

Maybe you already use one of my books for teaching PMI-ACP courses, or maybe you are looking for slides on which to base a course? Either way, getting professional materials aligned to the PMI-ACP exam content outline is much easier than building them all yourself. Also, you can rest assured that the permissions are all in order and everything will be updated as the exam changes.

If you would like to learn more about this program and take advantage of savings of 35-55%, please contact Marcie McCarthy at mmccarthy@rmcls.com


Got Your CSM, Now What?

Credential QuestionPerhaps, like 500,000+ other people, you have some form of Certified Scrum Master (CSM) credential and are looking to distinguish yourself and continue your learning journey. Of course, learning is not tied to credentials, many people are anti-certification and that is an understandable choice. I encourage lifelong learning separate from credentials. However, for credential seekers, this article explores some common credential pathways beyond the CSM.

I want to disclose upfront that I have been involved with the development of ICAgile, PMI-ACP, and DSDM Leadership credentials so I likely have some bias and preferences. However, my goal here is not to recommend specific credentials but instead to explain options and environmental factors to consider, helping people make their own choice based on their own situation.

Also, because there are so many credentials available I will undoubtedly miss out many credentials in this discussion, maybe including your favorite or your company’s. This is not meant to be an exhaustive catalogue of agile credentials rather a thinking or discussion tool for getting the research process started. 

How Did You Get Here?

When people ask me what credentials to get next, I ask how they got where they are now. Did they move from software development into a Scrum Master role? Were they previously a PMP certified project manager who took a CSM class to learn a little about Scrum? The answers to questions like these and the next one: “Where Do You Want to Go?” help ground and orient the decision-making process. If we don’t know where we are to begin with, then a map is unlikely to be helpful.

Where Do You Want to Go?

Credentials may be obtained to help secure a new job or promotion. People also seek them to demonstrate understanding of certain topics, and just for personal achievement. All of these motives are valid and help drive the choice of where to go next. If you are pursuing job opportunities then you should research what hiring managers are looking for. Are they asking for PMP, CSP or PMI-ACP credentials? If so then we are narrowing our choices down.

Alternatively, if you are pursuing a credential more for personal learning, then the curriculum is likely more important than recognition by hiring managers. Maybe there is an online program that very few people have ever heard of but it’s a great fit for your learning objectives. If so, be more influenced by content and quality rather than recognition and opportunity.

This sounds basic, but I’m surprised by how many people pursue credentials just because their colleagues did and they don’t want to be left behind, or it was the next course suggested in their company’s training roadmap. Credentials should be for you. Asking questions like: Do you want to strengthen your current role? Do you want to change roles? Do you want to stay at your current organization? All these issues factor into the next steps to take.

Directions from Here

There are a few obvious directions from CSM that include Down Deeper, Upwards and Outwards. By Down Deeper I mean going deeper into Scrum with an Advanced Certified Scrum Master (A-CSM), Certified Scrum Practitioner (CSP), or Professional Scrum Master (PSM) credential. These are good options if you want to demonstrate a further commitment and understanding focussed just on Scrum.

Upwards refers to scaling Scrum for large projects, programs, and enterprise transformations. There are several popular Scaling frameworks available including SAFe, Nexus and LeSS. All offer training paths and credentials if that is the direction you want to pursue.

The Outwards direction means broader than just Scrum. Due to the popularity of Scrum people sometimes forget there is a rich wealth of complementary approaches outside of it. Lean, Kanban, Leadership, and Emotional Intelligence are all topics that agile teams can benefit from. Certifications like the PMI-ACP and the ICAgile suite of credentials provide coverage and demonstrate knowledge of these topics. Also, I class Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) here rather than a scaling framework since it is more pragmatic and deals with more than just agile and scaling.

How to Decide: Personal and Environmental Factors?

So, knowing how we got here and a little more about where to go next and why, we can start to create some pathways.  Shown below is a sample flowchart for someone interested in pursuing agile approaches further and wondering what to consider next.

Flow Chart

However, maybe you are not interested in agile and want to pursue risk management further. That is fine, use these personal and environmental factors to create your own framework. Maybe a PMI-RMP (Risk Management Professional) credential fits the bill? My point is that with a wide variety of experiences, goals, motivations and credentials to choose from there will be a huge array of possible decision trees like this.

The purpose of this article is not to recommend a single path for the half a million CSM’s in the workforce, rather explain a framework for evaluating your options. Don’t be pressured by peers or corporate training roadmaps, instead honestly evaluate why you may want to obtain a new credential and then which would best fit your development goals.

[I first wrote this article for ProjectManagement.com here]


Conference Updates

Conference logosIn the last couple of weeks, I have had the pleasure to attend and present at the PMI Global Conference in Chicago and the PMO Symposium in Houston. This week I am off to present at a PMI Chapter conference in Saskatchewan and then the Dubai International Project Management Forum (DIPMF) in Dubai.

Once I return I will post some accounts and observations from these conferences. As agile approaches mature and spread beyond software the project management landscape continues to evolve. I always learn lots attending these events. Sometimes it is about perceptions and acceptance, sometimes new skills and techniques.  Please check www.LeadingAnswers.com for updates.


PMBOK Guide 6th Edition and Agile Practice Guide - Impacts on Credentials

PMBOK and APGOn September 6, 2017, the PMI published the new PMBOK® Guide 6th Edition and the accompanying Agile Practice Guide. As co-author of the PMBOK® Guide agile content and chair of the Agile Practice Guide, it was great to see these projects finally come to fruition. They represent hundreds of hours of unpaid volunteer work by everyone who worked on them.

However, anyone considering taking their PMP or PMI-ACP is probably wondering if / how these new releases impact their study plans? The good news is, minimally. Since while the PMBOK® Guide sees some significant changes such as a new appendix on the use of “Agile, adaptive, iterative and hybrid approaches” the Exam Content Outlines for the PMP and PMI-ACP are not changing anytime soon.

What many people do not know is that it is the Exam Content Outline, not the PMBOK® Guide, or other publications, that dictate what is tested for in the exams. The Exam Content Outline for the PMP credential is created and published by the PMI. It is available for download here. The Exam Content Outline for the PMI-ACP credential is available here.

Each question in the PMP or PMI-ACP exam is based on at least two source publications. For the PMP exam, the PMBOK® Guide is frequently one source publication. For the PMI-ACP there are a dozen reference books, listed in the PMI-ACP Reference List.

So, the PMP and PMI-ACP exam questions are influenced by the Exam Contents Outlines more than the reference publications. Questions do have to be based on the reference publications, but only on the scope that is defined by the Exam Content Outline.

The image below depicts the process

PMI Exam Question Process

Of all the project practices that are in use, (1) the Exam Content Outline acts like a filter (2) that limits what scope goes into the item writing (question writing) process. Only topics defined in the Exam Content Outline will be tested on the exam. Item writers (question writers) create multiple-choice questions (4) based on two or more reference publications (3). It is entirely possible to write a question that maps to the exam content outline and is backed by two other books and not PMBOK® Guide. In this way, it’s meant to test experience and application of knowledge rather than test the content of any one book. The references are utilized to ensure questions aren’t based on peoples’ opinions or biases—rather they are based on best practices.

In the image above the shaded portion of the reference sources represent just the scope of those books that apply to topics in the Exam Content Outline. When the PMI recently published the PMBOK® Guide 6th Edition and the Agile Practice Guide they added to the Reference Publications.

These new publications contain additional content, but until the Exam Content outline is changed through a process called a Role Delineation Study none of the new content will be tested.

PMBOK Guide Scope

So, yes, the new publications contain additional information, and yes, the exam questions are based on these publications. However, since the Exam Content Outline has not changed, none of this new material will be on the exam.

What Is Changing for PMP and PMI-ACP?

A lexicon harmonization process is occurring. This means questions will be checked and updated to use words consistent with the latest standards and guides. Both the PMBOK® and the Agile Practice Guide has a Definitions section that defines the terms they use located just before the Index. It is recommended candidates read the updated definitions to make sure they are familiar with the terms and descriptions of them.

The PMP does not currently use the APG as a reference source so it’s unlikely that PMP aspirants need to learn any new terms from the APG at this time. (However, the Agile Practice Guide does contain lots of practical guidance for project practitioners using agile and hybrid approaches.)

Likewise, the PMI-ACP Exam does not use PMBOK® Guide as a reference source so people are insulated from any terminology changes there. (However, the PMBOK® Guide 6th Edition contains guidance for tailoring approaches for agile lifecycles, so you might want to check it out.)

CAPM

The only Exam that will be impacted shortly is the CAPM exam. The CAPM is based solely on the PMBOK® Guide and a Role Delineation Study for a new CAPM exam is underway. The PMI will be announcing when the CAPM Exam is changing too soon. Exams taken after the change will be based on the PMBOK® Guide 6th Edition.

Summary

If you are studying for a PMP or PMI-ACP credential, the recent publication of the PMBOK® Guide 6th Edition and the Agile Practice Guide should have only a small impact on your study plans. You should familiarize yourself with the terms used in these guides, PMBOK® for PMP, Agile Practice Guide for PMI-ACP. However, since the Exam Content Outlines are not changing in the short term, there is no requirement to learn any of the new material at this time.

Candidates studying for the CAPM whishing to take their exam in Q1 2018 or later, should switch their study source to the new PMBOK® Guide 6th Edition. The CAPM is based solely on the PMBOK® Guide and this certification is having its Exam Content Outline updated. For the latest announcements for CAPM aspirants check the PMI website here.

[I originally wrote this article for ProjectManagement.com and it is available for members here]

 


PMBOK Guide – 6th Edition gets an Agile Appendix + All new Agile Practice Guide

PMBOK v6 CoverNext week the PMI launches the 6th edition of its Guide to the PMBOK. Changes for this edition include an Agile Appendix and Agile Introductions to each of the Knowledge Areas. I hope people find them useful. I co-wrote them with Jesse Fewell around this time last year and we have been waiting for the guide to make its way through the PMI standards publication process that includes translation into 11 languages.

I believe some agile approaches can be used on every project. These include more frequent: communications, validation of solution increments, and review and adaptation of process. However, not everyone shares my view and so the agile coverage in the PMBOK Guide – 6th Edition is focussed in the Appendix and Knowledge Area Introductions, leaving the bulk of the guide unchanged with its coverage of single-pass, iterative and incremental approaches to projects. Yes, the PMBOK Guide already talks about iterative and incremental approaches, if any critics would read it.

Anyway, for people looking for additional agile coverage, the PMI in partnership with the Agile Alliance is also publishing an Agile Practice Guide that is referenced by the new PMBOK Guide. This dedicated book for project practitioners who are implementing agile (quite often in traditional, plan-driven environments) aims to provide additional practical guidance. I was honored when the PMI and Agile Alliance asked me to Chair the author group for writing the new Agile Practice Guide. It’s not often you get an opportunity to lead a group of industry experts in creating a new guide that will be used by thousands of practitioners.

APG Cover

We had a great set of authors including: Jesse Fewel, Becky Hartman, Betsy Kaufman, Stephen Matola, Johanna Rothman, and Horia Slusanschi we also had a very helpful research and guidance team including: Karl Best, Alicia Burke, Edivandro Conforto, Dave Garrett, Roberta Storer, and Stephen Townsend.

From August to December last year we wrote the new Agile Practice Guide as a team. Meeting face-to-face a few times and pairing to write and review each chapter. Collaborative writing like this is slow and sometimes painful as we all have our own styles, pet peeves, and limited availability for volunteering time on unpaid efforts. When you multiply these foibles by the 7 authors and overlay everyone’s time availability to discover little or no common time slots, the challenges of writing anything become clear.

Another challenge was pleasing our sponsoring groups. The Agile Alliance understandably wanted to ensure we did not attempt to document some incremental-waterfall abomination that missed the agile mindset and values. Likewise, the PMI was keen to ensure we did not denigrate plan-driven approaches, contradict elements of their other standards, or define terms differently than the PMI Lexicon of Terms. We also had to align with the upcoming BA Standard and writing style standards. Luckily people could see the potential help such a guide would bring and the credibility of an Agile Alliance and PMI sponsored collaboration. If it was easy it would likely have been done already.

At the end of December 2016, we sent a draft out for Subject Matter Expert review. Around 60 people split equally from the agile community and the project management community reviewed our little book and sent in an unexpectedly high (over 3,000) number of comments. Some were high praise “At last a guide to bridge the divide, great job”, some were not so kind “This section is hippy BS”, most were genuine feedback like “In section 3 you said first consider doing x now in section 5 you are suggesting first doing y”.

We spent several weeks reviewing and applying the feedback comments and the guide improved tremendously as a result. With the handoff date for publication looming we did not have time to apply all the suggested comments so we prioritized them, met and worked through as many as we could up to the ship date, retaining the remainder for the next edition. The Agile Alliance Board of Directors and PMI Management Advisory Board (MAG) reviewed it and gave us the all-clear to release (after a few more tweaks). We had our Minimum Viable Product (MVP).

Not everyone who reviewed the final draft was happy. Some “agile enthusiasts” thought we went too far discussing the application of hybrid approaches. Some “traditional enthusiasts” thought we undermined plan-driven approaches too much. I saw this as validation of us hitting our target market of practitioners just trying to be successful with agile teams in sometimes less-than-agile-friendly traditional environments. Our task was an analog of theirs. When we managed to annoy both ends of the project execution spectrum to about equal degrees we had arrived right where we needed to be!

I am used to having my work criticized. I stopped trying to please everyone years ago and now write my true convictions and they seem to resonate with a few people which is great. I felt bad for the other writers though, especially those that had not published many articles before. Representing the Agile Alliance or PMI and being part of a contentious guide is a daunting task. Publishing something for general use takes courage and exposes your thoughts and work. So, you want your first publication to be accepted not criticized. We had a challenging timeline and set of constraints and am very proud of what everyone produced. It is v1 of the guide and we are looking for volunteers to implement many of the other great suggestions we did not get time to implement and to further the guide with their own suggestions.

The PMBOK Guide - 6th Edition will be available as a free download for PMI members and to purchase in paper form. The new Agile Practice Guide will be available as a free download for Agile Alliance members and PMI members and also to purchase in paper form. Both are available on September 6th.


New PMI-ACP Workbook

PMI-ACP WorkbookI am pleased to announce the availability of my new PMI-ACP Workbook. This new workbook focusses on a smaller subset of 50 key topics.   My original PMI-ACP Exam Prep book distilled all the relevant content from the 11 books on the PMI-ACP recommended reading list in a common voice. The workbook is also different by providing lots of exercises and many situational questions like you will find in the exam.

So, while my PMI-ACP Exam Prep book covers all the background and theory – ideal for a comprehensive coverage of everything in the exam, the new PMI-ACP Workbook is a practical, hands-on study tool that focusses on the core topics needed to pass the exam. If you already have your CSM credential or 3+ years of agile experience you likely know the agile mindset, values and principles material already. However, you may not have the lean, kanban, and team development knowledge needed to pass the PMI-ACP exam so the workbook can fill those gaps.

To help determine which book is best for you I created the following flowchart:

PMI-ACP Workbook Flowchart

Hands-on learners and people who do not want to read all about how the approaches fit together will find the 50 key topics of the new workbook a simpler way to navigate the material. Also, since the content is arranged by topic alphabetically you can easily jump around and create your own study plan based on just the topics you need.

While the workbook coverage of topics is less than the prep-book, the emphasis on exercises and situational questions is much higher and accounts for the slightly higher page count (457 pages). There is white space for writing notes and the whole thing is spiral bound so it lays flat when you are working in it. The content changes are summarized by these rough page count graphs:

PMI-ACP Book Contents

I think it fills an important need. A workbook for hands-on learners looking to build their own study plan and gain access to high-quality situational questions. It also provides access to a free online quiz. Readers can order and get an early-bird discount from RMC here.

 

 


Tapping the Base of the Talent Triangle for Hidden PDUs

Hidden PDUsWhen it comes to renewing your PMI credentials it can sometimes be a challenge to find the full complement of Professional Development Units (PDUs) you need. Now the PMI Talent Triangle has been introduced, PMP credential holders need 8 PDUs from each of the skill areas. I often hear of people mention that finding 8 PDUs in the “Strategic and Business Management” area at the base of the triangle seems the most difficult.

PMI Talent Triangle

This might be because some training providers struggle to generate content for this category. There are mountains of existing material for “Technical Project Management” and “Leadership”, but “Strategic and Business Management” seems a little more specialized.

However, once you dig into what it contains, not only is it relatively easy to get the minimum requirement of 8 PDUs, but it is also a fertile source for collecting the maximum 19 PDUs in this category. This article examines the “Strategic and Business Management” area and provides some examples and suggestions for work and study that qualifies here.

Let’s start by getting a better understanding of what “Strategic and Business Management” actually means. Put into other words, it means all the business and industry interactions on the boundary of your project. I like to think of it as the zone immediately surrounding the project you are managing.

Strategic and Business Management

Before your project became a project in your organization there was (hopefully) an idea, discussions around opportunities, feasibility, ROI, and maybe competitive analysis. All these models, interactions with sponsors and advisors fall within the PMI realm of “Strategic and Business Management”.

Then, as the project progresses, anything you do to track performance against these models (financial analysis, benefits analysis, competitor product tracking) and all the interactions with the people in your organization (or client) that are involved with this information also fits into this category. During execution, anything to do with regulatory compliance, legal or market place interactions like trade fairs or journals also fall under “Strategic and Business Management”.

A critical principle for maximizing your PDU eligibility in this area is understanding that any training you undertake to learn more about how your industry interacts with strategy or benefits management fits the “industry knowledge” criteria. So, if you are in the medical profession, medical courses that link to strategy and benefits management count towards this category. If you work in the automotive sector, then training that relates to market share and competitive analysis qualifies towards “Industry knowledge”.

Projects deliver benefits to customers so anything relating to customer relationship and customer satisfaction either during or after the project fit right in. So too does benefits management and benefits realization during and after the project.  Once you appreciate that this category spans all the “Why?” we undertake projects and “How?” we assess their viability, performance and benefits, you begin to realize it’s a treasure-trove of PDU opportunities rather than slim-pickings.

Here are some categories of work, published by the PMI as elements of the “Strategic and Business Management” talent triangle, along with suggestions for how to translate them to claiming PDUs:

  • Benefits management and realization – Training courses, reading and discussions around how we identify, categorize, and measure project benefits. This could include financial benefits, regulatory compliance needs, market share growth, and industry reputation.
  • Business acumen – Any courses, reading, discussions, listening to podcasts, etc (here after called “Learning”) about financial or strategic elements of your business or industry.
  • Business models and structures – Learning about how to assess, select, prioritize and track projects in your industry, company or business unit.
  • Competitive analysis – Learning about feature comparisons, products and services, pricing structures, market shares, sales volumes, growth rates, profit ratios. - Perhaps you can get PDUs for attending those monthly sales meetings!
  • Customer relationship and satisfaction – Learning about customer surveys, satisfaction scores, kano analysis, prototype feedback reviews, Niko-Niko charts, etc.
  • Industry knowledge and standards – Learning by attending industry conferences with strategy content. Site visits, and field work also improve your industry knowledge and exposure to standards.
  • Operational functions (finance, marketing) – Learning about interacting with these business units and functions in your company. Taking internal courses about them and expanding your skills.
  • Strategic planning, analysis, alignment – Learning about these processes and tools in your company and industry.
  • Market awareness and conditions – Learning about trends, markets, new technologies and opportunities.

When you tap into industry knowledge and market awareness you soon realize that training does not have to be about just project management. How projects add value and contribute to a company’s success and strategic vision also counts. You become more useful and valuable as a project manager when you better understand your industry. The PMI knows this and recognizes many forms of professional development in your domain of work.

This is the key to unlocking the base of the talent triangle, the “Strategic and Business Management” component. You just need to connect your training for work with the “Industry Knowledge” and “Market Awareness” hooks in the base of the talent triangle.

Everyone with a PMI credential (except CAPM) must maintain their credential through participation in the Continuing Certification Requirements (CCR) program. Now you know that the “Strategic and Business Management” portion of the talent triangle allows for a wide range of learning opportunities the whole process should get much easier.

 

(I first published this article on projectmanagement.com here)


Agile DNA Webinar

Agile DNA 2This post is a follow-up to my Agile DNA webinar I hosted a couple of weeks ago. This was my first webinar for RMC and we had a great attendance with over 2,000 people registering for the event. The recording is available now,  see below for details of how to access it.

The webinar was entitled “Agile DNA, the People and Process Elements of Successful Agile Projects” and the DNA theme came from the twin strands of People and Process guidance that run through all agile approaches and make agile uniquely what it is.

Agile DNA 1

In case you have not noticed it before, Agile approaches weave people elements and process elements together through the agile mindset, values and principles. For simplicity of understanding we pull these elements apart to talk about them individually, but in reality, they are inextricably linked and self-supporting.

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New Role with RMC Learning Solutions

RMCLS LogoI have taken on an exciting new part-time role with RMC Learning Solutions as their Agile Practice Lead. I worked with RMC to create my PMI-ACP Exam Prep book and their ACP training offerings. So, I am really looking forward to working with them further. Previously, as a one-person company with a full-time contract job, I had more ideas for books, web sites and articles than I ever had time to develop. Working with RMC who have dedicated production staff, web developers and editors, I hope to get a lot more content available for a larger audience.

For the last 16 years, I have been pursuing my agile writing in my “free” time. I moved to Canmore a few years ago, and love the location, but the commute to Calgary further ate into that time. Working 50% of the time for RMC from home will free up more time for writing and occasional training and consulting. My challenge will be to stay focused and not use all the extra time for biking, running and skiing.

For RMC, my year kicks off with an introduction to agile webinar called “Agile DNA”, sign-up here. Then an e-learning course and a new book I have been working on will be announced with more to follow. Stay tuned for updates and more articles; heck I might even upgrade my LeadingAnswers.com website to be responsive and searchable – or go fat biking.


The True Cost of Free Exam Prep. Questions

Free QuestionsMost people taking a project management certification exam use sample tests. Whether it is a PMP exam, ScrumMaster, CAPM, PMI-ACP, PgMP or many others, there are plenty of online options for getting familiar with the format and determining if you are ready to sit the exam proper.

Unfortunately, like all things found online, the quality and relevance varies considerably. If we are just looking for funny cat videos, the occasional shaky video filmed in portrait mode is annoying--but easily skipped and not the end of the world. However, bad exam simulators can give a false sense of security--or a false sense of insecurity--and generally do not prepare you at all for what the actual exam will really be like.

Before getting trained and involved in question writing for PMI and professional training companies, I had no idea about the science behind good multiple choice questions. Now, I cannot help but notice poorly written questions. Even if the test is free, if it tests material not in the exam, it can generate unnecessary anxiety for people studying--and so is bad value. More frequently, people get used to poorly written questions (because these exams are free, they consume a lot of them), and then find the real exam very different--and fail.

So how do you ensure you are taking good, quality sample exams? The simplest and most effective way is to only trust questions from a reputable training company. They have writers that have been trained in how to create questions that meet ISO/IEC 17204 requirements. This is the standard that PMI and many other reputable certification bodies use, such as doctors and teachers.

Ask yourself how much your study time is worth, what are you giving up to get this certification? Given the sacrifices made so far to study, investing in an exam simulation from a reputable source makes good economic sense. However, I understand not everyone can afford or justify paid content, so let’s at least understand how to assess questions to make a judgment call on if the exam simulation is useful or a dud.

Multiple Choice Questions: A Primer
First, a primer on exam question design. This is useful information for everyone taking a test. Understanding how questions are designed helps you answer them more successfully. We will also uncover why you might be good at acing free online tests, but then trip up on the real deal. It all comes down to your online question writers often not knowing this theory.

Multiple choice questions (MCQ) are deceptively simple, so people underestimate them. It seems pretty easy--there is one right answer and three wrong answers. As a test taker, you just pick the right one; as a test creator, you just write the questions and think up a few wrong answers to catch out the guessers.

Let’s start by examining the anatomy of a question and learn the lingo. First of all, questions--along with their correct answer and incorrect options--are called “items”:

 

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