PMP exam preparation strategy for above target score - Arnab Bhattacharjee

Arnab Bhattacharjee works as a Transformation Manager at Concentrix, a global customer experience services and technologies company.

He has been aiming for PMP certification for some time now and finally earlier this year he decided to give it a go with all seriousness. “With a student mindset”, as he says. 🙂

I caught up with him on a chat and asked Arnab about his approaches, strategies, and challenges, so you can take some of those and incorporate in your own PMP exam preparation.

Are you preparing for the PMP exam?

With multiple projects to manage across 2 timezone, 3-yr old kid at home, falling sick the week before the exam, to completing it with 30 minutes to go, and getting Above Target in all 3 domains – this is ONE interview you don’t want to miss! 🙂

If you are in a hurry, please go ahead and watch this video interview.

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Congratulations once again on your PMP, Arnab. That’s an awesome achievement, knowing how hard it can be, right?

In today’s short discussion, we’ll talk about your approach, strategies, and insights into preparing for this exam so that people who are in the process of preparing for the PMP exam can try out some of your advice.

So, the first question I have is when it comes to project management certification exams, there are so many, right? So…

What made you go for PMP in particular?

Well yeah. So before I started with PMP preparation, it was to enhance my project management skills and to gain recognition as a certified professional in this field.

I did consider PRINCE and some other certifications. But overall, when I consider PMP, being a globally recognized certification it was definitely the one matching with my industry requirement. So that’s the reason I went after PMP.

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Can you tell us a little bit about what you work on?

I mostly handle projects in the US healthcare industry.

Where there are complex projects in terms of requirements, in terms of timelines, and most essentially communication. So when you are exploring something unknown and trying to deliver benefits to the client or the end customer. So that’s the kind of projects I mostly do.

And PMP was helping in terms of knowing the right tools, which one to use when, to communicate better, and about the artifacts.

You used a pretty good phrase there, “working with the unknowns”. That’s probably the best summary of the role of a project manager, right?

So many unknowns and trying to wear multiple hats. And trying to balance the resources and needs, while still trying to achieve project objectives. Correct.

So before taking up PMP, did you have any specific expectations, and after you passed it, how have those expectations turned out?

Before taking the exam, it was just like it was an approach to gaining knowledge and knowing the process, tools, and the right methods.

Now after knowing those, and clearing the exam, I do feel that PMP is helping me. Giving a structured approach to managing the projects. It’s giving me a ton of confidence and the credibility to manage complex projects now.

So those are coming into my kit. So no more simple ones. I’ve begun to take up complex ones, challenging ones.

I mean, at least knowing the structure of, you know, what are the things, what are the checks and balances to be in place when you know, taking up a project. Sometimes you’re also thrown into a project which is underway for whatever reasons, you know, the project manager left or whatever.

And then at that point of being able to know where things are in terms of gauging the health of the projects, that kind of knowledge is very valuable, isn’t it?

Arnab passed PMP with Above Target score in all 3 domains with mere 10 weeks of preparation.

Arnab passed PMP with Above Target score in all 3 domains with mere 10 weeks of preparation.

And that comes only when you do some kind of comprehensive certification exam like PMP.

And look at each of the 10 knowledge areas that we talk about. Okay, how are we doing on the resources part? How are we doing on the schedule part? How are we doing on the risk part? I mean, being able to know which top, which sort of project artifacts to look for is a quick way of figuring out how the project is doing. [continue reading…]

How to deal with underperformer in project Let me guess, you read the title twice.

Here are my reasons for naming this article this way.

First is of course to catch your attention. Because I’m going to share a research finding for most of the project failures, and I want you to take note of it. It makes your life easier as a project manager.

Second, I want to impress upon the fact that irrespective of various project management approaches, tools & techniques, and technology (ChatGPT in project management?!), what truly matters for projects to succeed is a focus on people.

Take this incident, for instance.

On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, killing all seven crew members aboard.

Including a teacher.

Explosion of Challenger Shuttle. Image courtesy: Wikipedia

The explosion of Challenger Shuttle. Image courtesy: Wikipedia

The spacecraft disintegrated 46,000 feet (14 km) above the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 11:39 a.m. EST. The mishap occurred due to a combination of a faulty seal on a rocket booster and cold weather.

It was determined that human error was partly to blame.

This is not an outlier case.

In their book, “THE SIX – why so many projects fail, and how to succeed“, authors Andreas Trautner & Chris Kolborg say, “Projects don’t fail. People fail”.

Harold Kerzner (2010) shares that project failures can be actually people failures.

According to PMI’s Standish Reports [1] the average project success rates are a mere 30%. This means that 70% of projects fail!

There’s overwhelming evidence that most project failures are due to overlooked risks or mistakes due to the poor performance of one or more team members.


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What are the attributes of an underperformer?

Symptoms of someone being an underperformer in your team are easy to spot once you know what to look for.

1. On your 1-1s is more than one team member talking about one specific person?

Go beyond the words while talking to them. Complaining isn’t natural or comfortable for people. They tend to sugarcoat what they want to say.

Study their body language. Do they feel uncomfortable while talking about this person? Do they smile a lot while narrating an incident of a screw-up by that person?

It could be a sign to watch the performance of the person in question closely.

2. Does someone keep failing to meet deadlines, or maintain the quality of their work?

It could be due to the overwhelm (temporary reason) or skill-work mismatch (lack of training), or even deliberate inaction (attitude issue).

The overwhelm could be because of the unfamiliarity of work, too many tasks to be done in a short timeframe, or just the enormity of the task. Assuming that the person is qualified and capable of doing this job, the issue with overwhelm is temporary.

To address overwhelm, you need to help them break down the work into small doable tasks, and keep ticking off them as each task is done. Help them gain confidence in their own ability to do a good job. Encourage small wins. Show them that you have their back. Give them time to get comfortable with work and the pace as well as quality will go north.

The skill-work mismatch is an issue that needs a quick resolution. You need to either move the person to a different project where the work matches her skillset or arrange for training.

With training, you can consider this to be a medium-term resolution.

The deliberate inaction is an attitude issue. The resolution, if possible could take a long-term effort. You need to move in quickly to fix it because attitude can be contagious and affect other team members.

Have a straight discussion and find the root cause for the bad attitude. If you feel that the person is willing to change their attitude you may want to follow it up with specific, measurable parameters to see improvement at work. If you feel the person is not willing to change, you may need to move them out of your project in consultation with the project sponsor and the HR department.

3. Are their direct beneficiaries of the output of a person complaining?

[continue reading…]

Project Leadership: guide to achieving great results with the right skills

The year was 2008.

The city of San Francisco, California, faced a crisis. Its municipal railway system, which transports over 700,000 passengers every day, was proving to be ineffective. It needed an upgrade.

The system with the aging fleet of 900+ buses and light rail vehicles was beginning to face frequent breakdowns and delays. This was resulting in declining ridership, and a bleak financial outlook.

Something had to be done. And done quickly.

The city launched the Muni Transformation Plan. An ambitious project to purchase new state-of-the-art buses and train cars, construct new stations and lines, and replace the existing control system.

This project was led by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. It was his sharp mind that recognized the need for a comprehensive overhaul of the city’s public transportation infrastructure.

The first thing Newsom did was to assemble a team of experts from the public and private sectors.

He then asked them to create a plan to study the system and suggest improvements. He also worked with the city Board of Supervisors to secure the funding that was required, and also took the lead in rallying public support for the project.

In a couple of short years, Muni Transformation Plan was successfully completed.

The brand new fleet of buses and trains improved service and efficiency. The new control system reduced delays and breakdowns. As a result, the ridership increased.

In essence, San Francisco’s public transportation system was transformed.

Mayor Newsom’s leadership and management of the Muni Transformation project is an excellent example of project leadership. His vision, enthusiasm, and commitment to the project mobilized supporters and motivated the team to achieve success.

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Project leadership is nothing new, but the awareness is. It's a niche in the project mgmt field that can make you a rock star. Learn how to be one in this guide. Click to Tweet


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What exactly is Project Leadership?

Project leadership helps the team realize on a daily basis that everyone is working together towards the same goal.

It’s like a game of soccer. You need the team captain to organize everyone and make sure everyone is doing their part to move the ball down the field.

That’s what a project leader does, they keep everyone organized and working together towards a common goal.

In stricter terms, the role of Project manager and project leader have slightly different responsibilities, and they both help make sure projects are successful.

The project manager tells the team what to do and when to do it, and the project leader keeps everyone motivated and excited to play the game. With a good project manager and project leader, the team can accomplish great things!

Now that’s just to understand the roles.

A project doesn’t necessarily have to have both roles (unless it’s a mega project, in which case you may have one project leader and multiple project managers). For most projects, the same person will act as both.

Consider Project Leader as the evolution of the role of a Project Manager.

Come to think of it, that’s the only way for the projects to be handled going forward. As a project leader.

Project leadership is a niche with a lot of demand. If you can transition from being a project manager to a project leader, you can be sure to take strides of growth in your career.

It all starts with a shift in mindset.

Let’s deconstruct this in a bit more detail.

What abilities should a Project Leader have?

Project leadership can be developed. For this, first, let us see some of the abilities that are necessary:

1. Ability to communicate effectively

[continue reading…]

Check if your is project at risk. Use this 27 risk types checklist.

In the 1970s, American scientists were studying atomic particles and their collision. They needed a suitable location to build the testing facilities.

After a nationwide search that spanned many years for the perfect site, a place was chosen in November 1988 in the vicinity of Waxahachie, Texas. Soon the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) nicknamed ‘the desertron‘, a particle accelerator complex project began construction.

This was designed to be the world’s largest and most energetic particle accelerator.

Super Collider project acancelled

A board expressing regret about the abandoned Super Collider project in one of the project buildings in 1997. (Louis DeLuca / 108249). Courtesy,

In 1989, Roy Schwitters, professor emeritus of Physics at the University of Texas at Austin was appointed the project’s director.

The particle accelerator’s planned ring circumference was 87.1 kilometers (54.1 mi) with an energy of 20 TeV of collision energy per proton. It was a dream project for any project manager or director to take up.

After 22.5 km (14 miles) of the tunnel had been bored, the project was canceled.

What was the reason?

Take a pause and make a guess.

  • Could it be the lack of availability of brilliant scientists (resource issue)?
  • This was a high-tech project. Could it be technology issues?
  • Or could it be something else?

Well, here’s what happened.

From 1987 to 1993, the project’s estimated budget went up from about $4.4 billion to as much as $12 billion.

The 22.5 km (14 miles) of the tunnel cost about 2 billion USD! article attributes the cause to be the tensions between Japan and the U.S. over the automobile industry. Kiichi Miyazawa, the then Prime Minister of Japan decided to wait until after the 1992 U.S. presidential election, in order to decide on funding this Super Collider project. “And after the election, the Clinton administration did not give much support to the project”, it reports.

“The House of Representatives rejected the project’s funding on October 19, 1993, and Senate negotiators failed to restore it.”, the history bit is logged in Wikipedia.

The funding.

This goes to prove that a project can very much fail for reasons beyond the control of the project or project manager. Reasons well outside of the project environment.

And probably no one saw it coming. It wasn’t conceivable that such a prestigious project for the country’s scientific development and the country’s standing in the scientific world would be shut down by its own government.

Projects are unique, and so are the forces that impact their environment.

Hence risk management is one of the most critical aspects of the project for a project manager.

Risks can materialize in unexpected ways and when least expected. Thus as a project manager, you have to be as proactive as possible.

How can you be proactive in identifying risks on your project?

[continue reading…]

Change Management for Project Manager

In 1998 Daimler-Benz AG from Germany and Chrysler Corporation from the United States of America announced a merger, which was said to be a ‘merger of equals’. By the end of 2007, Daimler-Benz sold all its shares in the Chrysler division.

What went wrong?

The shortest answer would be, they failed to manage the change.Daimler Chrysler change management gone wrong

A lot of analysis has been done to find what went wrong, and the answers have been plenty.

  • Incorrect projection of intent: the “merger of equals”, according to the then CEO Jurgen Schrempp, was, in reality, a ‘PR device’ and the intention of Daimler was always an outright acquisition.
  • Cultural mismatch: Mark Herndon, in his article, describes this the best: “the new executive team ripped apart the recently installed smoke detectors on the executive floor at Chrysler headquarters in Detroit so they could smoke cigars with their red wine in the evenings.” Wow!
  • Leadership ambiguity: the teams needed direction and guidance which was delayed and at best ambiguous.
  • It would not be a miss if we don’t mention the fact that top talent left both companies. Typically what happens in an M&A scenario.

Here’s another story.

The New Coke.

Rings a bell?

Launched in April of 1985, it didn’t take more than a couple of months for consumer opinion to turn bad. It forced the Coca-Cola Company to bring back the famous original formula.

It’s not like Coke didn’t conduct research on its part before taking such a big step.

In the 80s the ‘sweet’ as a favored taste was catching on in consumer food trends. The sweeter flavor of New Coke did pass thousands of taste tests.

Then what went wrong?

Coke missed the unstated requirements consumers felt with the brand. And thus they went about a change completely wrong way.

No wonder that just 34% of change initiatives succeed in reality!

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What is change management?

Change management, simply put, is the process of planning, managing, and implementing organizational change that helps it achieve the business strategy. It is a well-structured approach for organizations to transition from an unfavorable current state to a favorable desired state.

The primary goal of Change Management is to make sure that the process of implementing change is well-planned, well-communicated, and flawlessly implemented.

Change management is an implicit responsibility of a project manager, and is a topic that is not often given enough importance when it comes to defining the role and responsibilities of a project manager.

Where does change come from?

This is important to understand as a project manager. [continue reading…]

5 time management strategies for busy project managers

I jumped out of my bed at the startling sound of the alarm.

It was 6:00 am.

It took me a full minute to realize where I was. A wave of all-familiar gloom swept over me as I realized I’d slept only an hour ago.

This seemed to have been a routine for the past few weeks. Just a couple of hours of sleep every day.

I was at the client’s office, 14,700 kilometers away from mine. The other side of the globe.

Daily client meetings, discussions with SMEs, end-users, local technical team, and then coordinating with 3 of our teams across as many timezones wasn’t easy.

The symptoms were visible at the office.

I would suddenly go blank in a meeting. Forget what I was talking about. My cubicle mates interrupt and tell me that I’m speaking incoherently.

As a project manager, you’re wearing multiple hats. You are often responsible for keeping multiple initiatives, departments, tasks, or teams on track and making sure that everyone involved in the project is working efficiently.

And that takes a toll on your own time!

Whether you are managing one large-scale project or dealing with multiple projects, effective time management is crucial to ensuring everything runs smoothly and deadlines are met.

Here are five super-simple yet super-effective strategies to help you develop effective time management habits for efficient project management.

I will also show you how to implement them.

I wish I knew at least some of these back then when I was undergoing that ‘interesting’ experience. But experiences teach you a lot. And you get better with time.

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1. Prioritize Ruthlessly

When managing a project, it’s important to prioritize your tasks.

I’m sure you’ve heard it.

But it’s only half true.

As a project manager, you need to be able to prioritize the tasks of other people as well. At the least, you need to make sure that they are prioritizing their tasks.

There’s a whole process group called Monitoring & Controlling in PMI’s PMBOK guide for project managers. You may not be able to control others’ time but control their priorities, or in softer words… ensure they align their work with the needs of the project. 🙂

Because the success of your project(s) and your own performance depends on the performance of many key stakeholders on the project.

That is possible when,

  • Your resource management team prioritizes your project to give you the equipment and people you need
  • Your team members prioritize their tasks in alignment with the priorities of the project deliverables
  • Your sponsor prioritizes your project to get appropriate support from the management
  • Your client-side contacts prioritize your project to attend the meetings
  • Your vendors prioritize your project for on-time delivery

This will help everyone stay focused and prevents them from becoming overwhelmed.

2. Delegate Efficiently

Delegation is another critical time management strategy for a project manager.5 time management strategies for busy project managers

Don’t try to do everything yourself. You should be working on the project than in the project, at least most of the time.

Delegate tasks to team members who have the right skills & expertise to handle them. This will free up your time for tasks that are ‘on the project’ than ‘in the project’. Important tasks such as monitoring progress and ensuring that everyone is working as per the schedule.

For delegating efficiently, you need to:

  1. Identify the tasks that can be delegated
  2. Identify the people on the team that are an ideal fit in terms of skill & attitude
  3. Ensure each task is efficiently explained so others can understand how to do and do it well
  4. Make time for a transition/hand-holding period for the person to get the confidence of doing it well

You’ll also be making yourself disposable. Else, how can you claim stake for that promotion? 😀

Don’t miss these latest articles for project managers: [continue reading…]