Lead Your Prep With PMBOK Knowledge Areas – Shannon Webster, PMP

PMBOK knowledge areas are essential to lead a good PMP preparation plan, says Shannon Webster, a 21+ yrs military veteran.“I wanted to have a thorough understanding of the PMBOK knowledge areas so I could easily visualize and apply the processes”, says Shannon Webster in a post-PMP® interview. Shannon is a United States Air Force veteran, who enjoys seeing people succeed. She has served in the Air Force since she was 17 and will be transitioning to the private sector. She’s been happily married for the past 18 years and they have a very active 10-year old son.

What made you take up PMP?

shannon webster, pmpThroughout the past 21 years that I’ve served as an Active Duty service-member in the United States Air Force, I’ve gained a wealth of experience in various fields, one being Project Management. After deciding to retire from the military, I wanted to find a way to translate my past experience into an easily identifiable civilian certification.

Having been exposed to numerous project management opportunities, PMP® was the logical path for me to pursue.

I also considered taking the Professional Human Resources (PHR) certification through Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI) since my Master’s degree is in HR. But I found a passion in project management and helping people (and companies) achieve their maximum potential.

What core benefit would you expect now that you are a certified PMP®?

The core benefit I expected from achieving my PMP® certification is legitimacy.

When changing career paths or venturing from federal work to the private sector, having some form of legitimacy could open doors.

I’m hopeful my PMP® certification will show potential employers that I’m a dedicated. It will also help me demonstrate that I’m a passionate professional who is eager to accept challenges and will persevere until it’s successfully completed.

Which study resources did you use for the exam?

In preparation for the exam, I utilized material from PM-ProLearn and the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK®).

PM-ProLearn instructors provided a 5-day live instructional course that facilitated information sharing between a diverse group of candidates. PM-ProLearn mapped out processes and provided tips to focus our study efforts in hopes of passing the exam.

Also read: PMI answers – This is how much of salary a non-PMP® project manager is losing out on.

How did you approach the exam and what was your study plan?

I began my preparation by memorizing the PMBOK knowledge areas, processes and their process groups, and numerous mathematical formulas for Earned Value Management (EVM).

A strong foundation to build my knowledge from was essential, so I analyzed each process’s inputs, tools/techniques and outputs (ITTOs) to find similarities and differences between them.

The more I understood the fundamentals of PM, the easier it was for me to apply the techniques.

I studied the material in the PMBOK pretty heavily for 6 weeks prior to my exam. I continued to take practice tests and quizzes that were provided and weaned lessons learned from other students that had successfully tackled the exam.

Was it a smooth ride?

Aside from having a full time career in the military, I’m also a mother of a 10-year-old and a loving wife. I felt guilt spending my time on the weekend studying instead of watching movies with them. We also underwent a major home renovation 3 weeks prior to my exam where our entire first floor was under construction.

To add even more pressure, I’m preparing for a monumental career change as I plan to transition from active duty military service to the private sector in June.

As you can see I had a lot on my plate. But I had to prioritize tasks and balance each challenge to ensure I wasn’t overwhelmed and everyone’s needs were met.

I’m glad that I was able to do that successfully. Isn’t that what PMs do after all – manage multiple priority tasks efficiently and achieve project objectives? 🙂

How did the week before the exam go?

The week before my exam I dedicated about 6-8 hours a day studying the framework, process ITTOs. Also, I clarified the differences between certain processes that were a bit confusing.

I wanted to have a thorough understanding of the PMBOK knowledge areas so I could easily visualize and apply the processes. Which is what I think I could get in the week prior to the exam.

Also read: While New PMP exam is just months away, PMBOK-7 is almost here!

How was the exam?

I tested in Charleston, SC on a Friday at noon.

The exam hall had lockers that students could use. I placed my jacket and purse in them but kept my ID card. They do not allow any study material in the exam hall and or gum in the testing room.

The staff searched my glasses, arms (to ensure there were no writing on them), made me flip my pockets outward, and escorted to and from my computer.

I was provided a fine-tip dry erase pen and 9 gridded, laminated sheets of paper for use during the exam. They provided 2 forms of hearing protection, if needed. I opted for the over-the-ear headphones to eliminate sound and reduce distractions.

Once seated at my computer, after the test began, I mapped out the PM framework along with motivational theories and the formulas I memorized from EVM.

Although I rarely referenced any of that content during my exam, having it available reduced the fear of getting things “mixed up”.

The questions were extremely difficult and somewhat vague.

In fact, after about 40 questions I had stop and look at the exam because I was convinced I was taking the wrong test. There were probably less than 20 questions of the 200 that I knew I had answered correctly!

The exam focuses on what strategies and steps you would take as a Project Manager. So I had to remain in that mindset when analyzing each questions.

I took 3 hours to answer the 200 questions. Since I trust my first instinct I didn’t flag any questions and didn’t review answers.

I was shocked and amazed after hitting the submit button and seeing the words “Congratulations” appear on the screen!

Any study tips for future PMP®s?

While understanding PMBOK knowledge areas is essential, an understanding from process groups perspective is critical too.

Many previous candidates focused the majority of their efforts on Execution, Direct and Manage and Monitor and Control process groups. However, I chose to study Initiating and Closing just as much as the others, if not more. I didn’t discount those groups simply due to their lack of processes.

In fact, considering this. PMP exam grades you on all 5 domains. Having less number of processes could make it easy to score ‘Above Target’ in Initiating as well as Closing domains. At the same time if you ignored these, it is equally easy to get ‘Below Target’ in these domains!

You need to get to a place where you feel comfortable with the material in order to be successful on the exam. Simple memorization will not guarantee success, you must be able to understand application.

Shannon Webster, MSA, PMP


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