Part 1: Data Gathering – PMP Exam Tools and Techniques You Need to Study


“How do I prepare for inputs, tools and techniques, and outputs (ITTOs) based questions on the PMP exam?”, is one of the most asked questions when it comes to PMP exam preparation.

Sometime ago I wrote an article on this which was picked up by Cornelius to include in one of his books. While the article talked about 3 techniques to answer the ITTO based questions, I wanted to simplify the tools and techniques themselves.

And that is goal of this series.

PMBOK 6th version defines 6 groups of tools and techniques across 49 processes. When you think about ITTOs of any process, chances are you would be talking about one or more of the tools and techniques from one of these 6 groups.

  1. Data Gathering techniques
  2. Data Analysis techniques
  3. Data Representation techniques
  4. Decision-making techniques
  5. Communication skills
  6. Interpersonal and team skills

In all there are 72 tools and techniques categorized under these 6 groups. Apart from these, there are 60 more ungrouped tools and techniques. In this series we shall look at tools and techniques from each of these 6 groups only.

Are these numbers overwhelming you?

Please do not worry! Here is an easier way to digest this information.

First, as you go through the posts in this series, simply focus on understanding what each tool/technique in the group does.

This is important because this understanding alone can prepare you to answer few questions on the exam!

Next, understand the tool/technique you just learned about in the context of the processes that it is used in.

To make it easier I have linked these processes at the end of each tool/technique section.

This approach helps you in two ways.

First, from a tool/technique you can fairly judge the processes that it will be used in. Second, when you study any particular process you will easily recall many of the tools and techniques (those difficult to remember otherwise) used!

By understanding these groups and their tools and techniques – even outside of the context of any particular process – your PMP study would be SO much simpler and easier.

Like I said there are over 70 tools and techniques in these 6 groups, so we shall ‘eat the elephant one byte at a time’. In this post we shall look at group 1.

My hope is that by the time you reach end of this series of posts you will have grown enormous confidence about your PMP exam prep.

So, grab yourself a cup of coffee (or what you enjoy!). Let’s get started!

Group 1: Data Gathering tools and techniques

It is important to collect data, analyze them, and represent in familiar formats in order to take insightful decisions on the project. For any process usually the first thing to do is to gather data about or using the inputs and to use them in the process to create outputs.

When it comes to executing a process there is no compulsion to use one data gathering tool or technique over the other. Or specific usage of any one or combination of techniques. PMI, as always, suggests them based on what is happening in the real world, but we are free to choose what makes sense in the context of our project environment.

There are 9 data gathering techniques covered in PMBOK version 6 –

Data Gathering technique #1: Benchmarking

benchmarkingThis is the practice of comparing current or planned processes or practices to the best available (in the organization or in industry) in order to measure performance, assess gaps, and identify opportunities to improve.

How to benchmark?

Let’s look at that with the example: You are the coach of your club cricket team. And you are tasked with winning the next inter-club cricket tournament. You assess few areas of improvement by analyzing their past performance. Benchmarking is a way to go.

Step1: Identify (one or more) metric

We need something to measure on, right? A metric would be that.

You identify that scoring rate in initial power play has about 5.2 runs per over. You don’t know how this fares against other teams. So, this would be one of the metrics you are interested in.

Step 2: Take baseline measurement

Well you already know what is this – the team’s average scoring in initial power play is 5.2 runs per over. This is the baseline you have.

Step 3: Identify the leaders inside the organization or externally in industry

You would look at the winner and runner up teams across all the club competitions in the past year. These teams would be your ‘target’ to compare against.

Step 4: Identify their best practices

We can now identify what practices and processes these best teams are following to get the kind of results they are getting. Now we can identify the best practices for us to use. This will help us figure out what we are NOT doing, or what we are doing incorrectly. These would be the areas of improvement to focus on.

This is the data gathering part of benchmarking. To achieve the required results we need to then work on a plan of action, and criteria and methods to measure improvement on the way of meeting this benchmark.

From PMP exam perspective, the following processes use Benchmarking –

Yes, as you rightly observed: planning processes use benchmarking more often.

Also Read: Rajasekar Rajendran, recent PMP topper shares his study secrets..

Data Gathering technique #2: Brainstorming

brainstormingThis is probably one of well-known techniques used in project management. Brainstorming is a technique is used to generate ideas, and to come up with ways of solving a problem.

Get the bright (knowledgeable of the problem domain) minds together and storm their brains. ๐Ÿ™‚

Well, as a facilitator you encourage them to churn the problem and come up with suggestions, ideas, approaches. Keep them within the context (so the discussion on performance Goals doesn’t move towards soccer). And also the egos are not hurt.

And then identify top X ideas, get them prioritized by the team for further discussion or if there is consensus take the best idea for action.

What about distributed team?

While brainstorming is best done in a small colocated group setting, it can still be done in a distributed team set up.

Take the help of technology.

Voice conferencing, video conferencing, online/intranet site/board for initial idea collation – be inventive.

Wondering where do we use Brainstorming in?

Data Gathering technique #3: Check sheets

benchmarkingAlso known as Tally sheets, Check sheet is a form to collect real time data at the location where the data is generated. This is then used to analyze and look for patterns that give us insights – such as source of defects generated.

Here’s an example of data recorded to identify telephone interruptions in Radiology Department.

checksheets example

Image courtesy:

Here we can see that,

  • Mondays and Fridays receive more calls than other days (effect of weekend break?),
  • Fridays receive most wrong telephone number calls (people are in a hurry/weekend mood?),
  • calls from boss increase every alternate day (daily reporting an issue?).

Control Quality process from Quality management knowledge area uses Checksheets (for defect analysis).

Yes, just one process. But don’t let that stop you from using it elsewhere when necessary. Now we know how beneficial it is.

Data Gathering technique #4: Checklists

benchmarkingThis is, by far, the most well-known and used technique. This can even be used as a reminder tool (the TODO app we use in phone)!

Checklist is simply a list of items, points, or actions to be considered in the context of validation or getting work done.

We use checklist quite frequently in testing and verification of raw material quality parameters, testing deliverables, process execution steps, and even to conduct performance appraisal of the team ๐Ÿ™‚

Care must be taken to revisit checklists often so they don’t miss any important point(s), or contain irrelevant point(s).

By the way, what is you daily Checklist to ensure progress in PMP prep?

How about this?

  • Take today’s sample PMP question here and here
  • Validate your response for yesterday’s questions here and here
  • Practice the process table from PMBOK guide
  • Study the next process in X knowledge area
  • Make your own study notes as you study

Would you think checklists are common and probably used in over half of the PMBOK’s processes?

That’s just four. But then again as a project manager we can use them wherever they can help.

Also Read: Carole Swift’s simple strategy to prepare for PMP exam astonishing well

Brain-friendly techniques to ace your PMP exam, used by toppers

Data Gathering technique #5: Focus groups

focusgroupsAs the name suggests Focus group is a group of prequalified set of people that come together to provide information about an event, product, result, process, or result.

We prep the participants with agenda of the discussion in advance. Focus group is moderated by a moderator who asks series of questions to elicit response from people, which she notes down. She also looks for non-verbal cues (such as facial expression and body language) from the participants and notes down them as well.

Yes, the moderator’s responsibility it is to make sure the group doesn’t lose focus of the agenda and works towards sharing comprehensive and quality information to be best possible extent.

The moderator has to be qualified – in the sense, she must understand the subject matter being discussed. She should be approachable, friendly, open, non-judgmental, active listener, and able to ask open-ended questions that make participants share their knowledge. She should be neutral to the subject and should not have any vested interest in the outcome of the exercise.

Last but not the least, the moderator should be able to look at the responses being shared, look for patterns, and come up with more relevant questions on the spot to elicit clarity and insights from the participants.

Following processes use Focus groups to gather dataย  –

We involve as many stakeholders as required in risk management processes, so I’d imagine that would be good place to use Focus groups to gather, analyze, and assess risks.

Data Gathering technique #6: Interviews

interviewsThis is a technique to get information from a stakeholder with personal on-on-one discussion. It could be formal or informal in nature. There is no strict rule that the interview happens between two people – interviewer and interviewee. Sometimes there could be multiple interviewers/interviewees.

One can prepare the question in advance, spontaneously, or both. At times interviews can be used for collecting confidential information as well.

Interviews are held with stakeholders, subject matter experts, vendors, team members, consultants – anyone where information collection is needed.

They are held in a environment of trust where confidentiality is ensured to encourage the interviewer to contribute honestly and in an unbiased manner. It’s interviewer’s job to make sure that an interview does not turn into interrogation. ๐Ÿ™‚

Where would you think Interviews are predominantly used as a data gathering tool?

Also Read: US army veteran’s foolproof approach to PMP prep you want to copy!

Data Gathering technique #7: Market research

market researchResearching market is about studying market for specific information we are interested in, about a product, service, or solution. This information can be extracted by scouting the internet, picked up from industry publications, collected at trade fairs, or purchased from market research companies.

We can use market research for competition analysis as well.

In the context of PMP exam, market research is used while planning for procurement (Plan Procurement Management), to look for specific seller capabilities.

Data Gathering technique #8: Questionnaires and surveys

questionnairs-surveysThese are a set of questions carefully put together to accumulate response from a large group of people about a particular topic. This can be used when audience is geographically dispersed, when information needs to be collected quickly, and the depth of information needed is not critical.

Again, questionnaires and surveys can probably be used in more processes (develop team, manage team, for instance) than what PMI suggests in PMBOK –

Data Gathering technique #9: Statistical sampling

questionnairs-surveysStatistical sampling is the process of selecting a subset (called Sample) from the total population in order to verify the quality of entire population.

This technique is useful to avoid destructive testing, or in cases where testing or inspection costs a lot.

Take for instance, that you have a contract to produce 10,000 shirts. You manufacture, individually inspect, iron, fold, pack, and package them all. They are ready for delivery. And the customer wants to make sure that there are no defects.

How does she do it?

One way is to open each of 10,000 shirts and checking for defects.

This will lead to,

  • additional cost (unpacking, and packing)
  • additional time
  • additional effort (individual inspection)

The alternative is to choose a sample size of say 1000, and have a threshold of say 100 shirts. This means that you randomly choose 1000 shirts and inspect them all. If you find defective shirts less than 100, then you accept the entire lot. If the defective shirts count is over 100, you simply reject entire lot of 10,000 shirts.

Control Quality process uses Statistical sampling technique.

That’s about all the tools and techniques in Data Gathering group.

By the way, did you dig my sketches? ๐Ÿ™‚ I know, sorry, I’m just learning.. Hopefully I’ll be better by the end of this series.

In the next article, let us look at a bunch of Data Analysis techniques.


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