Recently I studied for, wrote and passed the PMP certification exam. Along the way, a few things jumped out at me that I’d like to share with anyone interested in project management and considering taking the exam.

Communication is Hard

I’m sure anyone who has worked on a project knows that the more people involved, the more critical and challenging communication becomes. That is intuitive, but if you look closer, the amount of communication required can actually be surprising. 

There is a simple formula for calculating the number of communication channels on a project. A communication channel is just defined as communication between any two people on the project. 

For example, if you have a 4-person project, there are 6 communication channels. But what happens if you add 4 more people to the project?

Well the formula is N(N-1)/2 where N is the number of people on the project. So for an 8-person team, the calculation looks like this: 8(8-1)/2 = 28. We went from having to manage 6 communication channels to having to manage 28. That is almost a 500% increase! Intuitively, we know that more people means more communication, but by using a quick calculation we can actually measure and quantify the difference.

Winning Negotiations

Another item that stood out to me was that negotiations should be win/win. There are countless books written by the titans of industry on how to win at negotiation. This was the first time I considered that negotiations should benefit both parties as much as possible because that is actually what is best for your project. 

If you squeeze a supplier in a negotiation, there could be negative effects. For example, the supplier may have to cut their quality, or in an extreme situation, they may go out of business before completing the work you negotiated for. These scenarios could be disastrous for your project. Negotiations can and should be used to create incentives for suppliers. A contract can be structured so there are incentives based on total costs or an incentive paid for work completed early. Although at a glance, this may look like it is costing your project more money, it is very likely beneficial to have a supplier keep costs down or to finish deliverables ahead of schedule.

This is something MERAK has experienced in the past with fixed cost contracts. Fixed cost transfers all risk to the vendor which might seem like a good idea but in reality, it isn’t a great way to build a relationship with that vendor. There are many contract models between “fixed price” and “time and materials” which can be used to benefit both the vendor and the buyer. The key is focusing on win/win. Both parties should be happy with the contract.

The Past is in the Past

When you study the PMBOK, one thing that will be drilled into your head is that you can’t change the past. A large part of project management is comparing results against the plan. You can’t change what has already taken place but you can actively influence what will happen in the future. The best tool you have for that is looking back at what has already happened. But keep in mind you are looking back so you can change future events and plans. What’s done is done. Change requests, corrective actions, and lessons learned are all about improving future results. A project manager actively tries to influence future results. If that isn’t being done, you aren’t managing the project!

It’s Go Time, The PMP Exam

Lastly, I just want to talk about the exam itself. I wrote an exam based on the 4th edition of the PMBOK but I think the take-aways will apply to future versions of the exam as well. The exam is hard. If you are thinking about becoming a PMP, you’ve probably heard that before but it’s very true. In my past experiences, I’ve always been a fast test taker. I don’t recall ever sitting to the end of a 3-hour exam in university. The PMP exam requires all the time they give you. Although it is multiple choice, you will find several correct answers, or worse, no correct answers after you read the question. Choose your study materials carefully and get practice exams from multiple sources. Don’t underestimate how grueling it can be to sit for a 3+ hour exam.

Good Luck!