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The goal of obtaining the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification is a worthwhile, yet challenging pursuit each project manager must decide on obtaining. You might wonder, “What’s the point of getting the PMP? I’m already working in the field? Why go through the effort?” My answer to those questions can best be addressed with an illustration. Suppose you need to go to the doctor’s office. You schedule an appointment with a receptionist and she asks if you’d like to see either the doctor or a board-certified doctor? Without hesitation, you would most likely select the board-certified doctor. Why? Being certified implies one is more official, has sought industry training, and has the expertise in the field. It is for those reasons why the PMP certification is so important for project managers to obtain.

The lesson you should know is obtaining your certification is key to differentiating yourself from others ensuring relevance in a changing economy.

My journey began when I took the 5 day PMP training course back in 2013. During the next year, I had many setbacks that prevented me from giving the test. As I took on more senior roles as a project manager within organizations I became complacent towards certification. As months progressed I began to reason, “Why bother? Why go through the effort?” However, that line of reasoning was short-sighted because change is inevitable in any industry and job market. In surveying the job market several of the more reputable companies either stated that certification was required, or that it would be needed within 6 months of employment. After giving a half-hearted approach to studying for the exam for several months, I asked a professor what recommendation she would give to getting me focused on the exam. She said to schedule the exam in a couple of months. By doing it would bring things into focus. How true she was with that advice!

The lesson you should gather from my experience is to set a date for the exam and don’t procrastinate taking the exam.

I scheduled my exam in October 2016 and several weeks prior I purchased a PMP prep exam book to study out of. During the next few weeks I realized that there were several gaps in my project management knowledge that I needed to brush up on. Leading up to the exam I spent about 10 hours each week studying and preparing. The day of the exam arrived and I felt as prepared and confident as ever. However, my confidence was shattered when I failed. Being frustrated by this setback, in retrospect I slowly began to see why I failed. First, I relied too heavily on my background and experience as to how I should answer questions. Simply relying on my experience would not be sufficient to passing. Second, I did not take seriously the recommendation to take several practice exams.

The lesson you shouldn’t repeat from my experience is not to rely simply on your experience or education to preparing for the test. Be open to different formats to learn and be prepared to take practice exams.

Having failed the first time, I was more determined than ever to passing the exam. I purchased a more reputable study exam prep book, began taking the practice exams, and started working on the book exercises. I allocated about 20 hours each week to studying and preparing. Another recommendation from the study exam prep book was to read the book twice, which I’m thankful I did. I’m not a good test taker to begin with so I knew how important it was to fully understand and apply the material. While not making this specific recommendation for others, I took a week off from work and studied 6 hours each day leading up to the exam. With this extensive studying period completed I felt more confident and prepared, so I rescheduled the exam in December 2016 and passed!

The lesson you should take from my experience is investing in a a reputable prep book to study, and follow the recommendations from the book.  Don’t study the day of the exam and make sure you get sufficient sleep the night before.

I hope my experience will not only encourage those sitting on the fence to take the exam, but also provide some helpful and practical suggestions on taking and then passing the exam. All the best!

Shannon PettifordShannon Pettiford, PMP, CSM

Note: The views expressed in this paper/website/weblog are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer.


I have been an ardent advocator of teaching the basics of project management, leadership, and emotional intelligence throughout my training and teaching career. In one of the recent classes that I was fortunate to facilitate, I used the example of Apollo 13 motion picture (Grazer & Howard, 1995) to illustrate to the class about the practical realities of how risks and quality can severely turn the happy path scenarios around. It was a revelation for the class as the various teams related to the emphasis of the "unknown unknown" risks on the management reserves, the criticality of risk identification and management strategies on contingency planning, influence of leadership on the conflict resolution and negotiation, etc. Synthesized in this blog are the major lessons that evolved from the class. When used effectively, the use of movies can become an effective tool at both academic and practitioner settings.

One of the first lessons was the importance of the timely response to strategic changes in directions as the management and leadership reestablished the priority. Not only did the NASA management disregarded the original mission to land on the moon but quickly established the revised project goal as they reset the impossible expectations on the on-ground team to bring the astronauts back to earth! Even at a tactical level, when one of the engineers pointed out how much power they need to be conserving in order to return to earth, the decision-making was quick. One may question the time taken here because all these discussions were captured in a movie. However, when relating to the Apollo 13 timeline (n.d.) that were documented by where the entire episode of the discovery of the problem to the egress of the astronauts from the command module was approximately only 2.5 days, the importance of decision making cannot be overlooked.

The recurring theme among the teams was the relationship of proactive risk management. A space shuttle launch initiative is a major undertaking and risk management is a sine qua non of such larger programs. Yet, when the calamity dawned on the team, it became apparent in the class discussions how many of the risk response strategies had to be reworked identifying secondary risks of the release of unsafe chemical gases and attempts to squeeze more power from modules for which no clear documented procedures existed.

Another theme resonated nicely from the discussions was the importance of stakeholder and communication management. As heard in the movie, “Failure was not an option,” for NASA but there were several stakeholders in the power-influence grid that need to be managed. The team’s efforts in managing these numerous stakeholders’ expectations during this major recovery exercise were commendable particularly in light of the fact that that the only available communication channels available at that time were the radio, the television, and the newspapers. Managing expectations of public relations was still achieved in the absence of today’s Internet-connected social media world.

An interesting point was the class’ focus rested predominantly on the on-ground team efforts until discussions were brought on the astronauts that needed to execute these sequences under entirely different situations of limited heat, extreme stress, limited resources, and intense focus. These facilitated discussions further highlighted the analogy to the gaps experienced with the distributed, virtual, and remote teams were brought to light.

In summarizing, this exercise brought a good closure in bringing home the vital elements of management and leadership while constantly managing the emotions expeditiously and relating to the basic principles of project management.

What other movies do you think can bring home similar experiences in a teaching or training setting? For additional topics, please follow on my blog (


Apollo 13 Timeline (n.d.). Retrieved November 30, 2016, from

Grazer, B. (Producer), & Howard, R. (Director). (1995). Apollo 13 [Motion picture]. United States: Universal Pictures.