Earning the PMP: Reading the PMBOK

Knowledge of the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) is central to effectively serving as an effective project manager, and is core to passing the PMP exam.  One of the commonly heard pieces of conventional wisdom is that the PMP-candidate needs to read the PMBOK book cover-to-cover twice.  I followed another strategy that worked well for me, and might serve you.

In Summary

I only read the PMBOK once, but I systematically studied its contents and took organized notes with a focus on understanding the PMBOK and using it in my own projects.  I created a carefully structured set of notes that provided deep insight into the PM approach embodied in this body of knowledge and which made me comfortable taking the PMP exam.

A couple of my mentors suggested that I might be overdoing the preparation (“gold-plating” in PM jargon) as one only needs to complete the PMP exam with a minimum passing score.  However, I was truly seeking true working insight and was interested in strengthening my own mental framework for project management.

The Strategy

My strategy was to study in-depth the key content of the PMBOK and to take notes for my own understanding and to use in future projects.  In my projects since studying the PMBOK, I have found reviewing these notes to be useful for building new insights and approaches.

The Plan

As I carefully read the text, I created a set of notes in two main parts.  I created a document I call the 47 Booklet that has carefully organized notes about each of the 47 PMBOK processes.  To accompany the booklet, I created a set of tables that index, organize, and categorize the key elements in the PMBOK, namely the processes, plans, work products, tools, and techniques.

As I scrutinized each of the 47 processes, I took careful notes in my 47 Booklet on some key points:

  • Definition of the process
  • Benefits of using the process
  • The general approach to using the process
  • What are documented “good practices” for using the process?
  • What interesting details are shown or implied (or overlooked) in the process flow diagram?
  • What interesting details are shown, implied,  or overlooked in the described inputs, tools, technique, and outputs?
  • What are key project communications considerations involved in this process?
  • What are key considerations involved in this process in the opening days of a project?
  • What are key considerations for this process for a project manager brought late to the project?  (How do you catch up and gain control?)

The PMBOK has a large number of diagrams.  (Some readers might say it could use a few cartoons to liven it up!)  I built a list of the ones I felt were most important.

Some of my note-taking was just to assist memorization or to organize my thoughts, but some of it was to discover important insights buried in the dry text and to stimulate some of my own insights.

I scrutinized the introductory chapters and the chapters associated with the PM process groups.  I barely scanned the PMBOK Annex and most of the Appendices as these are “meta” materials included primarily to provide structure for the main content.  I did read the appendix on interpersonal skills.  I had considered systematically studying the glossary, but ended up merely skimming it.  Studying the glossary in depth might be important for non-English speakers taking the PMP in the English language.

After completing my note-taking process, I went back and reviewed a few key parts.

  • Important figures and tables
  • Early phase ITTO/A
  • Compared and contrasted the “Plan” processes, especially including the difference between the flow diagrams.
  • Compared and contrasted the “Control” processes, especially including the difference between the flow diagrams.
  • Reviewed the processes with unique action verbs.  (The ones with “Identify,” “Acquire,” etc. instead of the usual “Plan,” “Manage,” “Control,” etc.)
  • Reviewed the processes associated with getting a project started.
  • Reviewed the processes associated with wrapping up a project at completion.

The Schedule

I created a study schedule for myself for:

  • Studying the introductory chapters
  • Studying the 10 chapter introductions for the process group chapters
  • Studying each of the 47 named processes.

Early in my PMP-preparation days, when I was only studying part-time, I put on my calendar a day each for the introductory chapters and for each of the 47 named processes.  (Thus, about 50 calendar days planned.)  Later, when I was studying full-time, I shifted to studying a block of 3-4 processes per day, corresponding to an entire PMBOK chapter or PM process group.  I spent about one hour on each named process.

For your interest, here is a part of my study schedule.  The tasks in the Cheat Sheet 1 column are from my plan to memorize the order and relationships between the PMBOK’s 47 processes.  If interested, you can read more about my successful memorization method here.  The tasks in the 47 Booklet column are my schedule for studying and note-taking on the 47 processes.  The tasks in the PMBOK column are my schedule for studying the book’s first few introductory chapters and the overview sections of each of the main chapters.  Rita Mulcahy produced some very effective learning materials, and the tasks in the Rita column are part of my schedule for using her books and audio CDs.  I also included in my schedule (but off screen in the diagram below) some tests, quizzes, and exercises from some courses on Udemy by Joseph Phillips.  Joseph offers an Udemy course called Master the PMBOK Guide 5th Edition that could be considered a coached, guided tour of the PMBOK.  You might find that less painful than my approach.



I want to thanks my friends and colleagues who suggested that I study for and take the PMP, and who encouraged me along the way.  I especially want to thank my loving wife and family for their patience and encouragement, especially while I was camped out at the kitchen table for a few days.

(Image courtesy of Poswiecie at Pixabay.)


One thought on “Earning the PMP: Reading the PMBOK

  1. Pingback: Report Card: 2 PM Courses on Udemy | Carl Gusler

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