Dear PM Advisor

Jan 11, 2018

Dear PM Advisor,

I am interested in obtaining my PMP certification this year. I feel like I do not have enough time between now and March to apply, take a course, and study. I’m thinking about waiting until after March to start the process. What are your thoughts about this? Do you think the PMP exam is getting harder with the post-March changes? Also, should I be concerned that study resources and those who teach classes will need a few months to understand the new exam, before I can start studying?


Hi Roshni!

A conservative estimate is 100 hours of studying required to pass the PMP exam. So, unless you join a January prep class and start cramming, you’ll be unlikely to be done by March 26th when the new exam rolls out. 

The PMBOK 6 version of the exam will not be harder, in that it has the same amount of questions with the same breakdown and difficulty. However, there is more material to cover so that requires more studying on your part. Perhaps 110 - 120 hours of studying.

The companies who provide exam preparation services have had the new PMBOK since September of last year and have been busy creating new material for the new exam. I know my company, the ePlatform, has been busy creating the new material since September and will be ready to roll out our first class in February. We are spending this month cross-reviewing each other’s work to ensure we all agree with each other’s interpretations of the changes and to ensure a consistent message for our students. We are conducting our last class for PMBOK 5 in January.

None of us preparation people are allowed to take the actual exam to see if our classes align but we can compare it to the exam content outline that the PMI publishes every four years. That has not come out yet for the new PMBOK so we do have a few sections we are holding in reserve in case they say they will test on them. That is due to come out a few weeks before the exam so we’ll see. An example of this is the emerging trends that now appear in the PMBOK but may or may not be in the actual exam.

Why not sign up for our February class so you will be ready shortly after the new exam rolls out?

Click below for a link to this class. The February dates will be posted shortly.


PM Advisor


Dear PM Advisor

Dear PM Advisor,

When I fill out a Responsibility Matrix, should I add the lab and draftsmen as separate resources even though they are being represented by the core team member? I'm afraid my core team members will look overloaded if I assign all the time of their extended team to them.

Transparent in Singapore

Dear Transparent,

There are, as you say, two ways of doing this, each with their advantages and disadvantages. Show the work being done by the extended team on the core team member and they look overloaded. They then need to crate their own responsibility matrix for their extended team, just as the Project Manager had to do so for the core team. At that level, the work is broken out and everyone can see where the work is really being allocated. 

Or add the extended team members to the Responsibility Matrix (RM) and show the work being done by the correct resource first time. But if you have over 15 team members, between core and extended, the RM becomes unwieldy and difficult to interpret. 

So my advice is to add extended team members until you have used all the open slots on the Responsibility Matrix and, after that, assign all the work to the extended team leader (ETL). Then, the ETL will create their own charts for their teams. 

Either way, by the time you transfer everything onto the schedule, the work is allocated to the correct person as their is no difficulty in showing all the resources on a Gantt chart.

Good luck,

PM Advisor.

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Dear PM Advisor. January 9, 2017


Dear PM Advisor,

Our company has instituted project resource loading and we are being asked to show the availability of our R&D people for projects. I believe we need to reserve some people and some percentage of people for pure research: playing around, to ensure we have products for future pipelines. How do I show that on the resource spreadsheets I am being asked to fill out? 

Long-term thinker in Singapore

Dear Long-term,

First of all, let me congratulate your company for properly resource-loading all your projects. The most common reason late market releases is that the organization is simultaneously running too many projects. Properly assigning resources to projects and work to resources is the best way to avoid this pitfall. 

But your job, as a functional manager, is to show where your people are spending their time inside and outside projects and ensuring that it adds up to 100% while still ensuring that some pure research is going on. That's a tough job. Let's look at this problem in detail.

First of all, the percentage of time and resources a company chooses to dedicate to pure research is a top-level decision. This business strategy should be communicated down to the organization in terms of percent of human resource dollars or a pure dollar figure. If this is not happening, look at the types of projects being placed on the approved list and determine for yourself what the research allocation really is. Then match that in your own department. Nobody can fault you for dedicating 20% of your R&D resources to pure research if the company is dedicating 10% of total resources to research. Most pure research is expected to be dome in the R&D group. Knowing what percentage R&D makes up of total resources will help you come up with the right percentage to use here. 

Now that you have a number, you need to decide where to allocate that percentage. You could allocate it across the board and show that each of your R&D people get to spend 20% of their time on pure research and that comes off the top before we start allocating their time to projects. Or you could allocate 20% of your people to be only doing pure research and be unavailable for development projects. Most likely you will do some combination of the two strategies.

Good luck,

PM Advisor.

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PM Advisor. October 17, 2016

Dear PM Advisor,

When I take over a project, I am handed a Project Charter that has been already filled out and I am being expected to meet dates and budgets I had no part in creating. Doesn't this go against your philosophy of letting those responsible for meeting the dates and costs predict those during the planning phase? 

Set up for failure in Morrisville, NC

Dear Set up,

The Project Charter and Project Plan are created by different groups of people during different phases of the project's life. The Charter is usually created by a small group during the Initiation Phase using knowledgeable people from multiple functions but less than 80 hours of total effort. The Charter is used to help management decide if a project is feasible to move to the planning phase and the estimates contained therein should be assumed to be +/- 40%. Any management team who considers these estimates to be carved in stone are operating in a low state of Project Management Maturity. 

If the project is moved forward to planning, a full team of experienced resources should be assigned to complete the full planning activities, a job that could take weeks and hundreds of hours of effort, depending on the project's size and complexity. Even these estimates are considered to be +/- 20%. 

So stand firm to this philosophy and tell your management that you will be happy to refine the estimates written in the Charter and bring them from 40% to 20% accuracy.

Good luck,

PM Advisor.

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Dear PM Advisor. October 10, 2016

Dear PM Advisor,

How can I predict the duration of a truly untried activity? In R&D we are asked to develop a product that has never been developed before. What can I base my estimate on?

Flummoxed in Phoenix

Dear Flummoxed,

I once worked for a Director of R&D who dealt with this problem by getting on his high horse and telling those who asked for schedules: 'You can't predict discovery!' While I genuinely liked and respected this man I didn't buy into this philosophy. While that is fine in the pure Research part of R&D, it doesn't fly in Product Development where we need to determine when activities will complete so that the other parts of the project can be coordinated with the development.

My version of this is an extension of his. 'You can't predict discovery but you can manage it.' Whenever confronted with a truly unknown activity, I list a series of assumptions and questions to be answered with it and ask management for a certain duration of time that seems logical to me and my team. I don't promise that I will find the answer in that time, just that they will give me that amount of time to answer the questions and test the assumptions and, either complete the activity or have enough information to predict when the activity will complete in the next iteration. 

The most extreme case of this was at a company where the yarn used to knit or weave the medical device grafts was being discontinued by our current supplier and needed to be replaced with a product that performed identically to the existing product that had been in production for 40 years. 

There was an 11 week process between the raw yarn arriving the involved spinning, processing, knitting, weaving, coating, sterilizing and many other steps before the product could be tested to see if it performed the same. We could test multiple versions of the yarn to get results and then could iterate until we found a version of the yarn that worked exactly the same as the current yarn. But how many versions and iterations would it take before we found our solution?

After lengthy discussion with my team we settled on six versions at a time with six iterations before we found our answer. This resulted in a contract with management for two years and two million dollars of effort to develop the solution. In each iteration we would find the answers to multiple questions and test assumptions and narrow down the choices until we reached the version of yarn that worked in all cases.

Why six? Mostly because I am hesitant to use five, simply because he humans have five fingers on each hand. And it seemed like we needed about that many to be successful.

Good luck,

PM Advisor 

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Dear PM Advisor. October 3, 2016

Dear PM Advisor,

Thank you for answering my question from last week about how detailed my Scope Statement should be but I have a follow-up question. While you teach that a Scope Statement should contain all the project's deliverables, my management doesn't want that level of detail there. Can I just keep the scope section of my Scope Statement high-level and leave the deliverables to the Work Breakdown Structure?

Determined in San Mateo

Dear Determined,

Of course you should display the level of detail requested by your management. That includes what you display in your Scope Statement and your schedule. Some managers only want to see deliverables in the schedules, others only want to see milestones. Give them what they want. But please put every activity in the WBS as this is supposed to represent all the work that is required to successfully complete the project. Add every activity and subtask to the schedule but roll it up tio their satisfaction when displaying this to management.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

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Dear PM Advisor. Sep 26, 2016

Dear PM Advisor,

How much detail should I place in a Scope Statement versus a Charter? Are they the same thing?

Determined in San Mateo.


Dear Determined,

A Project Charter is developed early on by a small group of people who may or may not be members of the team who will plan and execute the project. The level of detail is low or, to make it more confusing in terminology, it is a high-level look at the project. 

A Scope Statement may use the same basic template as the Charter but the level of detail is much better. It is developed by the team who plans and executes the project and is much more accurate. Dates and Budget are more likely to be hit, specifications and resources required are more accurate, scope is better defined.

All of this is true because the issues, risks, assumptions and questions section of the Charter has been addressed. A lot of questions we did not know the answer to have been answered. Assumptions have been tested for realism. Risks and issues have been looked at and taken into account in the estimates on the scope statement.

Good luck,

PM Advisor.

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Dear PM Advisor. Oct 26, 2015

Dear PM Advisor, You've talked about a lot of reasons people should take responsibility on a task level. Reasons why a person should or should not take this responsibility depending on their level of work on the task. But what about if a person is not suited for this responsibility because of the type of person they are?

Concerned in Manchester, NH

Dear Concerned.

In a few previous posts I've written about different personality styles and how personality styles affect their starting and completion of tasks and their likelihood of getting along with other team members. Based on these differences, a good PM will manage these people differently to ensure tasks are completed on time.

While Extroverts will be happy to start tasks, they need motivation and management to ensure they finish. Amiables need a kick-start to ensure they don't procrastinate. Analyticals need to be pulled up for air to ensure they don't analyze a task to death. Bosses need to avoid snap judgments on how to complete the task.

But you are asking whether certain people should be allowed to take responsibility for tasks given their personality. In general, my answer to this would be NO. There is beauty in getting people to volunteer in front of their peers to take responsibility for tasks. They are much more likely to complete this task on schedule simply because of that public commitment. As stated above, they may need to be managed differently to assist in achieving success.

That being said, perhaps you are talking about a person who has a history of being late on everything and you are afraid that giving him responsibility will ensure late delivery. Not his personality style, per se, but his track record. Well, no-one said being a PM was going to be easy. Place these tasks in your bucket of the 20% of the tasks you need to watch out for as being the likely cause of 80% of the delays on this project. Manage these carefully. Do what you need to do to ensure success. But do it with two goals in mind:

One: That the task and the project succeeds.

Two: That the team member learns valuable skills in completing tasks on time and the feeling of accomplishment that goes with a job well done.

That will make it easier the next time you need to work with him.

Good luck,

PM Advisor.

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Dear PM Advisor. Oct 19, 2015

Dear PM Advisor, We are starting prioritization and I'm concerned about our long-term projects. With everyone considering time to market and urgent projects, when will our long-term projects hit the top of the priority list and get done?

Visionary in Manchester, NH

Dear Visionary,

Since the dawn of time, humans have prioritized urgent above important. Running from the lion seemed more crucial than planting crops to last through the winter. But that kind of human nature can cripple companies. You need to plan for the future as well.

When management gets together to plan the strategy, they need to take the future into account. Not just the products that will make us money in six months but those that will determine the direction of the organization in five years. They cannot keep stalling these long-term projects while the short-term ones finish or they will not be around five years from now when we need them.

So how do we do this? We have a couple of options:

1) Dedicate a group of people to work on these long-term projects and make their time unavailable to work on shorter-term projects. Kind of like the R in R&D.

2) Prioritize these along with the others but, once the priority list is established, balance the portfolio to ensure that the company's future is also ensured.

Good luck,

PM Advisor.

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Dear PM Advisor. Oct 12, 2015

Dear PM Advisor, Having read your posts about prioritizing projects, I'm a little confused. Shouldn't all authorized projects be fully resourced and those not authorized remain unstaffed? I'm used to more of a binary solution.

IO in Manchester, NH

Dear IO,

You are not alone. Many companies in a relatively low level of Project Management Maturity have a binary system. If an idea is good, management authorizes it, applies resources against it and expects it to complete on time and on budget. There are a couple of problems with this:

1) Usually there are not enough resources to go around. The proper thing to do is to determine how many of each skill-set are required to complete each project on schedule. If you determine this number and start staffing up your projects properly, you will invariably find you can fully resource less than half the projects you have authorized. That's why they are all running behind schedule.

2) Even when you get to the point where you are only running enough projects for the resources on hand, there still are bottle-neck people and organizations. What do you do with a person who comes into their office and is faced with five different projects to work on that day? Even if they are capable of doing all this work today, which task should be first? For that reason you need to prioritize the authorized projects so that those most important to the business are worked on first.

But the reality is that I have never seen an organization where the resources are neatly spread out amongst the active projects. There are always resource constraints. People need to know what to do in which order. And if management doesn't set this priority, people will set it themselves and not necessarily in a way that represents the best interests of the company.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

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Dear PM Advisor. Nov 24, 2014

Dear PM Advisor, I am studying the Procurement Section of the PMBOK and don't understand the term: Privity of ContractsCan you explain this term in layman's language?

Private in Peshwar.

Dear Private,

Privity of Contracts sounds like something you do in the bathroom.

I'm no expert on procurement so I first looked through the PMBOK and couldn't find the term. I Googled it and it says, in effect, that a contract exists between a buyer and a seller and a person further down the line is not privy to this contract so he cannot sue one of the contracted parties. For example, a manufacturer sells to a distributor, they sell to a retailer, they sell to a consumer. The consumer is not privy to the contract between the manufacturer and distributor so he cannot sue. Of course, tort suits can still be filed if the product is defective.

But looking over my words, I'm not sure how that helps you in your case. So I asked my friend Bala who deals with these contracts often. Here is his response:

Privity of Contracts protects the buyer by preventing the seller from subcontracting out the work to a third party. 

Aha! In this way, the buyer ensures that the work contracted out is done by the firm they have contracted with, not some fly-by-night subcontractor. That make sense to me. How about you?

Good luck,

PM Advisor.

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Dear PM Advisor. Nov 17, 2014

Dear PM Advisor, I'm learning about the different types of contracts: Fixed Price, Cost Plus, etc. I'm curious what my current project would be classified as. It is a Turnkey EPC (Engineering, Procurement & Construction) Contract with a Price Variation Clause. 

Various in Varanasi,

Dear Various,

I'm not sure what the Price Variation Clause is on your particular project but it usually varies depending on certain commodities like the price of oil or steel. If that is the case, you are dealing with a Fixed Price - Economic Price Adjusted type of contract.

In these contracts the price of the work is set and agreed to by both parties but the commodity is split out and varies based on the world price over the course of the work. As people use oil and steel, the buyer pays that commodity price in addition to the work being done.

Good luck,

PM Advisor.

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Dear PM Advisor. Nov 10, 2014

Dear PM Advisor, A low level team member on my team is the brother-in-law of the company's Managing Director. How do I treat him on my project?

Stepping on Eggshells in Bangalore

Dear Eggshells,

It really depends on how much the Managing Director likes his brother-in-law and what his plans are for him. Does he plan on grooming this team member as his replacement or is he just finding a job for him as a favor to his sister? Does the Managing Director want him to succeed or fail? Does he view it as your job to make him look good or are you required to test him to see if he has what it takes to make it in this company?

The bottom line is that the Managing Director is a major stakeholder of your project. You need to talk to him. First about the project like you would with any other stakeholder. Ask the typical stakeholder questions:

  • What does he want to have the project accomplish?
  • What are some potential pitfalls?
  • How often does he want communications about the project, what type and in what media?
  • Who else cares about this project?

But add another question just for him:

  • What is your goal for your brother-in-law over the course of this project?

You may not get a truthful answer so you also need to ask other high-level stakeholders the same question:

  • What is the Managing Director's goal for his brother-in-law?

Then set out to manage his expectation just as you are trying to manage all the other stakeholder's expectations.

Good luck,

PM Advisor.

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Dear PM Advisor. Nov 3, 2014

Dear PM Advisor, What percent of questions need some calculation in the PMP exam?

Math Geek in Mumbai

Dear Math Geek,

I wish it were all of them. Because I know when I get those correct. The philosophical questions test to see if you can think the same way as the PMI so there is more uncertainty there.

That being said, let's see what questions are likely to require calculations:

1 - 2 about number of communication channels (just remember C = n(n-1)/2)

1 - 2 Earned Value scenarios, each with 3 - 5 questions associated

2 - 3 Cost Plus Fee questions

1 - 2 Net Present Value questions

1 - 2 Normal distribution/6 sigma questions

2 - 3 PERT questions (just remember Pert = (O + 4*ML + P)/6)

And if you consider Network Diagramming calculations, 1 -2 of those with 3 - 5 questions in each

So you are looking at a range of 13 - 32 calculation questions within the 200. Most likely these are all within the 175 questions that count so around 15% of your questions require calculations and you can check your work to ensure you got them right.

Good luck,

PM Advisor.

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Dear PM Advisor. Oct 27, 2014

Dear PM Advisor, I'm taking a PMP Preparation class. How long do the PDUs I earn in this class last?

Learning in Lahore

Dear Learning,

I'm going to assume you are taking a PMP prep class in preparation for sitting for your PMP exam for the first time. In that case there is no date at which the education your are obtaining runs out. According to the PMP handbook linked here, there are years during which your PM experience apply but your education can be 50 years ago for all they care.

If you are taking the class to earn PDUs for maintaining your certification, you must report them in the next three-year period during which you need to obtain 60 credits.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

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Dear PM Advisor. Oct. 20, 2014

Dear PM Advisor, What’s a WBS Dictionary and how do you use it?

Poor Speller in Chicago

Dear Poor Speller,

The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is the oldest tool in the Project Manager’s toolkit and one of the more graphic ones. It is the first opportunity for the PM to express his style as he shows the way he intends to organize the project. Will he organize it by phase, function, or deliverable? How many levels will he go before work starts to be done? I always love watching the way a PM drafts his WBS; it is a look into his mind.

One thing about a graphic tool such as a WBS: there is no room for paragraphs or even sentences. Nouns and adjectives are all you have room to work with. And sometimes a chunk of work requires more than that to allow those executing the work to know what needs to be done. That’s where the WBS Dictionary comes in. It is a tool that provides more detail around a piece of work that is in the WBS. Not every WBS element must be defined, just those that need it.

I don’t strictly use a WBS Dictionary as a stand-alone tool. But when I enter WBS elements into the Gantt chart, I’ll use the Notes tab on that line to enter additional details.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

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Dear PM Advisor. Oct 13, 2014

Dear PM Advisor, I'm a Project Manager working for an electronics firm making laptops. My technical team says our battery is a huge risk in environmental hazards. As PM, should I recommend a change in product or battery use to ensure the company is not penalized due to this project?

Battered in Mumbai

Dear Battered,

Aha! An ethical dilemma! I love it! 

Depending on your project setup you may have somebody on your team representing regulatory or legal who should be making this call. If you do not, or you believe they are acting unethically, it is your responsibility to act ethically and ensure that the company does not violate any rules or regulations. 

As a Project Management Professional you sign a code of conduct that insists you act in an ethical manner. While doing so may hurt your career in the short term, you will always be better off in the long term. And taking short-cuts for short-term gains never pays off in the long term. 

But you don't need me to tell you that. Take any religious text or even Plato and they will agree with me. Below is my personal motto that you are free to take:

Do the right thing

Do the thing right

Good luck,

PM Advisor

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Dear PM Advisor. Oct 6, 2014

Dear PM Advisor, I see that the grades I can receive when taking my PMP exam are 'not proficient', 'moderately proficient' and 'highly proficient', Can you explain the value of securing moderately proficient versus highly proficient on my PMP certificate in career perspective?

Overachiever in Delhi

Dear Overachiever,

As far as anyone other than you is concerned, the PMP test is graded Pass/Fail. Nobody asks for your grade. Like most credentials, you either have it or you don't.

So why does PMI grade it in such a way? Self-preservation.

The PMP exam is a HUGE moneymaker for the organization. $500 a pop for hundreds of thousands of people adds up fast. When I took the exam back in the last millennium (1999), there was a minimum score and they graded applicants with a number. I believe I barely passed which told me I studied exactly enough.

But picture what happens to those who barely fail. They are out $500 and want to argue with the PMI on the correctness of their answers. Especially some of the philosophical questions that ask you what you would do in a certain situation. You can claim to be doing the right thing and PMI disagrees. Who to mediate?

So the PMI protects itself by not telling you which questions you got right or wrong. It only tells you that you scored each section with a particular proficiency.

Never mind, just take my advice and pass the test and tell everyone you scored highly proficient.

Good luck,

PM Advisor.

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Dear PM Advisor. Sep 29, 2014

Dear PM Advisor,  What are the ideal numbers of projects a PM should be conferred upon simultaneously to effectively manage the projects?

Overworked in Lagos

Dear Overworked,

The first answer to this question is: It depends. It depends on how big the projects are. If you are working on a huge new drug development project, this may be your only job for the next seven years and you may have a project coordinator/administrator who keeps track of status and updates your Gantt chart and budgets for you.

If you are managing a self-sufficient team on a small project you may only require an hour a week to stay on top of this.

Typically you are somewhere between these two extremes and you end up being placed on multiple projects.

If you plan your projects properly, they Gantt chart should be able to show your manager how many hours of your time are required by each project on a weekly basis and that should be the primary indicator of how many projects you can work on.

However, keeping all that information from getting mixed up in your head brings you to a practical upper limit of the amount of projects you can manage simultaneously: FIVE.

Don't let anyone assign you more than that.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

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Dear PM Advisor. Sep 22, 2014

Dear PM Advisor In a small company where the PMO is absent, what should be the role for Project Manager?

Alone in Lahore

Dear Alone

The Project Management Office has a lot of traditional roles, many of which can be taken over by a Project Manager in a company without the PMO. Let's look at them:

  1. Maintain the PM templates
  2. Keep all the project records
  3. Train the Project Managers
  4. Provide PMs to the organization
  5. Write the Project Management Guide
  6. Facilitate the steering committee
  7. Organize project prioritization 
  8. Decide on Project Organization style

So in your situation you can do roles 1 and 2, get yourself trained and be the PM for the organization. Writing the Project Management Guide should be done no matter what and you can have a streamlined guide in your current role. 

When it comes time to setting up a high-level steering committee and getting the organization to agree on project priorities, your success depends entirely on your personality.  

Deciding on the Organization Style is pretty simple. Your company has already decided on Functional, Projectized or Matrix. If Matrix, you cannot be strong since you don't have a PMO. If you are called a PM, it seems like you are, you are in a balanced matrix. If not, you're in a weak matrix structure.

Take advantage of the lack of structure to do whatever you want to make life as a PM easier. 

Good luck,

PM Advisor 

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