The Program Management Professional (PgMP)® Exam

17 July, 2014

At this stage there are over half a million Project Management Professionals (PMPs)® out there. However, there are still fewer than 1,000 Program Management Professionals (PgMPs)®. Having sat the PgMP® exam (and passed!) I can appreciate why this is the case. In terms of study, the PgMP® involves a bit more material than the PMP®. However, there is a great deal of overlap, so any PMP® who is interested in moving to a higher-level will find that many of the concepts are familiar.

The overall program lifecycle involves initiating, planning, executing, controlling and closing. There is also a great emphasis on Stakeholder Management, which is very similar to what is covered in the Project Stakeholder Management module of your PMP® days. There are lots of supporting processes, but they map pretty readily onto the processes you have studied in the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). The new areas are strategy, benefits management and governance.

For Project Managers, strategy provides fascinating insights into what happens at a higher-level. Why are projects chosen? How are they funded? Why do some projects get cancelled for no apparent reason? You will learn what vision and mission statements are and how every effort in an organization is geared towards fulfilment of the overall corporate strategy. Even if you never manage a program, some of these concepts can help your project management work – for instance, taking the time to create a clear vision for your project can help you to appreciate what the overall aim of your project is. It often happens that Project Managers get so wrapped up in the day-to-day tasks of ensuring that deliverables are generated on time and within budget that they forget what the deliverables are meant to contribute to.

The biggest difference in moving from project to program level is the change of emphasis from deliverables to benefits. The interesting concept is that the benefits produced by the program might be totally intangible. An organization might undertake a piece of work with the goal of improving its corporate image, or register trademarks on the off-chance that this product will define an industry – think of Hoover, or Walkman, or, more recently, iPod. Benefits also focus on a product lifecycle, rather than a project, or program one. Benefits have to be sustained after the project or program is finished, so they must be transitioned to some sort of sustainment or maintenance operation. Again, this way of thinking will influence your work as a Project Manager: what will happen to my deliverables after we have created them? We might consult maintenance groups or the manufacturing people and seek their inputs to our designs. Such foresight can reduce manufacturing costs and maintenance overheads significantly.

Governance is also an interesting area to explore, particularly as it provides insights into the concerns of the Board of Directors and what they are looking for from their portfolio of work. For a PMP®, it is interesting to learn that the Governance Board is the body who organizes Quality Audits, one of the tools/techniques of the Perform Quality Assurance process.

So even if you do not choose to sit the PgMP® exam, doing a PgMP® course will provide useful insights and place your project work in an organizational context. But if you do sit the PgMP® exam, be warned, it is even more of a test of character than the PMP®! Having four hours to complete 200 PMP® questions tests your stamina and concentration, but doing 170 PgMP® questions in the same four hours will really test your endurance.

In your PMP® exam, the longest question was probably around ten lines long. This would be considered a short question in the PgMP® exam! Every question contains a scenario, sometimes these can be twenty lines or more in length. The really frustrating thing is often the question is contained in the last line and the rest of the scenario has absolutely no relevance. However, in other cases, the scenario is vital to zoning in on the correct answer. The bottom line is: you need to read and understand all 170 scenarios – this is extremely draining.

Then the answer options can be really frustrating. You might read the scenario and know what the right answer is. Then you explore the four possible answers and the right answer is not there! What you need to do now is find the nearest answer. Some PMP® questions used this trick – for instance: “Who assigns the Project Manager?” That is easy: the Project Sponsor. However, the nearest thing to a sponsor might be the CEO in the list you are given. Another familiar gotcha is “What do you do next?” What is really meant is: “What do you do next from the following options?”

But the PgMP® has one unusual attribute: questions where all the answers given are plausible. These divide up into two types: (1) Can you find the most generic answer? If one answer includes the others, that is the one to go for.  (2) Can you find the BEST answer? A typical example of this would be a scenario where a situation has arisen and you have been asked what to do next. You should give preference to planning options over action options – remember it is what you do NEXT.

The PgMP® will also throw up ethics questions, so you will need to be familiar with the Project Management Institute’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. You should also be aware of answers containing spurious artefacts or activities – if you have not heard of something it could be the wrong answer. Of course, if you know that all the other options are wrong, it could be the right one! This will be familiar to those who did the PMP® exam – they like to throw in specific methods that are not covered in the courses. You might see acronyms like SIPOC and FMEA that are not PMI® terms, but they are perfectly valid.

So it is not surprising that so few people have obtained the PgMP®, but the subject matter is fascinating and, if you are interested in learning more, Velopi is currently developing courses in program management, up to and including PgMP® (Program Management Professional) certification. If you think the PgMP® could figure in your future career plans then please get in touch.

By Velopi Seamus Collins

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