Types of Organizations

The ability to conduct projects effectively varies by the type of organizational structure.  At one end of the spectrum are “projectized organizations.”   Projectized organizations are organized to allow projects to be effectively and efficiently managed.  Projectized organizations are usually organized around major programs or projects.  Project managers are dedicated to projects and if, they are not at the executive level, usually report directly to the executives of the organization.  Project managers in a projectized organization are given full authority over project resources.  Project resources in a projectized organization are normally dedicated full time to project activities.  Project teams (and project managers) in a projectized organization are usually also provided full time administrative support.

At the other end of the spectrum are “functional organizations.”  Functional organizations are organized around functions which help produce a product or service.  An example of a functional organization is a factory.  In a functional organization, projects are given very little priority.  Project management or project coordination is not a full time job.  Project coordinators or project expeditors have very little authority and usually have to borrow part-time resources from various departments to assist with project efforts.  The difference between a project expeditor and a project coordinator is usually that the expeditor has little or no authority over project resources while a project coordinator may have some limited authority over resources.

In between these two extreme types of organizations, are “matrix organizations” which combine elements of both functional and projectized organizations.  “Weak matrix” organizations look a lot like functional organizations and “strong matrix” organizations look a lot like projectized organizations. “Balanced matrix” organizations sit between the two extremes.  Project managers in a balanced organization share authority with functional managers.

These are the five types of organizations:

  • Projectized
  • Strong Matrix
  • Balanced Matrix
  • Weak Matrix
  • Functional Matrix

Additionally, some organizations contain elements of some or all of these different organizational types.  Those organizations are called composite organizations.

Tips for the exam:

  • Memorize the 5 different types of organizations.
  • Know that the Composite organization is a hybrid of the others.
  • Understand how the organization type affects the project manager’s authority and effectiveness of project management.
  • Know the difference between a Project Manager, a Project Coordinator and a Project Expeditor.

Eddie Merla, PMI-ACP, PMP

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The Triple Constraints

The Triple Constraints

The triple constraints for projects are: the project requirements (scope), the schedule, and the costs (or budget) for the project.  Once you have established these three parameters for a project, they become the baseline for the project and can be used to determine variance.  There is also a direct relationship among these three constraints.  If you increase scope, you most likely will have to extend your schedule and increase your budget.  If you decrease your budget, you most likely will have to reduce your scope.  If you shorten your schedule, you will either have to cut back on your scope, or add resources, thereby increasing your budget.

When do these constraints become established for a project?  Well, it depends.  The project methodology for an organization will determine when these constraints become established.  Typically, “ballpark” estimates of scope, cost & schedule are determined during the initiation of a project. “Baselines” for scope, cost, and schedule would typically be established through the planning processes.

Can baselines be changed?  Yes, of course.  Formal project methodologies usually allow formal changes to project baselines through change management procedures.  The PMBOK® identifies these processes in the “Monitoring and Controlling” process group. 

FYI, sometimes the triple constraints are also called the “project triangle” or the “iron triangle.”

The triple constraints become formalized through the planning processes and ultimately become the three primary baselines:  the Scope baseline, the Schedule baseline and the Cost Performance baseline.

The “enhanced triple constraints” include quality, resources and risk.  Dependent on the organizational and environmental factors that affect the project, these are additional constraints that influence the primary constraints.  For example, in an organization that emphasizes quality, the scope of the project may be scrutinized to ensure that organizational quality requirements are met, therefore possibly impacting the schedule and the budget.

Tips for the exam:

  • Know the relationships between the triple constraints.
  • Understand impacts if any of the constraints are changed.
  • Know the relationships between the constraints and the project baselines.
  • Know the difference between the triple constraints and the enhanced triple constraints.

Eddie Merla, PMI-ACP, PMP

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Project Life Cycles

Definition of a Project Life Cycle

Projects by definition have a beginning and an end.  Informally, all projects have a life cycle: an initiation or start, a middle (the execution of the project), and some sort of closure.  Many organizations formalize the life cycle through project management methodologies.  These methodologies break down the project life cycle into “phases.”  Each phase transitions the project through the project life cycle. 

A software development company, for example, might have a five phase project life-cycle:

  • An Initiation Phase
  • A Design Phase
  • A Development Phase
  • A Testing Phase and
  • A Close-out Phase.

 Each of the phases in this example helps advance the project from the idea or concept stage through the final phase of the project.  Each subsequent phase advances the development of the project.  The methodology and the phases of the methodology formalize the “progressive elaboration” of a project.    “Progressive elaboration” is a characteristic of most projects – we usually don’t know exactly what needs to be done until we progress through the life cycle of the project; as we progress through the project, we can better elaborate needs and requirements.

Each phase in a life cycle will usually have a specific objective or set of objectives along with at least one output or deliverable.  A deliverable is defined as a tangible or verifiable result. Phases will also usually have some sort of criteria to close the phase and move on to the next phase.  These close-out items may be called “phase exits,” “stage gates,” or “kill points.”

Characteristics of Project Life Cycles

Generally, all project life cycles share some common characteristics:

  • Costs and staffing levels are usually lowest at the beginning of the project life cycle.  The majority of resources are applied during the execution phases of a project.  Typically, staffing levels begin to decrease significantly during the shutdown phases of a project.
  • Risk and uncertainty are highest in the early phases of a project usually decreasing with each advancing phase.
  • Stakeholders and project owners have the greatest influence over the direction and outcome of the project at the beginning of the project.
  • The ability to make changes with the least impact on cost is highest at the beginning of a project.  The cost of making changes or correcting errors (rework) continues to increase with the highest costs occurring toward the end of the project life cycle.

Project vs. Product Life Cycle

Be aware that while a Project Life Cycle may overlap with a Product Life Cycle, the two cycles serve different purposes.  A product life cycle helps an organization introduce a new product.  Each “phase” in a product life cycle may also be a project.

As an example, a Toy manufacturing company may have a Product Concept Phase, a Marketing Analysis Phase, a Product Development Phase, a Manufacturing Phase and so on.  Each of these phases may then be managed as a project with its own life cycle.

 The PMBOK® Process Groups and Project Life Cycles

The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®) provided by the Project Management Institute (PMI®) organizes project management processes into five process groups:

  • Initiating
  • Planning
  • Executing
  • Monitoring and Controlling
  • Closing

These process groups are not meant to serve as a standard project life cycle.  In fact, these processes can be applied to a Project or to a specific Phase in a Project Life Cycle.

Exam tips:

  • Know the characteristics of project life cycles.
  • Know that a project life cycle may be different than a product life cycle.
  • Know that the five PMI® process groups can be applied to a project or to a specific phase in a project.
  • Know that PMI® does not dictate a standard life cycle.  PMI® provides a structure and recommended processes developed through project management best practices.
  • Terminology to know:  deliverable, phase, project methodology, Project Life Cycle, Product Life Cycle, phase exits, stage gates, kill points.

Eddie Merla, PMI-ACP, PMP

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Leadership Styles

In your study plan for the PMP exam, you should consider understanding the four leadership styles.

There are generally four leadership styles:

  • Autocratic – high emphasis on tasks and performance, low emphasis on people
  • Laissez-Faire – low emphasis on both performance and people
  • Human Relations – high emphasis on people and low emphasis on performance
  • High Performance – high emphasis on both people and performance

 Of course, the desired leadership style is high performance.  This is the leadership style that all project managers should strive to achieve.

Each of these styles is described in more detail below:


An autocratic style leader is a “Theory X” type leader.  This type of leader is usually task focused and concerned with performance.  This style of leader usually dominates the team and is usually at the center of team or project activity.  This type of leader is usually considered a “micromanager” as he or she tends to closely supervise team activity.

An autocratic leadership style can diminish the team’s performance. This style often breeds antagonism and stifles ideas.  The members of the team often feel they do not have a voice and do not take responsibility.  This style can lead to a hostile team.  This type of leadership leads to a preoccupation with rules and red tape.

Can an autocratic style ever be useful?  Actually, in certain situations, yes.  A crisis or an emergency situation may require the leader to be autocratic in order to respond quickly to the situation. 


I like to call this style of leadership “lazy fare.”  The laissez-faire leader does not focus on team performance or on the team members.  Providing little or no guidance to the team, with a lack of emphasis on team members’ needs, and usually demonstrating poor or no communications to the team, this leadership style has the lowest success rate and leader satisfaction among the four styles.

Human Relations

The human relations style is warm and caring and very attentive to people’s needs.  A leader using this style of leadership is reluctant to hold people accountable or to push for results.  This style of leadership tends to create a permissive environment.  As you can imagine, the type of team environment created by this leadership style does not lend itself to project performance.  This type of environment puts a lower emphasis on project deliverables, glosses over performance problems and usually results in missed milestones.  This type of environment can also cause frustration among goal oriented team members.

High Performance

The high performance leadership style leads to results while also placing value on the team members.  This type of leadership style creates well organized teams and challenging yet rewarding work environments.  A high performance leader sets clear goals and responsibilities.  The team under this environment tends to be self-performing with very open communications.  As the team is self-controlling, there is little or no need for controls.  Productivity, satisfaction, cooperation and commitment are highest on a high performance team.   

Exam tip:  the preferred leadership style is High Performance which implies that the leader should be focused on creating high performance teams; the leader should be focused on creating the right environment to allow teams to become self-empowering.

Eddie Merla, PMI-ACP, PMP


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Tips for the PMP Application

It sounds a little silly but one guaranteed way to not earn your PMP® credential is to not complete your PMP application but unfortunately, some individuals do not complete the application or struggle with the application process. Below are several tips to assist you in the application process:

  • I recommend collecting your information offline before you input your application information online.  This will force you to ensure you’ve done your homework regarding experience and type of qualifying experience.  This will also facilitate the data entry process when you do complete the online application.  For a sample spreadsheet you can use to collect your information offline, you can download the following spreadsheet (excel):  Offline Worksheet
  • Understand that you do not have to have the title of “Project Manager.”  Your experience may have been earned leading project work although your title may be something other than project manager.  If you are not certain if the work you performed qualifies as project management or leadership work, refer to the “Exam Content Outline” which you can download from the PMI® PMP certification page.
  • Understand the definition of a “project” for the purposes of documenting your experience.  The general definition of a project is that it is a temporary endeavor to create a unique product, service or result.  The project does not have to be a “paid for” effort; it could a project performed for a non-profit organization or any other type of volunteer project.  Any kind of event can also qualify as a project as long as it is temporary work and meets the uniqueness requirement.  Operational day to day or general management does not qualify.
  • When determining the time of experience requirements (36 months if you have an undergraduate degree or 60 months if you do not), you cannot claim overlapping months.  For example, if you worked on a 6 month project that started in January and ended at the end of June and worked on another three month project that also started in January, you can only claim 6 months of experience (not 9).  However, all the hours worked on those two projects in this example would qualify for the hours requirement.
  • Ensure that any references are contactable (in the event you were to get audited).  References are not validating your performance, they are validating that you actually worked on the referenced projects.
  • As you document your experience, you may not have records to prove the exact distribution of your hours over the various tasks.  In that case, just give a good faith estimate of the distribution of the hours.
  • Regarding the project management educational requirements (35 hours), the training hours never expire as long as you can provide proof.
  • One last tip:  start with documenting your largest project first – once you’ve documented the required hours, there is no need to go beyond that.

Collecting and documenting the information required for the application may be a little daunting depending on your specific situation but it is a required step to earning your credential.

Eddie Merla, PMI-ACP, PMP


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Brain Dump

A “brain dump” is a tool you can use to prepare for the PMP® exam.  The 15 minutes you have prior to starting the exam are reserved for you to take a tutorial on the exam process.  Since you will not need the entire 15 minutes to take the tutorial, you can use the remaining time to recreate a brain dump.  The brain dump gives you the advantage of reducing anxiety and can help you with time management on the exam as you will have a quick reference to key formulas and concepts.

A brain dump can contain the following key components:

  • A chart of the 47 PMBOK® processes
  • Earned value formulas
  • Other formulas such as the communications channel and EMV formulas
  • Maslow’s hierarchy
  • Types of conflict resolution types
  • Tuckman’s model
  • and any other key concepts worth memorizing

Use the following link to access a brain-dump (or “cheat sheet”) from DuendePM.com:

DuendePM Cheat Sheet

Eddie Merla, PMI-ACP, PMP

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Exam Failure Factors

Based on general feedback from individuals failing the PMP© exam, the following are the top reasons for failing the exam:

  • Underestimating the complexity of the exam
  • Not preparing adequately for the exam
  • Not understanding what to study
  • Time management during the exam

The following are tips and strategies for dealing with these failure factors:

Underestimating the complexity of the exam:

First of all, understand that the exam is tough – one of two individuals fail the exam on the first attempt.  The PMP© credential is highly desired and the number of individuals seeking this credential increases annually.  The exam continues to evolve in scope with each edition of the Project Management Body of Knowledge.  The exam has also evolved over time from a test of knowledge to a test of “knowledge and application.” The questions on the exam also contribute to the complexity factor.  The following are a few strategies for dealing with the complexity factor:

  • Don’t just focus on knowledge and terminology, prepare for the exam by trying to understand the “why” behind the processes and the application of these processes to actual project situations.
  • Work on understanding the “PMI” way of managing projects.
  • Get help preparing for the exam.  You can do this by taking an exam prep course (classroom is best), by joining a study group, or by investing in exam prep study materials.  If you decide to self-study, I recommend investing in more than one self-study course.
  • Take as many different sample tests as you can – there are many available free of charge via the internet.  Please ensure that the tests are compatible with the latest version of the PMBOK© – as of this post, the latest edition is the 5th edition.  A word of caution here: some “free” tests are designed to sell you more material.
  • Expect that the questions and answers on the actual exam may get very wordy.  Ensure that you read the questions and answers thoroughly and understand the question.  Sometimes a word can make a difference.
  • Be prepared for “situational” questions.  These are questions that set up a situation and then test how you would best deal with that situation.  To answer properly requires a knowledge of the PMI processes as defined in the PMBOK and an understanding of the “PMI way” to deal with the situation.

Not preparing adequately for the exam:

In addition to the strategies mentioned above, you should develop a study plan to ensure that you have studied each of the process groups and knowledge areas in enough detail.  For students taking my exam prep class, I recommend 2 to 3 hours of outside study for every class hour – a typical class is 35 hours.

Not understanding what to study:

In order to increase your chances of passing the exam, it’s important to know what to focus on.  This is where a classroom or self-study course can provide value.  Many individuals fail the exam on the first attempt because they believe that their practical experience coupled with reading the PMBOK is enough – it’s not.  Another common mistake made is that applicants will try to memorize all the inputs, tools & techniques, and outputs – in my opinion, this is overkill and may lead you to wrong answers on the exam.  For example, one of the common inputs to many processes are “organizations process assets” – if you don’t understand the concept of organizational process assets, you may have difficulty answering a question that doesn’t specifically use the words “organizational process assets.”  One specific strategy (besides taking a course) is to ask “why” often – why does PMI© emphasize this process, input, technique or output?

Time management during the exam:

Because of the increasing complexity of the exam, time management during the exam has become extremely important.  With 4 hours to answer 200 questions, you have 1 minute and 20 seconds per question.  Of course, some questions will take longer and some will take less.  Over the past two years, I have received reports that almost all applicants take the entire 4 hours to take the exam.  The following are a few strategies to help you deal with time management:

  • You will have 15 minutes to prep before starting the “exam clock.”  These 15 minutes are meant to give you a computer tutorial on the exam but you only need a few minutes to do so.  I recommend that you use most of those 15 minutes to create a “brain dump” of formulas and processes.  This not only help with anxiety but will help with time management because once you have it written, you can just refer to your brain dump instead of taking time to reflect on it during the exam.
  • Use the “skip” and “flag” options to help you get through the exam more quickly.  Use the “skip” feature for those questions that you might want to spend more time on – “skip” means that you don’t answer the question (of course, you will need to answer it before you complete the test).  Use the “flag” option for those questions where you answered but want to review again.  If you were debating between two answers, make a note on the scratch paper given to you so that you save time when you come back to that question.
  • Watch the clock constantly and set time goals for yourself. i.e. 25 questions per half-hour.  You don’t want to end up in a situation where you have 30 minutes left and still have 50 questions to answer.
  • Don’t hesitate to skip or flag questions at the beginning of the exam – your tendency will be try to answer everything before moving on.  Many of my students have reported that they spent too much dwelling on the initial questions and started to fall behind.
  • One strategy which can be daunting but well worth the effort is to take a practice “timed” exam containing 200 questions – this well help you to mentally prepare for the exam and help you with managing your time and rehearsing your strategies.

In summary, by considering these failure factors and employing these strategies, you can enhance your chances of passing this challenging exam.

Eddie Merla, PMI-ACP, PMP


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Intro to the PMP® exam

What is the PMP exam?

The PMP® exam is administered by The Project Management Institute (PMI®) and a PMP® applicant must pass the exam in order to qualify for the PMP credential.  The exam is composed of 200 multiple choice questions and is a “pass/fail” examination.  Of the 200 questions, 25 are “test” questions and are not used to determined the final score;  therefore, the passing score is based on the number of right answers out of 175 questions.

You will be given 4 hours to take the exam.  You will also be given some tutorial and prep time prior to starting the test (approximately 15 minutes).  As you will not be allowed to bring in any materials to the testing facility, applicants should use some of the prep time to jot down formulas and any other memory helping notes.  You will be provided with a calculator (you will not be allowed to use your own), pens or pencils, and a few blank sheets of paper.

The exam covers the following domains:

  • Initiating
  • Planning
  • Executing
  • Monitoring and controlling
  • Closing

The domains are subdivided into the following ten knowledge areas:

  • Integration Management
  • Scope Management
  • Time Management
  • Cost Management
  • Quality Management
  • Human Resource Management
  • Communication Management
  • Risk Management
  • Procurement Management
  • Stakeholder Management

Use the following link to get more information on the exam – you should also download the PMP handbook (on the same page) which will give you information on the application process:

PMI’s PMP Page

Eddie Merla, PMI-ACP, PMP





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