Top 10 Tips for Getting Started with the PMBOK Guide

pmbok guide tips

Julie Andrews once said “Let’s start at the very beginning / A very good place to start.” She even said it with a straight face! Anyway, she’s right.

When you are just getting started with the PMBOK Guide, you might be tempted to skim the introductory chapter like I did, because in order to qualify for your PMP certification, you already have some project management skills.

Well, that’s the absolutely wrong approach if you have never read the PMBOK Guide.

The Introduction is an important part of the PMBOK guide because it includes crucial definitions for your success on the PMP exam. Some of the PMP exam questions reference specific content from the introductory section of the PMBOK guide. Do you know the different types of project management offices and understand progressive elaboration? Have you mastered the six competing project constraints? If you said “no”, then keep reading!

Because the PMBOK guide is such a crucial part of studying for PMP exam, this article is broken into two lists. The last five tips in this article will focus on Chapter 1 of the PMBOK Guide. But we’ll actually start with some tips that you should know before even opening the PMBOK Guide.

  1. Read the PMBOK guide cover to cover…twice. Many prep blogs and resource will encourage you to do this, because it really works! I recommend reading a chapter and then doing some sample questions and then repeating that process until you finish.
  2. Create a study plan before you start. Conquering the PMBOK guide is manageable. You’re a project manager, so address it like a project. Here’s a sample study plan to get you started.
  3. Don’t put too much information on your Brain Dump. The Brain Dump is a little overrated — I only referenced mine once or twice throughout the whole exam. But it was a GREAT memory tool. I practiced it daily and got much better. Here’s a full article on designing your brain dump.
  4. Find external resources. Of course, you’re already doing this because you’re reading the Magoosh PMP prep blog. I found it useful to read the chapter along with one or two external explanations for the content in the chapter. That way, the material become more accessible to me. Not only did I read it in the PMBOK guide, but I also got someone else’s interpretation of the information. Approaching the PMBOK this way made it come to life much better for me.
  5. Relate PMBOK to your projects. The final step in making sure that the PMBOK guide comes to life for you is to relate it to your real-life projects. If you’re in an organization that already uses the PMBOK guide, that should be easy. I’m not, so I really had to work, think, and rethink to get the guide in terms of my projects. This approach was extraordinarily useful not only for my understanding in passing the exam but also for my job!

There will be tough parts of PMBOK for you to read. I found the Integration Management chapter particularly challenging, and I actually recommend skipping and coming back to it. There’s too much to understand, and without knowing PMBOK really well will make it hard to digest effectively for your studies.

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard enough of what to expect when reading the PMBOK guide, so let’s actually open it! Some of what you read in PMBOK’s Chapter 1: Introduction will certainly be a refresher and review, but some of it won’t be. It’s really important to understand PMBOK’s terminology, because it repeatedly referred to throughout the PMBOK Guide.

N.B. This list is not a comprehensive overview of Chapter 1 of the PMBOK Guide, but it does briefly introduce a number of topics that came up a few times as I was studying for the PMP exam. Don’t skip reading the chapter!

  1. Project-based organizations, or PBOs, can exist in any type of organization, whether functional, matrix, or projectized. PBO might refer to the entire firm, or to how a portion of the firm operates. PBOs can pop up anywhere!
  2. Progressive elaboration refers to continuous improvement in project management. As a project progresses, and you discover more information, this increased specificity and detail as well as more accurate estimates, should be included in the project plan. If I progressively elaborate on this topic anymore, you might get bored and stop reading.
  3. Business value is all of the tangible and intangible value in a business. Pepsi’s business value is not only in the taste of its soda, it is in the brand recognition. The intangibles are what differentiates Pepsi from Grocery-Store-Brand Soda.
  4. PMBOK identifies the six competing project constraints as scope, quality, schedule, budget, resources, and risks.
  5. Several types of Project Management Offices (PMOs) exist. Here they are, listed by degree of control in the organization from low to high.
    • Supportive – “suggests” – lowest amount of control by consulting and provides tools and training to improve projects
    • Controlling – “requires” – moderate control by ensuring conformance to measurements
    • Directive – “does it” – high control by directly managing projects. Inserting a directive PMO into a functional organization would transform the organization into a matrix.

Is there anything else stopping you from getting started with the PMBOK Guide? Comment below, and we’ll talk about it.

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