Is the PMP real world?

A while back, we tried to answer the question Is the PMBOK Guide Real World? The point was that many practitioners believe that the guide does not reflect the real world. We cannot agree and BELIEVE that the PMBOK Guide does reflect the real world.

In order not to repeat – refer to the blog post on this.

Now, does the PMP exam reflect the real world?

It is not easy to answer this question since we do not know the real exam questions.

What we see are the questions people post on social media, that are probably from one exam practice book or another.

What we know is the following: many exam questions would be related to the PMBOK Guide and we can say that they do reflect the real world. Others are in line with other professional resources and would be appropriate. However, some questions are truly questionable and maybe they are there just to be tricky.

When we see some of the posted questions that might not reflect reality, we always try to answer and help in sharing our knowledge.  The answers we provide are usually in two parts. One part that would satisfy the PMP exam and part that reflect how things happen in the real world.

The Scenario

We can offer too many examples. However, today we focus on one specific scenario. Take a look at this image and think about it before you read further.

PMP Exam Question Example

In the real world, if we focus on the question only without the options (four answers), what would you say the first document is?

We can ask the question in a similar fashion to the picture and ask:

Which ____ is needed first for a given project? Here the ____ could be ‘document’, ‘action’, ‘activity’, ‘process’, etc. For example, if we ask what is the first document would that be different than the first action or the first process? What do you think?

Let us zoom on what document is needed since this is what the questioner wants to know.

The PMP Answer

The PMP answer is easy since you have to pick the best among the four choices. Keep in mind that the best answer might not be listed as an option as we will see later. Therefore, the best answer in the scenario is C since all the other answers are developed later than the charter; within a phase.

Let us play a bit:

If the answers did not have “A Project Charter” as a choice and had instead “Project Management Plan”. Would C still be the answer? What do you think?

The PMBOK Guide Answer

A person wrote in response to one of my comments “as a PMP instructor and all his questions are based on PMBOK Guide. I agree with Mr. X that the answer is C – A Project Charter”. So this PMP instructor is saying the charter – which we agree as we already stated but notice this part of his answer “questions are based on PMBOK Guide“. Here I must ask you a question. Does the PMBOK Guide state ANYWHERE that the first document is a Charter? Where? Can anyone provide the exact quote or page?

We know it does not. Maybe we have to widen our thinking to visualize rather than memorize. The first process is the charter process but that does not mean the project charter is the first document. We are repeating something we wrote about before. The charter requires inputs – these could be general input referring to the Organizational Process Assets but also include “Project Statement of Work”, and “Business Case”; per the fifth edition. These are documents that have to be produced before the Sponsor develops the charter.

Some might argue this is semantic but is it? We need to see the whole picture that the guide offers us and not only the processes.

The Real World Answer

In this case, the real world is slightly different than the PMBOK Guide. In the real world, projects must follow a project life cycle. The project life cycle starts with the idea for the project and if the project life cycle starts with the idea for the project and if the idea is approved, there is a need for a feasibility study. The guide recognizes the need for a project life cycle (it is covered in Chapter 2) but does not address it —- BECAUSE — the process groups should repeat with every phase of the project life cycle. Therefore, considering the first phase of the project and before there is a charter – there is a need for an idea; a project statement; a business case. That is the first document.

Therefore, considering the first phase of the project and before there is a charter – there is a need for an idea; a project statement; a business case. That is the first document.

Again, the first document required on any project is the IDEA Statement or whatever name you like to use. Then there should be a charter for the phase. Next, a management plan for the phase. After that, the team conducts a feasibility study. Finally, if management approves the project, they issue the project charter.

Can you count how many documents are required before we reach the Project Charter?


Some friends often advise us “ignore these PMP questions. If people only wants to know what is right for the purpose of the exam, knowing that many of them might never apply what they learn in the real world; then why to care?”

I think my recent posts on passion and project management give you the answer.

We do often ignore many of the PMP questions posted but every once in a while we see one that give us the opportunity to share knowledge and ensure that people see the bigger picture. This is one of the drawbacks of passion – cannot let go!

What do you think?