Skip to content

Head First PMP (Book Review)

Earning a Project Management Professional (PMP) credential is intentionally hard. The Project Management Institute sets a high bar to keep the certification meaningful. Prove that you’ve logged enough in-the-world project management hours, get your 35 formal education hours and then sit down for the PMP exam. The designatory letters “P-M-P” bring an additional level of credibility that, coupled with your stellar work experience, makes you a more marketable project manager. Before you sit for the exam—a challenging, four hour adventure—make sure you’re prepared. Reading the official PMP-prep material, The PMBOK Guide, is one option. Digesting a unique, third party guide like Head First PMP can make the preparation process just a little easier.

The unconventionally crafted book Head First PMP, written by Jennifer Greene and Andrew Stellman, helped me pass the PMP exam. Of course, there are dozens of options to choose from. But Head First PMP has a unique spin—a visually rich, multi-sensory format using words and pictures to help the information stick. The authors use a mix of puzzles, word problems, exercises and games to make things interesting and keep you engaged. That is just what I needed as a full-time project manager with a family and a definite lack of free time. I began studying for my PMP exam several months ahead of time; it’s difficult to keep your focus when the finish line is that far off in the distance. I knew a text-only study guide wouldn’t work for me so I talked to my colleagues and got some recommendations, most notably Head First PMP. I bought the book and dove in.

The Head First PMP book is primarily broken down by knowledge area. But there are a couple introductory chapters on why you should get certified and what type of organizations you should seek out. The first chapter helps you see the bigger picture. You’ll learn what a project really is, why some of them fail, what’s the difference between a portfolio, program and project and even what a project manager actually does. You’ll see how the best of them organize themselves and why a PMP certification will help you do your job better. If chapter one is the why, chapter two is the where. As in where should you take your newly acquired project management credential and skills. Once you understand how different companies utilize project management teams—functional, matrix, projectized—you’ll understand the right fit for you. Because you don’t want to be a PM that simply collects and reports status. You want to influence the direction of the work and be responsible for some of the success. Once you’ve established the point of your certification efforts, you can finally get down to business.

The process framework and knowledge areas—project integration, scope, time, cost, quality, human resource, communications, risk, procurement and professional responsibility—make up the balance of the book. The authors don’t follow a standard chapter format. That’s the beauty of Head First PMP, each chapter feels like a different book, not just a different section. It keeps your mind active and your interest piqued. The integration management chapter leads with a story that illustrates the results of poor project management—spoiler… don’t book a trip to India during monsoon season! You’re then taken into the details of integration management processes and led through some exercises and quizzes. Using diagrams, illustrations and references back to that earlier story, you’re taught about process groups, documents, tools and other key areas. The chapter isn’t concise and it’s not a reference guide. Rather, it’s similar information presented several different ways to help you retain and recall important terms and ideas. The chapter on scope management feels completely different. It begins with a conversation between a couple colleagues who are working on a new video game and then quickly jumps into several fill-in-the-blank exercises. Later you learn the importance of scope management, the processes, inputs, tools, techniques and outputs as well as tips on getting the most out of your stakeholders. Then you’re brought back to that original story as you discuss brainstorming and how to funnel dozens of ideas into a specific set of requirements. The authors constantly mix up their approach so you can’t skim your way through the pages. The chapters continue on this way using redundancy and a lot of activities to ingrain the details into your memory. The book is purposefully designed around the way people think instead of the way people write. What a unique concept.

While Head First PMP may not be for everyone, there’s a good chance it is for you. The authors suggest this book for project managers that want to learn, understand, remember and apply important project management concepts as well as prepare for the PMP exam. The pictures, the stories and the cartoonish diagrams all serve the same overarching purposes—create novelty, stave off boredom and stimulate your brain. The material takes you beyond just the subject at hand, openly exploring ways to recognize how you learn and why each of us learns differently.

Greene and Stellman ask you to take a leap of faith before delving into the material. Trust them to teach you in a way you’ve perhaps never been taught before. It might just help you pass the PMP exam while also teaching you a few new project management tricks. What a novel idea.