Lessons Learned – Passing a PMP Application Audit

Having recently passed the PMP certification, I thought I’d offer a Lessons Learned based on my experience. I passed the PMP certification exam the first time (with Above Target in all domains), but before I was able to sit for the exam, my PMP application was audited and I failed my PMP application audit twice.  I learned a lot about the audit process, including what specifically the audit team appears to be looking for and how to successfully appeal an audit decision. This article will focus on tips based on that experience; if you’d like to read tips on studying and preparing for the PMP exam itself, check out my previous article.

Filling out the PMP application – general advice.

I was really overwhelmed by application, particularly the project reporting part.  I read several articles online about filling out the application in general, and was lucky enough to have a few sample applications to look at.  I think the most important thing I learned is:  don’t procrastinate filling out your application – do it now .  You don’t have to submit it now (after you submit, you have one year to sit for the exam), but at least complete it now.

Here’s a couple of resources that really helped with filling out my application:

I also used a spreadsheet to track my project time before filling out the project section of the PMP application.  Using a spreadsheet helped me in two specific ways:

  • The PMP application requires a certain number of months of project management experience; for months where I had overlapping projects, I could easily track my overall eligible months.
  • The spreadsheet would prompt me for a start and end date, then give me the total number of hours I could claim for that project – this way, I wouldn’t accidentally claim too many hours when reporting splitting project hours into different domains.

You don’t have to use a spreadsheet, but it definitely helped me. The one I adapted for my own use came from Steve Fullmer; if you don’t like that one, a quick Google search for “PMP application spreadsheet” shows several others.

My HUGE mistake – it caused my PMP application to fail an audit!

For every project, you have to provide a description.  Here’s the instructions the application provides:

In the space provided below, summarize the project. The summary should include the project objectives and your role, as well as key deliverables and outcomes by Process Groups. The description should includes examples of how you led and directed this project. Ensure that your description is between 300 and 550 characters.

After reading these instructions, I thought I was supposed to provide one or two examples of how I personally led and directed each project. I read the The Project Management Professional Handbook front to back, and didn’t see any additional guidance on how to write the description.  Here’s an example of one of my project descriptions, written how I thought I was suppose to write them:

Installed, configured and integrated a system of software and hardware that enabled students to pay for printing. On completion, student printing would be tracked, students would receive free printing, and students could pay for additional printing credit. As Project Manager, one primary focus was Conduct and Control Procurements – the right solution for us would necessarily include multiple vendors (software, hardware, credit card processing, etc), so we created and used new processes to ensure proper integration between vendors.

Was this a good description?  Let’s see —

  • Under 500 characters? Check!
  • Objectives and deliverables? First sentence – Check!
  • Mentions process groups? Check!
  • Example of how I lead this project? Check!

I thought this description checked all the requirements, and when I received the notice my application would be audited, I figured I would not have an issue.  Wow, was I wrong…

Results of first PMP application audit – FAIL!

After submitting all the application audit materials, I received an almost immediate reply that I had failed the PMP application audit.  Specifically, the message included the following:

  • Eligibility Not Met: Project Management Role. For all experience, the deliverables focus mainly on the work experience and not your role leading and directing; they also did not demonstrate sufficient knowledge and experience to appropriately apply a methodology with reasonably well-defined project requirements and deliverables.
  • Eligibility Not Met: Experience is not a project. For all experience – the deliverables appear operational & administrative as written; they appear to include multiple projects/programs and not individual project experience as required; and, they did not indicate that/how you lead & directed all phases of the experience.
  • Eligibility Not Met: Domains are not included. It is required that candidates show that they led and directed the project as identified with the tasks, knowledge, and skills specific in the PMP Exam Content Outline.
  • If you wish to submit a new application, you may do so at any time. Please note, if you choose to submit a new application for this certification, your application will again be audited.
  • If you have specific questions regarding the closing of this application or the certification eligibility requirements, please email the PMI Program Administration Team at [email protected]  (I wrote a message to this address by the way, and never received a reply.)

Fortunately, the audit reply I received linked to a document called Things to Consider When Applying, which provided some additional instructions including:

…Furthermore, project descriptions should consist of the following…  Project deliverables summarized by process areas (Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring and Controlling, and Closing – abbreviations are acceptable IN, PL, EX, MC & CL).

After taking a look at this, I realized my descriptions were all way wrong.  I found a few samples through Google searches and connecting with people on LinkedIn that offered to share their application descriptions, and re-wrote all my descriptions.  Here’s my new version of the same project description from above:

Obj: Enable students to track & pay for printing. I was project manager of 4-person team.
IN: Objectives & success criteria
PL: Define scope, create WBS, plan S/H mgmt, estimate costs, create budget, procurement SOW, market research, ID risks&responses
EX: Develop team, work perf data, implement changes
MC: Control scope&schedule&costs, communicate status, validate scope, track risk&response, control procurement, control S/Heng
CL: Lessons learned, update&archive materials, final project report, close procurement
Completed & delivered printing system

Honestly, I didn’t feel like this description met all the criteria, but it followed a model used by others that re-wrote their applications and successfully passed a second audit.  I was confident that my PMP application would pass the audit this time.

My PMP application failed AGAIN? Now what?!

It was pretty discouraging to receive a second fail notice.  I honestly didn’t know what I could do differently.  I had written an email to the [email protected] email address and never received a reply.  I had re-written my project descriptions to meet the criteria.  What else could I do?

Then I noticed the phone number at the bottom of the application audit reply.  If you are an unfortunate recipient of one of these messages, you’ll see it too – all the way at the bottom of the message, in the signature block.  I called the number, and explained my situation to the person that picked up.  She replied with what felt like a scripted response – make sure you mention all the process groups, etc etc.  I replied that I had failed the audit once already, and I specifically addressed that finding.  She then put me on hold, located my application, and informed me my application would be re-opened and re-submitted on my behalf.  Three days later, I was able to breathe a huge sigh of relief – I passed the audit!

So what did I learn?

  • Follow the guidance included in the PMP’s Things to Consider When Applying document
  • Follow the model I used for my second submission
  • Be persistent – calling the PMI number listed at the bottom of the PMP application audit finding message works.  In my experience, the people operating that line really want to help you out.

Have advice of your own, or questions that weren’t answered?  Leave a comment below!

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