5th Edition PMBOK® Guide—Memorizing the Processes (Step 4: Gaming the System)

1.  Introduction–The Ultimate Goal

Ask anyone who has studied for, sat for and passed the PMP or CAPM certification exam, and they will tell you that one of the most challenging categories of questions, besides the technical questions having to do with earned value or network diagrams, are those that ask about the inputs, tools & techniques, and outputs of the 47 different project management processes.    These require not just knowing the names of each of the processes and how they fit into the “matrix” of 10 knowledge areas and 5 process groups, but the very essence of how these processes work.    You can readily memorize the 47 process names and their location in the project management matrix, but in the 5th Edition of the PMBOK® Guide there are a total of 614 inputs, tools & techniques, and outputs for these processes (an increase of 19% from the 4th edition), and there is no realistic way of memorizing all of those.    The good news is that you will not have to actively write down, for any specific process, a list of all of those inputs, tools & techniques, and outputs.    A passive knowledge of being able to recognize on a test from a list of inputs, tools & techniques, and outputs, which ones are part of a given process is the most you will have to do.

However, even this passive knowledge is a tall order to ask of those sitting for the down, and it requires an active knowledge of what the process actually does.    That is why step 5 of the Memorizing the Processes will focus on Tools & Techniques of each process, and step 6 will focus on the Inputs & Outputs.    Knowing what the tools & techniques for each process are will help you figure out what the output of each process is, that is usually not so difficult.    What is more difficult to figure out is all of the inputs that go into a process, but once again, if you understand what the process does, then the “ingredients” or “inputs” that go into that process will be more easily understandable.

2.   Step 4–Gaming the System

One thing that helps you recognize the various Inputs, Tools & Techniques, and Outputs (sometimes collectively referred to as ITTOs) of the processes is not just what each one of them does individually, but how the processes fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.

There are three ways that processes are connected:

  • horizontally, across the knowledge areas
  • vertically, down the process groups
  • crosswise, based on themes (such as “change control”)

The horizontal and vertical connections can be learned systematically, which is the subject of the next series of posts I refer to as Step 4:  Gaming the System.   When I say “Gaming the System,”  I mean literally playing games with cards that help you memorize these horizontal and vertical connections.    When I was a child in the US, there was children’s board game called Chutes & Ladders, probably based on the UK-based children’s board game Snakes & Ladders.    You can be going step-by-step up the board when there is suddenly a surprise connection between one space and some other space in a different location on the board.    Similarly, an output of one knowledge area, rather than being the input of the next process in the same knowledge area (the expected horizontal connection), may instead be the input to some other knowledge area in a different location on the “board” or matrix.    In the same way, an output of one process group, rather than being the input of the next process group (the expected vertical connection), may instead be the input to some previous process group.

These are the exceptions and are important to learn later.   The first thing to tackle, though, are the connections across the knowledge areas.    This will be the subject of this post.

3.   PM Process Card Games

Here’s what you should do to use cards that contain the PM processes to play games that help you learn the connections between processes.

Step 1:   Create the PM Process Matrix

The PM Process Matrix should be on a sheet of paper, 11 x 17, or some other large enough sheet that has room for the five process groups in columns going across and the 10 knowledge areas in rows going down.     If you are doing this exercise as a group, then draw the matrix on a flip chart or some other surface like a blackboard.

Initiating Planning Executing Monitoring & Controlling Closing
Integration 6

Scope 6

Time 7

Cost 4

Quality 3

Human Resources 4

Communications 3

Risk 6

Procurement 4

Stakeholder 4








Besides the names of the process groups going in vertical columns, and the names of the knowledge areas going in horizontal rows, you should strive to put the “check digits” at the bottom of each column and at the left hand side of each row.   This will be a tremendous aid in figuring out if you have missed any processes, and if so, where those processes are in the matrix.

Step 2.  Create the PM Process Cards

Many PMP Exam prep textbooks, like the one put out by Rita Mulcahy’s cor the one put out by Core Performance Concepts, have in their supplementary materials pre-printed cards with the processes written on them.   However, you can use index cards or post-it notes.   The post-it notes are recommended for group work so that they can be pasted on the flip chart or blackboard, and the  index cards can be placed on the 11 x 17 paper grid.

On one side of the card, put the process name, for example “Develop Project Charter”.   On the back side of the card, write the process number and the name “4.1 Develop Project Charter.”  A list of all of these process names and their location on the PM matrix is found on page 87 of the 5th Edition of the PMBOK® Guide.

The “4.1” numerical designation before “Develop Project Charter” tells you two things:  it gives the Chapter of the PMBOK® Guide that process is found in (chapter 4).   Since Chapter 4 covers the Integration Knowledge Area, it means this process is an Integration Knowledge Area process.    The “1” after the decimal point tells you the number of the process within that knowledge area:   “1” is the first process, “2” is the second process, etc.    The number can only go as high as “7” (the number of processes in the Time Management Area.

Step 3.   Play the PM Process Game–practice with each Knowledge Areas

Take the processes of one knowledge area at a time starting with the six processes of the Integration Knowledge Area.

Shuffle the mini-deck of six cards with the process names with just the name of the process showing (on the front side of the index card or post-it note).     When you see a card, put it on the process group column in the Integration Knowledge Area row where you think it should go.    When all six cards have been placed in what you think the proper order is, check your work by turning the cards over!    When you have done this successfully without any mistakes, go to the next knowledge area.

Step 4.  Play the PM Process Game–now for all 10 Knowledge Areas

When you’re done practicing with all 10 knowledge areas, now shuffle the deck of 47 processes with just the name of the process showing (on the front side of the index card or post-it note).    If you are doing it yourself, you just put the process on the matrix in its correct position until you are done.    Then use the check digits to see if you have the correct number of processes in each row and column.   If you do, congratulations, you have made it through one pass of the PM Process Game!    If you have made a mistake, then use the check digits to figure out where you are missing some processes.    Just knowing this, you can sometimes figure out what the right arrangement should be.    If you can make it 5 times through the PM Process Game without a mistake, you have mastered the game!

Step 5.   Recreate the Matrix from Memory

On the day of the test, you will have 15 minutes (approximately) of time between the time the introductory screen comes on and the test starts.   You should be able within 10 minutes to do the following:

a)   Recreate from memory the matrix on a piece of paper, and put the 47 processes in the matrix in their proper locations

b)   Recreate from memory the most important formulas you may need to complete the problems involving calculations.

This will give you five minutes to read the instructions, take a deep breath, compose your mind and start the test.

To do the first of these, you will need to recreate the entire matrix from memory.    Therefore, without the cards, you should be able to a) draw the matrix on a blank sheet of paper, and then b) fill in that matrix with the 47 processes in their correct positions.

4.  CONCLUSION–Why go through all this?

Once you can go to this next step of recreating the 47 processes from memory, you have accomplished a major goal in preparing for the exam.    Because having the 47 processes in front you in the correct order both in terms of process group (vertically) and knowledge area (horizontally) will allow you to do two things:

  1. It will actually help you solve some of the problems on the exam, because many of them give you a situation and ask you “what do you do next?”    If you can identify which processes are in the situation presented to you in the problem then the next thing you do will be the next process.    Yes, you could figure out in your mind, but if the solution presents itself to you visually in the matrix right in front of you, it will less time to figure out the solution.
  2. It will help you on the inputs, tools & techniques, and outputs questions, because many times the outputs of one process become the inputs of the next process.    Identify the process, and if the question asks about inputs, look at the name of the previous process for a hint.   Likewise, if the question asks about outputs, look at the name of the following process for a hint.

It’s that simple–and that is why I highly recommend playing the card game mentioned above as a stepping stone to being able to use your own mind as–The Matrix!

The next post will discuss memorizing the processes vertically by Process Group.    This is not hard for the first (Initiating) and last (Closing) process group, because each of these have only 2 processes each.    But the Planning, Executing, and Monitoring & Controlling Group have 24, 8, and 11 and these take more work to memorize.    It is essential that you memorize the Planning Process Group of 24 processes because that is in fact the order in which the processes are done for the most post.



3 Responses

  1. Yesturday i cleared my pmp certification I like to thank you for the all the pmp post on this blog. I gone through most of them and i enjoyed your understanding of the subject..

    Thank you,
    Habeeb bin Mohammad.

  2. I am preparing for the PMP certification and this post is a further motivation for me to create the ITTO matrix.

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