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Head First PMP, 2nd Edition by Jennifer Greene, Andrew Stellman

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How to use this Book: Intro

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In this section, we answer the burning question: “So why DID they put that in a PMP exam prep book?”

Who is this book for?

If you can answer “yes” to all of these:

  1. Are you a project manager?

  2. Do you want to learn, understand, remember, and apply important project management concepts so that you can prepare for the PMP® exam, and learn to be a better project manager in the process?


    You can also use this book to help you study for the CAPM exam—a lot of the concepts are really similar.


    We’ll help you study for the PMP exam in a way that will definitely make it easier for you to pass.

  3. Do you prefer stimulating dinner party conversation to dry, dull, academic lectures?

this book is for you.

Who should probably back away from this book?

If you can answer “yes” to any of these:

  1. Are you completely new to project management?

    (To qualify to take the PMP exam, you need to show a certain number of hours of experience as a professional project manager.)


    But even if you don’t have quite enough hours yet, this book can still help you study now, so you can be ready when you’ve got those hours under your belt! Plus, the ideas will help you on your job immediately...

  2. Are you already PMP® certified and looking for a reference book on project management?

  3. Are you afraid to try something different? Would you rather have a root canal than mix stripes with plaid? Do you believe that a technical book can’t be serious if project management concepts are anthropomorphized?

this book is not for you.

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[Note from marketing: this book is for anyone with a credit card.]

We know what you’re thinking.

“How can this be a serious project management book?”

“What’s with all the graphics?”

“Can I actually learn it this way?”

And we know what your brain is thinking

Your brain craves novelty. It’s always searching, scanning, waiting for something unusual. It was built that way, and it helps you stay alive.

So what does your brain do with all the routine, ordinary, normal things you encounter? Everything it can to stop them from interfering with the brain’s real job—recording things that matter. It doesn’t bother saving the boring things; they never make it past the “this is obviously not important” filter.

How does your brain know what’s important? Suppose you’re out for a day hike and a tiger jumps in front of you, what happens inside your head and body?

Neurons fire. Emotions crank up. Chemicals surge.

And that’s how your brain knows...

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This must be important! Don’t forget it!

But imagine you’re at home, or in a library. It’s a safe, warm, tiger-free zone. You’re studying. Getting ready for an exam. Or trying to learn some tough technical topic your boss thinks will take a week, ten days at the most.

Just one problem. Your brain’s trying to do you a big favor. It’s trying to make sure that this obviously non-important content doesn’t clutter up scarce resources. Resources that are better spent storing the really big things. Like tigers. Like the danger of fire. Like how you should never again snowboard in shorts.

And there’s no simple way to tell your brain, “Hey brain, thank you very much, but no matter how dull this book is, and how little I’m registering on the emotional Richter scale right now, I really do want you to keep this stuff around.”

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Metacognition: thinking about thinking

If you really want to learn, and you want to learn more quickly and more deeply, pay attention to how you pay attention. Think about how you think. Learn how you learn.

Most of us did not take courses on metacognition or learning theory when we were growing up. We were expected to learn, but rarely taught to learn.

But we assume that if you’re holding this book, you really want to learn about project management. And you probably don’t want to spend a lot of time. And since you’re going to take an exam on it, you need to remember what you read. And for that, you’ve got to understand it. To get the most from this book, or any book or learning experience, take responsibility for your brain. Your brain on this content.

The trick is to get your brain to see the new material you’re learning as Really Important. Crucial to your well-being. As important as a tiger. Otherwise, you’re in for a constant battle, with your brain doing its best to keep the new content from sticking.

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So just how DO you get your brain to think that the stuff on the PMP exam is a hungry tiger?

There’s the slow, tedious way, or the faster, more effective way. The slow way is about sheer repetition. You obviously know that you are able to learn and remember even the dullest of topics if you keep pounding the same thing into your brain. With enough repetition, your brain says, “This doesn’t feel important to him, but he keeps looking at the same thing over and over and over, so I suppose it must be.”

The faster way is to do anything that increases brain activity, especially different types of brain activity. The things on the previous page are a big part of the solution, and they’re all things that have been proven to help your brain work in your favor. For example, studies show that putting words within the pictures they describe (as opposed to somewhere else in the page, like a caption or in the body text) causes your brain to try to makes sense of how the words and picture relate, and this causes more neurons to fire. More neurons firing = more chances for your brain to get that this is something worth paying attention to, and possibly recording.

A conversational style helps because people tend to pay more attention when they perceive that they’re in a conversation, since they’re expected to follow along and hold up their end. The amazing thing is, your brain doesn’t necessarily care that the “conversation” is between you and a book! On the other hand, if the writing style is formal and dry, your brain perceives it the same way you experience being lectured to while sitting in a roomful of passive attendees. No need to stay awake.

But pictures and conversational style are just the beginning.

Here’s what WE did

We used pictures, because your brain is tuned for visuals, not text. As far as your brain’s concerned, a picture really is worth a thousand words. And when text and pictures work together, we embedded the text in the pictures because your brain works more effectively when the text is within the thing the text refers to, as opposed to in a caption or buried in the text somewhere.

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We used redundancy, saying the same thing in different ways and with different media types, and multiple senses, to increase the chance that the content gets coded into more than one area of your brain.

We used concepts and pictures in unexpected ways because your brain is tuned for novelty, and we used pictures and ideas with at least some emotional content, because your brain is tuned to pay attention to the biochemistry of emotions. That which causes you to feel something is more likely to be remembered, even if that feeling is nothing more than a little humor, surprise, or interest.

We used a personalized, conversational style, because your brain is tuned to pay more attention when it believes you’re in a conversation than if it thinks you’re passively listening to a presentation. Your brain does this even when you’re reading.

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We included more than 80 activities, because your brain is tuned to learn and remember more when you do things than when you read about things. And we made the exercises challenging-yet-do-able, because that’s what most people prefer.

We used multiple learning styles, because you might prefer step-by-step procedures, while someone else wants to understand the big picture first, and someone else just wants to see an example. But regardless of your own learning preference, everyone benefits from seeing the same content represented in multiple ways.

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We include content for both sides of your brain, because the more of your brain you engage, the more likely you are to learn and remember, and the longer you can stay focused. Since working one side of the brain often means giving the other side a chance to rest, you can be more productive at learning for a longer period of time.

And we included stories and exercises that present more than one point of view, because your brain is tuned to learn more deeply when it’s forced to make evaluations and judgments.

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We included challenges, with exercises, and by asking questions that don’t always have a straight answer, because your brain is tuned to learn and remember when it has to work at something. Think about it—you can’t get your body in shape just by watching people at the gym. But we did our best to make sure that when you’re working hard, it’s on the right things. That you’re not spending one extra dendrite processing a hard-to-understand example, or parsing difficult, jargon-laden, or overly terse text.

We used people. In stories, examples, pictures, etc., because, well, because you’re a person. And your brain pays more attention to people than it does to things.

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Here’s what YOU can do to bend your brain into submission

So, we did our part. The rest is up to you. These tips are a starting point; listen to your brain and figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. Try new things.

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cut this out and stick it on your refrigerator.

  1. Slow down. The more you understand, the less you have to memorize.

    Don’t just read. Stop and think. When the book asks you a question, don’t just skip to the answer. Imagine that someone really is asking the question. The more deeply you force your brain to think, the better chance you have of learning and remembering.

  2. Do the exercises. Write your own notes.

    We put them in, but if we did them for you, that would be like having someone else do your workouts for you. And don’t just look at the exercises. Use a pencil. There’s plenty of evidence that physical activity while learning can increase the learning.

  3. Read the “There are No Dumb Questions”

    That means all of them. They’re not optional sidebars—they’re part of the core content! Don’t skip them.

  4. Make this the last thing you read before bed. Or at least the last challenging thing.

    Part of the learning (especially the transfer to long-term memory) happens after you put the book down. Your brain needs time on its own, to do more processing. If you put in something new during that processing time, some of what you just learned will be lost.

  5. Drink water. Lots of it.

    Your brain works best in a nice bath of fluid. Dehydration (which can happen before you ever feel thirsty) decreases cognitive function.

  6. Talk about it. Out loud.

    Speaking activates a different part of the brain. If you’re trying to understand something, or increase your chance of remembering it later, say it out loud. Better still, try to explain it out loud to someone else. You’ll learn more quickly, and you might uncover ideas you hadn’t known were there when you were reading about it.

  7. Listen to your brain.

    Pay attention to whether your brain is getting overloaded. If you find yourself starting to skim the surface or forget what you just read, it’s time for a break. Once you go past a certain point, you won’t learn faster by trying to shove more in, and you might even hurt the process.

  8. Feel something!

    Your brain needs to know that this matters. Get involved with the stories. Make up your own captions for the photos. Groaning over a bad joke is still better than feeling nothing at all.

  9. Create something!

    Apply this to your daily work; use what you are learning to make decisions on your projects. Just do something to get some experience beyond the exercises and activities in this book. All you need is a pencil and a problem to solve...a problem that might benefit from using the tools and techniques you’re studying for the exam.

Read me

This is a learning experience, not a reference book. We deliberately stripped out everything that might get in the way of learning whatever it is we’re working on at that point in the book—although we didn’t take anything out that you might see on the PMP exam. And the first time through, you need to begin at the beginning, because the book makes assumptions about what you’ve already seen and learned.

The chapters are ordered the same way as the PMBOK® Guide

We did this because it makes sense... The PMP exam focuses on your understanding of the Guide and the inputs, outputs, tools, and techniques it references. It’s a good idea for you to understand the material the way the test organizes it. If you are cross-referencing this book with the PMBOK® Guide, it will really help you that the structure has been pretty much maintained throughout this book, too.

We encourage you to use the PMBOK® Guide with this book.

This book talks about the practical applications of a lot of the ideas in the PMBOK® Guide, but you should have a pretty good idea of how the guide talks about the material, too. There’s some information that’s on the test that isn’t in the guide, so we haven’t limited this book to a retread of what’s in the PMBOK® Guide at all. But it’s a great reference, and you should be cross-referencing the two books as you go. That will help you understand all of the terminology better and make sure that there are no surprises on exam day.

The activities are NOT optional.

The exercises and activities are not add-ons; they’re part of the core content of the book. Some of them are to help with memory, some are for understanding, and some will help you apply what you’ve learned. Don’t skip the exercises. Even crossword puzzles are important—they’ll help get concepts into your brain the way you’ll see them on the PMP exam. But more importantly, they’re good for giving your brain a chance to think about the words and terms you’ve been learning in a different context.

The redundancy is intentional and important.

One distinct difference in a Head First book is that we want you to really get it. And we want you to finish the book remembering what you’ve learned. Most reference books don’t have retention and recall as a goal, but this book is about learning, so you’ll see some of the same concepts come up more than once.

The Brain Power exercises don’t have answers.

For some of them, there is no right answer, and for others, part of the learning experience of the Brain Power activities is for you to decide if and when your answers are right. In some of the Brain Power exercises, you will find hints to point you in the right direction.

We want you to get involved.

Part of being a PMP-certified project manager is getting involved in the community and helping others out. An easy way to start doing this is to head over to the Head First web site where you’ll be able to submit your own Head Libs and see what other people have come up with, too:


Check out our free PMP exam simulator online.

The last chapter of this book is a full-length sample PMP exam. But we’ve also created an exam simulator online so you can see what the test will be like on exam day. It’s free and easy to use. By the time you reach the end of this book, you’ll have put a lot of new knowledge about project management into your brain, and it’ll be time to see just how much of it stuck. The simulator, like the exam in the back of the book, was developed using the official Project Management Professional Exam Specification and has 100% coverage of the exam objectives. Check it out here:


The technical review team

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Technical Reviewers:

For the second edition, we had a whole new batch of amazing tech reviewers. They did a great job, and we’re really grateful for their incredible contribution.

Jennifer Poisson has more than nine years in technical project management. She is currently Director, Production Operations at Disney Online. In her spare time, she blows her retirement savings traveling the country in expensive shoes and attending fabulous concerts, while in constant pursuit of maintaining a well-balanced raw diet.

Joe Pighetti has worked in Avionics Development for over eight years and is currently a Staff Engineer for Electrical Design at GE Aviation. He has a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and is working toward a Master’s in Engineering Management from Western Michigan University. Joe attained his PMP certification in March of ’09. In his scarce spare time, Joe enjoys planning (WBS included) an amazing future with his wife and playing with his two boys.

Andy Kaufman, PMP (not to be confused with the dead comedian), is a keynote speaker, author, and host of The People and Projects Podcast on iTunes. He’s a homeschooling dad of three kids who married way above himself and is convinced he has the best job in the world!

Ken Jones has been a project and program manager in the semiconductor industry. He was a contributor to the first edition of the PMI Standard for Program Management and has helped teach numerous PMP exam prep sessions for both his local PMI chapter and his employer.

And, as always, we were lucky to have Lisa Kellner return to our tech review team. Lisa was awesome, as usual. Thanks so much, guys!


Our editors:

First of all, we want to thank our editor, Brett McLaughlin, for flying out to New York and spending days giving us a Head First boot camp. Brett was more than an editor—he was a combination sounding board and sherpa. There’s absolutely no way this book would have been written without his guidance, constant support, and interest. He really got his hands dirty on this one, and he gave us a whole lot of advice, hints, and more than a little coaching throughout this whole process. Thanks, Brett!

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The second edition wouldn’t have been possible without Courtney Nash’s editorial awesomeness. She gave us important feedback on the chapters as we were writing them and took care of all of the production and review coordination to make sure that the version you’re holding is not only updated, but improved over the first edition. Thanks, Courtney!

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The O’Reilly team:

Lou Barr is an amazing graphic designer who went above and beyond on this one, putting in unbelievable hours and coming up with some pretty amazing visuals. If you see anything in this book that looks fantastic, you can thank her (and her mad InDesign skillz) for it. Thanks so much, Lou!

Many thanks to Karen Shaner, who managed the technical review process with aplomb. And Sanders Kleinfeld and Rachel Monaghan did a great job as production editors, getting this book ready for press and basically working magic. Finally, we want to give a warm thanks to our many friends at O’Reilly, especially Kathryn Barrett (the most fabulous publicist EVER), and Mike Hendrickson and Andrew Odewahn for giving us our start at O’Reilly.

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