Applying for the PMP Exam: Hours, what about my hours?

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Applying for the PMP Exam: Hours, what about my hours?

5 11 Steve Fullmer
Added by September 11, 2013

Preparing students to take the Project Management Professional certification, I would expect questions about the five process groups (Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring & Controlling, Closing), or the thirteen knowledge areas. Yet one question is asked more frequently than any other.  Our marketing personnel send me variants of the question asked by potential students. The question is answered in detail at the beginning of our week of instruction, and often during breaks and during exam review at the end of the week.

Perhaps candidates hold the fear that failure to answer this one question correctly will ban them from the ranks of certified project management professionals for life? After all, one must only correctly answer 61% of the counted 175 questions on the PMP exam. (25 of the 200 questions are asked for exam validation purposes and aspirants are given credit for participating). One terrifying question freezes people in their tracks.

What if I don’t report my hours correctly during the application process?

The Project Management Institute is not the big bad wolf, Rumplestiltskin, or the Sphinx of Thebes – sent to devour the innocent for failing to answer the question correctly.  PMI promotes the field of project management. Estimates suggest that more than 4.5 million qualified project managers are needed across the planet. Just over 450,000 hold credentials. The demand is high. And, after all is said and done, PMI needs your money for longevity.

The ISO9000 standard followed by PMI does introduce some rigor to the application and testing process. Though the process should not be feared.

In 2006 Jack Dahlgren wrote a multipart blog attempting to demystify application and preparation for the PMP exam.  You can still find an archived copy of his blog. Taking the PMP Exam.

Near the end of his series, posted between November 2006 and March 2010, is a link to download a PMP Application Experience Record. (A shout-out to a recent student who pointed me to the site when asking for clarification.) Although the blog addresses preparation for a prior version of the PMBOK ™, much of the information is still useful. Still too complex and daunting, however.

The PMP credential represents both knowledge and experience within the field of project management. Exam questions cover the knowledge aspect. The application process confirms a basic exposure and the nature of the applicant’s experience. Since questions about experience are subjective, individual, and situational there is no ‘correct’ answer. Your goal as an applicant is to validate exposure to project management processes. You do not even need to hold a ‘project leader’ or ‘project manager’ title. Completion of the PMP credential may be your stepping stone from contributor to leader.

To apply for the exam, PMI requires that an applicant with a bachelor’s degree verify 4500 hours of project management exposure/experience. Apparently the term ‘non-overlapping’ confuses people. The concept is truly simple.

There are only 8 hours in a day. Five days and therefore 40 hours in a work week. Given that everyone receives at least two weeks of vacation during a calendar year, there are only 50 work weeks and therefore 2000 hours in a year.

Although diligent professionals may contribute more than the 40 hours for which they are compensated, PMI recognizes only the first 40 hours each week. Non-overlapping merely reminds us that we cannot take credit for more than 40 hours during any seven day period. Even project managers need to rest.

If you work more than one job, or as is more often the case, contribute to more than one project at a time, you may only report 8 hours of work per day. You simple need to figure out how to apply your 8 hours (or 40, or 2000) across the projects than span the same calendar periods.

In addition, would like you to indicate how the work performed most closely matches one of the five process groups. If you are a software developer, most of your work probably falls into planning (design) and executing (programming). If you are a business analyst, then most of your hours likely fall into the initiating and planning process groups. The distribution matters far less than the total hours, and that they are reported as non-overlapping.

In order to facilitate the application planning process, I created a very simple Excel spreadsheet. PMPC Application Prep -Sample

You could probably create one yourself, though we have attached it so that you don’t need to apply even this minimal effort.


In the first column, list your project title. Simplify the title to represent the work. If you worked on the “project to end all projects answering the meaning of life the universe and everything”, just use the title ‘Earth”. You only need an understandable working title. The explanation only serves to allow confirmation that you worked on the project should you be audited.

In the second and third columns, place the calendar start and end date of the project. The fourth column Hour Limit merely calculates five days for every 7 calendar dates, and multiplies by 8. Voila, 40 hours every 7 calendar days. The Total Hour column allows you to place an initial estimate of the number of hours you spent contributing to the project. Columns seven through eleven represent the five project management process groups. Estimate your contributions relative to the project work efforts that occur within each process group. Column six, Calculated Hours, totals columns seven through eleven. You never want Calculate Hours to exceed Hour limit.

Repeat your input in every other row for additional projects.

The next step helps you to comply with the ‘non-overlapping’ requirement.

In the rows labeled overlap, enter the overlapping dates of the preceding and subsequent project. The Hour Limit column identifies the overlapping hours as a negative number. You need to subtract these calculated overlap hours either from the preceding project, the subsequent project, or some portion from each to match the total overlap hours. Now double check your calculated hours and adjust your contributions to keep Calculated Hours below the Total Hours you determined.

Repeat the process until you have a total of at least 4500 hours to report within a period of no less than 3 years nor longer than 8 years.

Make sure you have contact information for one individual associated with each project who can confirm your employment or participation on the project. This might influence how you list your project title, since you want anyone queried to recognize the project by your working title.

You are now ready to complete to work experience section of the PMP Credential application.

The question should not be frightening. The answer is just a matter of simple math. The timing of questions on the exam may be far more challenging.

Best of luck!

Steven Fullmer

Interface Technical Training Staff Instructor

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