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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  1. Avatar Aformations.Com

    role in the portion of the project in which he or she was involved and must have led or directed project tasks. The applicant could have been a team lead, functional lead, technical lead, project sponsor, meeting facilitator or subject matter expert. Applicants also need experience in initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and closing a project—what the PMI defines as its five “process groups.”

  2. Avatar johnny

    Thanks for the info. Given that this article is from 2013. Are there any changes in the requirement for taking the PMP today? For example, the institution requires us to provide more info. on the project led or any changes to the calculation on the hours.


  3. Avatar Emily

    Hello Steven, thank you for the sample spreadsheet – exactly what I needed!

  4. Avatar Ed Williams

    Hi Brian:
    I have a doctorate in education. I have served as a dissertation research chair supervisor for the last 8 years. I would like to use my experience as a dissertation research chair as project management experience. I currently serve as adjunct professor at a university. I have had several of my students complete their doctoral research in education.
    The dissertation has several components: Introduction and Problem Statement, Purpose, Research Questions, Theoretical Framework, Literature Review, Methodology, Data Analysis, and Conclusion, Discussion, Implication, and Recommendations. The research process also include 3 milestones which are proposal defense, IRB approval, and final research defense. I was wondering if there was a template that I could use to convert my work experience to the PMP management process groups. Any insight in how I should approach converting my work experience would be appreciated.

    I have created a chart that may be useful to those that have served as research chairs at a university, to calculate PMP hours. Let me know what you think.

  5. Avatar Interface

    As soon as you can document 4500 qualifying hours of experience, not to exceed 2000 hours per calendar year, you may apply to sit for the PMP exam. Two and a half years could be sufficient time to acquire the 4500 hours for a full time project manager or primary project contributor. Only the PMI application review team will be able to validate whether the nature of the work reported for the hours submitted on the application appropriately meet PMI criteria for the PMP exam.

    You need more than just 4500 ‘working’ hours. You must also demonstrate exposure to and use of project management tools, techniques and application of knowledge across all five PMBOK™ 5th Edition process groups within your application. Note that you do not need to demonstrate all five process groups across each project, just all five process groups across the overall application.

    The goal of my blog and the attached spreadsheet is to allow the candidate to map their hours as a pre-determinant for the application process.

    Good luck!

    Steve Fullmer

  6. Avatar Rameez

    If my 4500 hours were in the period of two and half years, Am I eligible for the exam?

  7. Avatar Interface

    “PMI is less concerned with the title or job description through which you learned project management skills, or the industry in which you earned them. The application is designed to demonstrate your skills and experience as related to the five process groups: initiating, planning, executing, monitoring & controlling, and closing. You do not need to demonstrate the application of all five process groups for each project which you led or to which you contributed, but you do need to demonstrate exposure and/or experience across all five process groups across the breadth of your application. Regardless of your actual work hours or shifts, PMI measures all candidates equally. Each candidate works 8 hours per day, 5 days per week, and Therefore exactly 2000 hours per year given vacations, sick time. Etc.

    To calculate and report your time, start with the present and work backwards by days (8 hours each), weeks (40 hours each), or years. Figure out how much time you spent using the tools associated with each of the process groups during that time period. If you worked two or more projects simultaneously, your total time still must be only 8 hours/day or 40 hours/week. You get to determine how you split or distributed your time.

    As your report each project consider identifying a sponsor, customer, manager, or peer who can attest to your effort on each reported project. PMI will ask that identified contact to confirm your hours and the nature of your contribution. You will be a part of that process, soliciting responses on forms provided by PMI.

    Work back until you have at least a little more than the required hours using or being exposed to PMI tools. Once you have aggregated the required hours you should be ready to submit.”

    Steven M. Fullmer, PMP

  8. Avatar Julian Alvarez

    Question: I have worked at my company as a project manager for 3 years. Unfortunately my company has not invested in project tracking software such as Microsoft Project, so all tracking of hours would come down to me writing each project down by hand. Since I am in a project management department, can I just log my tenure here in this department and do a rough estimate of hours, then in the summary give my job summary. Will PMI take that or do you think they would flag it. I just have managed so many projects over the years so I am unsure how to log the hours since they were never accurately tracked.



  9. Avatar Becky C

    Hi Brian,
    Is there a required number or % of hours for required each phase?
    I have exceeded the 7500 hour total but I’m concerned that PMP could review my application and determine I’m short hours for a particular phase. In other words, is ther some rule that would complete this sentence: Of my 7500 hrs, I need at least X% to be documented in the __________ phase.

    Thanks for the info,

  10. Avatar PMPish

    @ Nebulous. You don’t need to cover all the process groups (phases) for each project. But you will need to cover all the process groups over the range of all your projects. Hope this helps.

  11. Avatar Nebulous

    BURNING QUESTION: I am currently filling out the application and expect that I will be spreading the application process out over a few days. Here’s my burning question: At one employer I was unable to see some projects through to completion due to layoffs (including me) during the recession. Most were pretty far along, and some were completed, but several were not completed (at least by me). I’ve managed numerous projects between then and now, but I have been at my current employer only 4 months. These projects will span several years. I have started a managing couple of from the beginning and inherited a couple mid-stream. So my question is – will PMI complain about or reject projects in which I am missing beginning or ending phases?

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