What should you expect from a 5 day Project Management Course?

5-day PM Certification Course

I can’t speak for every one obviously, but I’ve done a couple of different 5-day certification courses now and have compared experiences with others and thought it might be of interest to someone if I made a few notes on the kind of things you can expect to see.

5-day Project Management courses can be quite expensive, especially if you’re paying for it yourself, so there is understandably a bit of apprehension for people doing a course for the first time.

The process may vary slightly from country to country, but in Australia at least… this is what typically happens.

Location, location, location

Nearly every course I’ve seen in a capital city has been held at an inner-city hotel. A lot of them are at ‘B’ class hotels. The cost of hiring out conference facilities is obviously a factor for most training organisations, but they still want the convenience and some decent facilities and these 2nd string hotels generally offer a pretty good mix. You will find some at the higher class locations though and there are a few who operate out of dedicated training facilities in an office setting.

Whatever the location, you can assume that there should be adequate room to sit all people attending the course and room for the presenter. It should be relatively quiet (though don’t expect it to be completely silent) and it should be organised in such a way where you don’t need to leave the premises for the 8 or so hours a day that the course goes for… so you can generally assume that there will be toilets close by and food provided.

Training Course Catering

I’d be pretty shocked if you found yourself in a room that didn’t have a good supply of coffee, tea and water. Some will also have juice… but really, we are PM’s, so as long as you have coffee, it’s all good… right?

Morning tea and afternoon tea are the usual suspects of muffins, bikkies (cookies), pastries and brownies (if you’re lucky!)… probably not the best if you’re on a diet. Sure, you can choose not to partake… but really… unless you strike one that’s really trying to skimp on the facility costs, assume you’ll submit to temptation at some point over the five days.

Lunch is typically a buffet style feast that won’t leave you hungry (again, bad luck if you’re on a diet), but it’s also a great opportunity to get to know your fellow class-mates. My tip is to sit next to someone different each day, engage as many people as you can in conversation and get to know them… these courses are as much about networking as they are about getting certified! Make sure you include the course presenter in these conversations too – they are often highly experienced PM’s with some incredibly interesting stories to share.

The Course Content

5 days is a pretty long time when all you’re doing is studying a methodology (and eating), but it’s also time that you need to use wisely.

The aim of the course is to get you to pass the exam – it’s not really about learning the methodology in a practical way that you’ll actually be an expert in it when you finish. Yes, you’ll cover all key concepts and get a pretty good overview, but expect to get plenty of instructions on the type of questions typically asked in the exam and strategies for working out the answers.

Most of these certifications have multiple choice exams and unfortunately the only way they seem to be able to test your knowledge is by trying to make some of the answers a little tricky… so the instruction you get about passing the exam by using particular strategies for answering the questions are actually some of the more important bits that you should be listening to.

The People

Most courses seem to have about 10-20 people attending – it’ll vary on the size of the room and how many the training organisation can attract I guess, but I’d be a bit concerned if I turned up to a course where the numbers were too far outside that range. A few either side is no big deal, but more would likely stretch the presenter a bit too far and take away some of the personal connection that helps with these short-course events.

The mix of people you get in your class can obviously be vastly different each time, but I’m pretty confident that you will be able to categories most of them into one of the following groups:

Current PM’s looking to pick up a certification because their employer has a training budget and they may as well take part since they don’t have to pay. These people are usually the most relaxed people in the room and usually have enough experience behind them that they shouldn’t have a lot of trouble passing… though sometimes they have a little too much experience and ‘their way of doing things’ can be a bit different to the specifics of the methodology you’re being tested against – which can cause a few problems if they don’t pay attention and actually learn the material.

New PM’s looking to get certification because they think it’s necessary to get that next PM job they’re trying to land. These people are generally going to be the ones who study the hardest. If their current employer is paying, then they may even be fairly calm about it… if they’re funding it out of their own pocket, then they are going to be rather nervous and probably be fighting off a little panic at the end of the first day when they realise that failure is not a good option.

People who are there because they have to be there – you bound to see a few people who are only there because their employer told them they need to be trained… some are quite happy to be there, others, just don’t want to be there at all. I’m pretty sure the pass rate for those who don’t want to be there is pretty low – just remember that a lot of employers who pay for their employees to take a training course expect you to retake the exam if you fail – and that’s generally at your own expense.

Given the cost of most of these courses, in a group of 15, I wouldn’t expect to see more than 3 or 4 who are paying their own way, but there are generally a couple.

Have taken a 5-day certification course before (doesn’t have to be PM related)? Leave a comment if you have any other observations to add or have had a completely different experience… I’m keen to hear about what you’ve seen.

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