This month, we conclude the discussion of the CompTIA Project+ certification exam (PK0-004) by focusing on the last of the four domains: Project Tools and Documentation. Weighted at 21 percent of the exam, the fourth domain has some overlap between the topics here and those in the previous domains.
Much of this is natural, as the tools covered beneath this domain are intended to implement the concepts discussed previously. There are three subdomains and the key topics beneath each are discussed below.
Compare and contrast various project management tools
Since the certification is available through a technology-based organization, a good familiarity with project scheduling software is needed. While there are slight differences in the interfaces, most offer the same feature sets and you need to be able to identify the differences between the charts that can be produced.
A quick Google search (or even Wikipedia) will show you the various chart types, but make sure you can recognize — and know the differences between — the following:
- Process diagram
- Pareto chart
- Run chart
- Scatter chart
- Gantt chart
Most project scheduling software packages offer a dashboard combining various types of the charts with status reports and allow you to quickly assess progress. It is strongly recommended that you be familiar with the information shown on a standard dashboard in Microsoft Project, Microsoft Visio, Jira, or a similar program.
You will want to (and should) also be comfortable with the Microsoft Office suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) for use in presenting findings, as well as know what Microsoft SharePoint is used for and how it can be helpful when it comes to project management and knowledge management.
Other topics to know include the reasons for using an intranet versus the internet sites, how to tie in to vendor information (which could imply an extranet), and basic collaboration/performance measurement tools. A RACI matrix is used to identify those responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed.
A SWOT analysis is used to identify four key areas: Strengths (internal), Weaknesses (internal), Opportunities (external), and Threats (external). Since it offers both an internal and an external assessment, a SWOT analysis is considered a comprehensive analysis. By analyzing all the components of the SWOT, managers can assess a situation and plan a strategy accordingly.
Given a scenario, analyze project-centric documentation
A number of documents are involved with the project at various stages from initiation to completion. Many, if not all, of these were insinuated in earlier domains that touched on establishing the project and defining it. Among the documentation items to know are the following:
Project charter: According to the PMBOK, the project charter is the document issued by the sponsor/initiator of the project that formally authorizes the existence of the project and provides the Project Manager with the authority to apply organizational resources.
Project management plan: This is a formal, approved document used to guide both project execution and project control. The primary uses of the project management plan are to document planning assumptions and decisions, facilitate communication among project stakeholders, and document approved scope, cost, and schedule baselines.
Issues log: As the name implies, the issue log contains a list of ongoing and closed issues of the project.
Organizational chart: This a diagram that shows the hierarchical structure of an organization and the relationships between the organization's members.
Scope statement: This outlines the project's deliverables and identifies the constraints, assumptions and key success factors — in other words, the boundaries of the project.
Communication plan: Often known as a communications management plan, this is a plan that documents and organizes needs for communication. It covers the communications system, the flow of communication, and modalities of it. It also covers the schedule/frequency for communication, information retrieval, and any other requirements for communication needed.
Project schedule: The project schedule communicates what work needs to be performed, which resources will be used to perform the work, and the timeframe(s) that the work needs to be performed in for delivering the project on time.
Status report: This is a report that provides current information on the project cost, budget, scope, and other key information.
Dashboard information: As the name implies, this is a data dashboard displaying relevant performance indicators related to specific projects. The displays can be of metrics related to a project's overall progress, or alerts that focus on problem areas that require further attention.
Action items: These are things that need to be done, such as work assigned at the end of a meeting. Every action item should have a person responsible for its completion and a due date assigned to it.
Meeting agenda/meeting minutes: The agenda is traditionally created before the meeting and outlines what will be discussed during it. The minutes are a summary of what was discussed during the meeting and includes a synopsis of actions taken. Minutes should also include when the meeting began and when it was adjourned as well as the outcome of motions (accepted, rejected, tabled, etc.).
Identify common partner or vendor-centric documents and their purpose
Most projects require working with vendors and/or partners and many of them require working with a sizable number of both. While some of the communications with those parties are specific and unique, quite a few of them are standard with most projects and that is the focus of this subdomain.
The document types CompTIA wants you to be familiar with here include the following:
Request for information: Commonly called an RFI, this is used to gather information about those items (services, products) that you need to procure. The RFI is commonly used to gather specific data, one of which can be price BUT the RFQ is often used if that is the only data you are wanting to gather.
Request for proposal: When you are ready to start a project (not just gathering information as with the RFI), then an RFP is used. With the RFP, you are inviting vendors and suppliers to submit bids which can then be evaluated and selections made.
Request for quote: As the name implies, the RFQ is used to solicit estimates. The RFI and RFQ can serve the same purpose, but the RFI can ask for more than just price. Organizations that include a dollar amount in their RFI typically do not use an RFQ at all.
Mutually binding documents: Documents that are mutually binding are said to be bilateral in that they contain conditions (and terms) for both parties. Documents that are mutually binding are typically synonymous with contracts and enforceable — if need be — in court.
Agreement/contract: An agreement, or contract, is a mutually binding document that contains all the conditions to be a legal document. PMI defines a contract as “a mutually binding agreement that obligates the seller to provide the specified product or service or result and obligates the buyer to pay for it.”
There are a number of types of contracts, one of which is commonly used is the fixed-price contract which sets a fixed price for the product, service or result stated in the contract.
Non-disclosure agreement: An NDA is a legal document used when sharing (or exposing) an outside entity to sensitive information. That sensitive information could be code, trade secrets, marketing plans, or almost anything else. The intent behind the NDA is always to protect the sensitive data from being shared with other entities outside the organization.
Note: NDA’s can also be used internally with employees, but the focus of this subdomain is on partners and vendors and that is the mindset with which to approach any discussion of the topic as it pertains to this part of the exam.
Cease and desist letter: Most commonly written with hyphens as opposed to how it appears on the CompTIA objectives, a cease-and-desist letter is sent to notify another party that you want them to stop what they are doing and refrain from doing it again. Such letters are commonly used in the protection of intellectual property such as trademark enforcement.
Letter of intent: Before everyone signs off on a contract/agreement, a letter of intent can be used to signify the plan to engage in the action. The letter of intent is often much simpler than the final contract, but is still a legal document and — as such — subject to negotiation on anything contained within it (terms and conditions).
Statement of work: The SOW outlines the services (or goods) you want to obtain from a vendor in a formal document. It details the deliverables, the dates, the assumptions, the constraints, and the success criteria. In many ways, this is similar to other documents such as the project scope statement.
Memorandum of understanding: The MOU is an agreement between the parties spelling out each party's requirements and responsibilities. This usually comes early on the negotiations and does not involve the exchange of money. An MOU can be used in place of a legal agreement between entities that can’t (or won’t) enter into a more formal legal agreement.
Service level agreement: The SLA outlines the level of service expected from a service provider and is a contract between that service provider and the entity defining it. The service provider can either be internal (a help desk, for example) or external (a vendor).
Purchase order: A PO is a document written by a buyer describing what they are purchasing (quantity, specs, etc.). The PO becomes a legal document once it is accepted by the seller. The seller/supplier can accept a PO by written acknowledgment or by commencing performance (which signals acceptance of all terms and conditions in the Purchase Order).
Warranty: A warranty is often spelled out in a warranty statement and is a guarantee that the deliverable will meet expectations. Typically, there is a time specified in which the warranty is in effect and the development team needs to resolve any defects.
The discussion this month concludes the overview of the topics beneath each of the four domains on the CompTIA Project+ certification exam (PK0-004). Next month, a sample quiz over these topics will allow you to test yourself and gauge how ready you may be to start working a future run at the Project+ certification into your schedule.