Hi, I’m Natarshia, a marketing manager with a front-row view of learners in our community and their journey to becoming certified. But I’m also a lifelong learner myself. As I work toward my Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification, I’m learning that planning and organizing are essential when starting a project.
Then I had a thought: Why not use these project management skills to plan a certification journey? “The Project Management Approach to Certification” sure does have a nice ring to it.
Getting a certification takes a lot of dedication, long hours, sacrifice, and study preparation! The same is true when you’re managing a project. On my journey, I’ve learned about the five stages of project management: initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and control, and finally, closure. Applying these concepts helps segment the work, create a study timeline, map progress, and build confidence to meet goals.
Because they’ve worked so well for me, I think they could also work for you. Let’s take a closer look at the five steps you can take to plan your Cisco certification journey like a project manager!
Step 1: Initiation
Before you start your journey, you must first define your purpose; your anchor of motivation for when you get distracted. Lists have always helped me stay focused.
Make a list of the reasons you want to get certified. I’m a visual person, so I write them out and post them on the wall. My reasons are advancing my career, increasing my salary, and gaining credibility in the industry. I also created a storyline from my list.
My story went like this:
I have a lot to offer and can probably do more with my natural talent and ability. I plan projects all day long anyway. Would certification boost my credibility? The research I’ve read says hiring managers are more likely to hire and promote people from within when they hold certifications. It could mean an increase in my salary, and this level of accreditation is a monumental achievement.
If you need a little push to get started on your list, ask yourself: why certify? What can you gain from being certified? Maybe someone inspired you and now you want to become the next certification success story. Research possible job roles, consider the market demand and where there is opportunity. For example, cybersecurity is one of the fastest-growing fields. If it piques your interest and you want to pursue a job in security, answer the call to certification. You can also find out more about career paths you can take, what has worked for others, and learn more about each Cisco certification from the Cisco Learning Network Community.
With your purpose defined, you can start planning your goals.
Step 2: Planning
I’d never start planning a road trip without a map and an itinerary of essential sightseeing destinations. Likewise, you can make an action-item roadmap for exam topics when you create your certification plan. Suppose you’re studying for the CCNA Cisco certification: you can find the CCNA exam topics on the Cisco Learning Network and download a study plan worksheet.
Projects can be overwhelming. The Project Management Process Chart* shows 5 phases and 49 processes to follow as you study for the PMP. Each has its own set of inputs, tools, techniques, and outputs (ITTOs). Sounds overwhelming, right?
But you can break down these processes into smaller pieces to make them more attainable. For example, a Project Management work breakdown schedule (WBS) is a visual, hierarchical, and deliverable-oriented deconstruction of a project.* A helpful diagram tool for project managers, this step-by-step approach lets you map out something huge into smaller, bite-sized tasks.
The main steps in a WBS include defining the project, setting boundaries, identifying deliverables and team members, and charting project activities over time. To simplify, let’s take the first CCNA exam topic and break down the first subject category into sub-subjects based on the learning map. You could do this for each topic for the exam:
Now take the exam topics and do the same thing, adding an estimated timeline for each box. You know yourself better than anyone else, and you know which concepts will take longer to absorb. But take caution! A longer timeline isn’t always better. Stretching things out too long can lead to procrastination.
? Tip: Save time on your CCNA certification study plan with this CCNA Exam Topic Study Tool. (It’s free!)
Step 3: Execution
The execution phase forces you to set a deadline to complete your certification and then move toward milestones throughout the plan. Based on your timelines in your WBS, keep adjusting until you’re comfortable and your project seems achievable. Then go ahead and start, trying to stay as close to your timeline as possible.
The WBS blocks represent your milestones. Cross them off as you complete them. Asana is an excellent tool for planning and building your certification strategy.
Step 4: Monitoring and Control
This phase means you can adjust along the way as you measure your performance and set targets. Make sure to keep your study fun and engaging by mixing up your materials. Use resources such as Cisco Press books, training videos, podcasts, and Prep webinars, and remember to take advantage of your network! Ask questions from the experts in the Cisco Learning Network Community forums.
Step 5: Closure
Just when you thought you were done, you still need to gauge your knowledge. An exam review tool like Exam Review: CCNA is a great way to do that. You can also hone your skills with Cisco practice tests, Cisco Learning Labs, and network simulation and virtualization tools like Cisco Modeling Labs.
Congratulations! Finally, you can finish what you started and take the exam to meet your goal!
Following these steps to plan your certification journey like a project manager might seem like a lot to swallow. But if you take small bites, plan your journey, and organize your time and resources, you’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish. I know I was.
Thanks for reading! I hope you found this blog helpful. I would love to hear what you think about my project management approach to planning a certification journey. If you have other methods that work for you, let’s hear ’em. Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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