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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Big fan of this strategy!
Awesome inside out point of view – great job!
Thank you for this detailed plan!
Monitoring and control is essential to gauge your progress. I’ll put this in my toolkit.
Really, a very great article
Excellent blog, the information it’s very utility,
I’ve seen Cisco Certs that have a breakdown of each topic and resources and what Cisco resources are available for it. Would be good to put that in a plan to move forward with.
There are different learning plans on the Cisco Learning Network, for example: https://learningnetwork.cisco.com/s/learning-plan-detail-standard?ltui__urlRecordId=a1c3i0000007mhzAAA<ui__urlRedirect=learning-plan-detail-standard.
Great advice and great outline for success.
For me, after reviewing a section or category I like to test my knowledge like a review before moving on to the next. I need to pound in the knowledge then move on to the next thing and then review it again. Repetition is key until it becomes second nature and you’re not second guessing because it’s fact in your head.
Very detail and helpful
I have always created Gantt charts and assigned times to certain groups of tasks. This way – you can be realistic about the timeframe to complete your studies and prepare for exams.
Great blog, what other certification do you recommend besides PMP for project management?
Very well organized and presented. 5 steps to success! Great job!
A great idea to use a project management approach to certification
Very clear strategy. I like the methodology.
Another great approach. I’ve used mind mapping and the SQ3R (Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review) methods before.
Excellent blog, the information it’s very utility, thx
Thank you, very detailed
Wow, that is great approach
Great article and advice. I am interested in utilizing and exam review tool like Exam Review – CCNA for my next certification through Cisco.
This is not how I do it exactly, but will try it out for my next certification. Thanks!
Good read. As a veteran of taking certification tests I feel that half the battle is getting everything organized so that it makes sense.Thank you for showing us another approach to test preparation.
I agree with you that breaking down whole processes into smaller pieces to make them more attainable is the key to achieve the certification
That seems like a very good and organized game plan to follow. I may try that approach toward my next recertification task.
Time pressure will effectively help some learners stay on task, whereas other learners will be discouraged when a new topic that they are learning is taking more time than they estimated. I did not schedule at a granular level time to spend studying. I estimated an upper limit of total time spent, and I planned how much time I could consistently spend. I addressed road bumps when they substantially impacted my ability to consistently study.
Excellent material, thank you!
It will not help some insiders, but it is one awesome strategy for people like myself.
Thank you for sharing your plan.
I am using Obsidian for my notes, that is why I also use this tool for my plan and monitoring.
At the moment I am just using checkboxes for the topics I already learnt, but there is also a Kanban plugin which could be useful.
Hi Mira, I need to familiarize myself with Obsidian. It looks similar to mind mapping, excellent for organizing notes. Studying an individual endeavor. Do what works best for you, and you’ll succeed. Thank you for your suggestions.
This is a great idea. I’ll try to project manage the cisco ENCOR certification I’ve just begun.
Never thought to use this kind of approach for achieving a certification. Thanks for sharing.
Excellent read , thank you!
Good for non technical folks .
That approach to the learning map is fantastic, I WISH I was this well organised!! 🙂
Great idea. Really help!
Great idea. Really help! Thanks sharing.
Nice article, thx for sharing
Thanks for sharing
Interesting way of doing study. I guess a Gantt chart helps to plan hours as well. Would be nice for Cisco to fill the rest in with objectives and goals (with examples).
I like the process you’ve built. Should make the work attaining certifications more well structured.
Very helpful! Thanks
Very interesting strategy
I’m going to try out steps 3 & 4 with the cisco ENCOR certification I’ve just begun.
Never thought to use this kind of approach for achieving certifications.
Thanks for sharing.
Great! Please keep in touch with me on how it goes. I would like to follow up with you once you take your exam. Good Luck!
I’ve always thought it was hard to figure out what path to choose, but I’m really happy I started on the DevNet path!
Great article. Learning two high-level skills at once. Most tech guys are missing some PM skills that are mandatory in today’s agile environments.
Very well put and an excellent advice.
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