I’ve been teaching project management for a while, and although the material has changed a bit since I started, the students and their understanding needs have not.

Understanding the different concepts and how they apply to your control strategy in Project Management isn’t easy at first try. Below you’ll find technical topic questions, conceptual topic questions, and other questions that come up most often in my classes—and of course, their answers.

PMP Practice test

1. Why do some network diagrams start with zero, and some start with one?

In Precedence Diagramming, using the Critical Path Method, you estimate Early and  Late Starts/Early and Late Finishes on the corners of the activity. You’ll notice that some diagrams have 0 as the first Early Start, and others have 1. Either one is valid; if you note below, the float is still the same. PMP® instructors normally teach “Day-0” notation, because the math is easier, and it references other PM topics, such as Earned Value. To describe them specifically:

  • Day 0 discusses duration – I use this when I’m not concerned with duration/effort tracking. You’ll note the finish of the prior activity is equivalent to the start of the following activity. There is no duration between activities unless a lag is documented.

  • Day 1 discusses schedule – I use this when I am interested in a calendar model for control. I track the beginning of the start to the end of the finish. The start of the succeeding activity is also incremented. Again, this is useful if you are considering a schedule or calendar analysis.

Network diagrams

2. How do I make sense of Work Performance Data, Information, and Reports?

Page 467 in the 5th edition of the PMBOK Guide has an excellent discussion of Work Performance Data, Information, and Reports. It defines these three components, and then steps through the flow:

  • Work Performance Data is raw, collected but not analyzed.

  • Information is analyzed and in context.

  • Reports are formatted information, used for control (analysis, review, decisions).

You will see on page 467 the process that creates data, the processes that convert data to information, and the process that converts information to reports. The diagram shows where reports are used. The flow of Data, Information, and Reports is one of the three major flows within the framework.

Diagram showing flow of Data, Information, and Reports within the framework 

3. What is the difference between Scope Creep and Gold Plating?

The scope itself assists you in describing all and only what you intend to do through your project work. With that in mind, two risks may allow lack of control within this topic:

  • You can enable uncontrolled change to your scope – this is called “Scope Creep.” This is when a change is applied, and it hasn’t been formally considered a change.

  • You can allow changes to go beyond scope – either in design, considering a ‘screen door in a submarine’ or in execution, realizing you have extra time and budget and wanting to find some way to use it.

In both of these situations, general project management best practice must hold true—‘just enough’, intending to make the project more successful (within scope) or keep it from failure. Change of scope must always be assessed against this.

4. Why are process groups ‘process groups?’ Why can’t we call them phases?

First, you must differentiate between Project Management Processes and Project Work. Processes allow control, and Work creates the deliverable.

Project management processes are controlled; they ensure success and minimize failure. They may touch and change the scope, but they don’t complete the scope. These processes can and will happen whenever the control is needed. For instance, we acquire a team when the team is required. We constantly plan—reiteration of planning processes is nothing more than replanning.

Project work is the scope; it is the deliverable and work required to complete it. Phases are nothing more than a decomposed version of the total scope, which often may be broken into different skills (building, landscape, electricity, water, heating, and cooling).

5. How do we manage change in WBS?

A change in the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is a change in scope. This needs to be carefully considered, as it will impact the business objective, as well as cost, schedule, quality, risk, and other constraints.

Scope change must be formal and must be managed (controlled). There is no passive project management.

6. Where do the probabilities in the normal distribution come from?

For a full discussion, research Central Limit Theorem. When independent random variables are added, their sum tends toward a normal distribution. This is a mathematical proof, so without a good translator/study and time, it’s dense enough to cause confusion easily.

Consider, though, if you had six data points. The theorem says that four of them will be relatively close together, one will tend to be smaller, and one will tend to be larger. The two outliers can be determined to be the extremes. Four data points close together (out of six) would mean that 66 percent of your data points (4/6 = 2/3) should be close to the calculated average. That’s a bit off from 68 percent, but you can see the logic. As you add more and more data, the reality matches the derived probabilities more closely.

The beta, or 3-point weighted estimate, takes advantage of the concept that the normal distribution weights data to tend towards being closer to the average than out on the extremes—this is why you add 4 “most likelies” to each group of pessimistic and optimistic points.

7. Why is Agile included in project lifecycles? Isn’t it separate?

Project management talks about control. Agile describes one way to control project work, useful when your work is expected to change quite a bit. This methodology is one of many and is described at a high level in the second section of the PMBOK Guide 5th edition.

The 6th edition of the PMBOK Guide further integrates Agile into all the knowledge areas. To manage change effectively is to guarantee a much higher probability of success. To integrate this into standard project management, best practices is to help you prepare for a real-life work environment—changing, often ambiguous, and complex.

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This is merely an initial discussion of topics that are of great interest to everyone preparing for the PMP® certification exam. Trainers often don’t have time to get into the details, and it’s the details that help you understand why this body of knowledge is structured the way it is. And finally, this is a discussion—a two-way interchange of information. Please share your thoughts below and look for more updates. As always, you can reach the other trainers and me over at our community forum as well.

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