Now that Microsoft has the elements in place for a full-fledged program to certify experts on its Project products, maybe it’s time for you to consider enhancing that Project Management Institute credential with something more tool-specific. Even if you’re not a Project Management Professional (PMP)®, the Microsoft certification program provides an effective way for you to prove what you know to yourself and those in a position to hire project managers. Plus, according to studies by CompTIA and other organizations, the very process of preparing for an exam can make you more effective in the use of the tools upon which you’re being tested. That means that becoming a specialist or professional (terms used in the titles of the certifications) can help you to run your projects betterAlso, by achieving a new title, you’ll join an elite group of people who have proven their knowledge and expertise of complex and vital software tools. Of the 16 million Project licenses that Microsoft has in the world, currently, only a few hundred people who use that software have certification on the Project products.

The Microsoft Project Certifications

Microsoft currently has three levels of Project certification:

  • Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS): Managing Projects with Office Project 2007.
  • Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS): Enterprise Project Management with Office Project Server 2007
  • Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP): Enterprise Project Management with Office Project Server 2007.

The first two credentials — one for Project and the other for Project Server — each require you to pass a single test. The IT Professional title requires three exams, those first two tests, as well as an additional one.

Let’s drill down on each.

MCTS in Project: 70-632

You’ll probably decide to start with that first Project exam, otherwise known as 70-632, which validates your knowledge of desktop features in Microsoft Office Project Standard 2007 or Microsoft Office Professional 2007.This exam, according to Microsoft, is intended for people who work on projects as a team member, project lead, project manager, scheduler or some other role that requires the ability to formulate well thought-out project plans and to manage projects effectively. MCTS candidates may be responsible for the scheduling, estimating, coordinating, controlling, budgeting and staffing of projects. Candidates may also provide support to other Project users. Candidates should be familiar with key project management concepts and terminology.

Here’s how Microsoft has broken down the major areas of the exam:

  • Configuring tools and options (12%)
  • Setting up a project (10%)
  • Estimating, scheduling, and budgeting tasks (30%)
  • Resourcing project plans (24%)
  • Updating and reporting on project performance (24%)

Each percentage refers to the number of questions you can expect in that area relative to the other topic areas.

At the exam resource page for 70-632, you’ll find specific skills that you can expect to be tested on. For example, under the category of “Tools and Options,” you may find questions about setting up schedule options, calculation options, interface options, view options, general options, calendar options and security options.

To prepare for this test, you can take an official class from an authorized training center. That’s course 5927, Microsoft Office Project 2007, Managing Projects, which is three days long. That is a great place to start in your exam preparation.

Microsoft also has published self-study material, in case training budget is a challenge. In May 2008, the Self-Paced Training Kit (Exam 70-632), was made available. Among the authors, MPUG certification columnist Bonnie Biafore. This type of training allows you to work at your own pace through lessons and lab exercises. The book-CD package also includes 250 practice and review questions so that you can evaluate your readiness to tackle the real thing.

MCTS in Project: 70-633

Once you’ve aced that Project 2007 exam, you may be inspired to continue your certification efforts with Project Server, exam 70-633. This exam is particularly relevant if you’re already a PMP® through the Project Management Institute.

According to Microsoft, this MCTS certification shows that you have an understanding of best practices and methodologies as established by the PMI. Candidates may use Project 2007 or Project Server 2007 to manage project and non-project efforts, risks, issues, documents, task progress and timesheets. You should be familiar with the key project management concepts and terminology found in the PMI’s A Guide to the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide).

Interestingly, according to an online presentation by instructors from the International Institute for Learning (IIL), you won’t need much exposure to the administrative role within Project Server to tackle this exam. So if you work in a company that limits access to that aspect of Project, not to worry. Study up on it in other ways.

Here are the major topic areas for this exam, according to the exam page for 70-633:

  • Initiating projects
  • Planning projects
  • Executing projects
  • Monitoring and controlling projects
  • Managing Project Professional and Project Web Access environments

That same page provides a breakdown of skills that you may be asked about during your exam. For instance, under “Executing Projects,” you may find questions about matching and replacing resources, building a project team with named resources, distributing information to project stakeholders, creating and managing a timesheet and reviewing and approving a timesheet.

To prepare for 70-633, you can take instructor-led training. That’s course 5928, Microsoft Office Project Server 2007, Managing Projects, a three-day class. You can also do self-study. In September 2008, Microsoft published the MCTS Self-Paced Training Kit (Exam 70-633). As with the training kit for the Project test, this one includes both lessons and exercises on CD — along with practice questions to help you assess your skills.

Project Exam Basics for 70-632 and 70-633

There are no prerequisites for taking either test. You simply contact Prometric online to schedule the exam (which is done in person at a testing center near you), pay the fee of $125 and tackle the questions, which will be shown to you on a computer screen. It’s a timed test, and all questions for this exam are multiple choice or simulation. A simulation question shows you a part of the interface for Project and asks you to do a particular activity or task. You simulate how it would be done in the actual version of Project.

According to “Ask the Teacher” author Ellen Lehnert, these tests have 55 questions. And, chances are, you won’t get the same version of the exam that a co-worker gets. Microsoft tends to switch in questions and potential answers to prevent “exam cram” websites from publishing the full contents of the tests.
Microsoft Project Management Certification: How to Get Started

MCITP: Enterprise Project Management

After you’ve tackled the previous two exams — for Project and Project Server — it makes sense to complete the package by going after the next level of credential. That would be the elite Microsoft Certified IT Professional.

The Microsoft page for this title explains that the EPM certification is intended for project managers and other professionals who use Project and Project Server 2007 to manage and support projects in an enterprise project management (EPM) environment. Candidates for this certification are able to manage project and non-project efforts, risks, issues, documents, task progress and timesheets. Candidates should have in-depth knowledge of key project management concepts and terminology found in the PMI’s PMBOK Guide.

Exam 70-634 takes testing to a new level. Whereas the previous tests included multiple choice and simulation questions, this one has scenario questions. You’re presented with a screen of information about a fictional company that needs your services. Your job is to read through the information, then tackle question screens, in which you need to evaluate various choices of how to approach the work and pick the best one, given the specifics of the scenario. You’ll face multiple scenarios.
Microsoft Project Management Certification: How to Get Started
According to Microsoft, you’ll be facing the following topics in this scenario-based test:

  • Managing data access and collaboration
  • Planning and troubleshooting active projects and programs
  • Controlling projects and programs
  • Managing resources
  • Reporting and analyzing business data

The exam page for 70-634 lists specific skills you’ll want to familiarize yourself with in preparation for taking the test. Under the category of “Controlling Projects and Programs,” for example, you could face questions regarding such matters as accounting for time, creating non-project time categories, identifying variances outside the threshold and controlling changes.

Classroom training is the five-day Course 5929: Microsoft Office Project Server 2007, Managing Projects and Programs. The class was still in development at the time of this writing.

There is no official self-study training planned for the exam, though it’s possible that a company other than Microsoft will eventually publish something to address how to study for the test, presuming that there appears to be strong interest in the credential.

IIL instructor Alan Bearder, in a presentation about the exams, offered several useful tips for tackling this scenario exam (or any of the ones developed by Microsoft):

  1. Read the entire question or scenario.
  2. Pay attention to details.
  3. Read each multiple-choice option.
  4. Re-read the question or applicable scenario section.
  5. Answer the question.
  6. Mark questions for review.
  7. Use other questions to help validate previous questions.
  8. Watch your time.
  9. Use the review tool to review marked questions.

But he noted that whereas in the other tests, you can go back and change an answer later on if time remains, in this exam, once you’ve completed one set of scenario questions and moved onto the next set of scenario questions, you can’t return to the previous one.

What Are You Waiting For?

Although there’s very little recognition for the Microsoft Project credentials at this time, it hardly matters. Tackling these tests will help you hone your skills like nothing else can. You’ll be forced to explore those little-visited corners of the products that you may never have thought to try out before. You’ll face virtual situations in which you may have to think differently from the way your current work asks you to. In other words, you’ll be placing yourself into a position where you are saying to yourself and others, “What I do is important and how I do it makes a difference, and I want to be the best I can at it.” Good luck!