Two Years of PMillustrated.com

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September 2023 marks the second anniversary of the feature-complete PMillustrated.com website. This post recounts The Good, The Bad and the Ugly of this development experience and outlines what’s next for the site.

 

Let’s start with a quick recap of what PMillustrated.com provides:

Choose Your Path

Choose your path. The ability to chart your own adventure through all the PMP exam topics in any order via self-contained micro-learning modules that feature video, infographics, animations, cartoons, text, quizzes and games.

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Self Assessment. Track your progress on this self-curated learning journey by earning electronic badges for mastering topics and passing review quizzes. The “My Achievements” badge map shows the topics you have covered and also provides a way to navigate unexplored areas.

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Visual Learning. Tap into the benefits of visual learning, gamification and fun to make your study time more effective and enjoyable. Like fitness equipment, study materials only work if you use them. Making them fun means you are more likely to stick with your study plan and reach your PMP success goals.

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Money-back Guarantee – For anyone on the fence about buying a full-site membership, PM Illustrated offers a money-back guarantee. We are confident you will pass if you use this site to prepare for your PMP exam. So, what do you have to lose? Either pass the exam and gain the benefits of becoming a PMP credential holder or have your membership costs refunded.

 

Two years ago, this was all unproven. Would enough people value a visual learner’s focus on PMP exam preparation? Would cartoon animals resonate with project management topics or be dismissed as childish and unprofessional? I had questions, and the market provided answers.

The Good

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Enough People Like It. People seem to either love it or hate it. And if they love it, they really love it. Using cartoon animals to teach project management works for enough people. Visual learning is in demand, too. Not everyone wants to wade through hundreds of pages of text. Videos, animations, infographics, mindmaps and sketches provide context, create helpful memory aids and show structure while reducing cognitive load.

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Awesome Testimonials. People have been very appreciative and have provided some fabulous testimonials. Some of my favorite short quotes include:

  • “I passed my PMP exam “Above Target” in all 3 areas thanks to this site!”
  • “PM Illustrated is a game changer! It is such a fun way of visual learning.”
  • “Hands down, the best online exam prep tool I have come across.”
  • “The best PMP prep material I have ever seen. Kudos!”

 

See the Testimonials page for more and the longer quotes.

I received some fun ribbing, too. Some of my favorites include:

  • “Do you do a version for adults?”
  • “Did the book come with crayons, or did you eat them already?”

Project management is a challenging, engaging career; it should not be introduced via boring, uninspiring textbooks or instruction. It is not for the precious or easily offended either; dealing with diverse stakeholder groups sometimes requires a thick skin.

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Passing the PMP exam. It works; people are using the site to successfully pass the PMP exam. Not only that, but it is more fun and less of an ordeal than working through dry academic textbooks, lecture videos, and thousands of practice questions. 

 

 

So, while the content, format and function of the site have been well received, there were a few surprises on the way too.

The Bad

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Side-hustle economics favor the platforms, not the producers. Publishing a book on Amazon will most likely not make you much money. Nor will selling branded products, or Udemy courses. Due to the high cost of printing in color and sending large, high-resolution files, the site earns less than $8 per book sale, under $4 per poster sale, and under $2 per Udemy course sale. The vast majority, 80-90%, of all proceeds go to the platforms and the remainder to credit card fees.

Luckily, I do this mainly to share my love of project management. My other website www.LeadingAnswers.com has never generated a cent of revenue in the 17 years I have been running it. I would like for PMillustrated to break even and create a steady income for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) charity, but profit is not my motivator.

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“Build it and they will come” does not apply to websites. I naively thought that if I created a valuable reference for PMP aspirants, word would get out, and it would quickly become popular. It turns out all successful websites spend a lot of time, effort and money on constantly promoting their site via links and social media posts.

When I run a website audit, the content SEO gets a grade of “A+” for “On-page content SEO”. However, not surprisingly, grades of “F” for “Links” and “Social” because I am not on social media, and few people are talking about it.

Website Report Card 2
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Low-Code No-Code (LCNC) solutions have their challenges. While I was a software developer 30-40 years ago, my skills are rusty now. PMillustrated is built on WordPress, a popular LCNC platform supported by a large ecosystem of plugin components for the most commonly needed functionality.

These generic components run more slowly than native code. They are also prone to incompatibilities and breakage as other components get upgraded over time. It feels like building a car out of rubber bands, odd springs, and random collections of electric motors, switches and miscellaneous items that are broadly compatible but were never designed to be used together. It works mostly but requires constant maintenance and support behind the scenes to keep this going.

There are some excellent solutions for hardening and improving the performance of WordPress sites. Tools that convert WordPress sites into headless CMS sites improve performance and security. However, they do not support all the membership, gamification and Learning Management System (LMS) functions the site uses. So, for now, there is a lot of behind-the-scenes care and attention to keep things ticking along.   

 

Finally, operating a business online exposes you to some of the unsavory actors on the internet.

The Ugly

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Credit Card Fraud – Offering low-cost online memberships has its downsides. When criminals steal credit card details, they often test to see if they are still valid by purchasing low-cost online merchandise. Despite using respected credit card processors (Stripe and PayPal) and having reCAPTHCHA enabled on the site, PMillustrated fell victim to stolen credit card testing a couple of times.

The first time it happened, I thought the site had finally gone viral! People had realized the great content and value for money it offered and were signing up in droves. Alas, no. All the transactions had to be reversed, and all the accounts created had to be disabled and deleted. It took a bunch of time, and the site gets flagged as high-risk, so you pay higher credit card processing fees.

Content Stealing – Some people will steal your content and sell it on Amazon and other platforms as their own work. Then, all sales go to them (and the platforms), not the content creators. This obviously is not fair for the people who spend time creating the original content, but unfortunately, since platforms make their revenue no matter where the content comes from, they do not seem that quick to take down flagged content.

When an illegal copy of my book shows up on Amazon, I have to send details of my work and links to the copied work, and then, after a review, Amazon will remove the bookseller. However, by then, they have popped up under a new reseller name, and the process repeats like whack-a-mole.

 

Fortunately, in the last year, increasing my pricing slightly and switching to more of a membership model has allowed me to reduce the impacts of credit card fraud and content loss. By constantly adding new valuable content each week and branding assets with PMillustrated, hopefully people will return to the source for the latest and greatest materials – and there’s lots more to come.

What's Next

Simulations and branching scenarios – project simulations with branching scenarios allow more realistic questioning. Instead of single correct/incorrect response questions, project scenarios such as problem detection and team-direction-setting will be explored. How you respond drives the simulation to successful, sub-optimal, or failure situations.

Branching Scenarios

These outcome-based learning simulations are more engaging, impactful and sticky than multiple-choice questions. While you will not see outcome-based simulations on the PMP exam (yet), they are an emerging trend in adult learning as a more effective way to master concepts faster.

Gamification Beyond Points, Badges and Leaderboards (PBLs) – Effective gamification goes beyond PBLs. People enjoy playing games because the best ones tap into various factors such as empowerment, unpredictability, avoidance, scarcity and social influence. Since researching New trends in Online Learning and building them into PMillustrated, I have wanted to add more elements from the Octalysis Framework. Now, using partnerships with platforms like Classcraft, I am getting closer to implementing them at PMillustrated.   

Classcraft Quests
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Getting the word out, Linking, SEO, and Social Media. Growing community needs to be a priority to keep the site viable. It requires a steady influx of new users to offset those who roll off after passing their PMP exam. I have tapped all my first-level connections on LinkedIn and need to start a broader reach. Unfortunately, because I do not use social media much, I am not up to speed on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram etc. So I will need independent help. Any recommendations would be appreciated here, and I will be contracting out the work.

PMP Trainer and Academic Affiliate Opportunities. In the last year, we have had great success offering PMillustrated access as additional support for trainers. It provides a valuable review and reference environment for people to consolidate and test their comprehension of topics.

Trainers offer it alongside their in-person and online training to back up lessons. Professors set earning badges as homework and use the My Achievements map to track course progress. The video book, visual glossary and games provide additional reference and revision options.

Launching in the fall will be easier integrations for trainers and academic organizations to provide access to the PMillustrated platform. This will include an affiliate model where trainers can offer their students cut-price site access and earn ongoing commissions. Also, the ability to pre-buy discounted membership tokens to bundle with courses. If you would like more details about these offers, email me at mike@pmillustrated.com.

Summary

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It all started with a visceral reaction to seeing more text-based project management training materials and knowing there must be a better way to teach this stuff. Project management is a dynamic career that deserves better content. Being a visual learner myself, I set out to create a site that taught the concepts as I envision them. Luckily, I am not alone, and it resonates with other learners too.

The last two years have allowed me to have a lot of fun while building out my passion project. I have learned about website development, membership models and supporting a community. I have discovered my strengths (content) and weaknesses (promotion.) I look forward to applying these learnings, partnering strategically and seeing where we can take the site in the next two years.

As a reader and site user, I hope you stay engaged and, as always, help guide the way with your Suggestions for Improvements.

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