The PMI is currently the most widely used source of professional project management accreditation. To win your coveted CAPM, PMP, or PMI-ACP, to will need to chalk up enough education Contact Hours. And to maintain them, you’ll also need Professional Development Units, or PDUs.
But just what are contact hours and PDUs?
What are the rules, and how can you get them? In this article, we set out to answer all your questions.
The ideas behind contact hours and PDUs are similar. They are all about ensuring that project professionals take your professional learning and development seriously. In that way, they are just the same as other professions like accountancy and the law.
The Project Management Institute, or PMI, is the largest professional body for project managers, and provides several tiers of accreditation for professional status. Its qualifications are widely recognized across the world. This video answers a lot of the questions you will have…
Educational Contact Hours are a measure of the formal time you spend learning project management as part of your preparation for a qualification.
You can record any course you take. But the time you record must refer only to time that you spend on content related directly to Project Management. If you do a general training course or formal learning program, you can only record those hours you spend on project management.
The PMI has deliberately chosen the term ‘contact hours’. It might have chose ‘education hours’ but it did not. To gain your contact hours, you must send time in contact with instructor-led training and learning material. If you carve out your own ‘self-directed’ learning program, from books, articles, and one-off videos, these will not count.
Professional Development Units, or PDUs, are a measure of the time you spend in formal continuing professional development (CPD), once you have achieved a professional qualification. Like other professional bodies, the PMI recognizes that a professional qualification cannot be a static, one-off event. To maintain its own professional standards, it requires you to keep learning.
For a PMP, for example, you’ll need to maintain a regime of learning at an average rate of 20 recorded hours per year. If you cannot do this, you will use your PMP accreditation. What a waste that would be!
As you’d expect, though, the range of sources and types of PDU the PMI recognizes is wide. This reflects both:
Indeed, once you are qualified, the PMI is deeply trusting of your judgement about what learning will further your own professional excellence, and how you can get that development. We’ll see plenty of examples later on in this article.
Let’s compare Contact Hours with PDUs in a simple table.
|Required for...||Achieving a PMI professional qualification.||Maintaining a PMI professional qualification.|
|When you need them||Before taking a PMI professional qualification exam.||After achieving your PMI professional qualification.|
|Time equivalence...||1 Contact Hour|
= 1 hour of contact with appropriate instructor-led learning
= 1 hour of PM learning, or 1 hour of contribution to the PM profession
|Appropriate content||Specific to your study and the qualification you are taking.||Broad scope covering the three sides of the PMI's Talent Triangle.|
|Suitable activities (examples)||Instructor led:|
- live training
- online courses
Meetings and informal learning
|Evidence you'll need||Must be fully documented. |
Subject to random audit.
Subject to random audit.
|Documented guidance||CAPM Handbook|
|Continuing Certification Requirements (CCR) Handbook|
You’ll find details of the rules for Contact Hours and PDUs in the handbooks listed in the last row of the table above.So, here, I just want to summarize the key points.
The commonest question people ask about contact hours and PDUs is:
How many do I need?
PMI give clear answers, which I have summarized for you in this table…
|Qualification||Contact Hours you'll need to get your qualification||PDUs you'll need to maintain your qualification|
or 1,500 hours of project experience
Renewal by exam every 3 years.
as well as educational and experience requirements
every 3 years
in Agile practices
|30 PDUs in Agile topics
every 3 years
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When you are submitting contact hours ahead of applying for your qualification examination, you will need to provide documentary evidence for your hours. You need to record them and have any course work you need to complete done by the time you apply for examination.
The PMI describes the evidence you’ll need:
‘Copies of certificates and/or letters from the training institute(s) for each course recorded on the application to meet the required contact hours of project management education’
The PMI will select a sample of all applications to audit the evidence for Contact Hours, academic qualifications, and work experience. If they select yours, you’ll get an email before you need to pay your certification fee. Then, you’ll have 90 days to submit supporting documentation such as:
The audit will take a week or so, and only once it is complete does your one-year examination eligibility period begin.
If you cannot (or choose not to) meet the audit requirements, you’ll not be able to re-apply for another year. They don’t say this, but I’d expect your chances of being selected for audit again to be pretty high!
PMI offers the broadest possible scope for Project Management-related professional development, in acknowledging PDUs. But, for obvious reasons, acceptable contact hours are limited to topics related to the qualification you are working towards. They must address the learning objectives of your course.
The learning objectives are around the body of knowledge set out in the PMBoK and cover the 10 Knowledge Areas. So, the content hours may include content on: project quality, scope, time/schedule, cost/budget, human resources, communications, risk, procurement, and project integration management. See the relevant handbook* for details.
Your contact hours must explicitly cover agile practices. Agile training can include topics covering agile philosophy, methodologies, principles and practices. See the PMI-ACP handbook* for details.
Once again, the ways to get PDUs are very many and widely varied. Sources of contact hours are generous, ut a little more constrained.
You can meet your education requirements by demonstrating you have completed of courses, workshops, and training sessions offered by one or more of the following types of education providers:
Any relevant learning you undertake from one of the pre-approved suppliers will automatically count towards your contact hours. All you need to do is demonstrate your attendance and completion. These are:
The following do not satisfy the PMI’s education requirements for its qualifications:
*If at least one hour of a chapter meeting is spent conducting a learning activity, the hour(s) spent in that activity can be counted towards the educational eligibility requirement.
Getting PDUs is altogether easier. Full details are in the Continuing Certification Requirements (CCR) Handbook, but the PMI has a very helpful webpage that summarises your options. They say:
Your PDU activities must relate to topics that are substantially consistent with the Exam Content Outline for your certification. Check your certification handbook to understand the PDU amounts needed and the qualifying activities for your certification.
There are tons of opportunities to earn PDUs. Choose the ways that work for you and make the most of your enrichment!
The best way to interpret this is using the PMI’s ‘Talent Triangle®‘ of:
There are two principal ways you can earn PDUs:
You’ll find lots of examples and explanation on the PMI’s page, but I’ll summarise here.
Here is our short guide:
What is your experience of gaining Contact Hours for your PMI qualification, and Continuing Professional development with the PMI or any other professional body?
We’d love to hear your thoughts. Put them in the comments section below, and I’ll respond to anything you contribute.
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Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 13 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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