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PMP Exam Change in December 2019: What will be Different?

PMP Exam Change in December 2019 - What will be Different?

The Project Management Institute (PMI) jealously guards the reputation of its premier qualification, the Project Management Professional (PMP). So it regularly updates the standards and how it assesses them. And now we’re about to get a major PMP exam change, in December 2019.

So, in this article, we’ll look at the background to the PMP Exam Change, and how the exam will change. And we’ll also add our commentary on these changes.

PMP Exam Change in December 2019 - What will be Different?

Public Domain Information

It’s important to note first that we have no privileged knowledge. Everything in this article is based on what the PMP has published on its website. So, you can look for everything you need to know about the forthcoming exam change, for yourself. Here are the links you’ll need:

If PMIPMPCAPM, and the PMBoK Guide are not familiar concepts to you, the links in this sentence will give you primers.

TL;DR – the PMP Exam Change in a Nutshell

The last date for you to take the current exam is 15 December, 2019.

Because the work of a project management professional has changed (and is changing), so the PMP exam must change to reflect this.

The structure of the exam will no longer be based on the Project Management Process Groups.

The exam will be structured around these three domains, and in these proportions:

  • People (42%) – about leadership of your project team
  • Process (50%) – about the technical aspects of project management
  • Business Environment (8%) – about the link with organizational strategy

The examination will split approximately 50:50 between traditional predictive project management (as per the PMBOK Guide) and Agile or hybrid approaches (set out in the Agile Practice Guide).

The exam will therefore move further away from its formerly closer connection to the PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge, the PMBOK Guide. Which leads me to ask…

What about a New PMBOK Guide?

It feels like just yesterday that we got the 6th Edition of the PMBOK Guide. But it is nearly two years ago: September 2017. Without a doubt, the 7th Edition will reflect some of the changes to the PMP exam that we’ll see from 16 December 2019. So, what do we know about the PMBOK 7th Edition?

PMI has named Mike Griffiths as co-lead for the 7th Edition of the PMBOK Guide. Mike was involved in the creation of the Agile method, DSDM, and has over 20 years of experience in Agile methods. He’s an Agilist through and through.  

What that tells me – and this short article on his website confirms it – is that we can expect the 7th Edition to be a BIG change from recent editions. Rather than an incremental change, I suspect Mike will want to shake things up. He says:

‘this will not be just an update, instead a radical departure from all previous editions aligned with PMI’s new digital transformation strategy.’

Mike Griffiths, Let’s Rewrite the PMBOK, 19 June 2019

When Can We Expect Publication?

All I can tell you is that:

  1. Publication is linked to maintenance of the ANS (American National Standard) for Project Management. PMI needs to renew this on (I think) a 4-year cycle.
  2. The PMBOK Guide has been updated every 4 years since the first edition in 1996, with the exception of a 5-year gap between the 4th and 5th editions. 4 years on from 2017 is… 2021. Two years to go.
PMP Examination Content Outline

The Drivers for the PMP Exam Change

PMI’s commitment to a world class standard of certification has implications. One is that they must base their examinations on a formal Role Delineation Study (RDS) or Job Task Analysis (JTA). They conduct research every 3-5 years, and it’s four years since the last study.

PMI carried out a survey of the trends in our profession that the current PMP exam fails to address. These then fed into their Job Task Analysis to produce a more relevant PMP exam for the coming period. Here, ‘relevant’ means the things project managers do in their real work settings.

The new PMP exam will therefore have its questions mapped against the June 2019 PMP Examination Content Outline (ECO).

So, in short: the work of a project management professional has changed (and is changing). So, the PMP exam must change to reflect this.

How will the PMP Exam Change?

The PMP Exam up to 15 December 2019

The current (June 2015 ECO) PMP exam is based on five domains that closely mirror the Project Management Process Groups in the PMBOK Guide. Each has tasks that a Project Manager needs to be able to fulfil, and a set of statements of knowledge and skills that PMI expects them to have. The ECO also specifies the proportion of questions for each domain. Here’s a summary:

DomainQuestions in examNo. of TasksKnowledge & Skills
Initiating13%85
Planning24%1317
Executing31%77
Monitoring and Controlling25%710
Closing7%78
Total100%4247

Most of the tasks, knowledge, and skills are fully documented in the PMBOK Guide. However, some are unique to the ECO. This therefore means that the PMP examination requires students to study additional sources too.

The PMP Exam Changes after 15 December 2019

The new PMP Examination Content Outline (ECO) sets out three domains. These do not reflect the PMBOK Guide in any direct way, although Domain II, Process, does cover a lot the PMBOK Knowledge Areas and you’ll find much (but not all) of the knowledge for this domain in the PMBOK Guide.

Each task has a variable number of ‘enablers’. These are bullet points that illustrate the work that PMI associates with the task. They intend those bullets to do no more than give representative examples.

If the Domains don’t track to the PMBOK Guide, neither do the three Domains match the three sides of the PMI’s Talent Triangle – although they do bear a family resemblance. This does not smack of joined-up thinking. So, as I’ve wondered before, are we due for a revision to the Talent Triangle before long?

So, let’s summarise:

DomainQuestions in ExamNo. of Tasks
I. People42%14 (40%)
II. Process50%17 (49%)
III. Business Environment8%4 (11%)
Total100%35

The examination will split approximately equally between traditional, predictive project management (as per the PMBOK Guide) and Agile or hybrid approaches (set out in the Agile Practice Guide). And predictive, agile, and hybrid approaches will feature in questions across all domains and tasks. PMI is clear that the future is as agile as it is planned, and that its exam must balance the two approaches equally, as will its PMPs.

PMP Exam Structure after 15 December 2019

The New PMP Examination Content Outline in More Detail

The PMP Examination Content Outline (ECO) is a short (10 page) document, that is mostly tables. So it would be wrong for me to reproduce too much of it. So, for all the detail, do download and study a copy. However, I’d like to offer a flavor of some of the tasks in Domains I and III. For Domain II, which most closely reflects the PMPBOK Guide, I’ll offer a table that maps the ECO’s tasks to the PMBOK Chapters.

Domain I: People

This reflects, to a large extent, the Leadership dimension of the PMI’s Talent Triangle. Here, we have:

  • Managing Conflict (Task 1)
  • Team management and Leadership (Tasks 2 – 7, 11, 12, and 14)
  • Negotiation (Task 8)
  • Stakeholder engagement (Tasks 9, 10, and 13)

To me, this suggests a strong focus on your role as a team leader. I particularly welcome Task 11: ‘Engage and Support Virtual Teams’. This recognizes the reality of many modern workplaces. Not just large multi-nationals, by the way. Lots of small businesses need to participate in multi-organization projects.

Domain II: Process

This domain covers the Technical aspects of project management (as does the Technical Project Management dimension of the Talent Triangle). It does not drop directly onto the PMBOK guide, but an inspection allows us to map relationships. We’ll do so in both directions.

Mapping the PMBOK Guide onto the PMP ECO

PMP ECO Process Domain TaskPMBOK Chapter
Task 1: Execute project with the urgency required to deliver business valueChapter 1, 2
Task 2: Manage communicationsChapter 10
Task 3: Assess and manage risksChapter 11
Task 4: Engage StakeholdersChapter 13
Task 5: Plan and manage budget and resourcesChapter 7, 9
Task 6: Plan and manage scheduleChapter 6
Task 7: Plan and manage quality of products/deliverablesChapter 8
Task 8: Plan and manage scopeChapter 5
Task 9: Integrate project planning activitiesChapter 4
Task 10: Manage project changesChapter 4, 5
Task 11 Plan and manage procurementChapter 12
Task 12: Manage project artefactsChapter 4, 5, 8
Task 13: Determine appropriate project methodology/methods and practicesChapter 1
+ Agile Practice Guide
Task 14: Establish project governanceLargely missing from the PMBOK Guide
Task 15 Manage Project IssuesLargely missing from the PMBOK Guide
Task 16: Ensure knowledge transfer for project continuityLargely missing from the PMBOK Guide
Task 17: Plan and manage project/phase closure or transitionsPart 2 Chapter 6
Phase closure largely missing from the PMBOK Guide

Mapping the PMP ECO onto the PMBOK Guide

PMBOK Guide 6th Edition ChapterPMP ECO Process Domain Task
1. IntroductionTask 13, 15
2. The Environment in which Projects OperateTask 15
3. The Role of the Project Manager
4. Project Integration ManagementTask 9, 10, 12
5. Project Scope ManagementTask 8, 10, 12
6. Project Schedule ManagementTask 6
7. Project Cost ManagementTask 5
8. Project Quality ManagementTask 7, 12
9. Project Resource ManagementTask 5
10. Project Communications ManagementTask 2
11. Project Risk ManagementTask 3
12. Project Procurement ManagementTask 11
13. Project Stakeholder ManagementTask 4

To me, this suggests that the authors of the PMP ECO wanted to assert their independence from the PMBOK Guide. The PMBOK Guide has never been a syllabus or sole sourcebook for the PMP examination (as it is for CAPM). But, there is enough mapping here to have allowed them to bring them more closely in line – even if only by choosing a different sequence, to match the PMBOK chapter order.

This seems nothing less than perverse! It’s clearly a deliberate choice to keep the PMP examination very different from the PMBOK Guide.

Domain 3: Business Environment

This domain is very similar in intent to the Strategic and Business Management dimension of the Talent Triangle. Though, necessarily, it is smaller in scope. It only makes up 8 percent of the exam, and has four tasks. I particularly cheer Tasks 1 and 2:

  1. Plan and manage project compliance: alongside task 14 of Domain II, this introduces a welcome focus on project governance.
  2. Evaluate and deliver project benefits and value: at last, we are seeing PMI formally acknowledge the importance of value and benefits management. The bullet point enablers do, however, miss out any mention of actually tracking the delivery of benefits
  3. Evaluate and address external business environment changes for impact on scope: this leans towards business acumen and raises the conception of a Project Manager to a more strategic level
  4. Support organizational change: here too, I like this a lot. I have long (since the late 1990s) been a vocal proponent of integrating project management and change management into one discipline – of which the two labels represent ends of a continuous spectrum of capabilities.
PMP Examination Content Outline

OnlinePMCourses Point of View on the PMP Exam Change

I think you’ll have got the gist already. I like these changes… a lot.

I’d like the Examination Content Outline to say more (much more) about the role of predictive, agile, and hybrid approaches in the exam and in the body of knowledge that PMI now expects PMP candidates to master. I am hopeful of more detailed information soon.

And, I can always find picky things to dispute. But the essence of this is a very positive change, that addresses a number of my long-standing concerns with the PMBOK Guide and the PMP syllabus. Most notably, these are around:

  • project governance
  • benefits management
  • team leadership
  • management of change
  • soft skills to facilitate stakeholder engagement, influence, and negotiation

What do our Partners Think?

Anyone who provides help, advice, or learning materials for PMP aspirants will have a lot to do, to prepare new materials to properly address the PMP Exam Change. As you would expect, PMI Registered Education Providers like PM PrepCast and PTCoE, with whom we work, are working hard on this.

Cornelius Fichtner
Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, CSM

We asked them for comments, and here is what Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, CSM told us.

Cornelius is President of OSP International LLP, which provides all the PM PreCast courses and materials, and is their principal trainer and voice of the PrepCast. No-one is more knowledgeable about PMP than Cornelius.

As a PMP trainer, I have always focused not only on teaching my students how to pass their exam but also on how to become better project managers. That is why I think the change in the ECO is a step in the right direction.

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With this change, PMI is moving away from the five current and somewhat ‘technical’ domains and shifts the focus of the exam to test a candidate’s knowledge of, and experience, in the skills necessary to actually lead and manage a project.

.

This is not to say that the knowledge of project management methods, concepts, and techniques, is any less important, but a candidate will now also need to show that they truly know how to lead a project and how to bring it to successful completion.

Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, CSM – Private Communication, 4 July 2019

Advice if You Want to Beat the PMP Exam Change and Take the Current Exam

My advice echoes that of PMP: get in soon and plan your campaign thoroughly.

PMP says you should:

  • Reserve your exam spot early, and suggests 3 months in advance. So, book your slot before mid-September
  • Pay promptly. It’s good advice anyway, and will prevent you forgetting.
  • Follow the PMI’s PMP timeline

What they don’t say is this: the pressure will be on you to pass first time. It will become increasingly unlikely that you’ll have time before 15 December to schedule a second attempt under the current exam guidelines.

There is clearly a big advantage to taking your exam by 15 December. The current examination content outline has been in place since June 2015. Both examiners (who set questions and pass marks) and the training companies like PM PrepCast and PTCoE (who have developed training materials) understand it well.

From 16 December, we’ll be in very new territory, with all the uncertainty that means. As before, we’ll be advising you wait until the first cohort of examinees pass through the system. Every new exam needs a shake-down run.

But here’s what I really think…

&*^% it!

This is a better syllabus.

And, if you master it, you’ll be a better project manager.

I expect the exam will be harder. But nothing worthwhile should be easy.

Rather than rush: wait, and get the better PMP qualification.

What do You Think of the Planned PMP Exam Change?

Please do tell us what you think of PMI’s changes, in the comments below.

About the Author Mike Clayton

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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