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PMP Exam Changes in January 2021: What will be Different?

COVID-19 Update

PMI has announced a postponement of the new exam.

  1. The PMI will extend access to the current PMP exam until 31 December 2020.
  2. …and they will reschedule the launch of the new exam to 2 January 2021, to give candidates additional time and further access to training resources, to help them prepare and sit for the exam confidently.

    These two announcements are available on a PMI PMP webpage.
    PMI has also emailed candidates…
  3. The PMI is looking for additional exam solutions, but have nothing to announce yet. However, you can see the status of Pearson VUE exam centers globally on the Pearson Vue website.
  4. The PMI will automatically extend exam eligibility, for all candidates, to 18 January, 2021.
  5. …and they will waive all fees for rescheduling exams. This includes offering refunds for candidates who have recently had to reschedule.

The main PMI COVID-19 update page covers broader work PMI is doing.

Please note that we have not yet had time to go through and make these changes throughout the article.

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 see major PMP exam changes, from 1 July 2020.

These PMP exam changes are the same ones that PMI originally scheduled for December 2019. However, as PMI said on their website:

‘Stakeholders began sharing feedback immediately and the consensus has been they feel they need more time to prepare.’

PMP® Exam Change is Moving to June 2020
Retrieved 16 December 2019

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

Stop Press:

Mike Griffiths and Cynthia Snyder Dionisio talk about the PMBOK 7th edition in a 1 hour podcast.

The focus of the 7th edition will move from Outputs to Outcomes. And the Knowledge Areas and Process Groups will no longer be in the PMBOK. Instead, it will be structured around the 12 Principles and Performance Domains.

And the book will trim down from a bloated 750 to a svelt 250 pages.

PMP Exam Changes - July 2020

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 30 June, 2020 now 31 December 202 (extended due to COVID-19).

From 1 July, 2020 2 January 2021, candidates will take the new version of PMP Exam, which will reflect the new exam content described below.

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. Instead, 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 over 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 July 2020. 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

We’ve gradually been seeing teazes from core team members about theses big changes to PMBOK7. It will be based on principles and organized by domains.

The changes will be so substantial that it will take a whole article to brief you properly. And, since we now have some substantial information, you can expect to see that article from us soon.

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 team is active and already publishing teasers.
  3. 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.

So, we can expect to see the 7th Edition of the PMBOK Guide sometime either late 2021 or early 2022.

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 2019 was four years since the previous 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. The specification is their June 2019 PMP Examination Content Outline (ECO).

Here, by the way, ‘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 ECO. PMI gives us a strong indication of the PMP exam changes in a document that compares this with the previous, June 2015, ECO. The comparison is their  ‘Crossover Map’.

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

Are You a Watcher, rather than a Reader?

This video was made before PMI changed the implementation date. But the exam changes it describes are correct.

PMP Exam Change 2019: All we know and what I think of it

How will the PMP Exam Change?

The PMP Exam up to 30 June 2020

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
Monitoring and Controlling25%710

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 from 1 July 2020

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.

The three domains are each made up of ‘tasks’; 35 in all. And each task has a variable number of ‘enablers’. These are 133 bullet points that illustrate the work that PMI associates with the task. They intend those bullets to do no more than give representative examples.

Domains, Tasks, Enablers - PMP ECO 2019

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?

PMP Domains compared to the PMI Talent Triangle

So, let’s summarise:

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

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 Changes to the Question Types

PMI will be adding two new question types to modernize the PMP exam. These are:

  1. Drag and Drop questions (which it has already been using in its CAPM exam)
  2. Animations that will let it better test soft skills and agile mindsets

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. This is THE primary reference for the exam, so consider it mandatory reading.

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 6th Ed
Task 15 Manage Project IssuesLargely missing from the PMBOK Guide 6th Ed
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

Reference Materials for the New PMP Exam

The PMBOK Guide has never been the reference for the PMP exam. It has always been just one source of material. The new PMP exam will draw upon a curated list of around 30 reference materials.

At the time of writing (13 December, 2019), the PMI has not updated the list on its website, which currently shows just 10 references (including the PMBOK Guide and the Agile Practice Guide).

However, do check out the PMI’s PMP Exam reference Materials page. It will change soon, I expect.

PMI’s Comparison of the Old and New ECOs

The PMI has published its own content comparison; their ‘Crossover Map’. Click the link to view and download it from their site.

This will be of particular value to anyone wondering whether to aim to take their PMP exam under the current or new Examination Content Outline. It shows how each enabler in the 2019 ECO matches to the 2015 ECO. Or, indeed, where the enabler references new content that was not in the pre-July 2020 exam.

If that’s a question you are working on at the moment, we say more about it at the end of this article.

OnlinePMCourses Point of View on the PMP Exam Change

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

And I am very much looking forward to the further, radical, changes we’ll see in the 7th Edition of the PMBOK Guide.

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

Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, CSM.
PM PrepCast

Cornelius is President of OSP International LLP, which provides all the PM PrepCast 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.


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

News from PM PrepCast

PM PrepCast has published their response to the new Examination Content Outline on their website. In it they cover their take on the changes and how they advise current aspirants to prepare.

They also commit to publishing:

  • The new PM PrepCast on 1 April 2020
  • The new PMP Exam Simulator from 1 April 2020

As you’d expect, Cornelius and his team have you covered!

Nader Rad, PMP.
Professional Training Center of Excellence (PTCoE)

Nader Rad, PMP

Nader Rad is a Project Management author, speaker, and adviser with 16 years of experience in project planning, project management consultancy, and project board advisory work.

He is the face and voice of our PMP and CAPM Exam Preparation course. And Nader has recently been appointed to the 12-person Core Team for the development of the PMI’s PMBOK Guide 7th Edition. Here’s what Nader said:

I like the structure of the new exam content outline; it’s practical. I’m even wondering it may be a good idea to add this perspective to the PMBOK Guide as well; so, there will be three ways of looking at everything, process groups, Knowledge areas, and the three new domains.


However, I hope that the 7th Edition of the PMBOK Guide will address the difference between the PMBOK Guide and the PMP exam, which is becoming larger these days. I believe the PMBOK Guide should be the main resource for the exam.

Nader Rad, PMP – Private Communication, 12 Augusty 2019

News from PTCoE

‘Because this change is mainly in the perspective, the main update we’ll need for our course is in the simulated exams. We are working to see how this new outline is going to be implemented before we can make any changes.’

As you’d expect, Nader and his colleagues have you covered!

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 1 July 2020 to schedule a second attempt under the current exam guidelines:

  • Aim to schedule your exam for before the end of April 2020. This way, you will avoid any rush to do the exam in May or June. I expect a lot of people will want to take the exam before the change.
  • This will also give you two months to schedule a re-take, if you don’t pass the exam.

There is clearly a big advantage to taking your exam by 30 June. 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.

After 30 June…

From 1 July, we’ll be in very new territory, with all the uncertainty that means. That includes a bigger syllabus, probably tougher questions, and a lot more content on Agile and Hybrid project management.

As before, we’ll be advising you wait until the first cohort of examinees pass through the system. This is despite the PMI’s assurance that it will be running a full pilot of the new exam before the end of June, to:

  • check the questions
  • calibrate pass/fail scores

But, every new exam needs a shake-down run. And I’d recommend waiting a few weeks.

For the Avoidance of Doubt…

The PMI is crystal clear. If you take the PMP exam under the current (June 2015) ECO and do not pass, and get a new exam date after 30 June 2020, then your new exam will be under the new ECO. There will be no second chance, as you approach June.

So, Here’s a Question

My YouTube video, ‘PMP Exam Change 2019: All we know and what I think of it’ attracted this question:

How will all of this new stuff be learned if the PMBOK won’t also be updated in Dec. 2019?’ 

The question is still valid, with the new July 2020 start date. So…

Here’s my reply…

‘Most of this stuff is covered in the decent PMP preparation courses, like PM PrepCast. And certainly PM PrepCast (and I’m sure other providers) are committed to making updates. 

But if you aren’t using a preparation course, then the answer is the same as it has always been. In the current exam, most of these ‘new’ items are present, but with very different emphasis. How would you learn them now? reading, workshops, training courses, practical experience… Unlike for CAPM, the PMBOK Guide has never been the sole reference source for the PMP exam.’ 

What I’m implying is that we have always needed additional reference materials to properly prepare for the PMP exam and for a career as a Project manager. Now I think PMI will need to start pointing us to them, rather than trying to make the PMBOK Guide 7th Edition a comprehensive encyclopedia of all Project Management knowledge.

But here’s what I really think…

‘&*^% it!’

This is a better syllabus.
(It is bigger so more work, but it is better.)

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 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to 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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