Saturday, December 09, 2023

Understanding PMI Exam Score Reports

While preparing for Project Management Institute (PMI) related exams, it’s highly important to know how the scoring happens and what basis the scoring happens. It’s equally crucial to know when and why you will be considered to have passed or failed the exam. 

PMI provides a number of certification exams. Some of them are:

In this article, we will know the importance of ECO, how the exam rates your performance and dissect the PMI Exam Reports. Going forward, I’ll be using scores from varieties of PMI exams, including PMPs because I’ve seen hundreds of them personally. This is also important to know for you as an exam taker. 

In all my PMI exam related books and/or courses, includiing Agile, I’ve consistently emphasized on the Exam Content Outline (ECO), on which every PMI exam is based upon. For example, the PMP Exam contract to popular belief is not based on the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) Guide, but on the ECO! The RMP Exam is also not based on the Standard for Risk Management in Portfolios, Programs and Projects, but again on the ECO for the RMP Exam. Similarly, it’s applicable to all other exams.

Importance of the ECO

The ECO is important because you will be evaluated on the domains of the ECO. For example, in the PMP Exam, there are 3 domains:

  • Domain I - People
  • Domain II – Process
  • Domain III – Business Environment

You will be evaluated on these domains, the associated tasks and enablers. 

For the RMP exam, there are 5 domains:

  • Domain I – Risk Strategy and Planning
  • Domain II – Risk Identification
  • Domain III – Risk Analysis 
  • Domain IV – Risk Response
  • Domain V – Monitor and Close and Risks

Again, each of the above domains will have tasks and enablers. You will be evaluated on each domain. 

Now you might be thinking, how do you know you have passed or will pass the exam?

For that, you have to understand the performance rating categories. 

Performance Rating Categories

There are four performance rating categories:

  • Above Target (AT): Your performance exceeds the minimum requirements for this exam.
  • Target (T): Your performance meets the minimum requirements for this exam.
  • Below Target (BT): Your performance is slightly below target and fails to meet the minimum requirements for this exam. Additional preparation is recommended before re-examination.
  • Needs Improvement (NI): Your performance is far below target and fails to meet the minimum requirements for this exam. Additional preparation is strongly recommended before re-examination. 

The targets are expressed in ranges. It helps you to see how you scored in the exam with respect to the performance domains. It’s overall performance across all the exam domains. 

A sample exam report has been shown below, where the candidate has passed the exam.  

As you’d noticed in the above figure, it’s clearly written on top: PASS. It means the candidate has passed the exam. 

But then there are multiple zones (ranges) mentioned for the performance categories with multiple color coding. What are they?

Let’s take a real exam report to understand.

Some Real PMI Exam Reports

The below snippet is from a real PMP exam. Here the candidate PMP has successfully cleared the exam and is a certified PMP. You can read the PMP Success Story.


As shown above:

  • The exam report is divided into two zones: Failing Zone and Passing Zone.
  • The final score pointer (the black vertical line with the marker 'YOU' on top) is showing the final result. 
  • If the pointer is falling in the failing zone, then you have failed. If the pointer is falling in the passing zone, you have passed the exam. 
  • Sometimes the pointer is exactly in the middle! But again, it will still be in the passing or failing zone. 

For the above one, the pointer is in the AT zone (Above Target) and obviously the candidate has scored AT in all PMP exam domains. 

I just informed you that the pointer can be exactly in the middle. Did you read that line? If you have, again note that scoring will still happen! 

The below score report is from a real PMI exam. The candidate was very unlucky here. Just one or two questions correctly answered and the candidate would have been a certified RMP. Sigh! I felt very sad to see this report. 

In the above figure, you can see the pointer is exactly in the middle, but it’s touching the far-end border of the Below Target (BT) zone! If it would have been the near-end border of Target zone, then the candidate would have passed the exam. 

There are others like the two shown below. Again, these are from real PMI exams. As seen, candidates mostly fail because they follow the wrong providers or coaches. Your provider and coach matter. Both will be instrumental for your successes in the exams.

Another one is shown below from a PMI exam.

Again, notice the statement in the above figure with a pointer in BT zone: The performance is slightly below target. With additional preparation, you have a high chance to clear the exam. 

Now, while for the first one, the pointer is in the Needs Improvement (NI), for the second one the pointer is in the Below Target (BT) zone. 

Also, did you notice the color coding?

If not, re-look at them again. This is typical Red-Orange(Yellow)-Blue color coding. 

  • If it’s in the NI zone, the color coding will be red.
  • If it’s in the BT zone, then the color coding will be orange/yellowish.
  • If it’s in the T zone, then the color coding is blue
  • If it’s in the AT zone, then the color coding will become deep blue

At this stage, another question comes-up:

How does this overall performance rating category relate to individual domain related rating categories? 

Let’s take an example to understand. 

This the expected segregation of questions as per the ECO.

Domain Based Segregation

In this case, I’ll take the Risk Management Professional (RMP) Exam. In this case we have five domains and any of the above four performance categories can come for these five domains. 

Let’s say a candidate has scored the following: 

  • Risk Strategy and Planning: T 
  • Risk Identification: AT
  • Risk Analysis: BT
  • Risk Response: AT
  • Monitor and Close Risks: AT

In this case as the candidate has scored AT and T in most of the domains, except one. Obviously the candidate has passed the exam. And of course, the score pointer will be under the passing range. 

The individual domain related scoring for the above case is shown below. 

As shown above, each domain has a performance rating category and they are color coded. This comes with a pie chart, whereas the overall performance rating category will be in the bar chart.

Various Possibilities 

Now, one of the most important parts is to know if you have passed or failed the exam. In other words, what are the possible combinations in which one can definitely say to pass or fail the PMI exams. 

With absolute certainty, one can say the following:

  • If you are scoring Above Target (AT) and/or Target (T) in all exam domains, then you’re definitely going to the exam. Mark the word ‘definitely’. 
  • If you are scoring Below Target (BT) and/or Needs Improvement (NI) in all exam domains, then you will definitely fail the exam! Again, mark the word ‘definitely’. 
  • If you can score AT in the vast majority of the domains (4 out of 5) and not fall under NI for any domains, then you will pass the exam.


Other than the above ones, nothing can be conclusively said, except the following.

  • Never ever fall into the Needs Improvement zone. It will pull your overall score down and highly likely that you will fail the exam. 
  • Considering 5 domains, if you have 2 or more NI ratings, then you’d definitely fail the exam!

In other words, don’t leave any domain unprepared (not underprepared). Go through each domain, learn as much as you can, practice as many questions as you can before you appear for the exam. 

I hope you understood the importance of ECO, related domains and how you should target to prepare for PMI related exams.

I wish you all the very best in your PMP, RMP, ACP, PfMP and/or other PMI related exams.


Monday, November 27, 2023

Portfolio Management and Benefits Dependency Map

While interacting with aspiring Portfolio Management Professionals (PfMP), some of the questions that come-up are these:

  • Why should a Portfolio be worried about benefits and benefits management?
  • Is not benefits management part of a Program with a dedicated domain?

Also, in the PMBOK Guide, 6th edition as well as 7th edition, benefits management has been informed in many places! Indeed, in the PMBOK Guide, 6th edition aspiring Project Management Professionals (PMP) specifically need to know about the Project Benefits Management Plan, which acts as input while building the project charter.

In addition, (Project/Product) Managers and Scrum Master speak mostly in terms of features, not benefits! In this article we will understand the importance of benefits and its significance in portfolio management. 

Features Vs. Benefits

First the key distinction between features and benefits:

A feature is something available in a product or service, whereas a benefit is something you gain from the product or service.

Let's take a few examples to understand:

  1. A chatbot in a Web-Site is a feature, but the 40% reduction in customer response time due to the chatbot is a benefit.
  2. Spell-check is a feature in a word-crunching software, but error-free document built with the software is a benefit. 
  3. Taking a day-to-day example, reverse-osmosis (RO) in a water-purifier is a feature, but drinkable and much better quality water because of the RO are benefits.

So, while features are needed and prioritized depending on the framework/methodology followed, customers or buyers only understand in terms of benefits. Isn’t it? 

For example, when you buy a water-purifier with RO functionality, your first question is this – “how does it benefit me?” You, as a customer, are not much worried about the technicalities or nitty-gritties of RO, but really care about the benefits before you make the purchase decision. In fact, for any product you buy, you actually look for benefits coming from the features provided in the prouct!

So, benefits are important not only for project or program management, but also portfolio management. 

Benefits Realization and Portfolio Manager

As a portfolio manager, you need to clearly know both the fiscal and non-fiscal benefits to your organization. Of course, you must have a sound understanding of your organization’s vision, mission, goals, strategies and associated objectives. This will help you to understand not only benefits management, but also aid in benefits realization and optimization of benefits realization. 

Specifically considering portfolio benefits, portfolio value is delivered when benefits coming from portfolio components (e.g., projects, programs, operations) are realized in the hands of portfolio beneficiaries such as customers. Value is generated when beneficiaries use the benefits. And I can’t emphasize the below figure enough.  

As shown above, benefits translate to value. And it’s this value that your organization gets when the customer pays for its worth.

Now, a portfolio manager must understand how to relate an organization's strategic goals, objectives (or simply strategic objectives) and priorities with the portfolio component plans such as project or program management plan to achieve the organization’s strategic objectives. 

But why and how so?

The answer to it lies in the Benefits Dependency Map (BDM). The benefits dependency map is also called the Benefits Break-down Structure (BBS).  

The Benefits Dependency Map 

The vision (future state) and mission (purpose) of an organization along with the strategic objectives of an organization are documented in the Organization's Strategic Plan. Some of these strategic objectives are met by a portfolio and they are documented in the Portfolio Strategic Plan.

When you build the BDM/BBS, your starting point will be from the vision, mission and strategic objectives leading to benefits. This is shown below. 

As shown in the above figure, the vision and mission lead to the strategic objectives of an organization. Each strategic objective of an organization will be met when the benefits are delivered. In our case:

  • Strategic Objective 1 is achieved when Benefit 1, Benefit 2 and Benefit 3 are delivered.
  • Similarly, Strategic Objective 2 and Strategic Objective 3 will be achieved when the associated benefits are delivered.

These are noted in the Portfolio Benefits Realization Plan and/or the Portfolio Performance Variance Report, which is one of the key Portfolio Reports

But then, who delivers these benefits? 

The benefits are delivered by the portfolio component programs and component projects. 

Remember that a program is a set of interrelated projects or subprograms managed together to give you benefits, which is otherwise not possible if you manage them independently. And a project is a temporary endeavor which gives a unique product, service or result (output).

So, we are going to expand our previous BDM figure.

"How-Why" Logic of Benefits Dependency Map

I’ve expanded the previous, initial-cut BDM to include the outcomes and outputs. It’s depicted below.

As shown above:

  • Benefit 1 will be achieved with one outcome coming from the output, i.e., from a project, program or subprogram.
  • Benefit 2 will be achieved with three outcomes coming from three outputs – again from project or program.
  • Benefit 3 will be achieved with two outcomes coming from two outputs – again from project or program.

As you move from left to right in the above BDM, the question is "how", i.e., how will this strategic objective be met with these benefits? But when you move from right to left, the validity of the BDM is verified by asking the question “Why?”. For example, why should we take this component project. 

This "how-why" logic helps to structure the map. This also clearly shows the link between your organization's delivery capability with projects and strategic objectives.

To know more on benefits, outcomes and outputs, you can refer to this article of Fundamentals of Value-Driven Delivery. Though this linked article is with respect to projects using Lean/Agile approaches such as Scrum or Kanban, the fundamental concepts are very much applicable for waterfall or hybrid projects.

Final Words

So, there it is! 

At the portfolio level, we also talk about benefits, benefits management and benefits realization, because only at the portfolio level we make decisions on which component to take, drop, suspend or resume based on the expected benefits from the components. 

These benefits help in achieving the organization’s strategic business objectives, which in turn helps in meeting the vision and mission of the organization. 


[1] NEW Book – I Want To Be A PfMP, the plain and simple way, by Satya Narayan Dash

[2] The Standard for Portfolio Management, by Project Management Institute (PMI)

Sunday, November 12, 2023

From PMP, PgMP to PfMP: Project and Program Risk Management Vs. Portfolio Risk Management

Project and Program Risk Management when compared with Portfolio Risk Management will have many fundamental differences. Indeed, there are a large number of differences that you have to know, if you are coming from a project management or program management background. 

Many of my course and/or book subscribers are Project Management Professionals (PMP®), Risk Management Professionals (RMP®) and some of them want to pursue Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP®) certification. There are also aspiring PfMPs, who don’t have any other formal project or risk management certifications, but they understand risk management. As I spoke in a recent international webinar one can directly go for PfMP, without being a PMP or (Program Management Professional (PgMP®).

In this article I’ll elaborate on a number of differences between project risk management and portfolio risk management. To have a basic understanding of portfolio risk management, I'd recommend that you read the following article.

PfMP Exam Prep: Fundamentals of Portfolio Risk Management

This article is for both PMPs or PgMPs who want to be PfMPs and also for professionals and practitioners who directly aspire to be PfMPs. Again, you need NOT be a PMP, PgMP (or RMP) to be a PfMP as this article informs.

Now, let's see the differences. These are fundamentals and will be very useful for your PfMP exam.

Difference  1: The Definitions

The differences start with the definitions. And the differences can’t be more contrasting! 

The definition of a project risk is as follows:

An individual project Risk is an uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, has a positive or negative effect on one or more project objectives.

On the other hand, the definition of a portfolio risk is:

A portfolio risk is an uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, has a positive or negative effect on one or more strategic business objectives of a portfolio.

Did you notice the differences? While the former is about project objectives, the latter is about strategic business objectives. These can also be with respect to the success criteria of the portfolio, which are documented in the Portfolio Charter.

Difference – 2: Risks and Components

A project will have deliverables, whereas a portfolio can have components such as projects, programs, operations, business cases etc. 

Project risks (individual or overall) are ONLY about the project or any other sources of uncertainties impacting the project objectives. You can learn more on individual and overall project risks in this article.

On the other hand, in portfolio risk management, we consider risks arising out of the components. For example, when a project risk can’t be addressed at the project level and the project manager believes it can be addressed at the portfolio level (and it’s accepted at that level), then the risk will be escalated and managed at the portfolio level.

In fact, in portfolio risk management, we build the Portfolio Risk Component Chart, which is not applicable in project risk management.

Difference – 3: Interdependencies

In a portfolio, the components will have interdependencies, which can be visualized with Portfolio Roadmap. Risk management becomes critical and crucial when there are interdependencies among high-priority components. In such a scenario, the cost of failure of a portfolio component can significantly impact other components.

In project management, however, we don’t have any interdependencies among components, though there can be dependencies among the deliverables. These will be addressed by overall project risk. Remember that overall project risk is the effect of uncertainty on the project as a whole, arising from all sources of uncertainty including individual risks. 

Difference – 4: Maximizing Opportunities, Minimizing Threats Vs. Maximizing Financial Value

Project risk management is primarily about increasing the probability and/or impact of positive risks and decreasing the probability and/or impact of negative risks in order to optimize/increase project success. One can also say project or program risk management is concerned mostly about risks that arise with a project or program. 

However, a portfolio will have components such as projects and programs. Hence, a portfolio is concerned about:

a) Maximizing portfolio’s financial value,

b) Tailoring its fit into organizational strategy, and 

c) Balancing the portfolio components.

One can also say that portfolio risk management is about increasing the probability and/or impact of positive risks and decreasing the probability and/or impact of negative risks in order to increase the portfolio value, strategic fitness and balance of the portfolio. 

Again, can you notice the differences? Aren’t they very different?

Difference – 5: Contingency Reserve

I’ve written a number of articles on contingency reserve and management reserve. I’ve also informed the myths and facts about these reserves

Specifically considering contingency reserve, contingency reserve is at the individual project level. The earlier linked article informs more on its calculation, which happens during quantitative risk analysis.

However, for portfolio management, you as the portfolio manager have to provide contingency reserves across a pool of component projects and programs. 

Difference – 6: Equity Protection

This is another term, which you will come across for the first time in portfolio management, unless you have some prior understanding in financial management. Usually, it’s by financial asset management or insurance companies.

As noted, Equity Protection is a distinct concept in Portfolio Risk Management. This for all constituent projects and programs. The portfolio management holds an aggregate contingency reserve for all the components. These are usually for risks with low probability, but high impact. 

In project or program risk management, we don’t have any such concepts of equity protection. In portfolio management, equity protection can be for both threats (negative risks) and opportunities (positive risks).

Difference – 7: Risk Management Processes

On of the biggest confusions for professionals coming with PMP, PgMP or RMP certification is with respect to the risk management processes and how they interact with each other.

In project risk management, going by the PMBOK® Guide, one can find seven processes, which are:

  • Plan Risk Management,
  • Identify Risks,
  • Perform Qualitative Risk Analysis,
  • Perform Quantitative Risk Analysis,
  • Plan Risk Responses,
  • Implement Risk Responses, and
  • Monitor Risks.

However, considering the Standard for Portfolio Management®, there are only two processes! 

  • Develop Portfolio Risk Management Plan, and 
  • Manage Portfolio Risks.

Now, as an aspiring PfMP you may be thinking the risk management planning happens in Develop Portfolio Risk Management Plan process. You are right! But then:

  • What about risk identification, qualification and quantification?
  • Where the risk responses are planned and implemented?
  • How to monitor so many risks (because we are also considering component risks)? 

This is where the understanding has to be very clear. Briefly put risk management planning, qualification, quantification, response planning and implementation as well as risk monitoring (controlling is the word used in Portfolio Management Standard) are covered in the above two processes of portfolio management. There are some overlaps, too! These are covered in-depth with a number of diagrams in my new book: I Want To Be A PfMP.

There are many other differences such as with respect to Risk Register, Issue Register (and the processes in which they are created), risk owner, risk response/action owners as analysis such as Monte Carlo analysis, among others. These are also covered in the book.

Nevertheless, I believe with the above seven differences between project/program risk management and portfolio risk management, you have understood the basics. As you would have realized by this time, they are quite different, though the foundational aspects of risk management permeate in all – be it project risk management, program risk management or portfolio risk management. 


[1] NEW Book - I Want To Be A PfMP, The Plain and Simple Way, by Satya Narayan Dash

[2] Book - I Want To Be A PMP, The Plain and Simple Way, 2nd editionby Satya Narayan Dash

[3] Book - I Want To Be A RMP, The Plain and Simple Way, 2nd editionby Satya Narayan Dash

[4] Article – PfMP Exam Prep: Fundamentals of Portfolio Risk Management, by Satya Narayan Dash

[5] Standards for Portfolio Management (multiple portfolio management standards referred), by Project Management Institute (PMI)