Thursday, October 07, 2021

What Should You Know about the PMP Exam Changes in 2021 and Beyond? (Part 1)

The Project Management Professional (PMP®) examination offered by Project Management Institute (PMI) has changed this year on 2nd January. PMI first made this announcement earlier and has made the new Examination Content Outline (ECO) available for aspiring PMPs.

Many PMP aspirants don't know on these changes. In fact, many even don't know the importance of the ECO, which is actually the blueprint of the exam! As I interact with PMPs - aspiring and successful, this information gap is striking. This article tries to address this information gap.

The first version of this article was published by MPUG. This is a refined and latest version of the article as of 2021 and beyond. This article will be covered in two part series, because of its size. 

I've also taken a number of questions which I face from aspiring PMPs during my interactions and a detailed FAQ will be available in part-2 of the article.

Why the Change?

Project management as a profession is increasing in complexity. It is evolving to meet new challenges of this century—rapid technological changes, expectations and aspirations of a new generation of workers, and of course, new methodologies and practices pertaining to Agile and/or DevOps, which are now mainstream.

PMI understands the shifts taking place in project management. In fact, every three to five years, PMI conducts a Role Delineation Study (RDS) or Job Task Analysis (JTA), which checks the knowledge, skills, and tasks required to perform the role of a project manager. This RDS or JTA, in turn, impacts the creation of the ECO due to the RDS providing the blueprint for the exam. PMP exam questions obviously link to the role of the project manager, so shifts are unavoidable. The final blueprint for the exam is documented in the ECO. This is depicted in the below figure.

The ECO is crucial because questions in the PMP exam are mapped against the ECO. The ECO mentions the domains on which exam takers will be evaluated, the tasks that are supposed to be performed in these domains, and also the knowledge and skills that are needed for project managers performing these tasks. The expected percentage of questions that will come from each domain is also outlined in the ECO, so that the right number of questions are in place for a valid PMP exam.

The last time such a study was conducted was in 2015. It resulted in changes to the exam in 2016. The recent years’ study has resulted in the new ECO, and hence the PMP exam has changed from January 2, 2021.

Important Dates *** NEW ***

If you are an aspiring PMP, you should be aware of the following dates.

Looking at the above dates, you have to follow the new ECO, which is effective from January 2, 2021. This new ECO will continue to be there in Year 2022, too.

Overall Changes

Now that we know the change process for the PMP examination and we’ve covered the important dates, let’s get to what the changes actually are.

Change #1: Domains

The old PMP exam was based on five domains, which are outlined in the old ECO. The domains are:

  • Initiating: Outlines the processes to define a new project or a new phase of an existing project and have the needed authorization to start off.
  • Planning: Outlines the processes to establish the scope of the project, refine objectives on scope, time, cost, quality, etc. and informs on how these objectives will be achieved.
  • Executing: Outlines the processes to complete the work defined in the project management plan, which is created in the Planning domain.
  • Monitoring and Controlling: Outlines the processes to track, review, and control the progress and performance of the project and manage corresponding changes.
  • Closing: Outlines the processes to finalize all activities across all process groups to formally close the project or phase or contract.

The new PMP exam is based on three domains, which are outlined in the new ECO. They are:

  • People: Emphasizes the skills and activities associated to effectively lead a project team (conflict management, team building, mentoring, etc.).
  • Process: Reinforces the technical aspects of managing a project (scope management, schedule management, cost management, etc.).
  • Business Environment: Highlights the connection between projects and organization strategy (benefits delivery and management, organizational change management, etc.).

You could say that the new PMP Exam will be standing on these three legs or (performance) domains. 

Change #2 Percentage of Questions *** NEW ***

The percentage of questions coming from each domain in the old exam is shown below.

In the new ECO of 2020/2021, there is more of a focus on the Process domain, followed by People, and finally Business Environment.

The distribution of questions across domains is significant, as it impacts exam preparation and time that exam takers will be spending on each domain. 

However, do note that the actual number of questions in the PMP exam can change with some variations in percentages.

Change # 3: Tasks

Each domain in the ECO is associated with a set of tasks. In the 2015 ECO, the Initiating domain had eight tasks and the Planning domain thirteen. In the new ECO, too, each domain is associated with a set of tasks. The People domain has fourteen tasks, the Process domain has seventeen tasks and so on. The differences are noted in the below table.

The tasks are important because exam evaluation will be on these tasks on three scales. The score from each of these tasks will, in turn, be rolled-up to give the rating earned in each domain. This will be explained further in "The Impact of the Changes" section of this article (in the second part).

Change # 4: Exam Duration, Number of Questions and Breaks *** NEW ***

These new changes were introduced just before January 02, 2021 (sometime in late December, 2020) and enforced for the new exam. This continues till date. 

These changes are with respect to the number of questions, exam duration and number of breaks. 

There was one 10-minutes break initially and it was increase to two later. You will get this break after 60 questions.

Change # 5: Type of Questions

In the new exam, half of the questions will be in the predictive project management approaches and the other half in Agile/hybrid approaches. In the 6th edition of the PMBOK Guide, these approaches are clearly defined and used across the process groups and knowledge areas.

Change # 6: Varieties of Questions *** NEW ***

In the earlier exam, you had only multi-choice questions. Every question has four choices, out of which one choice will be correct. In the current version of the exam, along with the multi-choice questions, you will also have other types, which are explained in the below table.

Change # 7: Multiple Reference Guides and Books *** NEW ***

In the earlier PMP exam, you clearly had one reference guide, i.e., the PMBOK guide, 6th edition.

In the new PMP exam, you have:

  • Agile Practice Guide, First edition  
  • PMBOK Guide, Sixth Edition (not the 7th edition)
  • Eight other reference books

You can see the list of books in this linked page: PMP Exam Reference List

Hence, for your new PMP exam, you have together 10 guides and books to refer.

Continued to Part - 2


[1] PMP Live Lessons Course, Guaranteed Pass or Your Money Back, by Satya Narayan Dash

[2] PMP 35 Contact Hours Online Course with Full MoneyBack Guarantee, by Satya Narayan Dash

[3] I Want To Be A PMP: The Plain and Simple Way To Be A PMP, 2nd Edition, by Satya Narayan Dash

[4] Article - What Should You Know about the PMP Exam 2020 Changes, by MPUG on September 3, 2019

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