Organizational Structures that Support Faster Innovation and Evolution
Agile Illustrated – Sample #3

5 Major Changes Coming to the PMP Exam

5 ChangesSome fundamental changes are coming to the PMP® exam. Currently slated for January 2021, the content and composition of the exam will be completely revamped. As described in the new PMP Exam Content Outline, PMI commissioned a research study into trends in the project management profession. This study, called the Global Practice Analysis, investigated which job tasks and approaches people frequently use.

The job task analysis identified the knowledge and skills required to function as a project management practitioner. Now the PMP is changing to better reflect these practices; here are some of the major changes:  

New Focus1. New focus– Switching from the previous domains (initiating, planning, executing, etc.), the new exam will be based on three new domains: people, process and business environment. These new domains align more closely with the PMI Talent Triangle®sections of leadership, technical project management, and business and strategic work.

Since project management occurs in a variety of industries, the business environment domain only tests universal concepts and does not get into any specifics around project types. The split of questions between these domains is:

  • People: 42%
  • Process: 50%
  • Business Environment: 8%

New Content2. New content– The job task analysis revealed that many project managers are using agile approaches, or some agile concepts in hybrid life cycles. To reflect this, the new exam covers the complete value delivery spectrum including predictive, hybrid and agile approaches.

The inclusion of agile concepts and increased emphasis on the people aspects of projects represent a big shift. Concepts like servant leadership, conflict resolution and retrospectives were previously the domain of the PMI-ACP® exam, but will now be featured more frequently on the PMP exam (although not in so much depth or frequency).

New Question Types3. New question types– A change announced by PMI at the recent PMI Global Conference in Philadelphia was the introduction of some new question types. PMI will be introducing question types that depart from the tradition multiple-choice format of four options and one correct answer.

The new format questions include drag-and-drop and clicking on a graphic region. These new question types allow questions such as asking the test taker to select the graph/chart that best fits a described scenario, or identify what part of an image applies to a described situation.

Crossword and coloring-in based questions will be added later (just kidding). Personally, I applaud the incorporation of visual questions; a large component of effective communication involves interpreting and creating graphs and charts, so any way to assess this capability is welcome.

Move Away from PMBOK4. Moving away from the PMBOK® Guide – The PMP exam is not a test of the PMBOK Guide.

This concept is so fundamental—yet so universally misunderstood—that I feel the need to repeat it: The PMP exam is not a test about or on the PMBOK Guide. This misunderstanding may have arisen because the domains in the old PMP Exam Content Outline matched the process groups in the PMBOK Guide. This was a logical (but flawed) assumption.

When question writers develop questions, they must reference at least two source documents for each question. This is to make sure the question is based on agreed-to sources and not just their belief or recommendation. Previously, the PMBOK Guide was frequently used as one of the sources, but it was always accompanied by at least one non-PMBOK source.

Since the Global Practice Analysis and job task analysis identified more people-based skills and agile approaches, then increasingly, the sources referenced will not include the PMBOK Guide. By structuring the PMP Exam Content Outline around people, process and business domains, PMI is further signaling the departure from PMBOK-focused topics. The list of new source materials is available here.

The takeaway for PMP aspirants is to base their studies on understanding and applying the concepts described in the domains, tasks, and enablers listed in the exam content outline.

Education Evolution5. Education evolution– These radical changes were planned to be implemented in December 2019. However, perhaps in part to questions from the training community, the changes have now been deferred until July 2020.

No doubt it will be a big change for Registered Education Providers (REPs) as they update their materials. Many PMP preparation courses followed the knowledge areas and domains of the old exam content outline. Now, with more of a focus on people and the decision to embrace the entire value delivery spectrum, training materials should be changed to better reflect the new exam content outline. This will take time but will result in a more practical exam.

I welcome the change to make the exam more realistic and better aligned with how projects operate. The increased emphasis on the people aspects of projects more closely reflects where project managers spend the bulk of their time and attention. While the process groups and knowledge areas were useful buckets for organizing content, they did not really map how the project management activities integrate across multiple domains simultaneously.

There will be an adjustment period as training companies adjust their materials. However, the end result will be an exam that better matches day-to-day work—which ultimately is where the exam should be moving to so that it’s a relevant assessment of project management activities.

[This post first appeared without the list of source materials on here]



Wayne Kaul

Great information, Mike -- thank you! A couple of questions come to mind...

1. Do the changes you've listed above mean that the PMI-ACP certification will go away?

2. PMI has listed several source/reference texts for the new exam. Will someone be generating a single textbook to represent the cross-section of material that'll be used on the exam? (I'm thinking specifically of the way your PMI-ACP Prep book incorporates material from numerous sources).

3. Some REPs offered project management courses that were not PMP Prep classes. They were typically reviewed by a PMP and then included in PMI's CCRS system so that students could earn "contact hours" if they didn't have a PMI credential -- or they could earn PDUs from these classes if they did have a PMI credential. How will the upcoming changes impact those other PM course offerings from the REPs?

Thank for your thoughts on these items --

Mike Griffiths

Hi Wayne,

Thanks for your comment and questions.

1) I do not think the PMI-ACP will go away because it goes into far more depth than the agile content in the PMP exam. It is also their fastest-growing credential. It might become a specialization like the scheduling or risk credential to show deeper understanding. (This is just my guess I have not special insider knowledge and could be proven wrong at any time.)

2) Yes, I imagine every self-respecting PMP exam prep publisher will be creating their version of a everything-you-need-to-know-all-in-one place book.

3) I do not know what changes PMI have planned for R.E.P.s beyond what they have published and what I read online. It sounds like they want to reduce the number of R.E.P.s and improve the quality of the offerings which should be a good thing.

Best regards

Muhammad KHALID Shahab

Hi Mike,

Just further clarification on point 2 from Wayne's post.

By suggesting numerous sources for PMP instead of focusing solely on PMBOK appears to be in line of the practice that was adopted in early days of PMI-ACP when PMI (If I am not making mistake) suggested 10 different resources. Then your comprehensive book came to rescue some of us.

Looks like history will be repeating itself.

Question: I am not a registered REP. Would I be allowed to continue conducting PMP boot camps or it would be apportioned for REP's only? Your response is for my guidance only, and I understand that you can't speak on behalf of PMI. :)


The comments to this entry are closed.