The new PMP exam - really agile?
1 - The Role Delineation Study as the basis for the PMP examination
The PMP exam is based on a so-called Role Delineation Study (RDS). This is a functional or task description of the profession of a project manager and is carried out every three to five years. The last study dates from June 2015 and forms the basis of the current exam.
Contrary to popular belief, the PMP exam is not an exam on the PMBOK® Guide. PMI writes literally that the PMBOK® Guide is only one of the sources for the test, but the basis for the exam has been the RDS for quite some time. This is to ensure that a project manager's field of work is described independently of PMI publications as to how the profession has evolved, how trends have developed and how the responsibilities of the project managers have changed.
RDS is developed under the leadership of a subcontractor, but with the help of a bunch of volunteers and experts in the field of project management.
The 2015 RDS was developed with Professional Examination Service (ProExam), while the 2019 version was developed by Alpine Testing Solutions.
2 - The structure of the new exam
The new exam has three components. These are:
- Domain - A kind of knowledge area (not to be confused with the knowledge areas in the PMBOK® Guide).
- Tasks - Which tasks must a project manager master in this area?
- Enablers - illustrative examples of the work involved in the task. However, the enablers mentioned in the RDS are not exhaustively formulated, but represent a few examples that show what the respective task involves.
The enablers were added in this version and provide a good orientation for the contents on the new PMP exam.
There is the task "Collaborate with Stakeholders" (Task #9, Domain 1), and the RDS names the following enablers for this task:
- Evaluate engagement needs for stakeholders
- Optimize alignment between stakeholder needs, expectations, and project objectives
- Build trust and influence stakeholders to accomplish project objectives
The problem is that the list of enablers is not complete and will therefore continue to cause surprises in the future new PMP exam.
3 - Changes to the old structure
Version 2015 had five domains that sounded similar to the process groups in the PMBOK® Guide, but were not exactly identical in content. For the fast reader, however, this created an automatic relationship to the Guide (which did not exist at all).
The concept of process groups and phases in the PMBOK® Guide is ingenious, but has caused a lot of confusion since the first issue of the Guide - and the Exam Content Outline 2015 (and earlier) hadn't made it any easier...
For example: Tasks of the domain "Initiation" are partly to be found in the process group "Planning" in the PMBOK® Guide. Confusing? Yes!
The domains of the Version 2015:
- Initiating, 8 tasks, proportion of PMP exam questions 13%.
- Planning, 13 tasks, proportion of PMP examination questions 24
- Executing, 7 tasks, proportion of the PMP exam questions 31%
- Monitoring and Controling, 7 tasks, proportion of the PMP exam questions 25%
- Closing, 7 tasks, proportion of PMP examination questions 7%
The domains of version 2019 completely resolve this confusion. There are only three domains left which are under no suspicion of being confused with knowledge areas or process groups of the PMBOK® Guide.
- People, 14 tasks, 42% of PMP exam questions
- Process, 17 Tasks, 50% of PMP exam questions
- Business environment, 4 tasks, 8% of PMP exam questions
The version 2015 has thus described five domains with 42 tasks, while the 2019 version only defines three domains with 35 tasks.
In version 2015 there was a list of "CROSS-CUTTING KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS" that a project manager must know. This has disappeared in the new version in favor of the enablers.
Whether contents were sacrificed or not is not clear from this flight altitude. Or vice versa: The probability of being confronted with the usual exam suspects in the new PMP exam is still high.
The next major change concerns agility. There has been one (1) question about a backlog in the current exam and the thirst for agility has already been exhausted. But now it's written:
"The research conducted through the Job Task Analysis validated that today’s project management practitioners work in a variety of project environments and utilize different project approaches. Accordingly, the PMP certification will be reflective of this and will incorporate approaches across the value delivery spectrum.About half of the examination will represent predictive project management approaches and the other half will represent agile or hybrid approaches. Predictive, agile, and hybrid approaches will be found throughout the three domain areas listed above and are not isolated to any particular domain or task. "
In short, half of the new PMP exam will be agile/hybrid in the future. And that doesn't mean that it will be done by reading the SCRUM Guide.
On the other hand you can also be curious how PMI interprets this 50%. Let's be honest: The new (6th) PMBOK® Guide should already be quite agile, but at its core - not much has changed. If the new PMP exam becomes as agile as the PMBOK® Guide , then everything is only half that dramatic...
4 - Personal opinion
I honestly admit that I was surprised by the amount of change of the new exam outline. That sounds like a bigger story. Especially the clear announcement that half of the questions will deal with agile/hybrid environments is a clear indication that something bigger is coming up for the future candidates.
Agile and hybrid
On the one hand, this is favourable, as the PMP has been criticized for years for being the certificate of the waterfall grandpas, while the wildest agile certifications have spread cheerfully under the eyes of all.
On the other hand, I know enough project managers from our clientele who don't yet have much to do with agility and probably won't have much. I still have my justified doubts as to whether a bridge can be built agilely.
I am convinced that the future of the PMP will be found in hybrid projects. In this respect, the new PMP exam goes in the right direction.
Fact is that the preparation for the exam will also change massively. Both from the candidates and from the providers, since the new PMP exam now leaves no doubt that it is not an examination for the PMBOK® Guide.
After all, the new PMP exam dedicates 50% of the questions to the domain "process", so the assumption is reasonable that a lot of topics from the Guide will be found there. I only hope that in these 50% not only the dreadful ITTO-questions are left. In my eyes a big weak point of acceptance of the current PMP exam.
Exam rally in 2019
The training providers (aka colleagues :-)) have always liked to drum up a lot of publicity with every change of an RDS or a new version of the PMBOK® Guide, that one had the impression that the future version of a PMP exam would from now on be equivalent to a work for a Nobel Prize.
This will be the same in the second half of 2019, with the difference that real major changes are now on the horizon.
In addition, PMI will change its partner for the examination from July 1, 2019. Prometric is history. Will everything be better now? At least start-up difficulties (in the form of not available examination places) could be assumed.
Coupled with an examination rally in the rest of the year, this is an interesting constellation.
My tip to all those who still want to do the PMP but have always postponed it: Get started. I would hurry if I were you. Half a year is quickly over.
And: We already had the situation once that there were only limited examination places shortly before an examination change.
Thomas Wuttke, PMP, PMI-ACP, PMI-RMP, CSM