2021 PMP Exam Analysis – A New Beginning

2021 has ushered in new Project Management Professional (PMP®) [i] training curriculum and a new PMP Exam. A global project management training reset. What are the facts? Let’s start with the obvious. An exam that is linked to the 2020 Project Management Professional Exam Content Outline’s (PMPECO), Performance Domains of People, Process, and Business.


This is a significant shift from the previous exam’s demonstration of proficiency where 42 tasks across five Performance Domains of Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring & Controlling in the 2015 PMPECO, were required to effectively lead and direct a project team through 49 Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®) [ii] processes.


The May 2020 PMPECO has 35 tasks and as of this moment the 7th edition of the PMBOK sits in review. That being said a follow-on article will provide a deeper analysis of how the current versions of the PMBOK and PMPECO are interrelated and how they impact the PMP exam.


The Increased Infusion of Agile


PM-ProLearn is an Authorized Training Partner (ATP) of the Project Management Institute (PMI®) [iii]. That relationship provided the company with access to PMI’s PMP curriculum. That insight helped identify the increase in agile concepts within the curriculum. Not to the breadth or depth of the agile concepts infused into the Project Management Institute-Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP®) [iv] curriculum but far greater than the previous PMP training content.


Some might see this as two world’s colliding. Realistically it is the acknowledgment that the future of project management hinges on project teams applying the correct methodologies and their supporting tools to the right set conditions to deliver value to the client while achieving benefits for the organization.


High Level Concepts


Does the team know everything about the scope up front? Will the team discover the scope through execution and client feedback? Will the team collaborate with the client to deliver incremental value? Does the client require delivery of a working portion of the scope?


These are examples of life cycles and questions that project teams must answer so that the correct life cycle to include hybrid approaches are implemented. The test taker must possess working knowledge of iterative, incremental, agile, and predictive lifecycles. The exam will test their awareness of these factors within appropriate scenarios.


I have examined the post exam feedback of two recently certified PMP’s. Julie Sabin from Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Matthew Smith from Incirlik, Turkey. Julie was the first PM-ProLearn client to attend our training, attempt the exam and pass on the first attempt.


Matt was willing to share his story to assist future project managers in the pursuit of the certification. We are extremely happy for their success and welcome their feedback as our goal is continuous organizational improvement.


The Exam Format


The exam in its current configuration has 175 testable and 5 beta questions. The time has diminished slightly from 240 minutes with (1) student managed 10-minute break to 230 minutes with (2) student managed 10-minute breaks. One between section 1 and 2 and the other between section 2 and 3 of the new exam’s format. The student has the option to take the break(s) or bypass and continue with the exam.


An important point for the student to remember is the student is given an option to review or bypass the review of the questions they’ve just completed. Beware of the visual prompts on the screen. Read them carefully because you could inadvertently bypass the review of the section. I would advise each prospective test taker to review Pearson Vue’s FAQ’s on the OnVue testing platform https://home.pearsonvue.com/Test-takers/Resources.aspx#faqs.


Exam Highlights


Calculations in general were limited. What appears to be the point of emphasis in testing is the test takers understanding of the variables that are the result of the calculation. For example, in the case of Earned Value Management, variables such as Schedule Performance Index (SPI) or Cost Performance Index (CPI) are interpreted for understanding of their value. A CPI of .95 is an indicator that the project is over budget because the project team is generating .95 worth of value for every $1.00 that it spends.


In the area of Network Diagrams calculations were assessed as minimal. This trend continues from the 4th quarter of 2020. The emphasis focused on the testers ability to identify the critical path which enhances their ability to answer fundamental questions about the relationship between activities within or outside the critical path.


Shifting gears into Change. The impact of agile is definitely present in this area of the exam. There is a definite emphasis in understanding that because the project team is closest to the work they possess the deepest understanding of the work and the impact of change.


Key takeaway, the formation of collaborative relationships between the project team and the product owner, increases engagement, enhances knowledge transfer, and delivers value by flattening unnecessary layers of communication.


Finally let’s take a look at Conflict Resolution and Servant Leadership. They are definite themes within the PMI-ATP curriculum and that theme appears to carry over to the exam. Scenario based questions that are built upon two fundamental pillars. Conflict is healthy when managed effectively. So, investigate, assess, respond appropriately. As for Servant Leadership, provide the project team with adequate training, create a collaborative work environment, and remove impediments, obstacles, and barriers.


Final Thoughts


The questions as described were largely scenario based where in-depth understanding of concepts is required to understand the scenario and arrive at the correct answer.


There were multiple-choice, multiple answer, drag-n-drop, and fill in the blank type questions.

The Pearson Vue OnVue User Interface appeared to have been altered. Julie was unaware of the availability of the text-enabled whiteboard.


This is the first of what will be a quarterly update on the PMP Exam. The updates will be published under the PM-ProLearn LinkedIn page as well as shared with the PM-ProCommunity. We are all on this journey together. Stay tuned for the next update.


[i] PMP is a registered trademark of the Project Management Institute [ii] PMBOK is a registered trademark of the Project Management Institute [iii] PMI is a registered trademark of the Project Management Institute [iv] PMI-ACP is a registered trademark of the Project Management Institute

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