The 2020 PMPECO and What it Means For the PMP Exam

This article was originally published on LinkedIn, but I am re-posting it here with a few updates.


In 2019, the Project Management Institute® (PMI®) conducted a Global Practice Analysis to understand the current trends in project management from the people and organizations that are using project management practices each day in their job functions. This Task Analysis was conducted for several reasons, not the least of which was to determine if the current Project Management Professional® (PMP®) exam was evaluating the skills used by these project managers and organizations. As the PMP certification is considered one of the gold standards for project management professionals and the organizations that employ them, it is necessary to ensure that this certification maintains its credibility.


PMI followed-up the Global Task Analysis by conducting a Role Delineation Study (RDS) to ensure the validity of their examinations in the professional credentialing world. The most recent RDS showed that there are several aspects of agile and hybrid project management practices that were not covered by the current PMP exam. In order to align the examination more closely to the needs of the industry, PMI took the results of the RDS and retained an external agency to create the newest version of the PMP Exam Content Outline (PMPECO), which had not been updated since June 2015, though the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®) had been released in 2017. The newest PMBOK Guide released in 2017 and caused the examination to be altered in March of 2018. This new update covered minimal agile methodologies on the actual exam.


Moving Forward


In order to align more closely with the needs of the industry, PMI has elected to update the exam starting January 2nd, 2020. They have stated that there will be no additional changes to the exam based on the release of the PMBOK, 7th Edition. PMIs intent with this change seems to reflect the need to ensure that certified PMPs can operate in three specific approaches to project management; predictive, agile, and hybrid approaches.


PMI has stated in the newest PMPECO (released June 2019) that the study participants were not bound to the job tasks and processes outlined by the PMBOK Guide, 6th Edition. Instead, they were told to determine the job skills used by project managers every day to align the new exam content. This means that they have realized that agile practices and methodologies are being utilized by more companies in their projects and PMs need to be comfortable in these types of projects and teams.


Analysis of the Changes


The current PMPECO (June 2015) was based on 5 Performance Domains; Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring and Controlling, and Closing. This aligned directly with the process groups found in the current PMBOK.

While addressing tasks and processes in each of these domains, the previous PMPECO provided general guidance on how project managers would work in each of these domains. For instance, in the Initiating Performance Domain, Task 1 stated:

“Perform project assessment based upon available information, lessons learned from previous projects, and meetings with relevant stakeholders in order to support the evaluation of the feasibility of new products or services within the given assumptions and/or constraints.” 

This task could be referenced easily back to the early chapters of the PMBOK referencing Enterprise Environmental Factors, Organizational Process Assets, and the organizational structure. With the new PMPECO, this task can be aligned with all the new performance domains. The project environment (market condition, organizational policies and structures, available tools and templates) can alter strategies throughout the project and the new PMPECO aligns the assessment of the environment to all performance domains now.


In the new PMPECO version scheduled to be evaluated by the new exam, there are now only three performance domains; People, Process, and Business Environment. It is worth noting that this aligns very closely to the PMI Talent Triangle® which is focused on the skills that PMI considers the “ideal skillset.”


Instead of providing strict statements for each of the tasks as seen in the previous PMPECO, the new tasks are now generally labeled and you are provided with ‘enablers,’ which PMI says are “Illustrative examples of the work associated with the task.” These are no longer seen as directive and are now simply demonstrations of what is expected work by PM’s operating in this domain and task.


Domain I – People (42% of the exam)



Tasks and enablers in this new Performance Domain are (quite obviously) focused on the people aspects of project management. It covers topics for leading the team, managing conflicts, mentoring and providing feedback to team members to improve performance, and aspects of servant leadership. These areas are all covered by the current PMPECO, though spread through several different processes. It also focuses more heavily on developing virtual teams, which is commonplace in today’s connected world and more prevalent due to COVID-19 social distancing guidelines.


Tasks in this domain are not a departure from the guidance of the current PMBOK Guide, but it will require work to assume a less predictive approach to managing projects and focus more on agile concepts such as servant leadership, agile contracting, and agile team spaces to be given deeper focus. The updated list of references for the PMP Exam (previous exam references included the current version of PMBOK and the Agile Practice guide) is now


Domain II – Process (50% of the exam)



Topics in this new Performance Domain are centered very heavily on the current PMBOK Guide processes described in the 10 Knowledge Areas, but also include some additional agile and hybrid views. One example of this is the first Task from this new domain which states, “Execute project with the urgency required to deliver business value.” It focuses on the agile theory of incremental delivery of business value to the customer/stakeholder rather than the typical predictive method of delivering the full business value at the end of the project. It also introduces some new agile terms not likely a part of typical PMP study guides such as the Minimally Viable Product.


There also seems to be higher importance placed on configuration management and the management of project artifacts since these now have their own PMPECO tasks. Additionally, the new PMPECO lightly touches on the need to understand Agile Contracting Methods.


Domain III – Business Environment (8% of the exam)



Topics here address strategy and business management practices such as compliance, value/benefits delivery, the external business environment, and organizational change management. While these are not new concepts to most project managers, these tasks were not given large quantities of focus on previous exams or study efforts.

Agile terms are used heavily in this area again showing the need to tie agile concepts into the knowledge held by ALL project managers, not just ‘agilists.’


What Does This Mean to You?


While there are surely going to be some startling changes to the new exam in December, proper preparation by incorporating the study of the Agile Practice Guide into your preparation is needed. Training providers will need to find a way to ensure that their content matches the changes that have already begun. While it is not necessary to become fully engrossed in agile methodologies (Scrum, XP, DSDM, FDD, etc.), it will be necessary to understand how agile and hybrid delivery approaches are used periodically by project managers based on business need. 


In the coming weeks, I will be publishing additional articles focusing on each domain, specifically to discuss the agile aspects being introduced in the new PMP exam in January 2021.

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