3 Exam Content Outline Domains for the PMP exam

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A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge(PMBOK® Guide) Seventh Edition represents a major shift in the way ‘how to do project management’ is presented by PMI.

Instead of the Knowledge Areas, we have the whole body of project management split up into performance domains. However, the annoying thing is that the project performance domains are not the same as the domains in the exam content outline.

If you are studying for the Project Management Professional (PMP)® exam, this is the article you need to help you break down and understand the contents of the exam.

In this article, we’ll explain what the performance domains are in the exam content outline and give you some examples of what you need to know about each one for the test.

What are the 3 performance domains you need for the PMP exam?

PMI defines a domain like this in the exam content outline:

The high-level knowledge area that is essential to the practice of project management.

PMP Exam Content Outline, PMI, 2021

The 3 performance domains that are examined during the test are:

  1. People
  2. Process
  3. Business Environment
Venn diagram showing people, processes and business environment

Within each domain, you’ll carry out a range of tasks as a project manager that fall into your responsibilities.

The big thing to note here is that these domains apply regardless of whether you are doing iterative, predictive, or hybrid projects, or any mishmash blend of them all. You still need to engage people, create effective processes and operate within your business environment: it’s all project management at the end of the day.

Let’s look at each of those domains next.

Domain I: People

The People domain covers the soft(er) skills required to be a good project manager. These are:

  • Conflict management
  • Team leadership
  • Support team performance and development
  • Empower team members and stakeholders so they can contribute
  • Ensure people are adequately trained to participate in the project
  • Build a team that can deliver on the needs of the project
  • Remove roadblocks for the team
  • Negotiation
  • Collaboration and engagement (also across virtual teams)
  • Build a shared understanding
  • Create team ground rules
  • Mentoring
  • Apply emotional intelligence.

When you look at the list, it looks like a lot, but this domain shouldn’t worry you. It’s all the stuff you know to do anyway, because it’s part of what it means to operate in a leadership role in a modern organization, whether you are working on iterative, predictive or hybrid projects.

It’s worth noting that the APM Body of Knowledge also covers interpersonal and softer skills, and people like me have been writing books about how important the people stuff is to project management for years.

Competency models for project managers also call out these kinds of behaviors so we’ve known for a long time that they are part of what separates a good project manager from an excellent project manager.

Competency models are not the same as project management models: in the PMBOK Guide Seventh Edition, the term ‘models’ refers to commonly use strategies and approaches for optimizing the way work is done.

PMI has also acknowledged the importance of people skills, although I don’t recall them ever being called out so explicitly before.

Note for PMP exam takers: 42% of your exam questions will be from this domain.

The principles of project management from The Standard for Project Management will apply across the domains, so expect to study them all in an integrated way.

Recommended PMP study resources

All the training materials below will help you revise the material covered in each of the domains. (Scroll down for the next domain if you already have your PMP study materials sorted.)

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BrainBOK PMP Training

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The PMP PrepCast Elite PLUS

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Brain Sensei PMP Exam Prep

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PMP Exam Prep
PM StudyCoach Guidebook

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PMP Formulas Study Guide

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Domain II: Process

The Process domain covers the ‘technical’ skills of doing the work of being a project manager. These skills are:

  • Deliver business value through smart project execution
  • Communications
  • Risk management
  • Stakeholder analysis
  • Budget and resource management
  • Schedule management
  • Quality management
  • Scope management
  • Project integration (experienced readers may well have noticed that this list is starting to look a lot like the old list of Knowledge Areas from PMBOK 6)
  • Project change management
  • Procurement management
  • Configuration management (the management of assets and artifacts)
  • Choosing the right methodology/approach
  • Governance
  • Issue management
  • Knowledge transfer and project closure

If you were familiar with the PMBOK Sixth Edition, a lot of the themes and sections here will seem at home. Many of the same topics from the old Knowledge Area segments are called out, and that’s to be expected: we need to be able to do them, and do them well.

This domain represents the technical expertise of a project manager and the expert knowledge that you bring to a team about how to use project processes to get work done.

Note for PMP exam takers: 50% of your exam questions will be from this domain.

So far, we’ve seen an almost 50/50 split between technical and interpersonal skills, but there is a third domain, and that’s the business environment.

Domain III: Business Environment

The Business Environment domain covers how to operate within the context of your organization. You’ll see what I mean when you read the list of skills that are covered by this domain that are tested:

  • Compliance i.e. making sure the project meetings regulatory and compliance requirements
  • Benefits management (although you might not take responsibility for tracking benefits long term, the project should set up a way to track benefits)
  • Review external influences on project scope i.e. being aware of what is happening in the wider business environment so you can adjust the project accordingly. In the past, project sponsors have taken this responsibility, so I see the role of the PM as to make sure sponsors are passing on information to us where we don’t have access to it.
  • Support organizational change.

This is only a short list but it’s very powerful. It’s everything to do with making a mark in the organization for the right reasons. It’s applying your business acumen. It’s realizing that there’s more to the organization than just your project and acting accordingly.

I think this domain is my favorite because I know from first-hand experience how much of a career difference it can make. It’s the difference between doing a reasonable job and being seen as a strategic influencer at work.

Note for PMP exam takers: 8% of your exam questions will be from this domain. Yes, that’s right! Only 8%! Don’t lose sleep over it.

The 3 domains make up the whole of the Exam Content Outline for the PMP exam.

As a project manager, you are expected to do a lot and be a lot. You can see that in this structure from PMI, in the competency framework from APM and in other career frameworks for project managers.

Yes, it’s a lot.

But it’s also a great role, with great salaries, huge variety and the ability to make a tangible difference to the world.

All senior management roles require a similar blend of interpersonal skills and technical expertise, and we are no different. It’s great to see this acknowledged in such a clear way.

Mug on a table next to some notebooks