PMP Exam Change 2016: RDS, Content Outline, PMBOK and Handbook - I’m So Confused! (Part 1)

9 minute read    Updated:    Harwinder Singh

PMI updated the PMP exam on January 12, 2016 to align with the latest PMP Exam Content Outline, June 2015. PMI announced that 25% of the exam questions were updated as a result of this change. Does it mean that my PMP exam preparation need to change? Does my exam prep material also change by 25%? What are the new topics on the exam? Where do I get the study material for the new topics? Should I wait for a few months before taking the new exam? Has the exam passing score changed? What is this Role Delineation Study (RDS) thing? Is the PMP exam still based on PMBOK Guide or is it now based on the PMP Exam Content Outline (what’s the difference between the two, BTW)? If you have any of these questions, this post is for you.

PMP Exam Change 2016

Hundreds of websites and blogs have been abuzz on the topic of PMP Exam Change 2016 ever since the news broke out in the first half of 2015. And why not? It’s a great opportunity for the training providers of the highly commercialized and well-marketed PMP certification. When do people remember God the most? In times of adversity, isn’t it? You get the point. Unfortunately, most of these sites and blogs have been simply regurgitating the information posted by PMI in public domain, and missing the point (which I’ll share later in this post). Recently someone asked me about the PMP Exam 2016 change on PM Hangout and how it impacts PMP exam prep. That exchange encouraged me to do this post, my first in nearly a year.

Disclaimer: This post (series) is my take on the PMP Exam 2016 changes. Some of the conclusions I draw are based on my experience and are not endorsed by PMI. Please use the information for what it’s worth.

So, has the PMP exam really changed by 25%, or is it more hype than substance? If you were to ask some of the PMP Training providers they’ll tell you à la Apple:

The only thing that's changed is everything.

But, is that really true? Let’s find out. I’ll start with the most basic information.

What is PMI’s Role Delineation Study (RDS)?

PMI explains the RDS pretty well in the PMP Exam Content Outline, June 2015, Appendix A. I suggest that you read that section for a thorough understanding. Long story short, RDS examines the role of a project management professional by surveying employers and project management practitioners from various industries, work settings, and regions. It determines the key competency areas - domains, tasks, knowledge, and skills - of a project manager.

What is the PMP Exam Content Outline?

The output of the RDS is the PMP Exam Content Outline. The Content Outline serves as the foundation for the PMP exam and ensures its validity and relevance. The Content Outline is the blueprint or the specifications for the PMP exam. In other words, PMP exam is based on the PMP Exam Content Outline.

What? I thought the PMP exam was based on the PMBOK Guide.

If you relate to the statement above, then repeat after me - “PMP exam is not based on the PMBOK Guide. Rather it is based on the PMP Exam Content Outline.” I quote the following section straight from the PMP Exam Content Outline, June 2015:

Although many of the domains, tasks, knowledge, and skills outlined in the PMP Examination Content Outline are also covered in the PMBOK® Guide, there are some that are unique to the PMP Examination Content Outline. Candidates studying for the examination will certainly want to include the current edition of the PMBOK® Guide as one of their references, and would be well advised to read other current titles on project management. An excellent source of these titles, utilized in PMP examination development, is found in the PMI member resource eReads and Reference.

What is the PMBOK Guide?

The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) Guide is a book which presents a set of standard terminology and guidelines for project management. It is published by Project Management Institute (PMI), USA.

What is the PMP Handbook?

The PMP handbook contains information on how to apply for the PMP certification. It also provides important information about the policies and procedures for obtaining and maintaining the PMP credential. If you want to know information such as the PMP application process, the exam fee, the exam duration, or the number of questions on the exam, PMP Handbook is what you would refer to. But if you want to know the “syllabus” for PMP exam, you would refer to the PMP Exam Content Outline.

How often is the RDS conducted?

The RDS is conducted about every 4-5 years. The previous two RDS’s were conducted in 2009 and 2014.

How often is PMP Exam Content Outline Updated?

The PMP Exam Content Outline is updated about every 4 years. The previous version was released in Aug 2011 and was based on the results of the RDS 2009-10. The current version was released in June 2015 and is based on the RDS 2014.

How often is the PMBOK Guide updated?

The PMBOK Guide is updated every 4 years: 1996 (1st Ed), 2000 (2nd Ed), 2004 (3rd Ed), 2008 (4th Ed), 2012 (5th Ed), 2016? (6th Ed).

How do the PMBOK Guide and PMP Exam Content Outline updates affect the PMP exam?

Updates to both, the PMBOK Guide and the PMP Exam Content Outline, lead to PMP exam update. The problem is that the PMBOK Guide and the Content Outline are not updated at the same time. Their updates are staggered by 2 years. It’s a constant cat and mouse game between the two. When PMBOK Guide is updated, the Content Outline catches up two years later. Similarly, when the Content Outline is updated, the PMBOK Guide catches up couple years later. I’ve put together an infographic (my first ever!) to help visualize the information.

Infographic on RDS and PMP Exam Content Outline Updates vs PMBOK Guide Updates
  • The PMBOK Guide, 4th Ed was released in Dec 2008. It led to the PMP exam update in Aug 2009.
  • The Content Outline was updated couple years later in Aug 2011 to align with RDS 2009-10 and the PMBOK Guide, 4th Ed. It led to the PMP exam update in Aug 2011.
  • The PMBOK Guide, 5th Ed was released in Dec 2012. It led to the PMP exam update in Aug 2013.
  • The Content Outline was updated in June 2015 to align with RDS 2014 and the PMBOK Guide, 5th Ed. It led to the Jan 2016 (most recent) update to the PMP exam.

Did you notice that I said the Content Outline was updated to align with PMBOK Guide? Let me explain with an example. Project Stakeholder Management was a new Knowledge Area added to PMBOK Guide, 5th Ed (it wasn’t part of the 4th Ed). The Content Outline of June 2015 has a big emphasis on Stakeholder Management. Similarly many other topics (covered in part 2 of this series), which are already part of the PMBOK Guide, 5th Ed, have been included in the June 2015 version of the Content Outline. This goes to show that in some ways the Content Outline is “catching up” with the PMBOK Guide.

PMP Exam Content Outline June 2015 is "catching up" with the PMBOK Guide, 5th Ed.

In conclusion, the changes are not as drastic as it may sound. In part 2 of this post, I’ll explain in detail what those 25% of the changes might be, what new topics are unique to the Content Outline June 2015, and what PMP aspirants need to do in order to cope with those changes. Stay tuned.

Let me know whether you found this post useful by sharing your comments below.

P.S. This is my first blog post of 2016 and the first after 11 months. Part of the reason why I do not blog more often is that almost anything I post gets copied in some form or another with absolutely no attribution to my work. I have some great admirers in Hong Kong, Pakistan, India and a few other countries who have made a living for themselves by regurgitating the content, which I had crafted by spending endless days and nights. You could argue that “imitation is the best form of flattery”. I say that by feeding their families, I’m glad to have played my part in reducing world hunger :)

2-part series on PMP Exam Change
  1. PMP Exam Change 2016: RDS, Content Outline, PMBOK and Handbook (you are here)
  2. PMP Exam Change 2016: New Topics and Prep Guidance

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Harwinder Singh Avatar

Hello Animi,

Thanks for your positive feedback. I’ll surely work on those topics but given my current situation, it may take a while. I also apologize for not acknowledging your comments sooner.