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Taking the PMP Exam - Part 9 - Areas of Expertise

The PMBOK claims that effective project management requires drawing upon 5 areas of expertise.:

  • The Project Management Body of Knowledge
  • Knowledge of the application area, standards and regulations
  • Understanding the project environment
  • General management knowledge and skills
  • Interpersonal skills

These are not intended to be discrete - they overlap substantially. In fact I think they overlap to the point where there are really only three... but that is just my opinion. In an act of grace and kindness the PMBOK grants that no single person have all of this knowledge and skills. But then the whip comes down and it becomes "important that the project management team has full knowlede of the PMBOK(tm) Guide." If you were going to ask me I'd say that you can do fine without ever reading the PMBOK Guide. In fact, what did people do for thousands of years prior to the first version in 1986? And are projects managed prior to the 3rd Edition somehow LESS well managed? But anyway, when I see a list I figure it is important enough to remember. Do you remember the project management processes from last time? IPEM/CC...

So what does this important knowledge of the PMBOK guide consist of? Precisely three things:

  • The definition of project life cycle
  • The 5 Project Management Process Groups (I,P, E,M/C,C)
  • Nine Knowledge Areas

This is great news for those hoping to get a PMP cert. Seems simple doesn't it? By the way the 9 knowledge areas are:

  • Project Integration Management
  • Project Scope Management
  • Project Time Management
  • Project Cost Management
  • Project Quality Management
  • Project Human Resource Management
  • Project Communications Management
  • Project Risk Management
  • Project Procurement Management

Throwing out the reduntant terms we get an acronym of ISTCQHRCRP. Repetition is key to remembering. And multiple choice tests require that you remember rather than derive the answer so look for these items to show up to jog your memory from now until you pass the exam.

OK, that covers the PMBOK. Let's see what else they expect you to know. Starting up with application areas. An application area is a way of categorizing projects. For example an engineering project or new product development could be application areas as they have some common skill or understanding required. The PMBOK tacks on Standards and Regulations surrounding those application areas. Standards are voluntary guidelines, often developed by participants in those areas while regulations are government imposed. To make it a bit messy, sometimes a regulation will mandate adherence to a standard... but it is the compliance which is the regulation, not the standard itself.

The project environment is boiled down into three basic contexts:

  • Cultural and Social Environment
  • International and Political Environment
  • Physical Environment

All I can say about the environment is ignore it at your own peril. The examples the PMBOK gives for these things are fairly muddled citing timezones as an international and political factor rather than the clear physical factor that they are. But ignore that. I'm sure that the category is the only thing that is important here and anyone can come up with examples of each quite handily.

Three down, two to go. Next: General Managemenk Knowledge and Skills. Here my mind gets twisted by the insistance that Project Management is somehow different or is a superset of this. But that is what the PMBOK claims: "General management provides the foundation for building project management skills and is often essential for the project manager". I view it the other way around. Project Mangement is just another page in the book of General Management Knowledge and until the PMI accepts this PM's are going to be kept in a pen of their own making. This self-limiting is a problem I think. To give a flavor of what General Management is built from here are some keywords: financial, accounting, purchasing, procurement, sales, marketing, contracts, law, manufacturing, distribution, logistics, suppy chain, planninng, organization, the whole of HR it seems, Safety, IT... Enough said

The final piece: Interpersonal Skills. The PMBOK ideal would be a PM who communicates effectively, influences the organization. A leader, who motivates his/her team and who manages conflict and solves problems.. Sounds good. Where do I find one? But further thought makes me wonder why trust and respect are not important enough to rank.

Things to remember from this section:

    The five areas of expertise:
  • The Project Management Body of Knowledge
  • Knowledge of the application area, standards and regulations
  • Understanding the project environment
  • General management knowledge and skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Taking the PMP Exam - Part 8 - What is Project Management
  • Taking the PMP Exam - Part 7 - PMBOK Introduction and What is a Project
  • The Lifeless Project Life Cycle
  • Taking the PMP Exam - Appendix B - Contract Types
  • Taking the PMP Exam - Part 12 - The PMP Examination Specification
  • Taking the PMP Exam - Part 6 - Downloading the PMBOK
  • Taking the PMP Exam N*ked - Part 0
  • Taking and Passing the PMP Exam Part 16 How I passed the PMP Exam
  • PM Web #001 - Glen B. Alleman's Herding Cats
  • Books to Consider – Decision Making

  • Comments (2)



    Clicked on this link by accident and find it very helpful. I'm in the process of studying for the PMP exam and think your feedback and comments will ve very helpful. I see it as an informal class mate who is taking the same course. I'll try to submit any comments that could add value to the learning process.

    Thanks for enhancing the learning process.


    I am a PMP trainer from Germany. I have been doing PMP prep trainings for almost six years, and my participants communicate a 100% pass rate on their first try. There must be more than 300 PMPs whom I could accompany to the credential.

    I believe I have a good understanding of how the exam works.

    Did you notice that preparing for the PMP exam is no more "memorizing the PMBOK Guide"? There is another exam requiring exactly that and this is the CAPM. PMI's Denny Smith, who unfortunately left the institute 8th December, did a tremendous job to clearly distinct between the two exams. The PMP exam requires knowledge of a large Body of Knowledge, of which the PMBOK Guide is only a small but essential part.

    Do you remember October 2005 when the passing score for the freshly relaunched PMP exam had to be reduced from over 81% to the current 60.5%? The reason was that seminar providers all around the world did not understand what had changed. They had just reused their existing prep materials, changed the process description "Scope Planning" to "Scope Definition" and did some more similar changes. This saved them a lot of time and money – and lead candidates into failure.

    They should have completely rewritten their entire materials. But as they had not listened to Denny in the first place, they did not know how much change was really necessary.

    I read your criticism on Kim Heldman's book related to triple constraints (scope/time/costs vs. scope/time/quality). You may by right referring to that detail, in fact, Kim has been one of the few authors of prep materials who understood the fundamental change and implemented it in her book. She changed the structure of her book from “Following the PMBOK Guide Knowledge Areas” to “Following the Examination Specification’s six Performance Domains”.

    There is a new - I mean really new, launched somewhat yesterday or the day before - PMP Credential Handbook at www.pmi.org/info/PDC_PMPHandbook.pdf. Did you see that? It discusses the process of item writing on page 7.

    We should not worry so much what the PMBOK Guide is saying. We should ask ourselves instead, what kind of questions item writers would produce during sessions, when they have to be creative against the tasks laid down in the Examination Specification and have to place a reference for each question in a book or another source, which someone has defined as part of the Project Management Body of Knowledge.

    Just two examples where misunderstandings between item writers and exam candidates may come from:

    Some of the item writers come from DoD or NASA environments. They have a completely different understanding of a Work Breakdown Structure than people who interpret a list of indented tasks in Microsoft Project as a WBS.

  • Another potential problem: The big majority of the item writers will be from USA, Canada or UK. They know contracting only as it is done in Common law countries. They would not understand the differences to contracting in Civil law countries like Germany. And our candidates from Germany do not have the understanding of contracting in UK and America. There will be no questions related to these law systems, but related to contracting, and different background knowledge may lead to false answers.
  • My proposal: Trainers should not only concentrate on PMBOK Guide but on Item Writers understanding of what a good question is and how to prepare candidates for that.

    Kind Regards,

    Oliver F. Lehmann, PMP

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