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Part II: The Importance of PMP Certification and Essential Exam Guidance

CANA Advisors’ Director of Programs & Project Management, Connie McKissack, has been a professional in project management for over 18 years. She has seen first-hand the evolution of the Project Management Professional (PMP), and what it contributes to the field. In Part II of our series, Connie provides her nuanced and thoughtful opinion about project management certification and offers essential exam guidance.

The Importance of PMP Certification

A recurring question in the project management field is whether organizations should hire only PMP-certified Project Managers. Although the credibility of focused study, training, and examination is something to be considered - and the whole industry has built itself on passing the exam - institutionally, we are not necessarily living the concepts.

If an organization seeks only certified PMPs, the focus should be understanding how the Project Manager, armed with a full kit of knowledge from many different disciplines, can help extract key practices and create the most effective methods for their teams. Hiring decisions should be based on your project practice maturity, pre-existing organizational project knowledge, and the types of projects your teams execute. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.

Remember that pre-2021 certified Project Managers do not have to retake the exam. And, if they maintain their credentials, those PMs will never have to sit for an updated 2021 PMP exam. While holding a PMP certification adds some credibility to a candidate's resume, it may not be required since acquiring knowledge and taking a test are two different approaches and activities. If an organization can take a program and project management mentoring and coaching approach to onboarding new Project Managers, it will have provided a better foundation for actual Project Management practice. Organizations can offer constructive support by encouraging autonomy, supporting leadership training, and encouraging smart change and risk management.

Essential Exam Guidance

For those individuals and organizations that have decided PMP certification is requisite, we offer the following observations and guidance. Having familiarity with the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) Guide might benefit an inexperienced individual desirous of managing projects, but the 2021 PMP exam is not based on PMBOK; it is only a reference.

The 2021 PMP exam does focus on leading projects, being a servant leader, Agile-like concepts and practices, methodology choices and tailoring, and communication with stakeholders. Once registered, you have one year to take the exam. You can start by learning more about PMP on the website.2

These authorized materials are provided after you register for the exam:

  • 2021 PMP Examination Content Outline3

  • Project Management Process Groups and Knowledge Areas4

  • Agile Practice Guide5

Specific keys to success include PMI Authorized PMP Exam Preparation materials (focuses on five lessons):

  1. Creating a High-Performing Team

  2. Starting the Project

  3. Doing the Work

  4. Keeping the Team on Track

  5. Keeping the Business in Mind

To sit for the exam you will still need the same required experience managing projects, or a specific education requirement, as well as 35 contact hours of training (Professional Development Units or PDUs). Once you pass the exam, you must renew at three-year intervals and invest time in appropriate Professional Development. You can earn PDUs in multiple ways, but organizations need to understand the real costs of PMP certification as they hire team members.

Of the skills assessed in the examination, communication ability is key. It is the most important skill a project manager can possess, regardless of professional certification. Communication is absolutely critical to Project Manager roles in the virtual workspace. Project Managers who understand and can employ effective asynchronous communication techniques will lead the virtual pack. This is validated daily here at CANA Advisors, where virtual work has been the standard for over a decade. Although process has a place, capable communication tactics inside projects, and the ability to lead a team to execute and deliver, are what enables Project Managers to take their teams across the finish line.

Leaders know how important it is to adapt and progress in their respective industries. We would love to hear your thoughts on PMP certification, the 2021 changes, and how it impacts you or your organization. Share with us on social media @canaadvisors, or contact Connie McKissack directly at


Connie McKissack is CANA’s Director of Programs & Project Management and is responsible for driving excellence in program management practices and delivering project management activities to clients.

Did you happen to catch our CANA Connection Podcast on Project Management and the New 2021 PMI Certification? In this episode, our host Rob Cranston talks with Project Managers and fellow CANA team members, Connie McKissack, Jason Fincher, and Hannah Wallace. Learn more about Program/Project Management, and the Project Management Institute's (PMI) PMP 2021 Certification. (CANA Connection Podcast Link)

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