What is a Project Management Professional Certification?

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Have you been a project manager for years, but you want to take your knowledge to the next level? Or, are you a new project manager, just starting your journey, and want to ensure you know everything you can before you enter the field? Are you considering Project Management Professional certification?

If you’re in the world of project management, you know firsthand how much work and comprehensive knowledge it requires. Previously, this knowledge was picked up mostly on the job or from resources that you sought out on your own time.

Today, however, there is a way to get officially recognized as a professional project manager. You earn this title by taking the steps necessary toward certification.

But, just what is a Project Management Professional certification, and how do you go about getting one?

Here, we will answer the most important questions you may have about this certification process.

When Was it Created?

The Project Management Professional certification (or PMP, for short) was first created in 1984 in Philadelphia

The Project Management Institute (PMI for short) created the PMP to have a standardized certification process for project managers. The applicant earns the PMP certification by completing an application and passing a standardized test to prove the knowledge, skills and experience of project managers.

Since then, the PMP exam has gone through multiple revisions and different iterations to keep up with the ever-changing technology and project tools that have become available.

Why Was it Created?

Before the PMP, there was no formal certification process to become a project manager. You just learned on the job and relied on the word of your previous clients and employers to get more opportunities for growth. 

The PMP changed that. It was created by project managers for project managers, and it was put in place to prove a project manager’s ability to work with different approaches to manage projects, their knowledge of the current industry, and their ability to interact with team members, customers, and other key stakeholders.

The PMP is a professional certification for project managers. It’s a lot like the CPA for accountants. Accountants earn the CPA; Project managers earn the PMP.

What Does it Show Employers?

The application process from PMI is robust – to qualify to take the exam, you have to meet a lot of criteria and possess real-world experience. We walk through that application process in this video. When you pass the PMP, it shows employers and clients that you are confident and competent in planning, executing, and closing complex projects. 

The PMP exam measures your knowledge and abilities in three areas: People, Process, and Business Environment. These three domains of project management encompass the big topics that all project management activities fall under. To be successful, project managers must be competent leaders in these three areas.

As you can see, the PMP exam places an emphasis on “People” and will test your ability in that soft-skill area. As a project manager, you will interact with numerous people in different capacities, so it’s very important that you’re an effective and respectful leader.

Earning the PMP certification shows employers that you’ve got ample project management knowledge and experience – you’ve passed a difficult exam that proves it!

What Does it Cover?

When you take the test to become a certified Project Management Professional, you will be tested in these 3 domains of People, Process, and the Business Environment. For the Jan 2021 PMP Exam, PMI specifies that 42% of questions will cover People, 50% Process, and 8% Business Environment. For example, in the area called Process, you will have questions that cover your knowledge of project management tools, techniques, and processes. We’ve got a lot more to say about what’s covered in the PMP exam, which you can read about here!

There are many different methodologies for managing projects, and each one has its own strengths and weaknesses. (Examples are Lean, Waterfall, Agile, Scrum, XP, and others.) As a project manager, you will need to understand the options available to teams. You should also be able to identify which method would be the best choice for a project that you are managing.

The PMP exam tests your knowledge of these three main project management methods: Predictive (Waterfall), Agile, and Hybrid.

Predictive (Waterfall) Method

For the majority of practitioners, this first method is the most familiar. The predictive method works well on projects where there are clear procedures that have proven successful on similar projects in the past. The predictive approach places a heavy emphasis on upfront planning. The project manager wants to nail down the scope as early as possible, break the work into components, and assign tasks to specialists to carry out the plans. 

This approach has been around for decades and became popular with the Plan, Do, Check, Act cycle introduced by W. Edwards Deming. The team develops a plan based on a thorough understanding of the project requirements. The team “predicts” how things will go, executes the plan, checks results, and makes adjustments as necessary. The more certainty you have about those requirements, the more effective this predictive approach will be.

This predictive method is also referred to as traditional or waterfall. When using a predictive methodology, teams often break the project into phases. The team completes one phase before moving to the next. Examples of common phases include conceptual, planning, construction, testing, implementation, and closure. 

The “Waterfall” name comes from the cascading effect… the results of one phase fall down, or cascade, to the next, lower phase. This method is listed in specific steps, where you must complete one task before you move on to another. You gather the information and requirements of the project first, then move on to designing the project, then working with a team to deliver the end result.

The waterfall method is great when the scope is well-defined, the work can be broken into phases or quality gates, and other factors are in place. The genesis of this predictive approach was the construction industry.

As of Jan 2021, PMI stated that 50% of the PMP exam questions are based on the Predictive method.

Agile Method

Where many trace the waterfall approach to the construction industry, most agree that agile approaches originated from software projects. The term “Agile” refers to a broad range of adaptive methods. Scrum is the most popular agile approach, but there are many others. 

With an agile strategy, a team will plan a little, build, deliver, evaluate, adapt, and repeat. One of the goals with agile is to deliver value early and often. And, agile teams don’t have to know all of the scope up front – just enough for the next few work cycles. Agile is very open to changes in requirements. 

Key terms that describe agile are incremental, iterative, and adaptive—with each term carrying a unique nuance of project approaches. Agile approaches are incremental – the team delivers usable features in each new version of the product. These deliveries are frequent and small.  And, agile is iterative – the team performs short work cycles of Plan, Do, Check, and Act. The cycles are repeated until the product is correct and complete. And, agile is adaptive – the team uses lessons learned frequently to modify techniques and outcomes as appropriate to embrace beneficial changes.

At their core, agile and waterfall methods are fundamentally different approaches to getting the work done. As a result, the role of the project manager is very different. (This is a key to exam success!)

When preparing students for the PMP exam, we dedicate a lot of time to make sure the students interpret questions accurately, recognize the approach being used, and select the best answer given that scenario. Our self-paced, online course also dives into the Agile perspective so that you can effectively associate projects with predictive, agile and hybrid methodologies. 

As of Jan 2021, PMI stated that 23% of the PMP exam questions are based on the Agile method.

Hybrid Method

The hybrid method is just what it sounds like: a combination of the agile method and the waterfall method. It combines aspects of each into a method that highlights the strengths of each method into a cohesive unit.

For example, your organization may have a project that fits well with a predictive approach. The stakeholders agree on the defined requirements, and the team will use a proven technology for the majority of the deliverables. However, there may be smaller portions of the projects that are well-suited to agile approaches. Perhaps the team is evaluating a new component or has to provide a proof of concept to the customer. Bursts of agile techniques may fit those well. 

The term “Hybrid” may also be applied to an approach that uses techniques that work well from the predictive method. It also employs some techniques or practices that have proven to work well in the agile approach. As some agile practices gain maturity and acceptance in historically predictive practices, the projects using a “hybrid” approach are expected to increase in proportion.

As of Jan 2021, PMI stated that 27% of the PMP exam questions are based on the Hybrid method.

Does it Add Value to Your Resume?

Does a Project Management Professional certification make your resume look better? 


Earning your PMP certification demonstrates that you’ve got considerable project management knowledge and experience. It proves that you have a comprehensive understanding of the different approaches you may use to manage a project.

It shows dedication, competency, and professionalism. Who wouldn’t want to see that on a resume?

Should You Get Yours?

If you’re still on the fence about whether or not it’s worth it to get your PMP certification, consider this: project managers who have a Project Management Professional certification make, on average, 25% more money in the field in North America.

You shouldn’t hesitate to get your Project Management Professional certification if you are interested in pursuing a career in project management. It may seem like another hoop to jump through, but in the end, it’s a hoop worth the jump.

How Can You Prepare for the Test?

If you haven’t studied for a huge test since your SAT, the concept of preparing for another standardized exam can seem daunting at first. After all, the word “test” doesn’t make many of us too particularly excited.

Luckily, there are plenty of ways that you can prepare and study for your PMP certification exam.

Self-Paced Classes

In today’s world of Zoom meetings and shared-document editing, why not get your education materials in the same place you already spend most of your day: online?

There are some great online courses designed with the current PMP test in mind that will teach you things like what to study, test-taking strategies, and offer lots of practice tests

Taking an online course is a self-paced, convenient and affordable way for you to prepare for your PMP test.

Instructor-Led Classes

Velociteach has best-in-class training where a seasoned PMP instructor guides students through the content in a 4-day bootcamp. So if you want to get this done quickly and appreciate an expert who will answer all your questions, this is the best route for you.  In addition, Velociteach’s 4-day PMP exam prep bootcamp comes with a money-back guarantee.


If you find that you don’t have the time to take a class, we have DIY resources that can help you prepare.

Start with our Amazon-best-selling textbook as the foundation for your study. You can use a quick-reference guide as a great compliment to the book. 8 pages of concise, condensed content. Or, if you are an auditory learner, check out the Conversations product. Subject matter experts Andy, Louis, and Bill will drop knowledge, tricks, and tips while you work out, drive, or chill.

If you decide to self-study, remember these pointers:

  • The exam will test your knowledge of project management, and how you apply that knowledge (most of the questions are situational).
  • There are four question formats:
    • Multiple choice (one correct answer)
    • Multiple select (more than one right choice)
    • Matching (drag and drop matching items)
    • Pick the right spot (select an area to answer the question)
  • Analyze the questions before you answer so that you apply the correct project management method.
  • PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE! Remember to take practice tests as frequently as you can. But not all practice tests are created equal. Make sure they are quality, simulated exams that will give you a true indicator of your readiness to sit and pass your exam. 

Start Studying Today

If you’re a project manager or thinking of becoming a project manager, get the ball rolling on your Project Management Professional certification process today. It’s the best thing you can do to make yourself stand out as a project manager.


Project management certification | Project Management Institute

Project Management Professional (PMP) | Project Management Institute

The Agile Manifesto | AgileAlliance.org