5 Sections of the PMP Exam Explained

5 Sections of the PMP® Exam Explained

Are you preparing to take the Project Management Professional (PMP)® exam and become a Project Management Professional® credential holder? If so, you’ll feel more comfortable taking the exam when you know what to expect.

7 Secrets to Passing the PMP Exam

The PMP® exam consists of five sections also known as process groups, a group of actions made up by specific processes. The five process groups can be understood as five steps you can take to successfully manage a project. No one step carries more weight than another, and each one plays a key role in effectively implementing a project.

Here is a general breakdown of all the sections covered on the PMP exam and what you should know about each one.

1. Initiating

The first of the five process groups you need to master to pass the PMP exam is project initiation. The Initiating process group of project management essentially creates the foundation for your entire project. In this process group, you develop the vision for the project, a complete view of what you want to accomplish.

The project vision is a high-level view of the project, answering some key questions about how the project will be implemented:

  • What are the goals for this project?

  • Does the project align with your organization’s vision?

  • What is scope of the project?

  • Who are the project stakeholders?

  • What risks could cause the project to veer off course?

  • What resources will be needed to successfully complete this project?

  • What is the timeline for project completion?

  • How much will this project cost?

As you answer these questions, don’t worry about being too specific. Fleshing out the rest of your goals, objectives, scope, and other aspects of the project will come in later process groups. For now, the main goal of the Initiating process group is to lay a strong foundation for the project and create a vision that benefits your organization.

2. Planning

Next on the PMP exam is the Planning process group. This builds off the work you did in the Initiating process group, adding specific details to each aspect of the project, like the scope, resources, teams, etc.

In PMI’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), you’ll find 24 planning processes. Not all of these processes will be used for every project. The first, and arguably, most essential step you should take during the planning process group is to create a Project Management Plan. This is the master document in which all your specific plans for the project are outlined. Think of it as the roadmap to your destination. So, if you’re ever off course with your project, you can refer to your Project Management Plan and determine how to get back on track.

As part of the master plan you create, you need to include the following materials:

  • A comprehensive scope of the project, outlining milestones, budgets, risks, and more.

  • Team, team leader, and task assignments

  • A detailed project schedule using Gantt Charts to visually represent timelines

  • Communication plans and procedures for how information will be shared

Once you’ve completed the plan, it needs to be presented to and approved by stakeholders.

Later in the development of your project, the hard work you did during the planning process group will pay off. Instead of making last minute decisions or losing sight of the project vision, you can always refer back to the project management plan.

3. Executing

Many PMP credential holders are tempted to jump straight to process group three – Executing. But, as demonstrated by the two process groups that come before Executing on the PMP exam, there’s a lot of work that goes into project management before you get to Executing.

In the Executing process group, team members begin working on their individual tasks, and you’ll start seeing the fruits of their labor in the form of deliverables or completed assignments. Also interdependent tasks are completed in the correct order. For example, if you’re overseeing a website development project, you know that content for the website needs to be written before new pages can be launched. The schedule you created is key for ensuring that tasks are done in the correct order.

4. Monitoring and Controlling

The next process group you’ll cover on the PMP exam is Monitoring and Controlling. Once the project is set in motion, project managers must monitor their project at every turn, ensuring it is completed within budget and within the target timeframe.

A project can veer off course quickly as problems arise or circumstances change. That makes constant monitoring of the project essential. Tracking your progress can show where adjustments need to be made.

An essential skill you’ll need to master this process group of the PMP exam is the ability to identify risks or potential problems. Projects are bound to run into a few problems, so it’s essential that you become proficient in monitoring and controlling. If you can predict a problem before it occurs, you can take action to minimize the impact and keep your project running smoothly.

So, what does this look like in real life? Let’s say you’re managing a construction project, but the price of steel has unexpectedly increased. This means when it’s time to purchase steel beams, you won’t be able to afford as many as originally anticipated. Before the problem occurs, you can redirect funds from another area of your budget to cover the increased costs of steel beams.

The monitoring and controlling process group takes an expert project management hand. Be sure always keep the scope of your project in mind, confident that you’re on the right track.

5. Closing

Just because a project has been executed, doesn’t mean your work is done. The fifth process group – Closing – is just as important as the other four process groups covered on the PMP exam. Once individual tasks have been executed, the project needs to be officially completed.

How you wrap up a project is just as important as how you begin one. As part of the Closing process group, you will take a few steps:

  1. Create a project report. This report will outline how the final project aligned with original goals, budget, and scope. Once the report is complete, you will present it to the stakeholders involved in the project.

  2. Complete final paperwork. If you partnered with contractors or outside vendors, final payments need to be made and contracts need to be fulfilled.

  3. Conduct a feedback session. A lot of insight can be gained by seeking feedback from team members involved in the project. Ask for feedback on what worked well, what challenges team members faced, and how the project management process could be improved for the future.

  4. Archive all documents. To make project management easier for the future, you should archive all applicable documents, so they can be referred to later if needed.

With a comprehensive knowledge of how to execute these five process groups, you’ll be equipped to pass the PMP exam and earn your PMP certification. Devote time to exploring each of these processes, understanding how they work together to keep projects on budget, on time, and within scope.

Do you want to learn more about how to pass the PMP exam? Download the The Complete PMP Certification Guide now.

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Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO
Director of Product Development at
Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO