Learn the New Project Management Domains for the PMP Exam

When managing projects, using a standardized framework like PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) Guide to guide your work can be invaluable. This guide provides a framework for project managers to leverage in project delivery.

The recent release of the PMBOK Guide 7th edition introduces an important update which is the shift from 10 knowledge areas to 8 new project management domains or performance domains. These new domains reframe the PMBOK’s contents to better reflect the behaviors and best practices you need to deliver projects successfully.

In this post, we’ll give you an overview of the new project management domains so you understand how they align with your day-to-day work. Whether you’re prepping for the PMP exam or just want a refresher on the latest PMBOK changes, this post will provide valuable insights.

With a high-level look at all 8 domains from stakeholders to delivery to uncertainty, you’ll see how these proven principles apply to your unique projects and role as a project manager.

What is a Performance Domain in Project Management?

Performance domains are groups of related activities that are critical for the successful delivery of project outcomes. They represent the major themes project managers should focus on throughout the project life cycle to achieve results.

The Project Management Institute (PMI) introduced performance domains in the PMBOK Guide 7th edition to replace the 10 knowledge areas from previous versions. While knowledge areas focused on processes and tools, performance domains emphasize the behaviors and best practices to apply.

These domains give you an organizing structure to think about project success factors. But remember that they aren’t meant to be rigid frameworks. You still need to tailor your approach based on the unique needs of your project. The domains simply act as guides for focusing your efforts on the high-level activities linked to delivering stakeholder value.

Overall, performance domains provide an intuitive and flexible way to organize your project management knowledge and actions. Keeping these domains in mind will help you continually focus on the right areas.

Introducing the PMBOK Edition 7 New Project Performance Domains

The PMBOK Guide 7th edition introduces 8 new project performance domains that reframe the guide’s contents. These domains replace the 10 knowledge areas from previous PMBOK editions.

The new domains provide an intuitive structure for organizing project management best practices. They emphasize the key behaviors and activities most critical for project success.

The 8 performance domains are:

  1. Stakeholders
  2. Team
  3. Development Approach and Life Cycle
  4. Planning
  5. Project Work
  6. Delivery
  7. Measurement
  8. Uncertainty

We’ll explore each of these domains in detail throughout this guide. Understanding them will give you a solid foundation for project management in the context of the updated PMBOK 7th edition.

The 8 Project Performance domains

The PMBOK Guide 7th edition defines 8 key project performance domains which domains represent the major areas project managers should focus on to deliver successful projects. We’ll now explore what each one entails.

1. Stakeholders Performance Domain

The Stakeholders Performance Domain focuses on the activities related to engaging your project’s stakeholders. Stakeholders are all the people and organizations impacted by or interested in your project. They include your project team, sponsors, customers, users, and more.

Successfully managing stakeholders is critical. Their needs and expectations directly tie to defining and evaluating your project’s success. Actively involving stakeholders also increases project buy-in.

As a project manager, you need to identify all relevant stakeholders early on. Capture details like their interests, influence, requirements, and potential concerns. Revisit this analysis throughout the project, as new stakeholders may emerge.

With your stakeholder register defined, you can develop targeted plans for stakeholder engagement. Create a communications matrix that maps out key messages, channels, timing, and frequency for each stakeholder group, and adjust your communications style to resonate with different audiences.

Beyond communications, think through how you’ll manage stakeholder influence. Identify key decision-makers and power users early. Understand approval flows and information needs and actively involve stakeholders in reviews to surface issues early.
Measure stakeholder sentiment regularly through surveys and one-on-one conversations to look for changes in support levels or new concerns, and be prepared to refine your strategies based on feedback.

Managing stakeholders isn’t a one-time effort. It requires continuous engagement through the entire project life cycle. When done right, you gain stakeholder advocates who drive success.

2. Team Performance Domain

The Team Performance Domain covers everything related to building, managing, and leading the project team. Your team includes all people responsible for producing the project’s deliverables.

As the project manager, you need to foster an environment that enables your team to evolve into a high-performing unit. Team development goes through recognizable stages, like forming, storming, norming, and performing. Understand these dynamics and facilitate conversations to work through team challenges.

Promote shared ownership of the project across the team by involving members in planning and decision-making to increase buy-in, and create transparency into priorities, progress, and risks. Recognize achievements and celebrate wins together.

Develop your leadership style to motivate and connect with team members. Listen actively and welcome dissenting opinions. Mediate conflicts quickly and fairly, and provide coaching and developmental feedback. Model the behaviors you want to see, especially around communication and collaboration.

The Team Performance Domain focuses on the interpersonal aspects of project execution. At the end of the day, it’s people who produce deliverables and drive success. Investing in team building and leadership pays huge dividends in performance, engagement, and outcomes. Evaluate team satisfaction regularly and be ready to tune your approach based on feedback.

3. Development Approach Life Cycle Performance Domain

The Development Approach and Life Cycle Performance Domain focuses on defining the methodology you’ll use to execute the project’s work. This includes determining the overall approach, cadence, and phasing.

There are a few common development approaches to choose from:

  • Predictive: Follows a sequential “waterfall” style process with predefined requirements and phase gates.
  • Adaptive: Iteratively develops solutions in short cycles based on continuous feedback. Embraces change.
  • Hybrid: Combines predictive planning with adaptive iterations. Provides flexibility within a structured lifecycle.

There is no single “best” approach. Select the one that aligns with your project’s needs and constraints, and tailor the methodology to your unique objectives, team culture, stakeholders, and level of requirements definition.

The development approach influences how you structure the project life cycle and delivery cadence. Predictive projects often follow standard phase gates like requirements, design, build, and test. Adaptive projects organize work in short iterative sprints. Hybrid projects blend both together.

Whatever processes you define, make sure they provide clear milestones and opportunities for stakeholder feedback. Avoid too much rigidity and be open to refining the approach as the project evolves.

Choosing the right development methodology and life cycle sets your project’s foundation. An approach that doesn’t fit your needs increases risk so take time upfront to define a streamlined process tailored to your specific project.

4. Planning Performance Domain

The Planning Performance Domain encompasses all activities related to organizing and coordinating your project’s work. Effective planning sets your project up for success.

Planning begins early in project initiation. Work with your stakeholders to outline business needs, objectives, and success criteria, and use this high-level information to define your preliminary project scope, timeline, budget, and risks.

As you move into more detailed planning, engage your project team. Decompose the scope into manageable work packages, then estimate durations, sequences, and resource needs. Document plans for procurement, communication, change control, and quality. Establish performance metrics aligned with your success criteria.

Revisit your plans regularly. Review progress and adjust upcoming activities or timelines, and look for process improvements. Planning is continuous throughout the project life cycle so treat your initial plans as a baseline to refine, not a rigid set of constraints.

Scale your planning efforts appropriately to project size and complexity. Avoid over-engineering plans for simple projects. However, insufficient planning directly leads to issues down the road.

Planning gives your project team a shared roadmap and vision. But remember that the plan supports the objectives, not the reverse. Stay nimble and open to changes that bring more value while leveraging your team’s knowledge to continuously improve.

5. Project Work Performance Domain

The Project Work Performance Domain encompasses executing and managing the day-to-day work of the project. This includes establishing processes, managing resources, and fostering a culture of learning and improvement.

Start by working with your team to define appropriate project management and technical processes. Outline activities for tasks like scheduling, tracking progress, controlling changes, conducting reviews, and resolving issues. Streamline processes to avoid unnecessary bureaucracy.

Clarify roles and responsibilities for project team members. Coordinate with functional managers on resource assignments and shared priorities, and secure any physical resources or procurements needed.

Promote open and effective communications. Create team norms for meetings, status updates, and knowledge sharing. Listen to lessons learned and ideas for improvement.

Be attentive to team performance needs throughout project execution. Provide coaching and training as needed and watch for process breakdowns or inefficiencies. Also, adapt your approach based on direct feedback from staff.

The Project Work Performance Domain combines project oversight and team leadership. Keep your finger on the pulse of day-to-day activities and foster a collaborative, engaging environment focused on delivering continuous improvement as this builds the foundation for project success.

6. Delivery Performance Domain

The Delivery Performance Domain focuses on producing and handing over the project’s agreed-upon deliverables. This domain is all about meeting expectations around scope, quality, outcomes, and value.

Start by ensuring your team has a clear understanding of project requirements and success criteria. Break down deliverables into components that can be implemented and tested. Clarify approval processes and acceptance criteria.

Use reviews throughout development to confirm deliverables will meet stakeholder needs. Conduct regular demos and solicit feedback. Validate scope and quality with user testing and keep stakeholders engaged through the process.

Monitor deliverables closely as the project progresses. Watch for issues like scope creep, and guard against teams over-engineering solutions or gold-plating beyond requirements.

As deliverables near completion, prepare stakeholders for handoff and closure. Confirm approval processes are followed. Clean up documentation and artifacts. Conduct lessons learned and celebration events.

The Delivery Performance Domain is key to realizing your project’s expected business value. Stay laser-focused on meeting objectives and fulfilling the purpose the project was undertaken to achieve. Keeping your stakeholders continuously engaged is the best way to ensure successful delivery.

7. Measurement Performance Domain

The Measurement Performance Domain covers assessing project performance and taking actions to keep everything on track. This domain is essential for monitoring progress, identifying issues, and making data-driven decisions.

Establish performance metrics early that align with your project objectives and stakeholder needs. Collect measurements like budget spent, schedule progress, scope delivered, and quality defects. Analyze trends to gain insights into health and identify potential problems.

Share reports and visualizations that make performance data easy to digest. Show clear indicators of progress against the plan. Call attention to areas that need correction or are at risk of falling behind.

Go beyond reporting to drive action. Identify root causes of underperformance, and develop recommendations to get activities back on track. Secure needed resources or adjust plans.

Use techniques like earned value management to compare actuals to plan. Forecast future performance based on the current trajectory and update estimates as new information comes to light.

Continuously monitoring and communicating project performance builds credibility with stakeholders. Make sure your processes provide accurate visibility that empowers the team to course-correct quickly.

The Measurement Performance Domain gives you the tools to steer your project successfully. Simply measuring without driving corrective actions wastes an opportunity to improve outcomes. Use data to keep your project headed towards success.

8. Uncertainty Performance Domain

The Uncertainty Performance Domain focuses on identifying and managing uncertainty and risks. With any project, you’ll face unpredictable events that can impact objectives. Proactively managing uncertainty enables you to minimize threats and maximize opportunities.

Start by brainstorming sources of uncertainty with your team using tools like SWOT analysis. Identify risks related to scope, budget, resources, technology, and stakeholders. Evaluate the likelihood and potential impact and prioritize the top areas to concentrate on.

For major risks, designate risk owners to monitor and develop response plans. Consider ways to prevent risks or reduce the likelihood, and define contingency plans to execute if events do occur. Also, outline steps to capture any positive opportunities that arise.

Communicate context on uncertainty to stakeholders, and provide visibility into top risks and your mitigation strategies. Transparency builds confidence in your proactive management.

Implement a change control process to evaluate any surprise events or deviations. Analyze impacts and decide appropriate actions to keep the project on track.
Uncertainty management continues through project closure as lessons learned allow you to improve risk planning for future projects.

The Uncertainty Performance Domain enables resilience through unpredictable conditions. With proactive practices, you can achieve success despite the unknowns.

Knowledge Areas vs Project Performance Domains

The PMBOK Guide 7th edition introduced performance domains as a new way to categorize project management best practices. But how do these domains compare to the knowledge areas used in previous PMBOK editions?

Knowledge areas provide specific processes, inputs, tools, and outputs to manage projects. There were 10 knowledge areas including Integration, Scope, Time, Cost, Quality, Human Resources, Communications, Risk, Procurement, and Stakeholder.

These areas take a prescriptive approach by detailing recommended steps for project execution. However, a rigid application of processes for all projects is not the best practice and activities should be tailored to needs.

Performance domains provide a more flexible framework focused on behaviors vs prescriptive steps. The domains align to areas critical for success rather than processes. There is more room to determine the best approach for each unique project.

For example, the Human Resource knowledge area outlines processes for planning, acquiring, developing, and managing your team. The new Team domain focuses more on leadership behaviors to build a high-performing team. Processes take a backseat to principles.

While moving in the right direction, the transition to domains has created some confusion. The 7th PMBOK edition still references some processes from the 6th edition. And the PMP exam still tests heavily on process knowledge.

My recommendation is to learn the domains as a project manager, but don’t ignore the detailed knowledge areas if you are prepping for the PMP. Use the domains as guiding principles, but drill down into processes where you need more instruction.

The knowledge areas provide helpful specifics if you are earlier in your career, but focus more on the higher-level domains as you gain experience. Finding the right balance will make you successful on the PMP exam and beyond.

Project Performance Domains PMP Exam Tips

The updated performance domains in the PMBOK Guide 7th edition bring some changes to the PMP exam that are important to understand. Here are tips to help you prepare:

  • Study the key principles and behaviors for each domain rather than memorizing processes. Focus more on the higher-level concepts vs the details.
  • Familiarize yourself with the new domains model and how it maps to the previous knowledge areas. But don’t over-rely on the mapping since the two models are different.
  • Expect situational questions about applying performance domains rather than by-the-book process questions. Think critically about how you would tailor your approach.
  • Brush up on your hybrid and Agile project management methodologies as the exam covers adaptive approaches. Know when and how to scale ceremony or go Lean.
  • Be ready for questions about leadership, emotional intelligence, and soft skills. These are emphasized more in the domains.
  • Don’t neglect studying processes completely. The processes still appear in the PMBOK and exam. Ensure you know inputs, tools and techniques, and outputs.
  • Leverage PMI’s sample questions to understand how exam concepts are tested. Focus your studying on areas where you are weak.
  • Manage your time examining each question closely before answering. Avoid jumping to first instincts without fully considering all aspects.
  • Flag questions you are unsure about to revisit rather than getting stuck. Use deduction to narrow choices. Go with your gut on 50/50 choices.

With some adjustments to your study approach, the new domains can set you up for PMP exam success. The key is to focus more on principles than prescriptive steps.

Final Thoughts on Project Management Domains

The introduction of performance domains in the latest PMBOK guide represents an important evolution in project management best practices.

While previous versions focused on rigid processes, the domains provide a more flexible and intuitive structure. As a project manager, these domains give you a roadmap for focusing your efforts on the key behaviors that drive project success.

Now that you have a high-level overview of the 8 performance domains, you can start to evaluate how well you are covering these critical areas in your projects. Look for gaps where you may need to expand your skills and knowledge.

The domains provide a simple mental model to consider how you approach planning, engaging your team, managing stakeholders, and dealing with uncertainty.

Keeping these proven success factors top of mind will help you continually improve and deliver greater value to your organization. Wherever you are in your project management journey, the new domains offer an opportunity for reflection and growth.

David Usifo (PSM, MBCS, PMP®)
David Usifo (PSM, MBCS, PMP®)

David Usifo is a certified project manager professional, professional Scrum Master, and a BCS certified Business Analyst with a background in product development and database management.

He enjoys using his knowledge and skills to share with aspiring and experienced project managers and product developers the core concept of value-creation through adaptive solutions.

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