PMTips:  It is with great honor that we introduce to our audience, Sierra Hampton-Simmons, Director & Portfolio Leader, Certification Products at Project Management Institute. Sierra is an expert Leader in Certification Management with decades of demonstrated experience driving business objectives through the development of lucrative brands including performance-based training and commercial certification programs.

Sierra, thank you for taking the time to do this interview and share your experience with our community.

Sierra Hampton-Simmons: Thank you for having me.

PMTips:  Let us start at the very beginning. You started your professional experience as an English Teacher for secondary students in Japan. Can you tell us more about this experience?

Sierra Hampton-Simmons:  Sure, my pleasure. So, after I worked for a Japanese firm on Wall Street for about a year, I decided that I wanted to return to Japan um so that I could include and increase my fluency in the language after majoring in an at university at Georgetown.

So, I decided to return to Japan as a teacher as a member of a teaching exchange program under their ministry of education. My focus was on enhancing student’s verbal communication skills and I focused on training by doing role play and conversational English for this audience.  it is where I got my love for learning and assessing ability by performing real world tasks.

PMTips: Sierra, you speak and write Japanese. What motivated you to peruse the Japanese Language?  In addition, can you tell us about the influence that the Japanese culture has had on your life?

Sierra Hampton-Simmons: You know that is a really funny story but at the time that I began studying Japanese, Japan as a nation had risen to the top of product development in terms of automobile production consumer electronics. So, when I was looking at a language to learn I really wanted to find something that would help me increase my business acumen and have a business application immediately.

Japan. they were pushing boundaries for grand innovations like in robotics and everything like that, so I began my studies with hopes of being able to learn more from them and be able to gain more information from primary sources by reading and writing as well as speaking Japanese.  So, after living in Japan for over four years my biggest takeaway was their emphasis on quality and the need for collaboration in business and society in general. The continuous quality improvement they call it KAIZEN that is so ingrained in Japanese culture and has become a personal mantra of mine both professionally and in business.

PMTips: Looking back at the start of your professional career, what would you say were the primary challenges you encountered?

Sierra Hampton-Simmons:  Initially I really wanted to find a way to marry my passions which were aligned to innovations and learning to things that are primary and needed in business I found that corporate training initially was the place that I could really marry those two and then very soon thereafter it was certification so just finding a way to bridge the connection between what I had learned academically and applied in classroom settings to a corporate one.  

PMTips: Sierra, your experience is remarkable. Throughout the years, you have worked as a Teacher, Trainer, Manager of learning and development companies such as Citrix Systems and Cisco. Which position would you say has affected your professional life the most? Is there any experience you would like to share with our listeners?

Sierra Hampton-Simmons: Well, I guess I spent a good part of my professional career initially at CITRIX growing innovating and establishing a network of leaders in testing and professional development.  The thing I was most proud of was leading their transformation in their testing program adding performance-based testing including simulations and enhancing their certification design process. That is the part that really stood out the most to me.

Prior to joining that company their exam portfolio really included only simple multiple-choice questions and so over time my team and I enhanced this portfolio significantly including the technical development of simulations decision trees and all those kinds of things. This required greater attention to the design application of human-centered design approaches working with offshore technology developers and large-scale integrations across multiple vendors. This work tapped into my passion for performance-based testing as a way to ensure that you are measuring what is most important to the job in ways that are just like the job that must be done in real life. This became the most influential project of my life and really set me on the track of my career that I am on right now.

PMTips:  In 2013 you joined PMI as Global Manager for Certification Exams. Currently, you are the Director & Portfolio Leader for Certification Products where you envision, lead, plan, and manage activities that will lead to the development of certification product strategy to align with business goals. How challenging is it to be responsible for this position?

Sierra Hampton-Simmons:  It is a significant challenge. As the Director And Portfolio Leader for this very large part of the PMI overall portfolio of products, I’m responsible day-to-day for assuring the quality of the certifications bringing them to market and enabling greater adoption of them. This means that we have to always be sensing and responding to our customer needs as well as to the organizations who hire them. We have to be sensitive to individuals at the various stages of their careers assuring where appropriate that we're meeting their needs in the most ideal way possible creating certifications that are relevant reliable and valid.

PMTips:  Sierra, one of the many reasons we are excited to have you here, is to talk about the PMP certification exam. The Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification exam changed on 2 January 2021. What is driving this change?

Sierra Hampton-Simmons: Well, I am glad you asked about that. So, the revised PMP exam is really the outcome of several years that we spent monitoring the profession. So, we typically monitor the profession every three to five years and we track a lot of different things. This time we had been tracking agile adoptions and in addition to that tracking, we also conducted qualitative and diverse focus groups where we spoke to practitioners out in the market followed up with a global practice analysis which is a market research study.  From this work all the tracking and research qualitative and quantitative we produced several trends and identified some things that previously had gone unaddressed in the PMP exam. The industry is experiencing such a shift in demand from solely technical project skills to a greater emphasis on much more diverse toolkits which include agile, and hybrid approaches along with a lot of needs for increasing collaborative leadership skills. The new exam was designed to help make the PMP and keep the PMP more relevant in the current business environment and apply it to the world we are currently living in.

PMTips:  Can you elaborate in more detail on the changes to the exam? Why and how you are changing the exam? In addition, how do you think the new exam will benefit the PM community?

Sierra Hampton-Simmons:  Okay so the PMP certification exam has been modernized to reflect the evolving needs in the profession. For example, the new PMP moved away from covering the seven stages of the project management life cycle and now focuses on three domains people process, and business environment. In the exam itself, we include scenarios and themes from regulation to sustainability, all things that are aligning to what organizations tell us are top of mind for them as they manage project delivery.

The new PMP certification exam focuses on both predictive and agile ways of working as well as a blend which we call hybrid. So, these new frameworks and embracing new technologies are things that had not been worked on or been possible even five years ago. The modern ways of working are changing extremely rapidly and these are all reflected in the new PMP.

Now the PMP certification exam incorporates these new trends in the profession and that's because it was designed by project professionals and it's also written by project professionals for project professionals. The goal here is to make sure that the project management community can trust that the topics covered are truly aligning with the current demands of the profession. In fact, certified project management professionals can help enterprises better oversee projects and reduce the amount of time and resources wasted. We have designed this test to really increase those skills both the technical and the soft ones that really help our project managers to really demonstrate their effectiveness.

PMTips: Sierra, for young professionals who are just starting with project management, how long would you say they should plan before they get their first PMP exam?

Sierra Hampton-Simmons:  That's a good question. I get this question all the time, and some people argue what the best measure of time is.

Well, let us talk about what the minimum requirements are. So, at minimum to become eligible to set the PMP all candidates are required to have a minimum of three years of experience leading and directing projects. Now to be clear, this can be acquired at any time, you could have led a project from the beginning to the end or at various phases in the project. If that experience adds up to a total of three years, you would be eligible to sit the examination. This timeline was selected based upon input that we received from various organizations large organizations around the globe that hire project professionals.  They generally said that while there could be some people who get it a little bit earlier and those who have taken longer to gain the experience needed to lead projects, for them they felt that three years was the minimum.

PMTips: What would you say is the next stage for the certification exam? What are you looking to accomplish in the future?

Sierra Hampton-Simmons: So specifically, with the PMP as is customary we will continue to monitor the trends in the profession and ensure how we are going about assessing candidates is reflective in how they actually do their job. We will continue to deliver new item types in the exam as well. Similar to when the PMP certification exam originally launched about 30 years ago, PMI has continued to make the concerted effort to ensure that candidates are provided with the resources and tools to learn new concepts being tested. So, this year and the third quarter PMI will launch a new product called Study Hal. l it is an app designed to help candidates study not cram for the exam and thereby increase their confidence and reduce their anxiety.  Overall, this app is a supplemental study tool it's not intended to replace other primary courses for exam prep or contact hours, but it's intended instead to incorporate studying in their day-to-day activities and get them ready for the PMP.

PMTips:  Research indicates that employers will need to fill nearly 2.2 million new project-oriented roles each year through 2027. This means skilled project managers will be in high demand.  What is your point of view on the importance of certification when it comes to becoming a successful project manager?

Sierra Hampton-Simmons:  I'm glad you brought that up. We are seeing similar things in our specific PMI research actually a little higher than the 2.2 million. Even today if you look out on job websites like Indeed or Monster, you'll see that there are more than 150 openings for project manager jobs worldwide.  We believe that the acceleration of digital transformation driven by the pandemic has brought on increased demand for project management professionals across the industries sectors.

Certified project management professionals can help enterprises better oversee projects and reduce the amount of time and resources wasted.  PMI-certified project professionals can spearhead all of these changes that are needed.  In fact, what we learned through some research that we did recently is that 11.4 percent of investment is wasted due to the ineffective implementation of business strategy through poor project management practices.  This equates to 11.4 million dollars wasted on a 100-million-dollar project. What we are also seeing in that same research is that when you have a certified professional leading and directing these projects, what you typically happen is we reduce that level of waste. So, my perspective is that in order to fill the great demand for project professionals, a lot of hiring organizations will be seeking to put those in charge who have demonstrated their readiness for such a large responsibility by pursuing professional certification.

PMTips: Sierra, to conclude, what is your advice for professionals who are at the very start of their careers in project management? In addition, what would your advice be for the experienced project managers?

Sierra Hampton-Simmons: Well, now for new project professionals it's really about getting training and experience as fast as possible. So, for those who are brand new to the profession, I would really advise them to seek and get training in the ways of working the standards, etc.

PMI currently offers a new product called Kickoff, which is a fast way to get you ready to lead a project and it is offered for free. So, if you download Kickoff what you can do is eliminate professional jargon and extraneous information. It meets you at the various stages you are with the project to allow you to learn just in time. If you're new to project management a product like Kickoff can help ensure that your first project is set up for success and helps you work smarter and more efficiently to deliver the results once you're ready.

I think new professionals could also benefit by pursuing the CAPM. the CAPM certification helps professionals demonstrate their understanding of all core tech knowledge and terminology and processes. So, it's a really good way to get started and get your foot in the door as you begin a career in projects.

For those who are more experienced, I recommend that they assure they keep up with the new trends in the profession and ensure that they upskill. If needed to modernize the way of working and remain relevant. We're offering a ton of new products with regard to that including our certification for disciplined agile as well as ACP which is for agile certified practitioners. In addition, we will also be launching this year lots of micro-credentials that are smaller in scope but actually help us to reflect and demonstrate our readiness to do different things at different times in your career.

PMTips: Well sierra thank you for taking the time to do this interview and thank you for your fruitful answers it was a pleasure talking to you.

Sierra Hampton-Simmons:  Thank you for having me.


The interview was conducted by Julijana Kekenovska