ITIL Foundation or PMP for Project Management Certification

title image for the article itil foundation or pmp - which certification to go for

Introduction: When it comes to the first Project Management Certification for I.T. practitioners, the top two credentials would often be ITIL® Foundation or PMP. The question is: which one is better? Below is an introduction and comparison of ITIL® Certification and PMP Certification.

Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL®) Certification

The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL®) is a set of practices for IT service management (ITSM) initially developed by United Kingdom’s Cabinet Office. ITIL® provides a cohesive set of best practices for IT service management. It describes processes, procedures, tasks and checklists that are not specific to any kinds of organization. ITIL® can be used by an organization to establish integration with the organization’s strategy, deliver value and maintain compliance.

The ITIL® Certification provides a path for IT service management partitioners to gain recognition in the knowledge and experience in carrying out ITIL® projects in organizations. There are currently five defined level (the ITIL® Master Qualification is still pending implementation details):

  • ITIL® Foundation
  • ITIL® Practitioner (newly added in 2016, not manadatory for ITIL® Intermediate Level)
  • ITIL® Intermediate Level
  • ITIL® Managing Across the Lifecycle
  • ITIL® Expert Level
  • ITIL® Master Qualification

ITIL® Foundation Certification

The ITIL® Foundation Certificate is the entry level qualification for the ITIL® which recognizes a general awareness of the key elements, concepts and terminology of the ITIL® Service Lifecycle of the candidate. Holders of the ITIL® Foundation Certificate would have a general overview and basic knowledge and understanding of ITIL®. They are also eligible to further their studies in the ITIL® qualifications scheme.

However, holder of the ITIL® Foundation Certificate is not advised to apply the ITIL® practices for IT service management without supervision or guidance.

Who Should Apply?

The ITIL® Foundation Certification is open to any one who have an interest in the subject of IT. There is no education or training requirements. The target group may include IT professionals, business managers and business process owners. The ITIL® Foundation Certificate is often mandatory for employees of organizations practising ITIL®.

NOTE: current PMP holders who would like to understand more about IT service management as well as earning PMP PDU (around 17-25 PDU, depending on the education provider) should seriously consider getting ITIL® Foundation.

Which Industries?

The ITIL® Certification is dedicated for IT service management practitioners.

The Exam Syllabus

The ITIL® Foundation Certification includes the following components:

  • Service management as a practice
  • The ITIL® service lifecycle – Service Strategy, Service Design, Service Transition, Service Operation and Continual Service Improvement
  • Generic concepts and definitions
  • Key principles and models
  • Selected processes
  • Selected functions
  • Selected roles
  • Technology and architecture
  • Competence and training

Official training for the ITIL® Foundation Certification is recommended but not essential. Further information on the exam syllabus can be found at: ITIL® Foundation Syllabus.

Here is my ITIL® Foundation Exam Prep experience and sharing. Recommended study materials and detailed study notes are also included.

The Exam

The ITIL® Foundation exam is an 1-hour exam with 40 multiple choice questions selected from a question bank. Candidates can choose to answer the exam in their own languages if available. The use of a dictionary and an addition 15 minutes are allowed for candidates whose mother tongue is not the same as the language of the exam.

The passing score is 26 out of 40 (65%). The Exam can be taken online or in paper based format. An example of exam question can be found at: ITIL® Foundation Sample Paper. The ITIL® Foundation exam is considered to be easy for most candidates.

How to Take the ITIL® Foundation Exam?

You will need to purchase and book your ITIL® Foundation Exam through an exam vendor. The ITIL® Foundation Exam can be taken online or in exam centres. The ITIL® Foundation Exam fee is around US$230 at the time of writing. But there are some ITIL® exam training providers providing ITIL® Foundation training + exam fee bundle which is lower than the official exam fee in times of sales (e.g. GreyCampus ITIL® Foundation bundle may sell at a rate around the ITIL® Foundation Exam with the ITIL® Foundation Exam fee INCLUDED).

Credential Renewal

The ITIL® Foundation Certificate is valid for life. Renewal is not applicable.

Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification

The Project Management Professional (PMP) is a certification administrated by the Project Management Institute (PMI). It is one of the most important industry-recognized certification for the career of project managers in the United States, part of Asia (including China and India), the Middle East and Australia.

Who Should Apply?

Since the PMP Credential is a recognition for experienced project manager, it requires the applicants to have at least 3 years of project management experience for a total of not less than 4500 hours directing and managing projects if they have a bachelor’s degree (5 years / 7500 hours for a sub-degree applicant). The PMP applicant also needs to have at least 35 hours of formal project management education (called “Contact Hours”) obtained through classroom education or online education.

Which Industries?

There is no limitation on the industries as long as the applicant is responsible for the management of projects. But the PMP is very popular among the information technology (I.T.) industry.

The Exam Syllabus

The PMP exam syllabus is based on the 600+ page publication A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) which outlines 5 performance domains:

  1. Initiating the project
  2. Planning the project
  3. Executing the project
  4. Monitoring and controlling the project
  5. Closing the project

There are altogether 10 knowledge areas in the PMBOK® Guide 5th Edition:

  1. Project Integration Management
  2. Project Scope Management
  3. Project Schedule Management
  4. Project Cost Management
  5. Project Quality Management
  6. Project Human Resource Management
  7. Project Communications Management
  8. Project Risk Management
  9. Project Procurement Management
  10. Project Stakeholders Management

For each knowledge area, there are a number of processes (47 in total) and each process is described with inputs, tools and techniques and outputs (ITTO’s). There are over 650 ITTO’s as documented in the PMBOK® Guide. Click here for a more detailed description of processes, process groups and knowledge areas.

The Exam

The exam contains 200 multiple choice questions to be completed in 4 hours. Computer based examination is common while candidates can opt for paper based examination should no suitable computer exam center is found. There is no official breaks during 4 hours while the candidates are free to take breaks or not during the exam.

Of the 200 questions on the PMP exam, 25 are used for research purposes only and these are not counted towards the final results. As these questions are distributed randomly throughout the exam, candidates do not know which are the research questions. There is no official passing rate for the exam. Candidate will only know their proficiency levels (proficient, moderately proficient or below proficient) for the 5 performance domains and an overall pass or fail grade.

Language aids (translations of the exam questions) will be provided upon request to candidates whose mother tongue is not English.

Here is my PMP Exam preparation experience and sharing. Detailed study method, free resources and study notes are also included.

How to Take the PMP Certification Exam?

You need to create an account on, apply and pay for the PMP Exam fee there. Then you will get an exam voucher number allowing you to book the PMP Exam at a local exam centre through Prometric website. The PMP Exam must be taken in an exam centre. No online PMP Exam is provided.

Credential Renewal

There is no need to re-take the PMP Exam for renewal. PMP holders are requested to earn at least 60 PDUs (professional development units, normally 1 PDU = 1 hour of participating in development activities) for each 3 years (re-certification cycle) and report to PMI for credential renewal.

Failure to do so may result in cessation of the PMP Credential.

ITIL® Foundation or PMP?

“ITIL® Foundation or PMP?” is a questions asked by many aspiring IT project managers while paving their career development. As can be seen with the descriptions above, ITIL® Foundation Certificate and PMP credential are not mutually exclusive. It all depends whether you are in the IT service management industry and in which geographical location.

If you are a project manager not working in the IT service management, PMP is your definite choice.

For project manager in the IT service management industry, both credentials are good for your career development. You should also try to understand the qualification requirements for jobs in your geographical location. If the majority of employers look for professionals with ITIL® certificates, ITIL® is your bet. If many organizations adopts the PMBOK® Guide framework, getting the PMP Credential will benefit your career more.

In terms of difficulties, though the PMP is considered tougher than the ITIL® Foundation, ITIL® provides an advancement path to ITIL® Intermediate or above which are much harder to get. Therefore, both certifications are considered to be of prime values.

Which Certification first? ITIL® or PMP?

In fact, many practitioners in the IT service management industry opt to obtain both the ITIL® Foundation Certificate and the PMP Credential. PMP even recognizes the time spent on the training of ITIL® Foundation can be used to claim professional development units (PDU) for credential renewal. If you intend to get both ITIL® and PMP Certifications, I would highly recommend  you to get PMP Certified first so as to enjoy the PDUs earned by studying for the ITIL® Certification.

Getting ITIL® Foundation or PMP certification as your next career development goal? Hope this article can help you to make the choice!


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Edward Chung

Edward Chung aspires to become a full-stack web developer and project manager. In the quest to become a more competent professional, Edward studied for and passed the PMP Certification, ITIL v3 Foundation Certification, PMI-ACP Certification and Zend PHP Certification. Edward shares his certification experience and resources here in the hope of helping others who are pursuing these certification exams to achieve exam success.

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4 Responses

  1. Vladislav says:

    Dear Edward,
    Thank you for that informative article! Currently, I am studying in university in Finland and pursuing my Bachelor thesis in Business Administration program. I have always been interested in project management. Can you please give me advice, how can I start my PM career and maybe some give some suggestions what literature can I read first to get a better understanding of PM and PM process?
    With best regards,

    • Edward Chung says:

      Hi Vladislav,

      If you would like to practise in Asia or the United States, you may want to try PMP Exam and read the PMBOK Guide. Or, if you would like to work in Europe and Australia, PRINCE2 is the certification to go for (ITIL if you would like to work in IT service). But beware that these literature are rather boring.

      I think the best way to begin is to work as a project coordinator under a PM in an established organization. You will gain the knowledge pretty fast.

      Wish you success in your PM career!

  2. Abdul says:

    Dear Edward,

    First, i would like to thank you for publishing such information and providing a step by step approach towards the certifications and I also see that you have always been thinking from the learner perspective while preparing these inputs. Awesome! I think that is the key to your success.

    I’m planning to do ITIL and PMP, what is your suggestion towards which one to be done first and why?

    I wish you a great success in your future endeavors.

    • Edward Chung says:

      Thanks! It all depends which certification is more valuable/important to you. If your want to apply for the post of project manager which requires you to have PMP, then PMP is the first choice. Or if you would like to work in an organization practising ITIL, ITIL Foundation Certification is a no-brainer.

      And if you do PMP first, the hours spending on learning ITIL can also be used to claim PDUs (you need to collect at least 60 PDUs every 3 years to re-certify your PMP). And ITIL Foundation needs no PDUs. And that’s why I am doing, earn PMP first and then ITIL Foundation.

      Hope this helps.

      Wish you Certification success!