What is PMBOK in Project Management?

Project Management (“PM”) is not a new science.  It has been around for thousands of years.  The Egyptian pyramid builders must have had some form of PM, as did the Greeks and Romans. The medieval cathedral builders and the Victorian engineers must have used PM.  The big difference today is the use of computer software to automate the process, enabling projects to be more closely defined and managed.

As with other fields of study, PM has become formalized, regulated and recognized as a profession in its own right.

In parallel with the codification of the PM process, the certification of PM practitioners is now a key part of demonstrating fitness for purpose. There is a range of major and subordinate qualifications in PM disciplines, including the PMI qualification based on the Project Management Book of Knowledge (“PMBoK”) and in Europe the Prince II certification.

“PMBOK stands for Project Management Body of Knowledge and it is the entire collection of processes, proven procedure, phraseology, and piece of advice that are credit as standards within the project management industry”. 

The emergence of certification provides clients with the comfort of knowing that the practitioner is qualified in the field, and practitioners the comfort of having to hand a globally recognized standard for the profession.

Having said that, there is a move afoot to position certified PM practitioners as qualified in any field.  That is being fiercely resisted because a PM usually needs practical experience in the field being project managed.   A common example is that a PM who’s entire experience is in the pharmaceutical industry is not qualified to manage construction projects. Besides, some areas need other qualifications and registrations outside PM to allow the PM to operate in that field.

The two leading frameworks currently are PMBoK and Prince.  PMBoK is owned and managed by the Project Management Institute (“PMI”), an American organization.  Prince was developed by the UK Government.

In the case of PMBoK, their major product is the “Project Management Body of Knowledge”, a paper and electronic publication issued to members of the Institute. It sets out a standard terminology and guidelines for the execution of projects.   They also hold examinations and award certification online and through agents.

It was first recognized as a standard by ANSI and IEEE in 1996 and has evolved through various iterations to the current level six in September 2017.   The Sixth Edition includes for the first time a recognition of the Agile environment.

It is intended to be a generalist guide to PM, but there are three extensions about specific environments recognized by PMBoK:

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1.  Sofware Extension

2. Construction Extension

3. Public Sector (Government) Extension

While concentrating on aspects of project management unique to the craft, such as critical path analysis and the work breakdown structure, it reaches out into more general management areas relating to the planning and execution of the project, including human resources and budgeting.  It also involves an understanding of other management techniques including management science, financial management and communications.

It also considers the role of Programme Management, an extension of PM into the management of multiple linked projects, and the use of the Project Management Office.

The guide proposes that there are two main areas – Process Groups and Knowledge Areas.   In summary, 49 processes fall into five process groups and 10 Knowledge Areas.   This is true of most projects, but there will always be those that don’t quite fit the mold.

Process Groups

Process Groups define the various stages of a project, from initiation to closing:

1. Initiation

The project-kick-off, the identification of a need for a project, the preparation of an initial statement of work and budget, and obtaining sign-off  to start the project

2. Planning

Turning the statement of work into the project plan with:

  • A cogent statement of the project’s scope of work and success criteria
  • A schedule of project management meetings at a detailed and executive level, including change management
  • A coherent work-breakdown structure
  • Assigned resources and team structure, including task assignment and reporting
  • An agreed and signed-off project charter
  • Associated management plans for risk, communications, stakeholders.
  • Budgets

3. Execution

The actual running of the project.

4. Monitoring and Managing

The monitoring of project progress, the adjustment of the various project plans to meet changing circumstances.  Simply put, the processes needed to support the management of the project to make sure that it stays on time and cost budgets.

5. Closing

Finalizing all tasks, and receiving the formal closure of the project.

The requirements of each are self-evident.

PMBoK Defines 10 Knowledge Areas:

1. Integration Management

A project is made up of several inter-dependent and related work processes. This knowledge area relates to the requirement to co-ordinate these different processes.  Changes to one may mean changes to one or more other processes.

There may also be a need to reschedule all or part of the project.  Success at rescheduling without affecting the overall project performance needs a clear understanding of the linkages in the project and how changes, for example, reassignment of resources, may change the overall outcome.

If that understanding is missing or incomplete, the Law of Unintended Consequences will apply.

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2. Scope Management

A project usually tends to acquire new objectives and tasks as it proceeds, “Scope Creep”.  If it happens in a big way, it’s called “Moving the Goalposts”.   It is probably one of the more difficult things to manage.

PMBoK defines it as “ensuring that the project includes all the work required, and only the work required, to complete the project successfully”.

Scope changes can either creep in as seemingly simple requests from a user or as a response to a major change in business requirements incurred after the definition of the project.

Two things can happen – ignore scope creep or manage it.  Ignoring scope creep will result in a project going over budget and over time.  It may indeed fail.

Scope management involves impressing on the project team that they must not accept requests from users for on-the-fly changes and using change management to fully understand the implications of a change before authorizing or rejecting it.

3. Schedule Management

Very simple managing processes to ensure that they take place when they should take as long as they should and use the resources they should.

As with most simple things, this is not as easy as it sounds.  Tasks need to be reassigned, added and removed.  Resources become available, not available and don’t operate with the productivity required.

A complex task needing a practical knowledge of the project area, the resources being used and the stakeholder expectations.   Sometimes it is more HR than Project Management.

4. Cost Management

Cost is a key player in project execution.  One of the key goals of PM is to complete a project within budget and that involves:

  • creating an accurate project budget during project planning and having it agreed on
  • managing the execution cost of the project as it proceeds
  • in larger projects using someone from the Finance department to manage finances

5. Quality Management

Most organizations have expectations as to quality.  In some, these are codified in internal documentation, and in some cases are a legislative requirement.   A project may need regular quality reviews during its lifetime.

6. Resource Management

This is the art of leading and managing the project team.  It involves several, often conflicting activities:

  • Career Management of team members
  • Reassignment to meet immediate needs, for example, if a team member is off sick at a critical point
  • Long-term resource planning, how many, who does what, how long it will take, what new resources will need come on board or what resources will leave the project during its execution
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7. Communications Management

A key component.  Several levels of communication are needed:

  • High-Level. Constant, but perhaps not detailed communications with the project sponsor and steering committee
  • Project-Based. Communications with project team members about project activities and assignments
  • Part of the high-level communications strategy, stakeholders need to be kept up to date.  It is a lot easier when the project needs more money or time to ask for it from a well-informed stakeholders group.

8. Risk Management

Things happen during a project that will affect it. They need to be identified, the likelihood of their happening and their impact assessed.  A vital task is to work out the effects of and the costs of prevention or letting it happen.   In some cases, it is better and more cost-effective to let it happen and sweep up afterward that prevent the risk happening ion the first place.

9. Procurement Management

A project will need to buy stuff, people, equipment, accommodation, travel for example. Most companies have formal procurement policies.  In some complex cases, this may require the project to go through a tender process.  A schedule of what is needed and when it is needed will help Procurement to make correct decisions at the correct time.

If a formal procurement contract is required, this may take some time to finalize. Any delays from following formal procurement procedures need to be factored into the project schedule.

10. Stakeholder Management

The project will affect many people, inside and outside an organization.  They may have the ability to affect the project scope and possibly stop it altogether.  They need to be identified and managed to minimize their effect on the project.

A key part is Stakeholder Communications. As President Lyndon Johnson almost said, “It’s better to have them inside the tent causing trouble outside than outside the tent causing trouble inside”.

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