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Project Management Issues Not Addressed by the PMBOK Guide

I am extremely reluctant to criticize such a valuable resource (it meets its stated goals in a most exemplary manner), but one common observation is that the PMBOK Guide fails to adequately address the iterative nature of planning, monitoring, and controlling. Some also feel the exclusive focus on project management techniques is too limiting and that a more holistic approach would enable greater overall project success. That said, the Program Management Institute has done an excellent job of “evolving” the PMBOK Guide over the years to address current issues and concerns, and I am confident that project management professionals will find future editions even more helpful.

Some consider the PMBOK Guide to be weak in the area of planning and seem to prefer a more how-to or prescriptive approach to process planning. Others feel it misses the boat on soft skills such as communications, leadership, motivation, team building, listening, and so on. Some appreciate the depth in which Processes and Knowledge Areas are addressed; others consider it “over-emphasized.”

Creating a one-size-fits-all tool or document can be challenging. I think the Project Management Institute recognizes this challenge as evidenced by the evolution and “crowd-wisdom” approach. Appendix X2 of the fifth edition of the PMBOK Guide, which lists contributors and reviewers in the current and previous editions, is a veritable who’s who of the project management world. The names listed in the core committees, other committees, subcommittees, contributors, and list of reviewers clearly reflect international input. Figure 1.7 illustrates the difficulty of design by committee.

Figure 1.7

Figure 1.7 No document, no matter how ambitious or will-intentioned, will ever meet all needs.

Designed by committee; Photo: http://www.mediabistro.com/agencyspy/files/original/camelREX_468x372.jpg; Quote: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/alecissigo312014.html.

Given that I am a project manager, I feel safe in observing that we can be an opinionated group. We—of course—have different opinions on the PMBOK Guide. Listed here are some of my favorites taken from interviews, discussions, and social media sites:

  • “The PMBOK is for people who want more flexibility when defining project methodology. PRINCE2 will allow less flexibility because it is based on step-by-step instructions.”
  • “I have always thought the PMBOK is more a guide than a rule and it may not apply to the specific industry you work in.”
  • “The PMBOK merely serves as a guide to project management. It can’t be rigidly applied...a good project manager will use a combination of experience, wisdom, communication, skill, and the PMBOK—or any other program management methodology—to successfully manage a project.”
  • “I consider project management to be an art; therefore, there is no rulebook.”
  • “Don’t get bogged down in some set of rules...have fun with project management. If we do our jobs correctly we will be adding to the body of knowledge, not stuck in it.”
  • “The PMBOK is a body of knowledge captured in best practice framework. It is designed to be modified to suit the project. I personally take principles from the PMBOK, PRINCE2, and Agile in the projects I manage as they all have their strengths and weaknesses.”
  • “Because each project is different, you are going to use different methods and different approaches. Consider the PMBOK a guidebook to help you shape your project management strategy. After that you have to come up with what works for you, your team, and your sponsor or client.”
  • “The PMBOK is an important strategy when it comes to broad-scale processes...but Six Sigma is best suited for continuous reviews and improvements.”

So why do those of us in the profession sometimes have trouble defining this thing called the PMBOK Guide? It requires careful consideration, much like Bill Clinton’s careful thinking about what the meaning of the word “is” was. It depends... And there are some who feel despite PMI’s adoption of the phrase “Project Management Body of Knowledge” that the true body of knowledge is much greater than a single document. I don’t think PMI and its members would disagree that the ultimate project management body of knowledge (used generically, please note the lower-case letters) might include experience, war stories, project management methodology documentation (processes and procedures), project documents and archives, journals and black books, project postmortems, published information from case studies and best practices, textbooks and corporate training courses, on-the-job training under a senior project manager, and so on.

There will always be some individual and unique areas not served by any project management guide or publication, but in general the PMBOK Guide seems to have fully met its stated goal, addressing “most projects most of the time.”

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