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How to Use the PMBOK Guide

The PMBOK Guide is a standard rather than a methodology, and you shouldn’t expect to use it as a project management methodology. Rather, the body of knowledge contained in the PMBOK Guide is the “common language” for project managers around the world. It can help you understand nearly the entire accumulated project management body of knowledge, but it expects you to utilize judgment and experience to select a project management methodology that is right for your project. It does not present a prescriptive set of steps for you to follow; most of the various methodologies do that.

Despite the fifth edition being the best PMBOK Guide ever produced, some people still find it difficult to comprehend. Looking at its structure and organization will help you understand it and how to use the information it contains.

The PMBOK Guide has a deliberate and systematic organization and way of presenting the body of knowledge. It has

  • 13 Chapters
  • 1 Annex
  • 3 Appendices
  • 1 Glossary
  • 1 Index

Chapters 1 and 2 provide context information on how and where the project management discipline or profession fits into management or decision science. They present the Project Management Institute’s (and the PMBOK Guide’s) perspective that projects and project management occur in an environment far greater than just the project itself (that is, no matter how important, the project is usually not the center of the universe). Chapter 2 delves into organizational cultures and styles, communications, and structures—especially on how they influence project management.

Chapter 3 addresses the processes of project management and divides those processes into two categories: project management processes and product-oriented processes. Product-oriented processes are outside the scope of the PMBOK Guide; it only addresses project management processes. Is also stresses the need of “tailoring” or using the PMBOK Guide as a resource for managing a project while considering which specific tool or methodology is appropriate for that project.

Chapter 3 also introduces the five process groups. The PMBOK Guide simply presents them; they are the Initiating Process Group, the Planning Process Group, the Executing Process Group, the Monitoring and Controlling Process Group, and the Closing Process Group. The PMBOK Guide itself acknowledges this listing may be less than optimal for inexperienced project managers, saying “The project management processes are presented as discrete elements with well-defined interfaces. However, in practice they overlap and interact in ways that are not completely detailed in this document.” Figure 1.5 attempts to demonstrate the iterative nature of the process groups (especially of the Monitoring and Controlling Process Group) and the relative amount of time, effort, and energy that each process group may typically require (as indicated by the relative size of the boxes) in the real world. Certainly other project management professionals may have differing experiences and opinions, but this illustration represents my average project experience over three decades. One clarification: The back and forth arrows between the Monitoring and Controlling Process Group and the other process groups indicates multiple interactions, not two, as illustrated in Figure 1.5.

Figure 1.5

Figure 1.5 Real-world project flow

Chapters 4 through 13 address the ten knowledge areas and associated processes and activities. Each of these ten chapters is presented in a similar format. A consolidated overview from the PMBOK Guide is provided in a single location in Appendix A to facilitate teaching, learning, and using. Following chapters of this text will reference Chapters 4 through 13 while exploring specific methodologies and concepts.

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