This article is a follow-up to our last post on “Is the PMBOK Guide enough to manage projects effectively?”
Many would agree that A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge®, PMBOK® Guide, is a leading standard document in project management with possibly more than 1,000,000 copies in circulation. More than 500,000 people has used this book (along with other references) to earn a PMI professional certification, such as the PMP®  , CAPM®  , or others.
Before we go on, we want to repeat something we said in our last post: “… the PMBOK Guide is good and an excellent standard. We use it in our company, we use it in our daily life, we conduct training on it, we developed a methodology to align to it, we built a maturity model with the PMBOK Guide processes at its core.”
We said the above in our last article since we were discussing that the PMBOK Guide is not enough to manage project effectively. In general, the guide is a standard, like most standards, which is not complete and it is not without inconsistencies.
General “themes” about PMBOK® Guide review
In this, and subsequent articles we discuss the guide, with emphasis on:
- what is good about it,
- what is missing from it,
- what are the gaps and inconsistencies in the guide, and
- what is in the PMBOK but many practitioners and PMPs misunderstood.
Today we discuss what is good and what is missing and in future articles we discuss the other topics.
What is good about the PMBOK Guide?
As a guide, a framework for project management, the PMBOK guide has many good points:
- It does an excellent job in covering the various processes related to managing a single project. There are more than 40 processes combined into five process groups that interact throughout the project.
- As a standard document, the regular updates keep it current. With the PMBOK recognized as a standard, every four years there is a new update reflecting changes based on the current state of practice and other factors. These updates keep the guide current.
- It provides a common language among those who study it. With a large number of people using the guide then a project professional in China, Russia, Brazil, Lebanon, Germany, Mexico, or Canada can relate to each other when they talk about a managing a project. They understand what a project management process is, charter, work breakdown structure, or quality plan.
- It has the input of a large number of volunteers. With every edition, a large number of volunteers come together from around the world to work on its update. This is important since this practice promote a culture of contribution and knowledge sharing across cultures.
- It is flexible. As a framework, a guide, it is not set in stone. Which means project managers, with good experience and good understanding of the guide can determine which processes apply to their specific project, which are necessary, … and … which are missing.
- It covers the main points, relating to project life cycle, stakeholders, project organization, etc. Although the guide put a great deal of emphasis on processes, it does cover the general areas related to project management, such as the project life cycle, the different types of project organizations, the importance of stakeholders management. Some of this coverage might not be elaborate and a gap but nonetheless it is there.
- It provides a good coverage of the project management knowledge areas. The guide address the various knowledge areas (we like to call them functions) that are necessary to manage, plan for, and control against.
What is missing from the PMBOK Guide?
Please note what we include here we do not mean that they are “shortcomings”. These missing items, at least most of them, are missing by design. Meaning, the intentions from the beginning, and PMBOK Guide mandate, is not to have them in the PMBOK and we agree – they do not belong it the guide. To clarify, they do not belong in the guide but they must be part of a project management organizational system.
In this context, we include what is missing (the main points only), so the reader is aware that the PMBOK Guide is and cannot be the only reference for project management.
- A methodology: since the PMBOK Guide design as a generic guide – not industry or application area specific – it does not offer a methodology. PMBOK advises the readers that they can use other standards or internally developed methodologies to use with it.
- Organizational system: It assumes that a project management organizational system already exists. This includes tools and templates, organizational assets, processes and procedures, governance and control policies, etc.
- Custom application: It does not include industry / application area specific processes or knowledge areas. This is why there are a few supplement to the PMBOK Guide that are industry specific, such as for government projects, defense projects, or construction projects.
- Project classification: The PMBOK is generic in regard to project classification, how to rank projects or classify them in term of size, complexity, or other factors. This is important since we should treat small projects differently than large projects; simple projects are also different from complex projects, etc.
There are other items that are missing but not as substantial as the above.
What is not emphasized enough
There are others things that are not necessarily missing but possibly not emphasized enough, which again is fine. For example:
- Project Change Management: there is only one process on this topic, which covers the main topic but it does not provide enough coverage, for example, the different types of changes on a project. For many projects this is OK but for capital projects (construction) this is a huge gap.
- Process Groups Across the Phases: Samples or examples of how the processes applies in real life on real projects. For example how does the project management plan change from one phase to another. Same things for quality, risk, procurement, control, etc.
- The guide mentions the need to understand the project and organization environmental factors but does not provide enough guidance on the differences between different project classes.
We will close here but if there are additions in the future we will re-post.
What do you think? Do you have items to add to what we list here? Do you have a counter point on some what we present? Please share.
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 The Project Management Institute
 Project Management Professional, a PMI certification
 Certified Associate in Project Management, a PMI certification