Did the PMBOK indirectly change the definition of a project?

This is a follow-up article to the last one on project success.

Background

  1. We did write in the past a few articles on the PMBOK Guide – what is good about it, what is missing, its inconsistencies, its gaps, and practitioners misunderstandings.
  2. A few weeks ago, PMI officially released the fifth edition of the PMBOK Guide
  3. This article focus on potential contradictions in a couple of the definitions in the Guide.

Project Related Definitions

PMBOK, 5th Edition, Chapter 1, Section 1.2, p3 (What is a Project?)[1]

“A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result. The temporary nature of projects indicates that a project has a definite beginning and end. The end is reached when the project’s objectives have been achieved or …” further “Temporary does not typically apply to the product, service, or result created by the project …”

To support the above, Figure 2-8 in the PMBOK p39 shows a typical project life cycle with closing starting with “accepted deliverables”. Figure 2-13, p44 shows a typical predictive life cycle with “Test” and “Turnover” as the last two phases of the project.

What we understand from the above (the temporary nature of projects) are the following key points:

  • Projects have definite start
  • Projects have definite end
  • The start and end define the project life cycle
  • Projects start with the charter
  • Projects end with closing
  • Closing happens after turnover and acceptance

What we also know that projects are unique and DO NOT include “ongoing work”, which the PMBOK defines as “An ongoing work effort is generally repetitive process that follows an organization’s existing procedures.” In general it is understood from this and other statements that projects do not include “ongoing work” or operational activities.

The above is what we have known since possibly the first PMBOK in 1996 – the principal wording and definition has not changed from the first to the fifth edition.

What Changed

OK – if the definition has not changed then what is this blog post all about?

We do agree the definition – in Section 1.2 – has not changed. But if we zoom in on the definition of project success, Section 2.2.3, p35, second sentence, we read To ensure realization of benefits for undertaken the project, a test period (such as a soft launch in services) can be part of the total project time before handing it over to the permanent operations.

What can we read from the above?

  1. The project time can include a “test period … soft launch in services” … wait a minute, is not test period and soft launch operational activities? Meaning – the project team is actually shifting into operational role – even though it is not permanent operation.
  2. This project success definition does not specify a period … “to ensure realization of benefits …” implies long enough period to allow us to measure the realization of benefits … on some projects this could be months and years.
  3. Further to the previous point: what would happen if the project failed in delivering benefits, do we keep the project open until we realize the benefits or do we terminate the project as a failed project?
  4. Another issue with this second sentence – the period is not defined with clear boundaries – then what happen to the definition of a project with “definite end”
  5. Another point: what defines acceptance now – project team completing the physical work or realizing the benefits?

Real Life

For certain projects and domains, the definition of project success might generally aligns with the definition of a project but not for most projects – most of the time. Remember, the PMBOK is supposed to be for most projects most of the time.

In all capital investment projects, power, petrochemical, refineries, utilities, hospitals, schools, etc …

  • The project team is not and SHOULD not be responsible for operations whether initial, temporary, or permanent.
  • Operations skills and expertise are totally different from project design and construction (project team) skills.
  • Pilot test period, or initial operations, could be lengthy and require many months
  • To realize benefits, might require years

Conclusion

Project-Phases-and-Stages

Figure 3: Project Phases and Stages according to CAM2P™ model

Personally, I am not against this since the methodology that we developed in SUKAD includes an operation period like what is being (indirectly) explained here (CAM2P). Our point is the potential contradiction within the PMBOK.

What are your views on this article and the points we make here? We want to hear from you especially if you have counter points.

[1] All the quotations are copyright to the Project Management Institute

SUKAD offers courses on the PMBOK, CAM2P, Project Success in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, UAE, Lebanon or wherever our clients are.
  • Jhonatan

    The “test period” is very commong in the software industry. We usually build information systems for our customers as the end result of a project. Given the complexity of software systems, testing is very important and a testing the system in the real world for, let’s say 3 months after “project closing”.

  • Pingback: Product vs project management in agile | one hundred words max()

  • Laith

    He is arguing about the whether the test phase of the project deliverable s to be viewed as part of operations and not Project Managers and thus the end date of the project can not be definitive !!

    I see that the article does point out that the benefits of the project may not be realized till months or years. and again this is not part of the Project Manager job, indeed it is the responsibility of the people who developed the Business Case. whereas the Project Manager and his team need to stick to the Success Criteria of the Project and the Acceptance Criteria whereas attaining the real value of the investment is the job of the Business and investment people.