Why does the PMBOK® Guide uses contradictory language?

Abstract

One of the objectives of the PMBOK® Guide is to promote a common language then why does it include contradictory terms or misleading terms? 

Purpose of the PMBOK® Guide

A-Guide-to-the-Project-Management-Body-of-KnowledgeWhen the Project Management Institute (PMI), its chapters, training providers, and all those who benefit from the PMI and the PMP (Project Management Professional) business promote the PMBOK® Guide, they usually include “common language” as one of the factors and benefits of such a standard.

We do agree that those who study using this book do develop a common language but is it the right language?

The Language – Setting the Scene

All over the guide, and in the names of the processes, process groups, knowledge area there are contradictions that most people either do not realize, or they do not talk about, or they just do not understand it.

OK examples please?

Sure!

What is the initiating process group? What is its purpose? Why do we use it?

Same for planning process group?

Same for all other process groups?

Think about it before you read further!

….

….

….

….

Done thinking?

I am sure that many readers will come up with various answers but would you agree that these process groups, initiating for example, is about initiating the project?

How about initiating the project or phase? Do you agree, if yes – read on … if not please refer to the guide to read the definitions.

In other words, initiating is about initiating the project or phase, planning is about the project or phase, executing is about the project or phase and so on.

What does that mean?

It means the process groups repeat in every phase.

That means there is no 47 processes for the project; these 47 processes are for the project or phase. Which means, if you have 3 phases on your project, those 47 processes (or at least most of them) repeat THREE TIMES! Four phases, the repeat 4 times … and so on.

Again ———– pause here. If you do not agree with the above; please go back to the guide and read the first three chapters.

Project Life Cycle - Phases - Process Groups - Knowledge Areas

Project Life Cycle – Phases – Process Groups – Knowledge Areas

The Contradictions

We are assuming that you either agreed with the above, or at least went back to the guide to confirm that we are not making this up.

OK … noted … move on!

The contradiction is between the purpose of these process groups and their processes on one side … and their names on the other.

Let us take Develop Project Charter … if you read this name and you did not pay attention to what we listed above … what would you think the charter is for?

Is it for the project?

Most will say absolutely!

Is it possible that it is also for the phase?

Meaning – if you have 4 phases you will have 4 charters?

Thinking

You should have said yes – every phase has a charter. For sure we will not call it Project Charter, we might not even call it a Charter but it is there. Remember – the definition is “the charter is the document that authorize a project or a phase” so the purpose of the charter is to authorize. Whether you are authorizing a project or a phase does not matter. You may call this stage charter, phase charter, phase authorization, stage initiation … or GO decision.

To summarize the contradiction – if the charter is for the project or phase, then why do we name the process Develop Project Charter?

Is this the only contradiction?

Of course NOT!

The same things apply to many of the other processes; such as Develop Project Management Plan; Direct and Manage Project Work; Acquire Project Team; Develop Project Team; and at least 4 other processes have this contradiction.

Closing Comments

I realize some PMI / PMBOK “loyalist” will think we are criticizing – or we are attacking – or we are being picky … but we ask them to think again.

If I ask you to name the project phases what would you say? Some – if not many – will say Initiating, Planning, Executing, Closing!

If you just said that – that means you are confusing the project phases with the names of the process groups … it also means the use of the contradictory terminology is helping —- helping — helping — not in creating a common language but in creating confusion on the differences between project life span and project phases.

We have written quite a few articles on this before – so you can refer to them.

We welcome your opinion especially if your opinion does challenge what we list here!

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  • You state at the end of the article – “If I ask you to name the project phases what would you say? Some – if not many – will say Initiating, Planning, Executing, Closing! If you just said that – that means you are confusing the project phases with the names of the process groups”
    In my view, IPEC is a perfectly legitimate description of a project lifecycle. And I don’t consider that I’m ‘confused’! I know from other discussions and contributors that there are many who believe that e.g. ‘planning’ is a process group rather than a phase … but I – and many others – disagree.
    It just goes to show that (a) there are contradictory opinions about what constitutes good PM, (b) there is no one right answer, (c) that PM is much more art than science, and (d) that these discussion groups will last forever …!
    (Posted in the PM discussion group)

    • Dear David

      Thank you for your feedback. Maybe the above statement should have read “….. that means you are PROBABLY confusing the project phases with the names of the process groups”

      We typically say that many organizations uses IPEC as names for their phases but the questions remain:
      1. Are they considering the initiating phase as something different than the initiating processes?
      2. Are they considering the planning phase as something different than the planning processes?
      3. same question for other process groups …

      Because if you are not separating then there is a gap in practice … unless … you work on very small projects.

      The reasons are – let us say you have an initiating phase … this phase include using the initiation processes to initiate THE PHASE, the planning processes to plan the PHASE; executing processes to execute the PHASE, controlling processes to control the PHASE; and finally closing processes to close the PHASE.

      The same repeat for all other phases.

      So by using the same term to mean two different things – it creates confusing since by using IPEC for names of phases now we will have:

      Initiating phase that happens once on the project life cycle and initiating processes that repeat for every phase

      Planing phase that happens once on the project life cycle and planning processes that repeat for every phase

      …. and so on

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