Can we learn all concepts of project management?

To build on the title, the full question should be: “Can we learn all concepts of project management, in a short workshop?” What triggered this question is that we often here comments like this “At the end of this course, I will be aware for all concepts in field of project management”.

We cannot blame new comers to project management to expect the above from a 3-, 4-, or even a 5-day workshop since … we often see advertisement for project management courses saying the same thing.

Welcome-to-the-Maze-of-Project-Management Some, have downgraded project management to something one can learn in a few hours. Personally, I have a Master Degree in Engineering and Construction Management (a specialized form of Project Management) and ~ 5 years experience before the degree and 23 years after the degree and I will not dare say “I know all concepts of project management”.

Yes, some aspects of of project management are simple, others are common sense, yet project management is a wide field of study with diversified topics and depth that cannot be captured in a workshop, even a master degree. We can learn about concepts, we can have an overview of topics that are important to manage projects but do not downgrade project management to a vocational domain that executives thinks anyone can manage projects and in some cases even without formal learning programs.

To build on the above, we share with you the first chapter from an upcoming e-book that address some of the above. Parts of this chapter and e-books is from past posts.

Chapter 1 from a Project Management Book

Challenges in project management

The author recognizes that one of the challenges facing project management today, which might inhibit enhancing organizational performance, is the over-dependence on the “best practices” and on certifications that are highly popular, yet limited. Further, what people refers to as “best practices” are sometimes nothing more than common (or even less than common) practices, which if practiced well, may generally lead to beneficial results.

In addition, some providers have lowered the standard of learning project management to disturbing lows, using marketing tactics that are unrealistic and in some instances unethical. Statements such as “master project management” and “learn project management best practices” in a 3-, 4-, or even 5-day workshops are not proper and do not accurately reflect the reality of project management and the essential depth required for effective management practices. These practices also encourages some to think that project management is so easy, and anyone can do it, only to pay for it in challenged or failed projects if anyone is keeping scores!

PMBOK® Guide

There are many global standards and guides for managing projects, yet each of these guides has a particular focus. For example, PRINCE2® presents a method, IPMA[1] Competence Baseline (ICB) emphasis is on competence, and the most popular guide, the PMBOK® Guide[2] focus is on process groups and processes. Many would agree that a single standard, method, or approach might not be enough for project success and enhancing organizational performance. Yet, many study only one standard or pursue a certification and they, along with their employers, may think this is enough.

We single out the PMBOK® Guide, due to its immense popularity, and its use as the foundation for the most popular project management certification, the Project Management Professional (PMP®). Although it is an excellent guide, its focus on the processes and brief mentions of other crucial aspects, makes this guide incomplete and not enough to manage projects effectively[3]. Further, what many practitioners do not recognize is that the PMBOK® Guide is a Framework and not a Project Management Methodology[4], although many think (and advertise) it is a methodology. The above view is not the author opinion, it is from the guide itself, and here are some direct quotations:

  • “The PMBOK® Guide identifies that subset of the project management body of knowledge”, PMBOK® Guide, 5th Edition, Chapter 1, page 2
  • ·         “… this standard is a guide rather than a specific methodology. One can use different methodologies and tools (e.g., agile, waterfall, PRINCE2) to implement the project management framework.” Same source and page

The second bullet is clear on its own and answers whether PMI[5] has a methodology or not. Let us address the first bullet, particularly the word “subset”. What the world clearly indicates is what the PMBOK® Guide addresses is only part of the project management practices so why some practitioners use it as the only source or authority on project management?

Project Life Cycle

Building on the earlier section, another challenge is that many practitioners and even organizations do not fully understand the PMBOK® Guide. This fact complicates things, increases the gaps in project management practices and in leading and managing projects effectively.

There are many common gaps in understanding this excellent guide; with the most significant is the concept of the project life cycle. The guide only discusses the project life cycle as a section in a chapter, while ten other chapters focus on project processes, represented in five process groups and ten knowledge areas[6].

The confusions on process groups and project phases

Figure 1: Confusing the Process Groups with the Project Life Cycle – two views

As we work with project management professionals, we consistently realize that many of them either entirely forget about the project life cycle, or do not fully understand the concept. If they understand that there is something called project life cycle, they do not know how to map the process groups along the phases of a project (project life cycle)[7]. Alternatively, they might think of the process groups as project phases. Figure 1 presents two views on this confusion. In the first one, some include monitoring and controlling as a phase. In the other one, they do realize that monitoring and controlling are an ongoing effort paralleling all other process groups.

Filling the gaps

The above challenges and gaps led the author to developing The Customizable and Adaptable Methodology for Managing Projects™ as a holistic approach that successfully tackles some of the issues with managing projects. CAM2P™, The Customizable and Adaptable Methodology for Managing Projects™, is the SUKAD approach for managing projects. This approach considers the whole project life span (project life cycle). It guides the practitioners to take a project from idea to closure. Figure 2 presents the standard model.

[1] International Project Management Association

[2] A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge®

[5] The Project Management Institute

[6] Per the 5th edition of the PMBOK® Guide


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About Mounir Ajam

A Project Management thought leader, who believes that project management touches all people, in all aspects of life; personal and professional.Initiated and led the formation of SUKAD Corp to develop the Uruk PPM Platform.An advocate of real-world, practical and applied project management.Champion of adaptive project management, tailored methods, and organizational project management.Available anywhere in the world to advise executives and organizations on the strategic value of project management. Ready to help organizations build and sustain the Project Management Function and the capacity to lead projects successfully.