How to improve the PMBOK Guide? Part 2

Following up on the previous post, this is another chapter that we deleted from an upcoming book.

Team of Experts to Review

The challenging situation

In the notice page of the PMBOK® Guide, PMI disclaims any responsibility for the guide and its content putting the burden of the responsibility for the volunteers. The idea is that standards are developed by a consensus of the volunteers. In general, this approach may be logical however it may create challenges.

In principle, we cannot accept that a global leader, like PMI, that publishes standards’ documents that are used by thousands and millions of people do not take the ownership and responsibility for the work. Standards documents should not be limited to generating revenues. What is needed, critical and vital for protecting the guide and project management, is for PMI to change its policy presented on the notice page and take real ownership.

The recommendation

The need calls for PMI to have a team of expert reviewers (paid and not the volunteers) to review the work of the volunteers and to ensure that the “package” fit together properly. This team must make sure that there are no major inconsistencies or gaps. One cannot eliminate all issues, inconsistencies, or gaps, but this can be a step in the right direction.

We must state that this recommendation is not a reflection on the volunteers and volunteer leaders who contribute to these standards, the author had been one of them – regularly. In volunteer work – there are numerous challenges from the volunteers’ time and availability to consensus making, and as a result, often numbers (mass of volunteers) over-ride subject matter expertise. Further, are there imposed boundaries (by PMI) on the changes and what should be updated? Maybe this is a topic on its own, and we leave it outside this work.

This team of experts has two missions:

  1. the first is to review the various standard documents, as already discussed.
  2. The other mission is to use the group of experts suggested here, or a similar arrangement, to form an experts board. This experts’ board can be a platform for answering the questions of those using the PMBOK® Guide (and other standards); such as the numerous questions we have raised here.

These recommendations are not limited to the PMBOK® Guide, but to all of the standard documents that PMI publishes. The same comments may apply to other organizations if such structures do not exist.

The volunteers

We realize that some of the volunteers who contribute to the PMBOK® Guide are experts and have significant experience. However, others are practitioners who might not have enough expertise or even experience in managing projects. This situation is complicated further where the majority of volunteers are from the pool of Project Management Professionals (PMPs) and a large percent of those, today, are from a technology background. This situation leads to scenarios where the majority of volunteers have not been exposed to different types of projects. We could be wrong here since we cannot prove this situation. However, this is our observation and in our professional opinion.

All volunteer effort and contribution must be welcome and appreciated – so this is not a critique of volunteers. However, the issue of expertise, along with dividing the work of updating the guide into too many teams, results in inconsistencies or lack of clarity.

PMI view

Continuing with justification for this recommendation, we often get questions from our class participants asking, “What is PMI view on this?” Unfortunately, we cannot answer since there is no one in PMI, not a department not even a unit that can answer technical questions, such as some of the points we raised here. Again, we could be wrong, but for close to twenty years working with PMI, we are not aware of such a unit. Yes, there are departments for the administration of memberships, exams, certifications, and other areas but not a team of experts on PMI payroll to answer technical – project management questions.

For example:

  • Audit in quality is part of executing; audit in risk is part of controlling; audit in procurement is part of closing. Why? What are the justifications for listing a type of action (that some of us consider controlling) to be in three different process groups for three different knowledge areas?
  • There is no control project team process – why? If the PM identifies deficiencies in the team (technical or number of resources) would not she need to take corrective action?

There are many other examples like the above, that some of us (maybe most of us) do not have answers to and to eliminate speculations – what is the PMI formal and professional view?

Further, PMI disclaimer on the notice page of every standard document that they publish that they do not endorse nor approve the work of the volunteers. In other words, PMI is just in the middle between the volunteers and the members and users of its resources. Fortunately for PMI, most users do not even read the notice page. Once people read the notice page, there is a degree of lost credibility.

Final justifications point

We will share an example of one of the issues that justify this recommendation. We have written about this point before via our blog and even email to PMI and volunteers and no answer.

In the fourth edition of the PMBOK® Guide (and earlier editions), the definition of the charter was “the document to authorize a project or phase.” (Project Management Institute, 2008). In the fifth edition, the definition is “the document to authorize a project.” (The Project Management Institute, 2013). The term “or phase” was removed. This text cannot be a typo because words were taken out.

Consequently, what does this mean?

Did the definition of a charter change between the two editions?

If it did not change, then why dropping “or phase”?

If it did change, does not this create an inconsistency between the definition of the initiating process group and the charter?

Please note that the definition of initiating process group still states that it is about the project or phase. It is important to note that initiating has only two processes. Further, notice the plural in this definition: “The Initiating Process Group consists of those processes performed to define a new project or a new phase” (The Project Management Institute, 2013)[1]. In other words, the charter’s process says something (charter is for the project), and the initiating process group says something else (about project or phase).

There are other examples include all of the items addressed in the inconsistencies chapter. These include manage and control project team, audit, success definition, and many other points. We are willing to accept that what we state here might be a mistake; but is there anyone that can tell us what is the official PMI, or PMBOK® Guide view on these points; with a proper explanation?


[1] Page 54 of the PMBOK® Guide, Fifth Edition

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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.