Is political correctness skewing the purpose of the monitoring and controlling processes?

This post started out as a video, and we are including the video in this post. We also include the transcripts but modified to make it appropriate for written text and will include additional notes on points or clarifications that were not mentioned in the video.

The Video

In the video, we are talking about a topic, maybe with a bit of a fun, but at least on a serious matter. Let us call it the PMBOK® Guide and political correctness. Now, what do I mean by this? Well, some of the terminologies we use in the guide might be skewing the purpose and intent of some of the processes. The alternative, we could be missing something, or all of a sudden we do not understand the guide. However, since we have worked with the guide for over 20 years, since the first edition, and we know that for these areas we do not have “scientific advancements” then we are suggesting that for the sake of editing and political correctness, the sixth edition of the guide is either skewing the purpose or is creating confusions, at least for people like me.

The Background

Many of the things we will be presenting here are related to changes in the names of some of the processes, mostly in the monitoring and controlling process groups. If one checks part 3 of the guide, one will notice statements like this “Several process names were changed to improve consistency across the processes and to improve clarity. Research indicates that project managers tend to monitor, facilitate, and manage rather than control, particularly in processes that involve interactions with people. Therefore, process names for Control Communications, Control Risks, and Control Stakeholder Engagement were changed to Monitor Communications, Monitor Risks, and Monitor Stakeholder Engagement.” PMBOK® Guide, Sixth Edition, p 644. The highlight is mine.

First, an important concept

PDCA-Cycle-Plan-Do-Check-ActLet me just talk about, first a concept that we have talked about maybe before and is well-known is that the concept of the process groups. Also, remember the Plan, Do, Check, Act. Or, in the project management world, or PMI world that is planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing. Remember, PMI grouped the Check and Act as Monitoring and Controlling.

Now, the reason I want to bring this forward, first, is to highlight what do we mean by the monitoring and controlling process group. Obviously, what we are saying here is that once we start working on a phase, or project, or stage, or anything, we should execute work in according to plan, we must monitor the performance to determine if there are deviations if there are deviations we control, we take action. So in a way, monitoring is about observing, checking the work that is being done and to analyze or track to see if it complies with the plan or if it does not. Or, maybe some corrective or preventive actions are needed, which mean we do control actions. So monitor is monitor, control is action.

Okay? Clear?

I hope it is.

Move on!

The Purpose

So in a way what we are saying the purpose of the monitoring and controlling process group is to help us monitor, performance to check how are we doing in according to plan, and then take the necessary action whether they are defect repair, preventive action, or corrective action, to try to adjust and get back to plan.

All right, cool so far, no problem.

The PMBOK® Guide

Control or Monitor and Control?

When we come to the PMBOK guide and the names of the process, we notice the following. In integration, we have what we call the monitor and control project work. From this we have the other knowledge areas, we have control scope, control cost, control schedule, control quality, and … Now notice that they use the word ‘control.’ If we want to think about the accuracy of terminology, is it the correct terminology here? I mean we are in the monitoring and controlling process group. I am just being focusing on semantics, at this point. If we’re talking about monitor and control, then why are we using the word control here? And, does it mean that we are controlling without monitoring? Obviously, this is not possible, right? We cannot take control action unless we monitor performance, and analyze performance. So the question is: are we trying to save ink here and instead of saying monitor & control scope, monitor & control cost, monitor & control schedule, we use the word control only?

I am not one of those people who like to go deep into the PMBOK® Guide to understand every single word, but these are the terminology used and the way I see it, the way I understand it in real life application, is that we need to monitor/analyze the performance before we can control, if there is a need for control. In other words, I look at all of these processes as monitor & control XYZ.


Now we come to the next side. In the sixth edition notice that we now we have something called monitor risks. Hmm now here (see the video), on one side, we have the word control, does it mean we control without monitoring. Here, on the other side, we have monitor risks. It used to be in the previous edition control risks. So, I have to ask the question: in the fifth edition and before was the word control correct, or was it wrong? And why did we change it? The justification in the guide is “research indicates.” By the way, we are not aware of this research, and we have not seen anything published by PMI or others, and no reference to any specific research or by whom.

Well, the argument we hear, why we monitor risks, and monitor communication, and monitor stakeholder engagement. Notice on this side, we’re using the word monitor, monitor, again, what does it mean? What does it mean in the real world and in term of actions? Yeah, and if monitor is the right word as all those who follow PMI blindly tell us yeah is the right word then was it wrong before?

Now again, here I am starting to go beyond being semantic. Obviously, these terms were used before so now what does it mean? Let’s let me focus on this one here, monitor communication. What does it mean? Remember, this is the monitoring and controlling process group. So if I’m monitoring communication and I discovered there is an error in our communication plan, what do I do? I’ll say “well wait, wait, wait, wait, my job is only to monitor, I am not going to do anything about it.” Well, of course we’re going to do something about it. If you discover a deviation from plan, maybe we’re not complying with the plan, or maybe there is an error in the plan, don’t we need to take corrective action to fix it?

I mean, I might be loony here, or losing it, or maybe I don’t understand the new thinking of the project management or the advancement that PMI is bringing to us in the PMBOK® Guide. I don’t understand this terminology.

Same thing with monitoring risk. What is monitoring risks? Again, if you look at the old edition, control risks process used to be including what? It used to include: to monitor if the risk action plans have been implemented, were they effectives and if they were nots to take corrective action. If one risk management response strategy didn’t work come up with an alternative strategy that’s control action. This is why I call this political correctness. Why are we changing the terminology here? Why can’t we say that we control or we don’t control anymore?

The purpose of control

Let us get back to the meaning the word control, and here we start to get this argument, “you know because these processes are people related, so we monitor and do not control.

The fun part is where is the control team process? Well, it doesn’t exist, it is not there. Well, how about monitor team? Oops, not there either. Why?

Our brains exist so we can use them

This political correctness is that basically telling us when it comes to people we don’t have dictatorship. We don’t control people like the army. We don’t control people like an autocratic boss that will order people around or order communication. Come on guys, wake up. We have to be realistic here. Don’t just trust the PMBOK wordings. I mean, obviously, I’m not against the PMBOK here, there is nothing wrong with the PMBOK just the volunteers who are adding this because of some kind of crazy political correctness or craze or whatever you call it. Actually, what I would love to know is the following, were these changes driven by the volunteers or mandated by PMI staff? Because we use this terminology before so it is like the first five editions were wrong and all of a sudden now we wake up and say ah, for 20 years, we’ve been using the wrong terminology, and now we are correcting the terminology. Or is this the wrong terminology and we need to adjust it?

Reinforcing the points

I’m going to stay with the communication or stakeholder engagement if we discover our strategy is not working if monitoring the stakeholder engagement discover that we have some stakeholders who are not engaged and we need to get them engaged. What do we do? We must take action to correct.

Some people said well, but that is in the execution and the managing the stakeholder engagement. But make up your mind. In my past life, I had worked in one company, they used to have, instead of having a project management plan, they used to call it project management and control plan. Why because they see management as the oversight and control as a control action. So they separated them. So it’s up to us right now, is the project management plan that the PMBOK Guide talked, is it only about management or management and control?

Okay, and you could use the word management, to mean management and control in that case. We do not need the control process group to let us merge it with executing and then we’ll have to execute and control instead of executing process group and monitoring and controlling process group. Let’s have an executing and controlling process group. And as we do work we control, we do work we control, we do work we control, we manage we control, okay?

So here ……… what I’m trying to say, the message that I’m giving you is more than semantics.

Now let’s talk about control the team.

Once again, I hear the argument we are not in the army, or we’re not a dictatorship, or we don’t control the team. Guys, I’m not talking here about controlling puppets, control is not about dictatorship, or hierarchy of command and demand. Control is about the purpose of monitoring and control, the purpose of monitoring and control, the plan-do-check-act. The purpose is to monitor performance to see how are we doing if everything is great thumbs up. If something is not working, we need to take action to correct that is what control is about.

So let’s say we are working on a project, and we discover the staffing level we have is wrong, we don’t have enough resources on the project. What do we do? Oops, I am sorry we don’t have a control team process, we only manage the team. We manage and develop the team. Okay, we manage and develop the people that we have assigned to the job, but we discover we don’t have enough people. What do we do? We don’t do anything we just monitor. Sorry, no monitor team process either. There is no monitor or control of the team. We just manage the team.

Am I going crazy here or loony I don’t know maybe I am. Maybe Dubai, you know, the 40 plus heat is getting to my head. Maybe my gray hair is impacting my brain? I don’t know. You think about this. You decide what you think is logical and is not logical. To me, in the CAMMP model, we do have control team and I assure you it is not about dictatorship. I assure you is not about puppet and you know pulling the string of the puppet or muppet or whatever you wanna call them. It’s about monitoring performance.

If we have too many people on the team we have to let go some of them, or a reassign them to other project. If we don’t have enough, we need to take corrective action to bring more. If we have team members that are disruptive or not performing we have to basically talk to them, mentor them, coach them, supervise them, fire them if we have to. Yeah, we have to do something!

So the way I always teach, or I don’t like the word teach, the way I deliver my classes on the PMBOK, I say ignore what these words say. Maybe I’m violating the holy book here. To me I go with what makes sense. What makes sense is regardless what area you are in, and of course we have other areas here, we have procurement we have health and safety, we have physical resources. You monitor performance, you always monitor performance, day in, day out, you monitor, you check, you validate, and if there are deviations, we will, basically, make the corrective action. That is control.

In other words, for every knowledge area, we must monitor and control.

That’s probably about everything I want to say here about the political correctness. I don’t know what else to call it so forgive me for calling it that way because I don’t see it any other way.

Thank you

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About Mounir Ajam

Mounir Ajam is eager to awaken the giant of project management within individuals, organizations, and nations! Mounir is a project management author, executive, consultant, and social entrepreneur. Mounir is open to further learning and knowledge sharing.He has global experience working on projects in the United States, Europe, South East Asia, West Asia, and Africa. He has been privileged to work on multiple small projects and mega projects.