What is good and what is missing from PMBOK® Guide?

This article is a follow-up to our last post on “Is the PMBOK Guide enough to manage projects effectively?”


Many would agree that A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge®, PMBOK® Guide, is a leading standard document in project management with possibly more than 1,000,000 copies in circulation. More than 500,000 people has used this book (along with other references) to earn a PMI[1] professional certification, such as the PMP® [2] , CAPM® [3] , or others.

A-Guide-to-the-Project-Management-Body-of-KnowledgeGeneral Opinion about PMBOK® Guide

Before we go on, we want to repeat something we said in our last post: “… the PMBOK Guide is good and an excellent standard. We use it in our company, we use it in our daily life, we conduct training on it, we developed a methodology to align to it, we built a maturity model with the PMBOK Guide processes at its core.”

We said the above in our last article since we were discussing that the PMBOK Guide is not enough to manage project effectively. In general, the guide is a standard, like most standards, which is not complete and it is not without inconsistencies.

General “themes” about PMBOK® Guide review

In this, and subsequent articles we discuss the guide, with emphasis on:

  • what is good about it,
  • what is missing from it,
  • what are the gaps and inconsistencies in the guide, and
  • what is in the PMBOK but many practitioners and PMPs misunderstood.

Today we discuss what is good and what is missing and in future articles we discuss the other topics.

What is good about the PMBOK Guide?

As a guide, a framework for project management, the PMBOK guide has many good points:

  1. It does an excellent job in covering the various processes related to managing a single project. There are more than 40 processes combined into five process groups that interact throughout the project.
  2. As a standard document, the regular updates keep it current. With the PMBOK recognized as a standard, every four years there is a new update reflecting changes based on the current state of practice and other factors. These updates keep the guide current.
  3. It provides a common language among those who study it. With a large number of people using the guide then a project professional in China, Russia, Brazil, Lebanon, Germany, Mexico, or Canada can relate to each other when they talk about a managing a project. They understand what a project management process is, charter, work breakdown structure, or quality plan.
  4. It has the input of a large number of volunteers. With every edition, a large number of volunteers come together from around the world to work on its update. This is important since this practice promote a culture of contribution and knowledge sharing across cultures.
  5. It is flexible. As a framework, a guide, it is not set in stone. Which means project managers, with good experience and good understanding of the guide can determine which processes apply to their specific project, which are necessary, … and … which are missing.
  6. It covers the main points, relating to project life cycle, stakeholders, project organization, etc. Although the guide put a great deal of emphasis on processes, it does cover the general areas related to project management, such as the project life cycle, the different types of project organizations, the importance of stakeholders management. Some of this coverage might not be elaborate and a gap but nonetheless it is there.
  7. It provides a good coverage of the project management knowledge areas. The guide address the various knowledge areas (we like to call them functions) that are necessary to manage, plan for, and control against.

What is missing from the PMBOK Guide?

Please note what we include here we do not mean that they are “shortcomings”. These missing items, at least most of them, are missing by design. Meaning, the intentions from the beginning, and PMBOK Guide mandate, is not to have them in the PMBOK and we agree – they do not belong it the guide. To clarify, they do not belong in the guide but they must be part of a project management organizational system.

In this context, we include what is missing (the main points only), so the reader is aware that the PMBOK Guide is and cannot be the only reference for project management.

  1. A methodology: since the PMBOK Guide design as a generic guide – not industry or application area specific – it does not offer a methodology. PMBOK advises the readers that they can use other standards or internally developed methodologies to use with it.
  2. Organizational system: It assumes that a project management organizational system already exists. This includes tools and templates, organizational assets, processes and procedures, governance and control policies, etc.
  3. Custom application: It does not include industry / application area specific processes or knowledge areas. This is why there are a few supplement to the PMBOK Guide that are industry specific, such as for government projects, defense projects, or construction projects.
  4. Project classification: The PMBOK is generic in regard to project classification, how to rank projects or classify them in term of size, complexity, or other factors. This is important since we should treat small projects differently than large projects; simple projects are also different from complex projects, etc.

There are other items that are missing but not as substantial as the above.

What is not emphasized enough

There are others things that are not necessarily missing but possibly not emphasized enough, which again is fine. For example:

  1. Project Change Management: there is only one process on this topic, which covers the main topic but it does not provide enough coverage, for example, the different types of changes on a project. For many projects this is OK but for capital projects (construction) this is a huge gap.
  2. Process Groups Across the Phases: Samples or examples of how the processes applies in real life on real projects. For example how does the project management plan change from one phase to another. Same things for quality, risk, procurement, control, etc.
  3. The guide mentions the need to understand the project and organization environmental factors but does not provide enough guidance on the differences between different project classes.

We will close here but if there are additions in the future we will re-post.

What do you think? Do you have items to add to what we list here? Do you have a counter point on some what we present? Please share.

Special Request: Since many might read this article on LinkedIn or other places, if you have input or comments please go to the main blog site http://blog.sukad.com and place your comments there. This way all of those reading will see the comments of others but if you post your comments on a LinkedIn group, or members of the group will see the comment. Thank you


[1] The Project Management Institute

[2] Project Management Professional, a PMI certification

[3] Certified Associate in Project Management, a PMI certification


15 thoughts on “What is good and what is missing from PMBOK® Guide?

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  5. Kishan Solanki

    I am a member of PMI & PMP certified with over 28 years of experience on projects. Also, I am Cost and Manageemnt Accountant (CMA from ICAI, India) and Fellow Certified Accountant (FCCA from ACCA, UK) besides a graduate civil Engineer and a Master in Business Administration (MBA).

    I find the discussion very interesting. Cetainly, there are many good points for PMBoK Guide.. From the draft of 5th edition of PMBoK Guide, you may see many missing points are covered.

    Still, there may remain some missing points. I consider following points are missing or having not enought emphasis in PMBoK Guide..

    1. Finance Management – This can apply to one project. Raising required finance and compliance with conditions attached by funding organization(s) are very vital aspects. In my opinion this should be included as part of Project Management.

    2. Cost & Management Accounting – recoding of actual costs, cost analysis, decision making etc are also vital that affect the success or failure of any project (atleast on large projects which run over multi-accounting reporting periods.)

    3. Perspectives of Owner, Consultant & Contractor appointed Project Managers..In a real life project, these three groups have distinct objectives and priorities for the Project. This aspect need to be addressed when we study Project Managment. This is missing from PMBoK Guide.

    Hope this will provide some basis for furthring this interesting discussion.

    Regards to All..

    Kishan Solanki

  6. Luciano

    You comments are great, indeed, but please…
    a) consider adding a 5th point which is the Managers point of view in incorporating competences as he grows, please refers to IPMA, a excellence in Competencies;
    b) consider the Russel Archibald’s Project classification already in place
    c) consider the existence of ISO 21500 and why to use the bok”

    1. Mounir Ajam Post author

      Hi Luciano
      Thank you for your input. Excellent points.
      a) Agree – we have include competence in our internally developed maturity model since the PMBOK does not emphasize it
      b) I know Mr. Archibald but not familiar with his classification model – we have developed a simple one (very basic) and we are also know that Professor Lynn Crawford (GAPPS) has a classification model
      c) I have read the ISO 21500 draft but not final version and what i noticed is that it is trying to blend PMBOK with APM with IPMA (ICB)

  7. pineyk

    I like your list of “good”s.

    Some of my “missing” or “wrong”s:-
    1) Process groups: often confused with project phases because of the way they are structured. My view is that they apply as such only WITHIN knowledge areas, but PMI does not see (or at least) present them like this
    2) Monitoring and controlling: these needs to be separated completely; they have different objectives and use different tools (see also next point)
    3) There is the need for a Performance Management knowledge area which would include the planning (WBS), tracking (all of EVM), and closing (verification, validation) – thereby avoiding duplication and fragmentation of these topics between KAs as is the case at present
    4) Despite the fact that there are “knowledge areas”, how come there is not one on “knowledge management”?
    5) There is a need for two processes specifically for phase transition: open a phase, and close a phase. The actions are very different from those for initiating and closing an entire project.

    That will do for now!

    1. Mounir Ajam Post author

      Hi Kik

      Thank you for the input – truly appreciated.

      As we mentioned in the article we are writing about
      a) what is good and missing in this already published article

      We also have more articles coming
      b) one about inconsistencies within the PMBOK
      c) one about misunderstandings

      Please see below – my numbers correspond to yours

      1. 100% in agreement and we had just published a six-article series on the subject. Also per this would be listed in our article (per item (c) above)

      2. Totally agree with you on monitoring and controlling and had suggested this to PMI in the past and they rejected the idea and i recognize you have the same point. So this item i missed from my article – good point.

      3. Good point – i have not thought about that one and is interesting. Would you be interested in writing a guest article on this for us?

      4. Excellent point on Knowledge Management (we are including this as part of our Maturity model since it is not in the PMBOK

      5. Would the transition processes be part of a project life span approach or as processes? Would these be like handing over from one group (team) or entity to another? I would like to learn more about it and i think our readers would as well.

      Thanks again – looking forward to seeing you again – maybe in 2013

    1. Mounir Ajam Post author

      Hi Rich, I agree with you and i kick myself for missing that one. Maybe because we have a few articles on the subject coming up. I must endorse EarthP.com here since you guys are doing a great job with your views on success and its relation to sustainability. Thanks for taking the time to write.


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