Separating Standards and Knowledge Management

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by Lynda Bourne

In my last post—It’s Time for a Long, Hard Look at Processes—I questioned if A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) should be updated every four years, or if it should become a dynamic knowledge management system similar to Wikipedia. The post generated a number of comments, which I’m going to try to address now.

The fundamental purpose of a standard is to offer standardized advice organizations can rely on. Standards are frequently referenced in contracts and other formal documentation, and they form the basis for certifications. The PMBOK® Guide fulfills all of these purposes. In this situation, stability is essential. Globally, standards are reviewed and updated every four to five years to balance the need for currency against the need for consistency. 

The PMI Registered Education Provider (R.E.P.) community has a busy few months each time the PMBOK® Guide is updated, requiring them to go through their training materials to bring them all up to date. This is magnified many times over as organizations around the world update their documentation to align with the new standard.

But the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard is only one part of the PMBOK® Guide. The guidance part is the larger aspect of the book and also, in my opinion, the most useful. This element is a knowledge repository and if access to validated information is readily available, knowledge management systems should seek to be as up to date as possible. To achieve this, most knowledge management systems are web-based and assume that once information is printed, it is no longer current. Managing a knowledge management system needs skill and knowledge but should be a real-time, full-time function.

Given this, I suggest that PMI separate the standard part of the document from the knowledge element. The standard section would consist of the ANSI Standard (part two of the current PMBOK® Guide) and the supporting core knowledge that does not change much. This standard and supporting information would remain on the four- to five-year update cycle. The resulting document would be much thinner than the current PMBOK® Guide.

The knowledge element builds onto this as a cloud-based resource and should be the subject of continual improvement and updating. Allowing PMI members to contribute their knowledge on a continuous basis, subject to review and edit, would allow the body of knowledge to grow and adapt as project management grows and adapts.

A careful design of the knowledge structure based on the PMBOK® Guide—augmented with information from the other standards published by PMI and enhanced with current developments from industry—would create a very useful and dynamic source of knowledge for the global project management community.

If access to this project management knowledge bank is free to members and available for a fee to commercial users and non-members, the value of membership would be enhanced and PMI would be positioned to maintain its position as a global leader in the development of project management.

It’s an interesting challenge. What do you think?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: April 25, 2019 07:00 PM | Permalink

Comments (10)

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Great suggestions Lynda!!

I agree with you. It is an interesting challenge. Knowledge is dynamic and does not wait for continuous improvement; however, people are slower to react. Standards provides a baseline in which to mature organizational capabilities. The conception of a knowledge bank would allow attenuation of standards to adequately reflect the reality of organizational components.

In addition to a knowledge as a deposit, we should provide the interest rate of that knowledge base on organizational maturity. We will inject error in the knowledge bank if we do not provide the information in relationship to organizational maturity. For example, low maturity organizations will not be capable of adapting best practices until they have the foundational ability to digest its objectives. One manner in which to preclude disillusionment based on outcome expectations is to include how long it took to institutionalize the practice and the organizational maturity level (e.g., ad hoc to nirvana).

Quality is another dimension that needs to be factored into the success of implementation of a nugget of knowledge. Although Philip Crosby correctly stated, "Quality is free," meaning that investment in improving quality provides quick returns, the understanding of continuous improvement in service provision needs to improve for the acquisition community.

My two cents...

Thanks for sharing!

Hi, Linda. I definitely agree with you!

My 2 cents and food for thoughts for others "Isn't it, it is us (the practitioners of the PMBOK) who will take the PMI standards to the new level by implementing the practice and enforcing the need." For example, can I provide a detailed estimate for a high-level requirement?" No I can't The estimation process must be followed and we must get the details of the requirement. I strongly believe that apart from the project managers the sponsor and key stakeholders should be well versed with the PMBOK if we want to take it to the new heights.

What about also having a real time wiki as well as The PMBOK guide? As the guide says it doesn’t contain all good practice, just that used most of the time. A book with all good practices would be far too big so how about a wiki to capture all aspects of good practice?

Thanks Sean, your comment neatly sums up where my thinking and the weight of comments on and off line have been going.

Knowledge and standarts should be in harmony as many different type of disciplines using PMBOK.

Instead of seperating the standarts and knowledge, what do you think about the particular booklets

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