The Continuing Evolution of the PMBOK® Guide

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by Brian Grafsgaard, Standards Member Advisory Group

Whether you are new to the profession or a seasoned veteran, you have probably been aware of not only the growth in the application of project management across industries and organizations, but the rapid pace of change we have seen within the profession, especially over the last few years. On larger initiatives it is not unusual to see a mix of value delivery approaches, from prescriptive, plan-driven approaches to more adaptive approaches.

We as practitioners are often required to integrate these approaches in order to realize the intended outcomes, at the right time, and for the right price. The balancing act of simultaneously managing scope, schedule, and cost has now extended to finding the right balance between approaches, based on the profile of the project(s) and expected outcomes.

For decades now—since its inception as the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) in 1987—A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) has served as a reference to effectively manage “most projects most of the time”. The PMBOK® Guide has provided the foundation for the science of project management, enabling us as practitioners to practice the art. The PMBOK® Guide—which was always intended to be adapted to the project and situation at hand—has evolved and adapted over the years to include advances in core processes.

The associated Standard for Project Management provided the underpinning “fundamentals” of project management and how the processes could be applied. The art of project management is, in part, based on the application of these fundamentals and the particular value delivery approach being taken. It could be said that the art is based on the principles of project management that we all carry with us and continue to adapt and apply each day (and continue to learn as well).

This continuous learning has allowed both The Standard for Project Management and the PMBOK® Guide to evolve and adapt to support the growth of project management as a discipline, as well as changes in how project management is applied. Like previous editions of the PMBOK® Guide, the upcoming seventh edition recognizes that the project delivery landscape continues to evolve and adapt and that the pace of change is accelerating. New technologies as well as the need for organizational agility have introduced new project team structures and project/product delivery methods with a stronger focus on outcomes rather than deliverables.

These changes, as well as other factors, have created the opportunity—and even the imperative—to update the resources we rely upon as practitioners of project management. Consequently, several teams of volunteers and PMI staff have formed to define and develop the next generation of The Standard for Project Management and associated PMBOK® Guide.

The seventh edition will be developed with the following questions in mind:

  1. How can The Standard for Project Management evolve to reflect the foundational concepts applicable to all projects, regardless of the type of project or delivery approach selected? The standards team has begun by engaging members around the world to identify the fundamental principles of managing projects that form the essential elements of project management.

  2. How can A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge capture and summarize the knowledge relevant to overseeing the work of the project? The standards team is also focusing on defining the “spheres” or domains that influence overall project performance.

The standards teams, with your help, will continue to explore the answers to these questions as they develop the next edition of the PMBOK® Guide and continue the rich history of providing value to practitioners and their organizations. We hope you will join us for the journey!

Brian Grafsgaard is a member of the Standards Member Advisory Group. He possesses over 20 years of experience leading the development and integration of complex, enterprise-class solutions as a Program and Project Manager in multiple industries.

Stay tuned to the Critical Path blog for updates and opportunities to share your thoughts and reactions around how we are progressing on our Standards journey. Learn more here.

Posted by Laura Schofield on: August 02, 2019 10:29 AM | Permalink

Comments (7)

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Laura, Very excited to see how the 7th Edition will shape up. Do you have an approximate completion date for the project ?

Great! Thank you, for providing these insights.

Looking forward changes, improvement and evolution.
Might be a good place to stress the difference between Methods, Life cycle,...

I'd add a third question to the above two questions: Are we asking the right questions? In what ways are our paradigms of thought about project management limiting our ability to describe its nature, scope, and purpose?

I say this because the PMBOK Guide reflects a certain set of assumptions that may no longer be true, if they were ever true.

For example, the idea of processes reflects a mechanistic set of values (projects and organizations as predictable machines). The above text uses the word arts several times, and it is true that in certain kinds of projects, the approach of an artist is more appropriate than the approach of a process flow mapper.

Another example, is the desire to drink the magic elixir of best practices. There are occasions where best practices might be useful, but there are many more instances where best practices are illegitimate idea and it better to search for good practices, emerging practices, or novel practices.

A third example is the overuse of the word requirements in the document. It seems as if an instruction was given to earlier versions to liberally insert the word requirement in the document. Requirements are truly important to projects and project management, but the PMBOK guide is more confusing than clarifying on the topic.

Hi Kimberly, Laura , In seventh Edition
1.Please consider the difference in approach of Project Management when one is Managing as a Client or as a Contractor-there are practical differences in Knowledge Area .
2. I have been able to document a visible shift in focus in processes based on type of contract (in my case Design and Build versus EPC)

It was implicitly brought out during my recent Webinar : ""Powering up.....""

Thank you for sharing your insight on this.

Amazing read, thanks for sharing

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