By Mike Frenette, PMI Standards Member Advisory Group
PMI is about to update The Standard for Project Management in a major way, and a key change is that the standard will become principle based. One might say they are baking principles into standards. So, what does this mean?
Everyone enjoys a tasty, well-baked piece of cake, don’t they? I am no chef, but during my youth, my mother took it upon herself to teach me a few things about baking, such as:
- Bring the oven up to heat at the beginning so it will be the right temperature when you are ready to put something in it.
- Recipes are for guidance only – what is more important is that everything is the right consistency, which you can only learn from experience.
- Once you put something in the oven, avoid opening the oven door so you don’t lose the heat
- Avoid banging around or dropping things in the kitchen so your half-baked cake doesn’t fall.
By now, many of you are probably wondering why I am talking about baking cakes in a forum for project professionals. Let’s think about what it means when we label a statement a principle.
A principle is usually defined as a statement of:
- moral or ethical value;
- agreed conduct; or,
- an underlying law or assumption
Elements of each of these are present in PMI’s use of the word “principle,” but the third is the dominant concept. Therefore, PMI’s guiding definition of a principle is: A statement that captures and summarizes a generally accepted objective for the practice of the disciplines and functions of portfolio, program, and project management.
If we look at the cake-baking list above, and try to convert each to a principle, we might come up with something like this:
- Match the oven temperature to the type of cake
- Tailor the recipe for the desired outcome
- Retain oven temperature during baking
- Ensure a vibration-free environment
So how does this apply to PMI standards?
When standards are developed, the applicable principles must first be laid out. Just as the rails in a bowling alley for beginners avoids balls rolling into the gutters, principles define the boundaries of the standard. The development of principles up front lets those with a stake in the standard agree to the underlying principles before work begins. For example, some might state a principle as “Never spend a lot of your client’s money”. Others might argue that there are times when it is important to spend “a lot” of money to ensure project success, and so the principle might become “Spend only as much of your client’s money as is necessary to ensure project objectives are met.”
Some PMI standards are already principle-based. For example, the recently released Benefits Realization Management: A Practice Guide lists principles, such as:
- Net benefits justify the use of invested resources
- Benefits realization is holistically planned and managed
The Standard for Risk Management principles include:
- Strive for excellence in the practice of risk management
- Align risk management with the organizational strategy and governance practices
You probably noticed that some of these principles can apply across several standards. For example, one might argue that you should strive for excellence in any discipline related to managing a project just as one could say that bringing the oven to the correct temperature probably applies to any recipe that calls for something to be baked in an oven.
So, today we are learning about the principles of baking a cake. Next, maybe it will be the principles of riding a bike – or not.
Your comments are most welcome, but please refrain from complaining about cake failures based on my decades-old, perhaps incorrect, memories of my dear Mom’s cake mentoring.
There – standards principles explained. It was a piece of cake!
Stay tuned to The Critical Path blog for further updates as we continue this journey.