Baking Principles

From the The Critical Path Blog
by , ,
Welcome to The Critical Path--the home for community happenings and events on! This is where you'll find community news, updates, upcoming events, featured member posts and more. We'll also be showcasing hot topics in the project management arena and bringing you interviews with industry experts. The Critical Path is our primary way of getting news out to members, so be sure to check back for updates!

About this Blog


View Posts By:

Marjorie Anderson
Kimberly Whitby
Laura Schofield

Past Contributers:

Carrie Dunn
Danielle Ritter
Kenneth A. Asbury
Craig Dalrymple
Rebecca Braglio
Kristin Jones

Recent Posts

PMI Educational Foundation Virtual Open House – 3 December 2019

November Community News You Can Use

A Story of Monks, Trees, and New Horizons for the Evolution of the PMBOK® Guide

Navigating Complexity in Project Management

Register for our next “Discover PMI - Ask Us Anything! Webinar

Categories: PMI, standards

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Recipes are for guidance only – what is more important is that everything is the right consistency, which you can only learn from experience.
  3. Once you put something in the oven, avoid opening the oven door so you don’t lose the heat
  4. 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:

  1. Match the oven temperature to the type of cake
  2. Tailor the recipe for the desired outcome
  3. Retain oven temperature during baking
  4. 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.

Posted by Marjorie Anderson on: August 28, 2019 12:23 PM | Permalink

Comments (19)

Please login or join to subscribe to this item
Interesting analogy to use the process of baking a cake to developing processes within PMI.. I do agree that often we define our own principles and then build processes based on them.

The question I would pose is, should we build unique principles for every effort? Or should the PMI framework be broad and detailed enough to cover the majority of the areas that we would need to build any process for a program/project effort?

"Strive for excellence" (cited above as an example from the Risk Management Standard) seems pretty vacuous. To Marjorie's credit, she writes "one might argue that you should strive for excellence in any discipline related to managing a project."

I welcome the striving for excellence, but I also know that the project management space is filled with people who believe that consistency and uniformity is the goal. The aspiration of "standards" is consistent with this mindset.

On the other hand, there is the artistic view that consistency is a symptom of mediocrity. An excellent project would be one that is iconoclastic and non-standard.

It won't be long until we're arguing about appreciating the beauty of projects and the criteria for beauty.

An excellent observation, Jochen. I have actually seen this discussed at length. Principles should stretch across many standards, although it is possible not a principles will apply to every standard.

And Greg- I agree that motherhood principles may not be useful.

A great example.
Thank you for sharing

Correction: "... it is possible not all principles..."

Thank you, Greg and Jochen for your insightful comments, and Abolfazi for your compliment.

I would be in favour of developing a list of very relevant principles upon which those writing and revising standards could rely as a starting point, adding to it when necessary for specific standards. Such additions could feed the updating of such a list when it made sense.

Contributions to the beginning of such a list could start.... RIGHT HERE! ;)

What are your thoughts?

Love the article, Mike. Prescriptivieness vs flexibility. Rigidness vs Adaptability. Like recipe's frameworks, methodologies, practices, etc. [should] provide a pathway for success wide enough for some movement along the way.

Thanks, Andrew. Your concise summary may be more valuable context than my article! ;)

You are welcome, Eduin.

Very interesting baking principles, that apply to PM. Thank you for sharing

Sounds promising! Good luck to the author team!

Thank you Mike. It will be interesting to see what the end result of the rewrite will be and what impact it will have on the PM industry as a whole. Will the old-timers stick with what they know or will they embrace the change and lead the new process forward?

Now I need to go find a piece of cake!


Mike - Thank you for your kind feedback. Look forward to it! Also, would be great to meet you in Philadelphia for the Global Conference the weekend of October 5.

Good article, great analogy.

Sound principles, like physical laws – gravity for instance, are always true. Underlying laws or assumptions as discussed here are founded on experience and they have practical application. In project management, we always have a charter, formal or otherwise. Baking a cake is a project, and I’ve finally got that down pretty well ... frosting it is a different story.

Baking a cake is apropos as it follows project management principles: It comes with a charter, a sponsor, a project manager, and beginning to end processes that even include closeout. After all, somebody’s got to eat it, and somebody’s got to clean up. And there’s even Mom with lessons learned she passes on.

Yes, (successful) baking principles are standards, so the PMI is cooking with gas now.

The move to a principles-based approach will help project managers in the tailoring and application of the various processes.

It is high time for PMI to come up with their "Manifesto for Project Management" with a set of values & principles ;-)


Let me throw a pebble in the pond/bite a piece of the cake? Here is a personal version on principles for projects, based on Deming's 14 Points for Management to transform business (project) effectiveness (trying to stand on the shoulders of this giant):

1) Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of project management processes, with the aim to satisfy our client, to meet business objectives and to complete quality products, services or results.
2) Adapt to the new Project Economy age. Project management must awaken to the challenge, must learn their responsibilities, and take on leadership for change.
3) Build quality into the Product in the first place.
4) Minimize total cost. Move towards long-term relationships of loyalty and trust, that may last beyond project duration.
5) Improve constantly and forever the system of project management processes, to improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease costs.
6) Institute learning in the project.
7) Institute leadership (this is a hard one).
8) The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines and gadgets realize their best outcomes, through adaptability with a Minimum Viable Process.
9) Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the project.
10) Break down communication barriers between stakeholders who must work as a team, to foresee problems of production and usage that may be encountered with the Product, deliverables and work performance data.
11) Seek to understand the project system first, and to canalize project team and stakeholder's efforts to maximize project outcomes.
12) Agilify collaborative team work in the project environment. Try with servant leadership.
13) Use project management by principles.
14) Promote the pride of a job well done and institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement. Put everybody in the project to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody's job.

Good article Mike- Agree "Principles-based" Standards is an excellent approach to clarity, relevancy and applicability of PMBOK contents and context.
By the way- Hope your cake turns our delicious- and your recipe leave a loud, lasting and enduring legacy.

Please Login/Register to leave a comment.


"It is better to deserve honors and not have them than to have them and not to deserve them."

- Mark Twain