By Maria Cristina Barbero, PMI Standards Member Advisory Group
The Black Monks, so called in reference to the color of their religious tunics, are monks of the monastic Catholic religious order who follow the Rule of Saint Benedict. This Rule provides some guidelines for monastic life where reading is one of the compulsory activities built into a monk’s very regimented schedule. In the 6th century one of them, Cassiodorus, pushed the practice of copying texts of all kinds over just reading them. Copying texts became an important part of life in monasteries.
So, in the Middle Ages monasteries and monks were hubs of culture. Monks were sharing a seat and desk with other monks in “scriptoria” (open spaces for writing activities) where they were dedicated to conserve the biblical knowledge over a world of wars, famine, and epidemics simply through copying texts. To be honest, it was not just about biblical texts but also grammar and later encyclopedias that constituted the body of knowledge these monks wanted to conserve with their work. And, again, it was not just copying. It was also about adding or integrating these texts with something new they could capture during other monks’ travels. The final aim was to transfer this knowledge to posterity as well as have a base for training young pupils, usually sons of princes, kings, and other nobles.
Let’s focus on how the bodies of knowledge were growing, transforming, and adapting to new discoveries. In medieval Christianity all that was known was represented as a static pyramid having few possibilities of evolution (for example, the Great Chain of Being is a hierarchical structure of all matter and life, derived from Plato and Aristotle, and thought to have been decreed by God). Later, the most common representation of knowledge changed to a tree—the pyramid had been rotated. The tree can expand and evolve. You can add branches and leaves. Seeds generate new trees.
Nowadays a body of knowledge is intended to be a complete set of concepts, terms, and activities that make up a professional practice, as defined by the relevant learned society or professional association. These bodies of knowledge in general evolve in accordance with the “tree model.” The body of knowledge of project management (PMBOK® Guide) is defined by PMI “as a term that describes the knowledge within the profession of project management.” PMI recognizes that the body of knowledge of project management has no definable limits and that “no single book could contain the entire PMBOK.” Therefore, PMI developed and published the PMBOK® Guide which is intended to be a guide to this vast body of knowledge.
The PMBOK® Guide has been for years perceived and used by trainers, consultants, and project managers worldwide as a “golden box” where the knowledge of project management was maintained. Since 1996, like other bodies of knowledge, it is a tree that continuously evolves. More content is added periodically to the constellation of knowledge elements that a project manager should know and use (practices, tools, techniques, skills).
The “tree model” survived for centuries. It is just in the last thirty years that things dramatically accelerated the demand for a new model of representing knowledge and bodies of knowledge. Change enablers include the web, user media and devices, micro-computing, 3rd party platforms, Internet of Things, availability of large volumes of data, communications strengthening, and overall the willingness of humanity to share their own experiences and contribute directly to the growth of knowledge in most sectors and industries.
Several new contents are available and today each single body of knowledge potentially collides with other bodies of knowledge and requires a representation that is a web where new branches of the original tree draw over branches of other trees.
Therefore, the evolution of the PMBOK® Guide had to be rethought and that’s what PMI and volunteers did over the last couple of years. My colleagues already introduced areas of change in the PMBOK® Guide and in The Standard for Project Management.
What I want to remark on here is my thoughts on the intrinsic why of this big shift that is not a whim but, more than ever, a need. PMI cannot evolve the body of knowledge following a “tree model” simply adding branches and leaves to the body of knowledge, but must open it to future evolutions in a modern multidisciplinary and digitized context. The structure has to support the evolution of knowledge while at the same time providing a framework that better represents the interaction of a system of systems that influences project performance.
I think this approach to the evolution of the PMBOK® Guide will enable the reasoned and appropriate maintenance of the evolving knowledge and practice of project management.