Project Management

What are Performance Domains, and Why Should I Care?

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By: Cynthia Dionisio, Co-leader PMBOK® Guide–Seventh Edition Development Team

In past blogs, various members of the PMBOK® Guide–Seventh Edition development team and community have talked about the evolution of The Standard for Project Management and you have heard from team members about some of the thoughts around the principles that comprise the concepts for the Standard. Recently, Maria Cristina Barbero, Standards Member Advisory Group member, discussed the concept of a Body of Knowledge. One of the sections in the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge is Project Management Performance Domains. This is a new approach in the PMBOK® Guide. Past editions of the PMBOK® Guide used Process Groups and Knowledge Areas as the organizing concept. In the Seventh Edition we are shifting the focus to Performance Domains.

If you are a bit of a Standards geek like I am, you may have noticed that The Standard for Program Management and The Standard for Portfolio Management are comprised of performance domains, so this is not a new thing in PMI’s standards. As we communicate about this shift, I have been asked several times, what is a performance domain? I admit, the term is a bit vague. I struggled with this myself for a while. Here is what The Standard for Program Management says:

Program Management Performance Domains are complementary groupings of related areas of activity or function that uniquely characterize and differentiate the activities found in one performance domain from the others within the full scope of program management work.

If that doesn’t quite resonate with you, let me share how I think of domains. I think of them as broad areas of focus for project delivery. Think about when you work on a project. You spend time focusing on the outcome or deliverable that the project was undertaken to develop. You spend time focusing on the team. You spend time focusing on stakeholders. These are areas of focus that interrelate and interact with each other within your project. There are times when a situation arises with a stakeholder that you need to address immediately.  That situation involves a stakeholder but it also impacts planning, delivery, navigating uncertainty, project performance measurement and other aspects of project work.  So instead of thinking about engaging with the stakeholder in isolation of everything else, you think about the stakeholder, the situation and their impacts across the various project work domains.

Domains run concurrently throughout the phases of a project life cycle, regardless of how you deliver value (frequently, periodically, or at the end). If we use the examples above, your focus on the deliverables has to include thoughts about your stakeholders, and your team. But the activities associated with creating those deliverables are different activities than those you undertake in working with your team members. The activities interrelate, but they are different. They are interdependent, and they overlap in different ways throughout the project. However, you can’t work on a project without focusing on deliverables, stakeholders and team members.

There is another aspect of performance domains – they are outcomes focused. Notice that outcomes are different from outputs. As you are likely aware, in previous editions of the PMBOK® Guide the processes culminated in an output, such as a scope statement, risk management plan, stakeholder register, etc. Outputs are fine, but they are not the same as outcomes. Outputs enable outcomes. For example, if we have a performance domain around effective interaction with stakeholders, I would want to know the outcomes associated with that. For example, one outcome might be satisfied stakeholders. I can measure that with surveys, observing relationships and interactions, etc. Each performance domain has measurable outcomes, and the outcomes are different from an output. I might use an output, such as a stakeholder register to enable the outcome, but the stakeholder register is not the most important thing, stakeholder satisfaction is what’s important.

This is a big shift in how we think about delivering projects, so let me summarize it for you:

  • Project management performance domains are areas of focus for delivering projects
  • They are interdependent, interrelated, and overlapping
  • They occur throughout the project life cycle
  • They are outcomes focused

In forthcoming blogs, you will hear from team members who will share their thoughts on possible performance domains for project management. I hope you enjoy the upcoming series. There is much more to come, so check back frequently.

Posted by Kimberly Whitby on: December 04, 2019 10:03 AM | Permalink

Comments (9)

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Dear Kimberly
It seems to me to be interesting and different this new approach to projects in the 7th Edition of PMBOK Guide

I look forward to the articles to be published.

It looks interesting and I look forward learning how it will be applied.

As an aside, the last two paragraphs appear to be out of sequence and are probably meant to be placed earlier in the post.

Interesting way of thinking. Thanks for sharing.

Thank you, Cynthia. Interesting perspective and insights. Certainly, reducing silos and making information available across domains can reduce risks and promote success.
I appreciate having this behind the scene's peaks into the next edition of the guide. Thanks, for the blog series.

Thanks Cynthia from this new point of view.

I understand that next PMBOK 7 is going to be reorganized shifting the focus to performance domains.

Does current content is going to be rewritten or only reorganized?

well I wish u luck!

I think if I presented this statement to team members or stakeholders I would receive a well deserved punch in the face: "But the activities associated with creating those deliverables are different activities than those you undertake in working with your team members. The activities interrelate, but they are different. They are interdependent, and they overlap in different ways throughout the project"

Thank you for your sharing! I look forward to seeing how Performance Domains will be used to organize processes beside Knowledge Areas and Process Groups.

Cynthia - I am excited about the new domains in Project Management Methodology as it is a natural step to support the changes in PMBOK6. I look forward to reading additional information on topics related to this.

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