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The PMBOK Guide ® – Is it Enough?

Mar21_With_map_in_field_13813336_XSThere have been some changes to the PMBOK® Guide in the Fourth Edition. Since the PMBOK® Guide is an ANSI standard, PMI must assess it every 4-5 years to determine if an update is needed” (Cyndi Stackpole).

The increasing acceptance of project management indicates that the application of appropriate knowledge processes, skills, tools and techniques can have a significant impact on project success. The PMBOK Guide indicates that subset of the project management body of knowledge generally recognized as good practice” (PMBOK Guide ®3rd Edition, 2004).

It is clearly stated that the PMBOK Guide® is a subset of the project management knowledge and the field of project management, like many other professions is too vast to be captured in a single book or guide.
Project Management is like Venturing into Deep Water

Is the Project Management Body of Knowledge enough to build and sustain a rewarding career in project management? Over the past 30 or more years, we have seen the increase in the number of Certified Project Management Professionals (PMP). As of the writing of this paper, PMI reports that there are over 300,000 people who are now PMPs. Many professionals have been thrust in the arena of project management either on their own or by a push or nudge from their managers or others. Project Management has been referred to as the “accidental profession” because in the past no one has set out in their early career choices to become a project manager.

Let me explain how getting into project management sometimes happens. Professionals from marketing, finance, sales, and engineering are asked to lead or manage a project. They have had no or very little formal training in project management. After working on a few projects they begin to learn more and more about the profession of project management.

Getting involved in project management is a lot like learning how to swim, ride a bike or learn a new sport. Let me compare learning project management to learning how to swim.

I learned to swim at around ten years of age and have been swimming all my life now. I am by no means an expert at swimming, but I received enough training and experience to work as a lifeguard for a few summers.

When I first learned to swim, the instructor gave all first-time swimmers an orientation of the pool. Every new swimmer learned about the “shallow end” of the pool and the “deep end “of the pool. The “shallow end” is about 2–4 feet of water and the “deep end” is about 5–10 feet, depending on the size and shape of the pool. All beginning swimmers were instructed to stay away from the “deep end” until you passed a test to certify that you could survive in the “deep end.” So as a beginner, even though you could see the “deep end” and perhaps go near it, you dare not venture into it until you have gotten the appropriate instruction and training. There were many other safety practices that were taught, but knowing your environment (the pool) was critical and could mean life or death if you valuated this safety principle.

Learning project management is very similar to learning how to swim. Those that are new to project management are like those that are learning how to swim for the first time. The new project manager can accomplish and manage new and small projects; they have to stay in the “shallow end” of the environment where they are applying project management. They learn to do and perform more as they practice the profession of project management. The new project manager applies the practices they learn and become skilled at project management.

However, at some point, the project managers are called to handle larger and more complex projects. Just as swimming in the “deep end” of the pool, much more is at stake with these large projects and they cannot be managed in the same way as the smaller projects. In order to handle the larger project, more training, coaching and experience is needed. The PMBOK Guide ® becomes the foundation of project management knowledge that is needed to transform the new project manager to a more seasoned project manager that can take on the challenge of leading and guiding a team of people on an extensive project assignment.

 The PMBOK Guide is used to prepare the project manager to go into the large complex and complicated environments. This is very much like preparing and learning how to swim in the “deep end” of the pool.

Note that as a swimmer, once you have been qualified to swim in the “deep end,” this does not mean that you can now go diving in the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean. Similarly, the PMP Certification will give you the foundation to handle and manage the larger projects successfully, but more training and skills are needed to maintain and sustain success on future projects.

  • The PMBOK Guide is enough when you think of it as a starting point for your career in project management.
  • The PMBOK Guide is enough when you use it as a launching pad for bigger and more challenging assignments in your industry.
  • The PMBOK Guide is enough when you recognize that it is a subset of the project management body of knowledge and it represents the best practices from a cross-section of professionals.
  • The PMBOK Guide is enough when you recognize that it is a standard that is now part of a collection of standards in the PMI Standards Library. In fact, just recently, PMI has made an announcement about its Standards Navigator. Here is what they say about it:

PMI’s new Standards Navigator offers an innovative way to get the most from our library of global standards, especially for organizations.”

As you can see here, the PMBOK Guide is now a subset of the PMI Global Standard, which includes OPM3, the Program and Portfolio Management.

The PMBOK Guide is enough if you consult with the other project management standards. As a PMP, we are required to keep our certification current, by maintaining and contributing to the project management knowledge. We can do this in a number of ways as required by the Project Management Institute. Our individual contribution to the field of project management will ensure a continuing evolution and growth in our profession. The PMBOK Guide ® is enough if we can continue to add our new ideas, new concepts, new approaches and new project management skills. Local, global, international, multinational companies are all requiring those that practice project management to gain both the PMI Certification and internal certification as well.

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George Bridges is a Director of Business Analysis with more than 25 years of experience in business systems analysis, business process modeling, operations research and Information Technology. George teaches business analysis and project management to hundreds of seminar and class participants every year. He has participated in the analysis and development of business systems for major corporations, such as Ford Motor Company, Unisys Corporations, and for a large church in the Metropolitan Detroit.

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