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Every once in a while we run into discussions and statements like:

  1. The PMBOK Guide is not real world, or
  2. The PMBOK Guide does not work

Are these correct or realistic statements? 
Well, the best answer in project management always start with “it depends.” Let us elaborate.

The PMBOK Guide is not real world

Let us deal with this first point since it is easier, in my opinion. First, we need to understand the background behind such statements. Many practitioners who say this phrase, expect the guide to be a manual. The original PMBOK Guide team and the volunteers updating the guide are clear in stating that the guide is not a method, it is not a manual, and it is not tailored to a given type of project. Therefore, it is a framework, covering processes, that must be used on projects, regardless of what method you used.
For more on this point, refer to an old post by clicking here.

The PMBOK Guide does not work

This point is related to the previous one. Some, argue that the PMBOK Guide and any derivative of the PMBOK Guide do not work. Unfortunately, PMI has not done a good job in protecting its products and brands, hence these types of comments.
Once again, let us fall back on what is the PMBOK Guide (and the ANSI-approved PM Standard)? As we said in answering the first point, it is a guide, a framework. It is not a methodology nor a manual, forgive the repetition. The clear intent of the guide is to be used with a method and utilize an existing organizational project management system (OPM System) that incorporates the organizational process assets and the corporate knowledge base. It is not intended to be used in a vacuum or as a set-in-stone specification.
The guide is like project management in general, it must be adapted = tailored = customized = fit-for-purpose to a given type of projects.
To close this point, I will repeat something I said in an online discussion “ISO 21500, PMBOK Guide, PRINCE2, CAMMP, PROPS, RUP, Agile, etc. all of these do not work well unless they are used — and used properly — in an adaptive model approach. Project Management people and PMPs and others keep forgetting that PM must be ADAPTIVE. I repeat – again and again. Adopt a Framework but build on it – fill the gaps“.

How to make the PMBOK Guide Works for you?

There are many reasons why the PMBOK Guide is PERCEIVED that it has not worked. To make it work, we need to counter those points.

Point 1

Most of the PMI followers are technology, IT, and commercial IT that focus on a phase of a project rather than full project life cycle from a business owner perspective. This is not intended to be a criticism of IT or related functions, but it is to highlight that in these types of projects the team members might be using parts of the guide and not the full guide. We can say the same about contractors delivering only construction work. 
The answer, practitioners must understand that projects are business initiatives (or non-profit) that have objectives to be met, benefits to be realized. Therefore, they must consider a full end-to-end view, before focusing on their part.

Point 2

Unfortunately, because of the PMP certification, many professionals do not study the PMBOK Guide to learn project management but to pass an exam. They focus and spend endless debate on input-tools&techniques-output rather than the clear purpose of the guide and its processes. Facebook is full of groups from all over the world debating the right answer, A, B, C, or D. When we try to offer a real world perspective, many get offended.
The PMP is good and of value but for project management to prosper, for projects to succeed, we need to understand the real world proper project management and not how to answer a tricky question and find the least wrong or the most correct. The real world allows discussions and debates not an ABCD culture. 

Point 3

Many practitioners do not fully understand the PMBOK Guide. Even many so-called experts, gurus and PMP instructors do not fully understand it. An example is a confusion on the process groups being considered the project life cycle by too many professionals.
The process groups are not project phases and they are not the project life cycle, Refer to our last post.

Point 4

Maybe this point border on religion.
For some, if the PMBOK Guide does not say something that it does not exist. It is like the guide did not say the earth is round; therefore we doubt that fact. For example, the guide does not mention the words phase or stage charter, therefore, for many, it does not exists.
Then, can anyone explain what these sentences mean?

  • “The Initiating Process Group consists of those processes performed to define a new project or a new phase of an existing project by obtaining authorization to start the project or phase.”
  • “In such projects, the Initiating processes are carried out during subsequent phases in order to validate the decisions made during the original Develop Project Charter and Identify Stakeholders processes. Revisiting the Initiating processes at the start of each phase helps to keep the project focused on the business need that the project was undertaken to address.

How do we authorize a phase?
You can call it stage authorization, stage initiation, go/no-go point, phase-exit document, stage-gate output or anything else. Regardless of the name is, it is an authorization, which is the purpose of the Develop Project Charter process.

Other Points

Remember, for the PMBOK Guide to work, properly, we need:

  1. A method, methodological approach to supplement it.
  2. The method has to be tailored to the type of project.
  3. The method should follow a project life cycle approach with phases and/or stages.
  4. The organization must have an OPM System, including the policies, procedures, flowcharts, and other process assets.
  5. Further, the project team should use the corporate knowledge base, such as projects’ historical information, lessons learned, and other information.
  6. The OPM System must consider and incorporate the PM processes for stages and phases.
  7. The OPM System must also consider professional development and competence building of their project management personnel.

I can go on, but the above serves as a good starting point.

Closing Remarks

The PMBOK Guide is a good Guide and it is of good value. Does it need improvements? Of course, I have published two e-books on the guide and its gaps, inconsistencies, and areas for improvement. Yet, it is still a good guide and I wish it could be excellent but it is not. Again, this is my professional opinion.
Can anyone manage projects–properly–without the proper definition of scope or clear requirements? Can you manage without proper scheduling or budgeting? How about defining the resource requirements and stakeholders expectations? I can go on. 
Why the PMBOK Guide does not work? It does work, if used properly and if we cover the gaps, intentional or accidental.
I challenge anyone managing projects successfully without using the processes of the Guide. Keep in mind that it has to be adapted – customized – tailored for the type of project being considered.

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