The PMBOK is short for the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, which is the standard of choice for most project managers worldwide. It is published by the Project Management Institute (PMI) and is probably among the best-selling books in the field. Anyone who applies for PMI certifications including the Project Management Professional (PMP) must read the PMBOK and be intimately familiar with it.
I respect all the effort that has been put into developing this important standard and had the honor to be allowed to review and give my feedback on many of its versions, including the fifth edition, which is soon to be released. The PMBOK, as useful as it is, can easily be misunderstood as a project management methodology that can be applied by organizations worldwide. This is not true.
Let me explain with a story from my experience. Over ten years ago, I was asked to come in and assess a newly developed project management methodology for an organization. They brought in an international consulting firm to help them develop it as part of a project management improvement initiative that cost over two million dollars. The reason I was asked to assess is that even after six months of making this process available to the organization project managers, no one is able to successfully implement! not even partially, except of course sporadic use of few processes here and there.
I was curious to look into why this is happening. As soon as I started reading the document, I could tell that it is not a methodology; there are no phases, no project life cycle, no entry / exit criteria, and none of the things that should be clear as soon as you look at a methodology. All it was is a group of processes that talk about how to manage different knowledge areas of project management. What was more shocking is that the content was strikingly familiar. It was really an improvised interpretation of the PMBOK. There were no links between the project life cycle for the organization and the processes, there was no clear sequencing of processes especially for planning, there were no directions to project managers and other stakeholders on how to use the document, there was clear direction on where to find latest edition, how the document will be improved, etc.
The PMBOK is a standard that can be used to guide the development of the organization’s project management methodology but cannot replace it. It is impossible to implement the PMBOK as is for an organization.
How can you tell if the methodology your company developed is a real methodology not a mimicking of the PMBOK? Here are a few tips:
1. The methodology should clearly show the project life cycle at your organization, not the PM process groups, as a guide for the project manager to follow. It should show clear entry and exit criteria from and to each phase of the project life cycle.
2. The methodology should answer the questions of how project initiation, planning, executing, controlling, and closing will take place at project level and phase level.
3. The methodology should consider key themes of project management, like iterative processes, progressive elaboration, lessons learned, continuous improvement, professional ethics and conduct, etc.
4. The methodology should be applicable, not overwhelm project manager with towering documents that he has to read all through and interpret to be able to manage a project. In that case, many project managers will not read, and each will interpret differently.
5. Use technology to make the methodology more accessible and user-friendly.
6. Ensure the methodology considers the tools, techniques, and templates to be used to carry out its processes.
7. Ensure necessary approvals and workflows are taken into consideration.
8. Ensure that the process is scalable and can be built upon, and takes into consideration current levels of maturity AND sought after new levels of maturity in a gradual practical and implement-able improvement stages. This could be part of a PMO plan or improvement, implementation or launch plan.