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What is Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®)?

Posted by Jeff Roussel

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Oct 30, 2019 2:05:33 PM

pmbok-guide-6th-editionPeople have been managing projects in business for as long as there have been businesses. Project management is necessary for organizations of all types and sizes, whether it is formally recognized or not. But for complex organizations and those where the outcomes are high stakes, like healthcare, applying a standard for project management and professionalizing the role of project manager helps improve results.

Project management, as a practice, is now seen across the globe as a strategic competency, a career path, and a worthwhile investment for training and education.

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) is the Project Management Institute’s flagship publication. The guide lays out well-proven, consensus-based practices that are widely used. The publication, which was first released in 1996, is now in its 6th edition.

The PMBOK® Guide is developed by active project management practitioners and subject matter experts. The project management community reviews it before it is released to make sure it continuously reflects the current state of the profession.

The Project Management Institute

The Project Management Institute (PMI) is a global nonprofit professional organization for project management. The PMI serves more than 2.9 million professionals, including over 500,000 members in 208 countries and territories around the world. They have 300 chapters and 10,000 volunteers serving local members in almost every country in the world. The organization is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary.

PMI offers eight certifications that “recognize knowledge and competency,” including the Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification, which serves as the standard of professionalism in the field. To earn a PMI credential, candidates must document that they have met required education and experience requirements, then they must then pass an exam. To maintain most credentials, holders must earn Professional Development Units (PDUs), by taking classes, attending PMI global congresses, contributing to professional research, or writing and publishing papers on the subject.

Why is PMBOK® so popular?

PMBOK® is the standard by which PMP (Project Management Professional) certification through PMI is obtained. PMP is an important industry-recognized certification for project managers. The PMBOK® approach is valuable because it enables organizations to standardize project management practices across departments. It also helps project managers work with a standardized system across organizations. This means that a project manager who moves from one company to another can use the same practices.

The methods are well documented and focus on practices that have been proven to work. The guide also discusses what doesn’t work, so managers can avoid common mistakes. Of course, project management practices need to be tailored to the needs of individual organizations, but when project managers are starting from a solid set of standards, they can make smart revisions where necessary.

How are the PMBOK® standards developed?

PMI follows a six-step for developing the PMBOK® standards:

  • A committee is formed, including a chair, a vice-chair, a PMI staff member, and volunteers.
  • The committee meets to draft and hone the standard. This occurs over several months.
  • The PMI Standards Member Advisory Group, along with subject matter experts, review the draft standard and send revisions back to the committee.
  • The revised exposure draft is made available for public comment. After public comment, the committee considers suggestions and revises it again.
  • The completed standard is sent for approval to the PMI consensus body. This is a group of volunteer members who provide a check on the development process of each standard.
  • If the PMI standards manager recommends it, the new standard is approved by PMI’s CEO and president.


The PMBOK® Framework

The PMBOK® structure includes five process groups, ten knowledge areas, and 47 project management processes. The knowledge areas group the PM processes by project management content.

5 Process Groups

The 47 project management processes are grouped into five distinct sets:

Initiating – The first process group, initiating, includes the processes, activities, and skills necessary to effectively structure the beginning of a project. It involves setting the vision of what is to be accomplished and defining project success. During this phase, the project is authorized by the sponsor, the project manager is assigned, the scope is defined, and stakeholders are named. This process group is important because it ensures that the project is aligned with the strategic goals of the organization. This means that not all projects will make it past the initiating process group.

Planning - The planning process group involves activities that further hone the scope of the project, including identifying risks, milestones, and budget. A detailed planning process called progressive elaboration occurs, and detailed project documents are developed.

Executing – Once planning is complete, the executing process group begins. This phase is all about orchestrating activities according to the timeline and communicating with the sponsor and stakeholders. Most of the budget is spent during the executing phase, which results in the expected deliverables.

Monitoring and Controlling – Monitoring and controlling, unlike the other process groups, does not happen sequentially. Instead, it crosses the entire life of the project. These processes include those needed to track, review, and regulate the progress and performance of the project.

Closing – Project management is distinct from other forms of management because projects are time or milestone limited. They come to an end. Closing tasks include getting acceptance from the customer, archiving records, closing contracts, reviewing lessons learned, and celebrating success.

10 Knowledge Areas

The ten knowledge areas define the fundamentals that every effective project manager needs to grasp.

Integration – Integration is the ability to bring together all inputs to manage the project as a whole and not in chunks or fits and starts.

Scope – Scope management is one of the most important tasks of the project manager. The scope makes clear what the project will deliver and what is excluded. Project managers need the skills to gather requirements and define the scope and stick to it.

Time – The knowledge area of time involves understanding the time commitment of each person to their project tasks and projecting the overall timeframe of the project.

Cost – Budget management is an essential part of any project. Where necessary, there must be a budget associated with each task. Project managers should have the skills to accurately forecast the overall budget.

Quality – Quality control and management must be backed-in to every project activity so that the results will be in line with expectations.

Procurement – Project managers should be adept at procuring both supplies and resources in a way that adds value and minimizes waste.

Human resources – A huge element of project management is people management. Excellent project managers build teams that have, or can grow, the skills necessary to get to the finish line. They keep team members engaged and recognize achievements.

Communications – It is sometimes said that a project manager’s job is 80% communications. The PM is responsible for keeping the sponsor and all stakeholders informed about the project status or any roadblocks.

Risk management – Speaking of roadblocks, project managers should have the skills to assess risk and complete qualitative and quantitative risk assessments across the life of the project.

Stakeholder management – Successful project managers understand who is impacted by the project and keep the needs and concerns of those people front and center throughout the lifecycle of the project.

Additional Resources

In addition to the PMBOK® Guide, PMI publishes these additional resources:

  • Practice Standard for Project Risk Management
  • Practice Standard for Earned Value Management
  • Practice Standard for Project Configuration Management
  • Practice Standard for Work Breakdown Structures
  • Practice Standard for Scheduling
  • Practice Standard for Project Estimating
  • Project Manager Competency Development Framework


For organizations and project management professionals that want to bring a higher level of sophistication and standardization to the table, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge is an excellent place to start.

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