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The 11th Installment“Outlook of PMBOK and Project Management”

by Kiyoshi Sakamori,
Professor, Master Program of Information System Architecture

Development of PMBOK

Many people have come to understand the importance of project management, and the volume of research on how to successfully complete projects is building. Guide to Project Management Body Knowledge (“PMBOK”) brings together the wisdom of many project professionals across industry borders. With the fourth edition published at the end of last year, the Guide has an established recognition as a repository of global knowledge.

One of the most noticeable points of this revision was that clarifications were made to the descriptions of processes and documents, and that systems were discussed in a more readable fashion. The revisions of the processes themselves are fewer than in the previous revision, and the number of processes was compacted from 44 to 42. Two processes, “Definition of Requirements” and “Identification of Stakeholders” were added. In system development projects, the process of requirement definition has an important position, and stakeholder identification is needed at the kickoff of a project. The processes “Preparation of Tentative Version of Scope Description” and “Scope Planning” were removed. Both were eliminated to make the Guide easier to understand. Moreover, six redundant procurement management processes were amalgamated into four processes.

In addition, by considering preventive and corrective measures as changes in a broader sense, change requests were brought together under a single theme: the human skills of project managers. This has been a popular topic in the field of project management recently, and was covered in more depth. And these are all features of the fourth edition.

Would PMBOK be useless in the real world?

Judging from the fact that not so significant changes were made for the fourth edition, it is clear that the PMBOK system is now well established. The Guide has earned itself a solid reputation as the bible of project management. The number of PMP certified project managers would be around 300,000 worldwide.

On the other hand, some argue that knowledge of PMBOK is useless. What is the root cause of this criticism? The biggest reason is simply a misunderstanding. PMBOK does not set out to be practical standards for projects. It is more like a “repository of knowledge,” and shaping something pragmatic from the ideas takes different forms depending on individual projects. If you forget this, and attempt to use PMBOK as a project procedure book at the high end, you may end up thinking that PMBOK is useless.

Issues with PMBOK

Yet, is this the only reason why PMBOK cannot be neatly applied to real world projects? I assume some issues are encompassed within the basic notions of PMBOK. To give an example, PMBOK has cost management for controlling expenditures, but it does not contain profit management for examining the balance with income. Another example is that PMBOK is based on the assumption that the three pillars of “scope,” “cost,” and “time” won’t change once they are developed in the planning phase. Both examples represent PMBOK’s concepts, and I am not claiming that they are bad. However, I admit that they have caused a divergence from real-world projects, and made practical application of PMBOK difficult. We need to resolve this issue for the future development of PMBOK. Two dissociation instances in the real world environment are discussed below:

PMBOK does not take into account profit center-type projects.

PMBOK does not entail income management, which is evident from the fact that the nine areas of knowledge have cost management but they do not have management of revenue or profit. Under PMBOK, a budget is assigned to a project, and cost management is regarded as processes for executing projects within budget. This concept is generally referred to as a cost center. However, there are some projects whose primary management target is the resulting profit. For instance, a project manager responsible for a contracted project has to look for the profitability of the project. PMBOK assumes projects on the client side, but it should pay attention to the fact that project management on the contractors’ side is on the rise.

PMBOK assumes that plans are fixed in advance.

Another dissociation example is that PMBOK fixes the planned values for “scope,” “cost,” and “time” at the project planning phase. The notion of fixing planned values like this is extremely important in project management, which constitutes the basic philosophy to manage projects by the three baselines along with change management in the course of project implementation. It is true that many projects have been successful because of this notion. Recent projects, however, are sometimes unable to fix these three targets at the kickoff of the projects because of their development methods. Examples include spiral model development, UML based development, or agile development method in the world of system development. These new development technologies share the idea that the target values for “scope,” “cost,” and “time” are not necessarily fixed at the kickoff of a project; rather, final values are formed during repeated attempts of design and development processes. The current PMBOK does not provide flexible handling of projects where the values under management targets change over time. At the PMI Congress in 2009, discussing how PMBOK could be applied to flexible projects was raised as a primary research issue.

The future of project management

We looked above at some of the stumbling blocks that make PMBOK difficult to apply to real world projects. If you could get around the challenges and apply PMBOK to your own projects, then that would be real project management. Once new project promotion procedures such as flexible project management are well established and well received as “best practice,” they will be incorporated into PMBOK in the not-too-distant future. It is not as much PMBOK teaching project management as it is that those studying project management now have a role to play in incorporating new thinking into PMBOK.

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  • The 11th Installment

    “Outlook of PMBOK and Project Management”

    by Kiyoshi Sakamori,
    Professor, Master Program of Information System Architecture
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