PMBOK in Project Management: Definition and Best Practices

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Just when you thought you had a handle on all the business acronyms of the day, up pops PMBOK to mystify you. What is it, and how do you apply it? Is it useful, or is it just another alphabet soup you can live without?

The truth is that if you hope to manage projects of any scale, PMBOK could well become your go-to source work. Defining PMBOK is as easy as looking at what that acronym stands for: “Project Management Body of Knowledge.”

If you inferred that this means absolutely everything that every project manager might know and can use in his or her work, you hit the nail on the head. But PMBOK isn’t a widely-dispersed mish-mash of information. Instead, it is presented in a comprehensive volume titled A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge.

Is PMBOK As Comprehensive as it Sounds?

As you can no doubt imagine, PMBOK keeps growing and changing, so the volume is regularly updated, with new editions and extra handbooks coming out periodically. The body responsible for this mammoth task is the Project Management Institute (PMI), an organization which also provides accreditation for project managers.

If you needed any other endorsement, you need only look to the fact that the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) recognizes the PMBOK Guide as the source work for project management standards. ISO followed suit back in 2012 and continues to update its standards based on PMBOK.

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The sheer magnitude of this work is illustrated by the number of management disciplines it covers. Although much of it is specific to project management, it also covers general management topics such as staffing, planning, organizing, project implementation and control of activities.

What Best Practices Does PMBOK Cover?

PMBOK deals with the project management lifecycle from start to finish. It describes 47 processes that managers would typically undertake when tackling a project and organizes them into five groups of processes which it tags with yet another acronym: IPECC.

IPECC consists of groups of processes covering:

  1. Project Initiation: Here, we would be looking at how a project charter should be developed. The project charter indicates what the project is to achieve, by when, using what resources, and why the project will be undertaken. In addition to this, it will indicate funding status and what the client organization expects from the completed project. In essence, it is a project brief from the client, but project managers need to be able to analyze the charter and clarify any elements that require clearer definition or that need to be negotiated.
  2. Project Planning Processes: During planning, budgets are determined, timelines are plotted, human resources are allocated, purchasing plans are devised, critical success factors and risks are identified, and contingency plans are prepared. The process strives to cover every eventuality to assure project success. It brings together all ten of the project management knowledge areas. It further elaborates on the scope statement, adding the project manager’s perspective on how the team will fulfill the charter.
  3. Project Execution Processes: Apart from ensuring that teams or contractors perform the physical work of which the project consists, processes also include quality assurance, team management, communication, procurements, and the management of stakeholder engagements. Although the PMBOK guide could never specify the technical details of every kind of project, it gives you a framework for applying best practice in these broad project management areas.
  4. Project Control Processes: These processes include: controlling the project schedule, its costs, its quality, validating results in relation to project scope in conjunction with stakeholders, and controlling communications and procurements. As part of this process, each element will be analyzed for variances or risks and corrective action is taken as needed. Any changes that the project manager decides to implement will be integrated into the project management plan.
  5. Project Closure Processes: These don’t only happen at the end of the project. A large project will consist of phases, and there will be closure procedures for each of these. However, there is a final closure process in which documentation is formally finalized and closed, external contractors and suppliers are released, the completed project becomes functional, and final communications are finalized.

Apart from dealing with the processes of which a project consists, PMBOK covers best practice for the ten project management knowledge areas.

  1. Project Communication Management: This includes communications with players in the project team and external stakeholders.
  2. Project Cost Management: The budget for a project represents a financial plan. Keeping that plan on track and completing a project within that budget involves careful coordination and management. Time management also plays a role here. The saying “time is money,” is never apter than when you apply it to complex projects.
  3. Human Resource Management: It’s people who get projects done, so tasks like hiring, appointing, and motivating people is part of the project management body of knowledge.
  4. Project Integration Management: A project manager is responsible for coordinating and consolidating a myriad of activities into a coherent effort. In addition, the project manager must keep stakeholder expectations realistic and communicate effectively with internal and external stakeholders.
  5. Procurement Management: Whether a project deals with physical resources or intangible ones, the procurement and purchasing of resources is required so that work can go ahead.
  6. Quality Management: The latest edition of PMBOK includes an expanded section on quality management – not as a task to be carried out by some outside agency, but as an ongoing activity that affects every phase and task. Continuous improvement forms part of the quality management philosophy.
  7. Risk Management: Although every project manager would like to expect the best from his or her project, project managers must identify worst-case scenarios, consider them carefully, and prepare contingency plans. He or she must also seek to identify strategies that limit risk.
  8. Project Scope Management: For a project to succeed, its scope must be defined in detail. Next, the project manager ensures that the project conforms to its agreed scope and fulfills its parameters.
  9. Project Stakeholder Management: Anybody who will be affected by a project is a stakeholder. Project managers must identify interested and affected parties and strive to maintain good stakeholder relations.
  10. Time Management: In this instance, “time management” refers to project milestones and deadlines. Apart from ensuring that projects are delivered to specification and within budget, the project manager must also ensure that work is completed on or before stipulated deadlines.

How to get the Most Out of PMBOK

A project manager fulfills many roles and needs to be an all-rounder. Knowing and applying every detail that PMBOK Guide includes might be a nearly impossible task. However, having it as a source work will be helpful when you face areas that could do with improvement or greater focus.

Even the PMI is reluctant to call the PMBOK guide “best practice,” instead, it terms its information as being helpful to “good practice.” The organization also notes that you should “tailor and select what you need.” We can conclude that the PMBOK guide contains information on the current best practice, however, and that makes it worth following its project management processes and improving knowledge in the areas of expertise it outlines.

Ultimately, no amount of theory gets projects, or even the planning phase of a project, completed. Theory can help you to discover better ways of doing things, but putting it all into practice is easier said than done. However, you will have noticed that the skills of project managers are directed towards the five groups of processes they undertake during the project life cycle.

Each of these is complex and may involve coordinating a substantial number of people before it is complete.

To help ensure that these processes are carried out without mistake, you can give workflow management software a try. The software digitizes the project management process, ensuring that all the tasks are completed successfully and on time.

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