PMBOK Guide 7th Edition - What you need to know

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PMBOK Guide 7th Edition - What you need to know

On August 1st, 2021 the Project Management Institute releases the physical paper copy of the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge and the Project Management Standard as a single volume in 7th edition. Previous copies of this book are known as the Project Manager's bible and its reputation as the definitive guide to project management has been built up over about 25 years. However, this edition is a huge departure from all previous editions creating a huge controversy in the project management community.

Why is there so much controversy about this edition? Well it's the first edition to drop the 5 process groups (initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing), their associated 49 processes and 10 knowledge areas (integration, scope, schedule, cost, quality, resources, communication, risk, procurement, risk, stakeholder) that the previous versions focused on. These subjects don't appear in the new edition, and have been replaced by 12 new principles and 8 domain areas, some of which similar to the old process groups and knowledge areas, but there appears to be no rhyme nor reason for those that still exist vs those that don't. The following chart shows the 6th edition on the left in orange, and the new 7th edition on the right in purple.

The new edition focuses on a value delivery system that links an organization's strategies to it's objectives, and then initiatives (programs and projects) are created to deliver deliverables to achieve the objective and hopefully improve the organization's capabilities. To support this value system 12 foundational project management principles have been identified that are common to all projects:

  1. Stewardship - be a diligent, respectful and caring steward
  2. Team - create a collaborative project team environment
  3. Stakeholders - effectively engage with stakeholders
  4. Value - focus on value
  5. Systems Thinking - recognize, evaluate and respond to systems interactions
  6. Leadership - demonstrate leadership behaviours
  7. Tailoring - tailor based on context
  8. Quality - build quality into processes and deliverables
  9. Complexity - navigate complexity
  10. Risks - optimize risk responses
  11. Adaptability and resilience - embrace adaptability and resilience
  12. Change Management - enable change to achieve the envisioned future state

These principles are the foundation for all projects, without them the project is unlikely to be successful. They are also "common sense" and most people learned these principles in kindergarten!
The PMBOK guide then goes on to identify 8 domain areas that all projects must focus on, regardless of the type of project and the methodology being used.

  1. Team
  2. Stakeholders
  3. Development Approach & Life cycle
  4. Planning
  5. Project Work
  6. Delivery
  7. Measurement (Performance)
  8. Uncertainty (Navigating Uncertainty and Ambiguity)

This list is confusing some people as it is similar to the previous 10 knowledge areas. The reality is that it is quite simple, for example the reason that scope, cost and schedule aren't explicitly listed as they vary depending on the project management approach being used. If the development approach is agile, there is a lesser emphasis on scope, budget and schedule. Scope will be discovered along the way as the team iterates within their project. A scope statement and work breakdown structure are entirely unnecessary for this type of project, instead this becomes part of the planning domain. The schedule is also less important as the team will develop a sprint plan within their project life cycle. The budget (estimate) isn't created up front as the scope and minimum viable product are unknown and, to a degree unimportant, as the team will be funded provided while they are providing value to the organization. For this reason I am calling these domains pillars, they are built upon the foundation of the 12 principles.

Next the PMBOK discusses Models, Methods and Artifacts. The 7th edition is now agnostic to the project management methodology being used and discussed a variety of models, methods and artifacts that could be used and how they related to the 8 domains. There is a huge emphasis on tailoring the models, methods and artifacts to meet the needs of the project team, project environment and project organization. The PMBOK is no longer prescriptive as to the activities and tools the project manager must use. The idea being that the project manager may elect to use any methodology they think is appropriate: a predictive waterfall approach (6th edition PMBOK), Agile (Disciplined Agile, Kanban, Scrum, Scrumban), XP, Crystal, DAD etc. 

As such the 7th edition PMBOK Guide isn't replacing the 6th edition so much as complementing it. The 6th edition (or even an earlier edition) is a valid methodology to use for project management delivery. The project manager is encouraged to take what they need and leave the rest (something I've promoted for years as Project Management Light or Right-Sized Project Management). Most small projects <$50,000 never needed the heaviness of the PMBOK and could be delivered by just using a subset of the process and artifacts mentioned in the PMBOK. This idea of tailoring has now been officially recognized as part of the body of knowledge when it comes to project management. All knowledge in prior editions of the PMBOK has been moved to a new PMI site which is a fully searchable database available for free to PMI members, or non-members can subscribe (although it costs almost as much as a membership - so I suggest you join PMI).

One thing the 7th edition could really benefit from is a diagram that really lays out how everything fits together. I've created two similar diagrams to convey what I believe PMI is trying to accomplish with this new 7th edition. I'm hoping this makes things clearer for project managers struggling to get their head around all these changes. Let me know what you think!

This pillar diagram shows the foundational 12 principles at the bottom, with the domain pillars built on top. They are holding up the Models, Methods and Artifacts used. Tailoring is on top of everything below. This is where the customization occurs.

So what does this mean in practice? The layer with the Models, Methods and Artifacts can represent any project management methodology, see below. All methodologies are supported by the 8 domains and the 12 foundational principles.

In Summary, the 7th edition PMBOK is a huge departure from it's predecessors based on both it's content and PMI's direction towards methodology agnosticism. It will no longer serve as a "manual" for how to manage a project. Instead it is a flexible guide that supports all methodologies.

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