PMBOK® 7 – All you need to know… Sorta-Kinda :-)
I am now long of tooth with a hoary head and have been a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) for more than twenty years and had been a project manager before that. In this article some statements will be made that some may disagree with strongly. However, before you respond, if you were in elementary or middle school when I was PMP certified more than twenty years ago, indulge an older person, do some research, reflection and thinking before responding.
Additionally, before anyone concludes I am anti-PMI and/or anti PMBOK®, a great aspect about PMI and the PMBOK® is the standardization of terminology for project managers solidifying project management as a profession. Another great aspect of PMI is the community of project managers it brings together. Both are monumental achievements that have benefited humankind.
There are best practices for both project and program management. These best practices are principle based. To quote Henry Fayol from more than one hundred years ago “Principles that are established should be viewed as flexible, capable of adaptation to every need. It is the manager’s job to know how to make use of them, which is a difficult art requiring intelligence, experience, decisiveness, and, most important, a sense of proportion.” True one hundred years ago, true today. Project management is more art than science and this is why everyone is not good at it.
Any of my clients, anyone that has heard me speak or read my articles over the years knows that I have been critical of the frequency of PMBOK® updates, the ever-increasing size of the PMBOK®, and all the myriad of supplemental documents associated with it.
Principles for successful project management have not changed during the entire lifespan of the PMBOK®. Mankind’s greatest project management achievements happened pre-PMBOK®; The Great Pyramid of Giza, The Great Wall of China, landing humans on the moon and returning them safely, to name a few.
In music there is often a “new” hit song that young people are listening too, and they describe it as new and fresh. As an older person I can listen to the same song and often what they describe as “new” and “fresh” is simply sampled, rearranged, or remixed from a previous hit song. Just because it is new to them, does not mean it is new to humankind.
What was new in the first edition of the PMBOK®? What has been new in any edition of the PMBOK®? Some view the PMBOK® as providing new best practices, tools and methods. Because technology changes at a rapid pace, and humankind adapts to fast change, does not mean all aspects of life change like technology. Leadership and project management principles essentially have not changed. Often what is espoused as new in leadership or project management is simply repackaged old knowledge in new shrink wrap. New technology may make things easier to implement a principle, but it does not change the principle. Good communication is still required whether by smoke signal, carrier pigeon, Morse code or Zoom meeting.
There are now seven editions of the PMBOK®. I challenge any reader of this article to list seven “new” best practices, tools and methods produced by the PMBOK®. New best practices, tools, or methods, not rearranged, renamed, or reorganized, or newly copyrighted pre-existing tools and methods. Just in case you want to suggest Agile, remember Agile was not created by the PMBOK®, it was incorporated into the PMBOK®. Additionally, the principles of Agile were not new either.
There is a history of individuals and organizations taking existing knowledge, rearranging it and/or relabeling it into a “system”, and then selling that system to the masses. Years ago a former Fortune 10 executive once told me a story about their CEO and Six Sigma. His story was when they first approached the CEO with Six Sigma, he essentially said we do not need that, there is nothing new there, we have those tools. They then told him how much revenue they would generate by requiring the entire company’s supply chain to get Six Sigma certified when they provided all the training, and the leader changed his mind.
Here is a principle tried and true. Follow the money for actions and motivation if you want a complete story. Many say seven is the number of completion and perfection. Will there be an eighth, ninth and tenth edition of the PMBOK®? You tell me.
PS. There is nothing new in my book either. What is in the book are program management principles distilled from many years of observing the best practices of NASA and other great organizational leaders.
I thought I was all alone in the “new age” of Project and Program Management. Thank you sincerely for the refreshing insight. After spending more than 20 years in the Corporate arena, and now almost 5 years on my own as a Consultant, I can’t help but wonder why there is seemingly such a desire to recreate the wheel of good fundamental management principles. While it is indeed true that change is inevitable, and that new technologies/methodologies SHOULD introduce efficiencies, what seems to become more true is that businesses and business systems are becoming significantly more inefficient and laden with waste and defects. Instead of focusing on the right strategies to deliver value, I continue to witness people AND organizations focus on the lexicon of PMI terms and the implementation of the latest PMI “philosophy ” (e.g. Agile), at the expense of results. What’s more interesting, is the number of job descriptions I have read that require Agile experience in industries that should almost NEVER consider an Agile model (after all, it may be difficult to introduce a 10-day sprint on an initiative that has a design life of 50 years with a reliability target of 95%…if your requirements are not fully understood before the project begins, then how can one even begin proper validation testing).
What’s most concerning is the direction of Project and Program Management as a profession. In my most recent experiences, Project Management has been diluted to babysitting, and Program Management has transitioned to becoming an Executive slideshow presentation professional. Left unchanged, at the end, organizational lifespans could decrease, and value could sharply decline.
I will pause here at so that I don’t begin to sound like a grumpy old man.
Thanks again for your insightful post!!!