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Book Review - A Guide to the PMBOK® Guide Fourth Edition

The new PMBOK® Guide has been released and it presents many improvements. PMI has really come through with this version and continues to advance project management. Read the entire article to see what we found in the Fourth Edition of the PMBOK® Guide.

Book Review - PMBOK® Guide Fourth Edition

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A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) is universally recognized as the standard for project management methodologies and practices. Project managers routinely use the PMBOK® as a reference for accepted tools, knowledge, and processes in order to ensure the successful completion of a wide range of projects. The PMBOK® is also the industry standard which candidates must study and possess a functional knowledge of when preparing for Project Management Professional (PMP) and Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) certifications. Since its creation the PMBOK® has undergone several revisions the most recent of which is the 4th edition. Although much of the content is the same as in the 3rd edition, there are some significant changes regarding clarity and improvement.

The 4th edition of the PMBOK® reflects a focused effort to provide more clarity in various aspects of project management practices while reducing ambiguity and redundancy. There are several areas where this is evident. First, in order to remain consistent, all processes are now annotated in a verb-noun format (i.e. Define Activities, Develop Schedule, Plan Quality, Verify Scope, etc). In such a dynamic discipline as project management it is imperative to maintain as high a level of consistency and simplicity as possible. Adding to its simplicity, the 4th edition has also grouped corrective action, preventive action, defect repair, and requested changes under the heading “change request”. The purpose of this is to provide visibility of these change requests while allowing an easier understanding of the project management processes.

It is important for a project manager to have a comprehensive understanding of the processes involved with successful project management. In order to help with this the 4th edition of the PMBOK® has focused more on clarifying process interactions. By more clearly explaining process inputs and outputs with aid from the PMBOK’s® new data flow diagrams—which replaced process flow diagrams—and the relationships between these processes, the project manager will have a better understanding of how to use these tools to his or her benefit.

Another important clarification is the distinction between the project management plan and the various project documents the project manager may utilize in helping manage the project. An example of this is that previously a change log may have been mistakenly grouped into a project management plan. The PMBOK® now makes it clear that while change management is an important part of a project management plan, a change log is a project document and should not be included in a formal project plan.

Additional clarification was made to the PMBOK® by more clearly differentiating what contents of the project charter and scope statement are required. Previously, these documents may have shared some commonalities as there was no clear distinction between required content. As projects progressively elaborate—or become more defined as they move forward—what is annotated in the charter will evolve and become evident in the project scope statement. This progressive elaboration is an important part of project management and the PMBOK® has done well by making this consideration while defining more clear boundaries between these two documents.

Perhaps the most significant difference between the 3rd and 4th editions of the PMBOK® is the addition, consolidation, and removal of several processes. The processes of Develop Preliminary Scope Statement (Project Integration Management Knowledge Area) and Plan Scope (Project Scope Management Knowledge Area) were removed in the 4th edition. Processes which were added include Collect Requirements (Project Scope Management Knowledge Area) and Identify Stakeholders (Project Communications Management Knowledge Area). Within the Project Procurement Management Knowledge Area the six processes were consolidated into four. These process revisions represent bold changes between the 3rd and 4th editions of the PMBOK®. However, by renaming the processes in verb-noun format, removing those which were redundant or unnecessary, adding where needed, and consolidating others, the 4th edition of the PMBOK® represents a significant improvement and another step in the right direction for project management.

Another improvement added to the 4th edition of the PMBOK® is Appendix G which contains a list and discussion of interpersonal skills needed to successfully manage projects. While it is arguable whether or not these skills can be learned through training and practice or whether one is born more adept at these soft skills, it is clear that they are necessary in effectively managing projects and project teams. Their inclusion in the PMBOK® is an improvement because they indicate areas in which project managers must maintain their focus while interacting with their project teams and stakeholders.

While the release of the 4th edition of the PMBOK® was a step in the right direction for project management it was also part of a larger picture and not the only book of standards PMI released. Concurrently with the PMBOK® fourth edition PMI released The Standard for Program Management 2nd Edition; The Standard for Portfolio Management 2nd Edition; and Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3®) 2nd Edition. The release of these four standards represents an effort to relate methodologies between and among these various levels of project and program management in a clear, consistent, and comprehensive manner. These standards of basic project management, program and portfolio management, and organizational project management, along with consistent language, terminology, and practices provide an umbrella under which practitioners of the project management profession can operate with awareness, clarity, and confidence.

In addition to the professional content contained within the PMBOK® there are some other characteristics of the book worthy of discussion. First, the book maintains its quality of being easy to read and understand. The fonts and graphics used in the book are clearly visible and the reader will find them easy to follow. Additionally, the data flow diagrams at the beginning of each knowledge area chapter are much easier to follow and understand than the 3rd edition’s process flow diagrams. Another nice characteristic is the ability of the reader to take notes in the margins which provide very adequate space. One characteristic that should be improved is the soft cover of the PMBOK®. With the cost of the book at $65.95 through PMI (or $49.50 for PMI members), a soft cover is hardly adequate to protect such an investment and valuable reference tool. Some simple internet research also found that the book can be purchased for $41.55 through with free shipping. This is certainly the most affordable price found online though, perhaps, it can be purchased secondhand or from a used book store for less.

One reason for the explosive growth of the project management profession is the degree to which the practices and methodologies have evolved. The revisions in the 4th edition of the PMBOK® represent the efforts made by its governing body, PMI, to remain proactive in a cycle of continuous development and improvement. The utility of effective project management has been realized throughout every industry and market segment. By including feedback from its practitioners in this improvement cycle the project management industry will continue to effectively evolve through its refinement of standards, tools, and practices.