This Guest paper is an updated version of a paper first published in the PM World Journal, January 2018. This revision was presented for publication December 24, 2017
Part 1 published here February 2018

In this paper:
• IPECC = Initiating, Planning, Executing, Controlling, Closing
• OGC = Office of Government Commerce (UK)
• KAs = Knowledge Areas (in the PMBOK Guide)
• PGs = Process Groups (ditto)
• PMBOK = Project Management Body of Knowledge (Guide)
• PMI = Project Management Institute (USA)

Abstract | Introduction | Clearing the Confusion | Processes 
Knowledge Areas | Process Groups within Knowledge Areas | PART 2


PMI® uses a three-dimensional model for structuring the knowledge required in order to apply best practice in project management. This model comprises Processes, Process Groups (PGs), and Knowledge Areas (KAs). This three-dimensional view can be confusing even to practitioners in the field. Experience shows that this is definitely the case for life cycles and process groups (this is even the case with books and training courses aimed specifically at PMI's PMP® certification).

The "Devil's Dictionary of Project Management Terms"[3] provides a concise view of this confusion, as follows: "Process Groups — Formal assemblages of processes based on characteristics of use to the assemblers rather than to the users of the concept. Its greatest benefit is as a basis for identifying people who do not understand project management, as they think that the process groups equate to project life cycle phases".

Many organizations attempt to base themselves on PMI's PMBOK® Guide — and do it wrongly. Much of the responsibility for this confusion lies with the way in which the PMBOK® Guide addresses the concept of PGs. For example, Figure 2‑1 in The Standard for Project Management increases this confusion around the role of PGs (see Figure 1). In this diagram, the PGs (Initiating, Planning, Executing, Closing as well as Monitoring and Controlling) are presented as a cohesive sequence spanning the entire project space; whereas that, of course, is exactly the role of a life cycle.

Figure 1: Despite its appearance, this is not a life cycle
Figure 1: Despite its appearance, this is not a life cycle

Many books and courses that describe PMI's standards also talk about Process Groups as if they were life cycle phases. The authors of the PMBOK® Guide recognize this, and, in a number of places, state explicitly that "process groups are not phases". However, by defining PGs in this way by what they are not may be an entertaining surrealist approach to the world (see "Ceci n'est pas une pomme" by René Magritte in Figure 2) but cannot be relied upon to reduce confusion in a technical area.

Figure 2: René Magritte's painting "Ceci n'est pas une Pomme"
Figure 2: René Magritte's painting "Ceci n'est pas une Pomme"[4]

However, phases and PGs are valuable concepts if used correctly, but this confusion is damaging to the profession.

Abstract  Abstract

3. PM World Journal. Devil's Dictionary of Project Management Terms. C. Piney, Volume VI, Issue 4 April 2017 (
4. The philosophical analysis of why the artist felt the need to create the painting is beyond me (although he has also written about "the treachery of images").
Home | Issacons | PM Glossary | Papers & Books | Max's Musings
Guest Articles | Contact Info | Search My Site | Site Map | Top of Page