A Final Thought for PMI and the PMBOK® Guide
In my previous article reviewing Cost Management in the Guide's 4th Edition, I suggested that PMI make a clear distinction between what is a standard and what is a best practice. In that regard, I noted that:
"The PMBOK® Guide is promoted as a standard-indeed, it is an ANSI standard. Standards are often viewed as absolutes, or at least they are documents that are considered "good practices on most projects most of the time." In many environments, adherence to cited or referenced standards is viewed as mandatory.
"However, there is another category known as best practices. While the term recommended practices might be more accurate, we will stick with the term best practices, since that term is more often used and is most familiar to most readers. Best practices are techniques, processes or methodologies that are usually recognized as so-called "best" by peer organizations and/or by generally accepted subject matter experts. Where there are strong differences based on large bodies of consensus that differ between industries, I see no problem in documenting them and citing them as best practices as defined by the particular industries or circumstances they come from. Thus, best practices may differ depending upon the type of work being done or industry within which one is working. After all, different industries may have different needs that justify such positions."
In my 2010 version of this article, in addition to the paragraphs above, I went on to say:
"Thus, what PMI might consider doing is to separate those things that should be treated as standards (universally applied with universal conformity) from those things that can be treated as best (or recommended) practices (optional). Thus, one can deviate from best practices when there is good and sufficient reason to do so, but not things cited as part of a standard."
Well, in the 5th Edition, we now have the actual standard published as "Annex A1 - The Standard for Project Management of a Project", while the body of the Guide (Chapters 1-13) is treated as explanatory, meaning that the Guide is migrating towards what I recommended previously.
I also said:
"An essential reason for generating a standard is to clarify concepts and unify the professional discipline. Therefore, what must be avoided is the dilution of standardized approaches with processes or descriptions that have no supporting objective rationale other than being wedded to tradition. The examples of the alphabet soup of terminology presented in this paper (refer back to Figure 2) are cited as proof of this need."
Again, while that statement was certainly true of the 4th Edition, the 5th Edition has made great strides in streamlining and standardizing the vocabulary associated with cost management, as well as reaching, to a large degree, consensus on the handling of project reserves.
In my original paper on this topic, I noted that over the years, certain topics in the PMBOK® Guide had gone from clarity to ambiguity. I presume that this was due to strong positions being taken by differing constituencies, as evidenced by the subject discussed in this paper. Perhaps it was a desire to avoid alienating any group of stakeholders, rather than taking a position of leadership. If so, I noted that such an approach provides the practitioner with little help or guidance, and PMI would do well to avoid falling into that trap.
I am pleased to see that in the 5th Edition, PMI has made significant strides towards creating a much more unified and understandable position-although, as noted above, there remain issues that still need to be addressed. However, that is why the PMBOK® Guide is revised and updated every four years. I look forward to the Guide's 6th Edition.
26. The reference is to the Figure 2 that is in my previous paper, and is not included in this paper.