Copyright to Mounir Ajam © 2012.
Published here November 2012.

Introduction | Setting the Scene | Project Phases and Stages
PMBOK® Guide Process Groups | Process Groups vs. Project Life Span 
Clearing the Doubts | Putting it All Together | Conclusion

Process Groups vs. Project Life Span

In the previous sections we have not emphasized enough the main confusion between project life span and the process groups.

Expanding on the Confusion

Many practitioners and students of project management misunderstand the PMBOK® Guide; when we ask them to name the stages of the project life span they provide the name of the process groups as stages; per the figures below.

Figure 5: Common views of the names of the project phases
Figure 5: Common views of the names of the project phases

The difference between the top and bottom part of Figure 5 is the addition of "Monitoring & Controlling". In the top part it is not shown since the monitoring and controlling processes are active across the whole project life span. However, some practitioners even refer to Monitoring & Controlling as an independent stage as well, and they add it into the picture (see bottom part).

What they do not recognize is that the process groups ARE NOT project phases or stages. The situation is not limited to individuals since some organizations are starting to name their project phases after the process groups. We have no problem with whatever name they use for project phases as long as they understand that a planning phase is different from the planning processes and the execution phase is not the same as execution processes. The reality though, is that we find the use of the process groups as project stages, and this is critical.

Opinion or fact?

In case there is still some doubt, what we present here is not a personal opinion, it is a fact. It is clearly stated in the PMBOK® Guide and here are references to prove it:

  1. The PMBOK® Guide is clear that the project life cycle consists of phases (not process groups); chapter 2, pages 15, 18, 21, and others sections.
  2. The guide is also clear that the process groups repeat in every phase; chapter 2, page 21, Figures 2-4 and 2-5; and chapter 3, page 39, section 3.1.
  3. Figure 4 (earlier in this paper) is from the PMBOK® Guide and clearly shows that the processes repeat. Notice in the arrow at the start "Enter Phase/Start Project" which means that we enter the initiating process group either to start a project or start a new phase within the same project.

So why the confusion?

If the PMBOK® is clear on this, then why do so many practitioners and PMP miss this point? We suggest that the following are possible explanations:

  1. Many do not really (carefully) read the PMBOK® Guide and if they do, they focus on processes, inputs, tools & techniques, and outputs,[11] which repeat in the guide 42 times with every process.
  2. The focus on the processes, process groups, and knowledge areas often lead a person away from the first chapters of the guide where the project life cycle is discussed.
  3. The guide also presents us with the Project Charter as the document that authorizes the project or a phase; this means that there could be a project charter, and a charter for every phase! In other words, even when the guide uses the term Project Charter -- it could be a phase/stage charter … or what some would prefer to call a "stage initiation document".
  4. The same is true for the project management plan, project close, etc. Here again, although the word project is used in all of these documents it actually means a project or a phase.
  5. Planning is a continuous process that goes almost all the way to the end of a project, so what is the planning phase? See PMBOK® Guide, chapter 3, page 41, Figure 3-2.
  6. Same thing for monitoring and controlling.

This might be a good time to revisit the questions in Setting the Scene and see if you now have different answers than previously.

Still not convinced? Read on!

PMBOK® Guide Process Groups  PMBOK® Guide Process Groups

11. We will have a separate article on Inputs, Tools & Techniques, and Outputs
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