A New Project Management Standard?
From time to time we take the Project Management Institute ("PMI")
to task for the more obvious anomalies in its Guide to the Project Management
Body of Knowledge. (For example: "Standards
for Very Large Projects" and "Will They
Never Learn?") Now rumor has it that work has started on an update to
be published in 2005. Like it or not, the shear weight of the US economy has
enabled the Guide (known as "PMBOK") to become the defacto standard
for project management in many parts of the world. The current document unquestionably
has inconsistencies and some dubious advice for neophyte project management practitioners,
so now is the time to examine its contents seriously and consider how it can
We suggest one major area for improvement is in expanding the effective limit
of the present document's scope. Project management is about much more than just
managing one project. It should also be about the environment in which the projects
are generated, how they come into being and on what priority basis. That includes
the whole business of project portfolio management where a collection of projects
must be selected and managed for the most benefit for the organization. Or program
management where one very large project can first be broken down into "sub-"
projects. It should also include advice to senior management on how best to set
the stage for their accomplishment. We call that managing the "Front End".
By the same token, the update could also include more detail on how to transfer
the resulting product into the "Care, Custody and Control" of the customer
so that the intended benefits or outcomes for the sponsoring enterprise are securely
launched. We submit this part is just as vital for ensuring that the product
is not only successful but is perceived to be successful. Only then can the project
manager sit back satisfied that his or her project is a truly successful one.
We call that managing the "Back End".
What we have in the current PMBOK is a collection of twelve chapters
on a variety of subjects in no apparent order and little connection
to one another. Miller in his classic psychology paper has suggested
that the average person can only handle about seven topics, plus
or minus two, at any given level. (See "The Magical Number Seven,
Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on our Capacity for Processing Information"
by George A. Miller, 1956, Harvard University first published
in Psychology Review, 63, 81-97 and on the Internet:
http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Miller/ ). Clearly this is a serious
shortcoming and to add more chapters on more topics without apparent
structure could only make matters worse. Considering that the work
breakdown structure is such an important tool in project management,
a WBS would be an obvious choice although not the only one.
In contrast to PMI, the Association of Project Managers has adopted an intuitively
structured subject grouping proposed by Dr. Peter Morris, CRMP-UMIST,
UK. Wideman has proposed a more encompassing six level structure.
This spans from the Global Competitive Environment down to the Technique
level that is more in tune with the current US model. Such a structure
helps practitioners understand where everything fits and
researchers to observe where knowledge is missing. Issacon
#1002 explains the structure, its significance and the content
at each level.
For example, a significant area of interest to a "global" operation
is the matter of culture, not just as a sub-topic, but as an overriding premise.
You just cannot run projects the same way in, say, Germany, Russia, the Scandinavian
countries or Asian countries. The people in those countries simply have different
cultural norms, behave and react differently to different organizational structures
and forms of communication, and have different levels of risk acceptance. In
other words, one (read US) size does not fit all.
We must sincerely hope that this time around much more practical input will
be entertained from practitioners-in-the-trenches. Also, one hopes, the input
will be unfettered by constrictive copyright impositions on public knowledge,
and preconceived notions of what is best for the Institute's treasury rather
than what is best for the project management discipline at large.