First published as an editorial for Project Management World Today Web Magazine. Updated here in February 2002.


Musings Index

Project Management, PMBoK and Order

Project management is founded on the principle of "Plan before doing". PMBoK is an acronym coined by me in the early 1980s and stands "for project management body of knowledge". According to the US Project Management Institute ("PMI"), this PMBoK consists of eight knowledge areas of scope, quality, time, cost, human resources, contract/procurement and information/communications. PMI's Guide to the PMBoK, 2000 Edition, has a chapter on "Project Integration Management" with the remaining eight topics presented in seemingly random order. At issue today is whether there is any logical rationale integrating the eight topics just listed into a cohesive whole. For if there is, it does not seem to be recognized by anyone and yet would surely build an even more solid foundation for project management deployment.

In fact, as long ago as 1986, Philip Nunn, a stalwart contributor to project management knowledge and co-author of "Total Quality through Project Management"[1] observed:[2]

"My intent here is to contribute a concept of dynamic linkage between the categories, which helps the whole body of knowledge flow together." And, "When ordered in this way [i.e. as suggested] the components display a dynamic relationship which implies a progressive flow of information. They also relate easily to the flow of work through the phases of the process of project management." And further, he added, "We plan projects by moving down the list of components, and we actively (control) projects by moving up the list."

The full list and sequence was subsequently published in A Framework for Project and Program Management Integration which I authored:[3]

  1. What needs to be done? - Scope
  2. Produced to what standards? - Quality (grade)
  3. What is the sequential order and pace of the tasks involved? - Time
  4. How much will the tasks and resources cost? - Cost
  5. What is the degree of uncertainty associated with the work? - Risk
  6. What people are required, with what skills? - Human Resources
  7. What commitments must be procured, or what resources must be contracted for? - Contract/Procurement
  8. What information must be communicated back and forth to make it all happen? - Information/Communications

Some people even question the order of the first four on the list. For those, consider the following argument. If the cost of a project is all-important, you cannot determine the cost (cost) until you know all the activities involved and their degree of urgency (time). You cannot determine the duration of these activities until you also know the required grade of quality since a higher quality usually requires more time (quality). And, of course, you cannot know what you are doing until you know what is to be produced in the first place (scope). If you follow this logic, then the progressive sequence from the beginning is: scope, quality, time and finally cost.

As Nunn suggests, when it comes to managing the execution of a project, the tendency is to move sequentially upward. First, communication must be effectively established with people to get them to do something and refer to the contract or other form of commitment for the agreed upon details. Then the project team should consider the opportunities and risks involved within the constraints imposed, so that they are then in a position to focus on precisely what is to be delivered.

This may not be a perfect argument. However, you would have thought that the boffins, especially the process oriented ones who are supposed to be thinking about these things, would have latched onto some logic of this nature by now. Such a logic would provide the cement to bond the whole project management knowledge structure together at this level. Regretfully, it appears not to be. It seems that the thoughtful observations of Philip Nunn some fifteen years ago constitute a concept too erudite to be given serious consideration even today.

1. Leavitt, J.S. & P.C. Nunn, Total Quality Through Project Management, McGraw-Hill, 1994
2. Project Management Journal, August 1986, p106
3. A Framework for Project and Program management Integration, Project Management Institute, 1991, pII-6

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