A short chapter from the unwritten history of the Project Management Institute.
Published here March 2014


Musings Index

The Origins of the Project Management Body of Knowledge

From time to time I get asked questions like: "What were the origins of the Project Management Body of Knowledge and the efforts behind the first 1987 Edition?" and "What really is the difference between Project Management and Operations Management?"

The original PMBOK

My first introduction to the potential need to identify such a body of knowledge was when I first joined the Project Management Institute's Board of Directors as VP member Services in 1983. At that time Dr. John Adams was researching the attributes of a professional organization and concluded that what we needed was a "body of knowledge" that clearly distinguished project management from general management. At the same time, Past PMI President and Chairman, Matt Parry, had just completed his Ethics, Standards and Accreditation study known as the "ESA Report". This report included a brief summary of six key areas or topics that where basic and unique to project management, namely, Scope, Quality, Time, Cost, Human Resources, and Communications.

I remember well my attendance at the first Board meeting, immediately after the election, when these topics were discussed. With some temerity, I inquired if indeed the findings of the ESA Report showed that the Institute had minimum requirements in place to meet the minimum attributes being advocated by John Adams. David Morten, then PMI Board Chairman, observed that this appeared to be the case. So I replied "Then what are we waiting for?"

Around 1984-85, the PMI Board established a Standards Board of which I was invited to be chairman. At around the same time I had been doing a lot of "project management instruction" in my spare time and had accumulated a large number of transparencies. I needed to sort them into some sort of order. I found the work done by Matt Parry an ideal framework for classifying and storing them. In fact I wrote an article "ESA and All That" that was published in the Project Management Journal in March 1985. This provided the impetus for an official PMI Project #121.

This all triggered a long train of events, from the sterling work done by Dr. Lew Ireland in developing the first database of Project Management Professional ("PMP") certification questions. Next came a landmark "invitation to-experts-only" workshop that I orchestrated at the 1984 PMI Seminar Symposium. The objective was to expand and improve the project management body of knowledge data that we had at the time, which I tagged as "PMBOK". The train of events continued through the development of the Project Management Professional designation to the massive project management consulting and related web services of today - and PMI's present resounding financial success.

After much diligent work with a team of over 80 PMI members, a large team to manage in those days (especially before the days of Email!), a formal Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) document was approved by the PMI Board of Directors on March 28, 1987. It was promulgated to be effective for certification and educational program reviews as of September 1, 1987. As a matter of record, in 1985 I received PMI's Distinguished Contribution Award for my work, and Person of the Year Award in 1986.

The difference between Project and Operations management

The simplest answer to this question is to refer to my Issacons Ref. IAC 1002c.




Planning horizon

Varies according to project life span

Fiscal, year to year

Career planning

• Succession planning not applicable
• Career planning more challenging
• Often up to the individual

• Orderly, progressive

• Assisted by the HR department


Uncertain due to special risks

More predictable and subject to statistical techniques

Training & learning

• Generally non-repetitive other than standard procedures such as start up and possibly product roll-out
• Personal goals difficult to assess

• Generally repetitive, learning through experience (learning curve effect)

• Goals set in annual assessments


• Finite duration
• Must "do it right the first time"

• Clear team responsibilities

• Lessons post-project

• Continuous operation
• Permits "learning from experience" consistent with responsibility
• Teamwork not necessarily so evident
• Plan-do-check-act operates continuously


• Project teams are temporary
• Frequent development of new relationships
• Adds complexity and uncertainty

• Positions relatively permanent
• Long-term relationships established
• Interactions more certain


• Various levels of "matrix" or fully projectized
• Driven by project goals

• Usually within a functional department
• Driven by department's goals

Opportunities for improvement

• Generally within life of project only
• Based on team input
• Mostly within execution phase

• Not proven until project completed

• Continuous improvement is a way of life
• Based on management input
• Changes to operations continuously monitored
• Relatively immediate feedback

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