Bringing the PMBOK® guide to life

Project Management Trainer & Consultant
International Institute for Learning


A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) is a source of information for project managers, project management professionals, and future project managers in every industry and technical discipline. Taking the information and applying it to an actual project environment, in some cases, presents a real challenge to the project manager and project team. This paper focuses on techniques that will enable project managers to effectively adapt the principles and processes described in the PMBOK® Guide to the practical world of project management. These techniques transform the PMBOK® Guide from a reference book to a sharpened tool in the project manager’s toolbox.


The Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, known to most project managers and Project Management Professionals as the “PMBOK” or PMBOK ® Guide” can be found on the desks and bookcases and in the libraries of almost every organization that practices project management. For many, the PMBOK® Guide is a handbook of information, for others it’s an essential tool for developing a project plan, and for others it’s a sure cure for insomnia (it’s not what you would call exciting reading). For people who aspire to obtain the Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification, it becomes an essential document in the exam study plan. Regardless of the reason why the PMBOK® Guide is being used, for many it is a love – hate relationship. Is it a methodology? Is it a framework for a project plan? Is it a reference book? Do we really need all of these processes? The answer is: it’s all of the above.

The PMBOK® Guide, developed and refined over the years by volunteers working on teams organized by the Project Management Institute (PMI®), is a standard accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and is updated every four years. The PMBOK as it was known in 1987 was more or less a collection of terms, phrases and definitions common to the field of project management. Instead of knowledge areas, the document referred to “functions” of project management. In 1996 the PMBOK® Guide was developed through a team led by William R. Duncan, then Director of Standards. The new document also included a new knowledge area – Integration Management to emphasize that project management is an integrative process. The 1996 edition provided the project manager with a more organized framework for project management and greater consistency of the overall project management process. It also emphasized that the document was a guide and not the project management body of knowledge. The PMBOK® Guide was further updated in October 2000 and again in 2004. Each update added or changed processes and terminology as part of the strategy of continuous improvement. The updates were not always greeted with enthusiasm and a certain element of controversy and some disagreement among subject matter experts continues today. Considering the different perspectives about the PMBOK® Guide I think it if safe to say that it does provide a very useful foundation for project managers and contains a significant amount of useful information. This information, when used correctly, can greatly improve the probability of successful project completion.

Reflecting back for just a moment, I sat for the PMP® exam in 1991, and I remember spending many hours prior to the exam memorizing the terms in the PMBOK and going through countless practice questions that were focused on the specific functions of project management. Since then the exam process and the PMBOK® Guide have changed considerably. Now there is greater emphasis on the project process groups – Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring and Controlling, and Closing. A new element, actually referred to as a “domain of project management” researched and defined through a role delineation study and issued by PMI in 1999 has been added to the PMP® exam and, although not specifically addressed in the PMBOK® Guide, has become an important element in professional project management. That domain is known as “Professional Responsibility.” Professional Responsibility, an area that focuses on personal integrity, sharing of knowledge, personal development, and balancing stakeholder needs, is not included in the text of the PMBOK® Guide, however, as one becomes more familiar with the document and with the actual practice of project management, it becomes apparent that professional responsibility is an embedded part of the PMBOK® Guide and a guiding principle for project managers.

The latest edition of the PMBOK® Guide is the result of a combined team effort that involved 28 countries, 52 industries and over 3000 recommendations from 140 reviewers. It required 27 months to draft the new edition and 5 months to review and evaluate the recommendations and feedback. The PMBOK® Guide remains focused on the management of a single project but the principles and processes can be used to develop a method for managing multiple projects and establishing a consistent enterprise-wide project management methodology. The key is to fully understand the intent of the PMBOK® Guide and then to use it as a resource for developing a methodology that will be effective in a specific organizational or project environment.

Getting to the topic, to bring the PMBOK® Guide to life for you and your organization it is important to understand that, like any tool, you have to learn how to use it. It is not a project management book of law or a rulebook. It’s a guide. More specifically it is a standard that has been, to quote from the PMBOK® Guide, developed by consensus and approved by a recognized body for common and repeated use. The PMBOK® Guide does not provide a solution for every project or a methodology for every organization but it does provide a basis for developing plans and solutions. It provides the reader with the key ingredients to form logical plans that will assist in meeting organizational needs. Bringing the PMBOK to life requires an understanding of the basic framework and principles of project management, an understanding of how the processes within the PMBOK actually work, a fair amount of practical application, flexibility, adaptability and some creativity and innovation.

PMBOK® Guide The Basics

The PMBOK® Guide provides a foundation from which project plans and Project Management Office (PMO) methodologies or enterprise- wide processes can be developed. The first step is to become “PMBOK oriented.” This means to become familiar with how the information in the document is presented and with the terminology that is used. An important item to remember is that the PMBOK® Guide is just that, a guide, it is not the entire project management body of knowledge condensed into about 400 pages. The PMBOK® Guide is a representation of many best practices in project management that have evolved over the years and may, let me emphasize may, be used to manage a project successfully.

Chapters 1 – 3 of the PMBOK® Guide provide an introduction to the reader and establish the basic framework from which the remaining chapters have been developed. These chapters introduce the 44 project management processes that are mapped to the nine Knowledge Areas and five Process Groups.

A Brief Description of the Project Management Knowledge Areas

  • Integration – Coordination and bringing all the pieces together
  • Scope management – Determining what work must be done. Setting clearly defined project objectives. Creating the WBS
  • Time Management – Activity definition, sequencing, duration estimating, and schedule development
  • Cost Management – estimating costs, budgeting costs over time, and controlling costs through the project life cycle
  • Quality Management – establishing a quality policy, developing quality assurance processes and controlling the quality of all project deliverables
  • Human Resources Management – Identifying project stakeholders, developing the project team, motivating the team, management styles, and organizational structure
  • Communications Management – Distributing information correctly and to the appropriate stakeholders, performance reporting, managing stakeholders
  • Risk Management – risk identification, qualitative analysis, quantitative analysis, response planning and risk monitoring and control
  • Procurement Management – planning purchases and acquisitions, contracting, selecting sellers, contract administration, project closure

The Major Process Groups: The Basis Of Interaction

  • Initiating – authorizing the project or phase
  • Planning – defining and refining objectives, setting a course of action
  • Executing – integrating resources to carry out the approved plan
  • Monitoring and Controlling – identifying managing variances, taking corrective action
  • Closing – formalizing acceptance and bringing a phase or a project to an orderly completion and transition.

Bringing the PMBOK® Guide to Life - The First Step

Many project managers consider the PMBOK® Guide to be the method for managing projects and carry it around as if it were some type of project management law book that must be followed. They profess that failure to follow the PMBOK® Guide will result in certain project failure and costly customer dissatisfaction. This type of thinking may result in a very inflexible approach to the management of the project and an attempt to force a technique or a process into a project that is may be inappropriate. This approach will, in many cases, result in resistance or even rejection of the PMBOK® Guide by management and the project team. The first step in bringing the PMBOK® Guide to life is to understand that it is a guide. The processes, tools and techniques described in the document are meant to be considered and applied when appropriate. An inflexible approach in the use of the information provided in the PMBOK® Guide may result in frustration by the project team, a perception of inflexibility among team members about the project manager and possibly some undesired assistance from upper management or the project sponsor. To prevent this, it is important for the project manager and team to develop an understanding of each input, tool and technique and output within each process group described in each knowledge area.

Inputs – For all practical purposes, inputs are “things.” They are deliverables and are, in most cases, the outputs of other processes. Let’s consider these to be “nouns.” They are deliverables and have specific names. It’s important to understand what these inputs are, why they are required and where they originate. Referring to exhibit 1 Enterprise Environmental factors and Organizational Process assets are inputs to Scope Planning. Enterprise environmental factors include organizational culture, government standards and infrastructure. Process assets include policies, communication requirements, templates, project closure guidelines and change control procedures. The project team should be aware of all organizational process assets that may affect the project. The project team and project manager should be aware of how these inputs affect the project planning process and why it is important to be aware of them.

Process Flow for Scope Planning

Exhibit 1 – Process Flow for Scope Planning

Tools and Techniques – These are the specific actions and supporting items that allow us to utilize the identified inputs that are required to meet project needs. Consider tools and techniques to be “input processors.” Very much like a unit that processes ingredients in a kitchen. Once you have determined what your objective is – a cake, a tossed salad or a special sauce the appropriate inputs (ingredients) are gathered, the reason why the inputs are needed should be clearly understood. The explanation may be in the cook book (the plan). The inputs are processed using the selected tools or techniques to produce a desired result (the outputs). These outputs will then become inputs to another process or will be finalized for hand -off and use by the intended customer or stakeholder. The PMBOK® Guide actually emphasizes that in the project environment the customer is the next person in the process. The inputs, tools and techniques and outputs create a project “customer supplier model.” (Outputs of a process are deliverables which may be handed off to another project team member for further processing). Maintaining focus on this model may improve overall quality of work within the project.

Each knowledge area in the PMBOK® Guide includes an overview of the inputs, tools & techniques, and outputs associated with the knowledge area. These overview charts present a type of “roadmap” of processes and illustrate relationships between process groups. The inputs, tools & techniques and outputs may be included in other knowledge areas as part of a different process. This is a further indication of the integration of processes and that concurrent planning of each project element or knowledge area is the norm. These overview charts provide a means to demonstrate how each knowledge area is connected and integrated in the entire project management planning process and create a true “systems approach to planning and executing the project.

It’s Your Project – Make It Come Alive!

You want your project to “live,” to be seen for its value, to add to organizational effectiveness and to be used by the intended customers. If you think about it, your mission as a project manager is to bring your project to life, to obtain enthusiasm and commitment from your project team, to achieve a feeling of accomplishment from your organization and gasps of awe from your customers. The PMBOK® Guide doesn’t provide the excitement and drama experienced in the novel by Mary Shelley (Frankenstein). Dr. Frankenstein proclaimed his “project to be ALIVE! This proclamation was, in a way an indication of project success (or was it?) We certainly don’t want our projects to result in mayhem fear and a generally unhappy stakeholder group. We are looking for success from the customer point of view and team member satisfaction as well. The PMBOK® Guide, if used properly and with the appropriate techniques applied, will provide a foundation for success and can bring your project to life in a logical and effective manner.

The PMBOK® Guide- Life Force For Projects

The PMBOK® Guide can be used to assist in developing project plans and methodologies but it is important to remember that it is a framework from which more detailed and customized project plans can be developed. If you try to use the PMBOK® Guides a means to manage a project you will experience many challenges in your attempt to achieve project success. The PMBOK® Guide is arranged by Knowledge Areas and an explanation of the processes with each knowledge area. The Knowledge Areas are reviewed separately for explanation and learning purposes only. We don’t manage projects by planning scope, time, cost, and quality, risk, procurement, communications, and human resources separately. We all know that many planning processes are conducted concurrently and there is a great deal of overlap in the processes we use. Using the combined information provided in the PMBOK® Guide with some personal experience, logic, common sense and a touch of innovation provides the basic formula for success. Let’s call it “PMBOK based success.”

A PMBOK® Guide Strategy for Success

Understanding the project environment is a key factor for success. The PMBOK® Guide identifies and emphasizes the need to become aware of the cultural and social environment, the international and political environment, and the physical environment. There is also emphasis on general management skills such as planning, organizing, and staffing along with a need to become familiar with the operating environment such as financial management and accounting, purchasing and procurement, and the legal issues associated with managing an organization.

A review of chapter 4 of the PMBOK® Guide- Integration Management, which was added to the PMBOK in 1996, reveals that it combines all of the elements of the other 8 Knowledge Areas into a high level view of the entire project process. In this author’s opinion, the Integration Management chapter should be placed as the final chapter of the document. A brief introduction about the relationships of all knowledge areas and an explanation about how all processes are integrated should be inserted where chapter 4 currently exists. The reader can then review each chapter, understand the key elements of each knowledge area then conclude by reading the chapter about Integration which brings all knowledge areas together.

A suggested strategy for reading and using the PMBOK® Guide is as follows:

  1. Read chapters 1-3 together in one sitting. These three chapters provide an explanation of key terms as well as an introduction to the process groups found in each knowledge area. You need this information to fully understand how the PMBOK® Guides written and the logic that is used
  2. Read the PMBOK® Guide Glossary – This may seem unusual but the glossary does provide an enormous amount of useful information about project management and establishes a common language. The terms in the glossary appear frequently throughout the document.
  3. Next, briefly review Chapter 4. Review pages 77 -90. These pages provide information about project charter development, an explanation of Enterprise Environmental Factors, Organizational Process Assets, and the Project Scope Statement. Review the overview chart on page 79 to obtain a “big picture” view of the project management process. This overview chart can be referred to frequently as you read about and develop and understanding of each knowledge area.
  4. Read each succeeding chapter from chapter 5 through chapter 12. Read each chapter thoroughly and make notes or highlight key information and terms. It’s best to schedule some buffer time between each chapter. This allows you to reflect on the information presented and prevents the feeling of becoming overwhelmed the by data. There is a large amount of information provided and it is important to make connections between the chapters you are currently reading and the previous chapters. Each chapter builds upon information from the previous chapters and after chapter 6 you will notice a significant repetition of terms. This repetition actually provides a means to demonstrate how the knowledge areas and processes are integrated.
  5. Upon completion of a chapter, review the overview chart provided within the first three pages of the PMBOK Guide. These overview charts describe the general inputs, tools and techniques, and outputs associated with the processes for each knowledge area. Use the overview charts to test your knowledge. You should be able to explain where inputs originate and why they are important. As an example, if you review the inputs to 5.1 of Project Scope Management, Scope Planning, you will see the following inputs: Enterprise environmental factors, Organizational process assets. Project Charter, Preliminary scope statement, and Project Management Plan. You should be able to explain each of these inputs and why they are needed (or not needed) in the scope planning process. You will notice that the input “enterprise environmental factors” is included in many of the processes explained in the PMBOK guide. These factors are associated with organizational culture, industry standards, organizational infrastructure, and stakeholder risk tolerances. These environmental factors are key items to consider during the project planning process. They will impact how the project manager, team and project sponsor make decisions and determine what tools or techniques may be selected to achieve the desired project results. “Organizational process assets” as an input is also found in many process groups. These process assets are the formal and informal policies, processes, and standards used by an organization for general operation. Project managers and teams should become aware of these process assets and how they may impact project planning and decisions during implementation. Process assets include safety and health policies, templates for planning, change control procedures, and financial controls.
  6. Continue to review each chapter and compare with previous chapters. Look for new terms and processes that have been introduced. Make sure you are aware of the purpose of these items and how they relate to your projects. Look for items that have been discussed in previous chapters. Continually ask yourself “How can I apply this process to my current project?” Why isn’t this process applicable to my projects? This continuous review will drive you towards a deeper understanding of the PMBOK® Guide and produce better, more acceptable project plans for your stakeholders.


The PMBOK ® Guide definition of project management provides a great way to sum up the ideas present in this paper: The application of knowledge, skills, tool and techniques to project activities to meet project requirements. The PMBOK® Guide offers the project manager with a solid foundation for project planning and execution. It is not a how to manual. It is more like a “did you consider this?” reference. Projects come in all sizes and degrees of complexity. There is no one resource that will fulfill all of the needs of the project team or an organization. The PMBOK® Guide does provide a sophisticated checklist to assist in plan development and emphasizes the systems approach to managing projects. Everything in the project is integrated, inter-related, and interdependent. The inputs, tools and techniques, and outputs provide the basis for planning and can bring the entire project planning effort to life. The real secret to bringing the PMBOK® Guide to life is the project manager. Maintaining enthusiasm for the project, a continuous demonstration of leadership, the ability to motivate the team, an understanding of the value and use of the tool, some common sense and just a touch of energy are the true ingredients.


Project Management Institute. (2004) A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) (Third Ed) Newtown Square PA: Project Management Institute

Project Management Institute. (2000) A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) (2000 ed.) Newtown Square PA: Project Management Institute

Project Management Institute (1996) A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) (1996 ed.) Newtown Square PA: Project Management Institute

© 2006, Frank P. Saladis PMP
Originally Published as part of the 2006 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Seattle



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