The PMBOK® and PMP® exam

Concerns of Project Managers

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October 20 was the conclusion of a trip for your editor which combined PMI '93, advertising sales promotion, visits with a lot of PMI members and chapters, and some vacation. In addition to a fair amount of work, it provided an opportunity to catch up with what is happening in project management and to learn what is on peoples' minds. The January PMNETwork will contain a summary of some observations from the trip.

The most exciting thing that is happening in PMI is the growing interest in the Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification Program as a means of validating certain qualifications of project managers. Over 100 persons sat for the PMP exam in San Diego. Reports keep coming of companies that have adopted, or are considering adopting, the exam as a way to measure the knowledge and skills of their project managers. One member confessed that he would have to take the exam after an inquiry from an executive in his company. The executive asked, “How do I know that the people who profess, or aspire, to be PMs are really qualified?” The answer, of course, was, “Have them seek to become certified PMPs!”

On the other hand, I heard some disparaging words from PMI members who seem to have less-than-complete information about the scope of work for the project to revise the PMBOK document and the PMP program. Some clarification is in order. While not an expert on the development of either the PMBOK document or the PMP exam, there are some facts about these with which I am probably more familiar than the average member.

The present PMBOK document was generated through the considerable efforts of a lot of volunteers. It is not a perfect document, but it is becoming better through more efforts by volunteers, and especially by PMI's Director of Standards, Bill Duncan. There is far more to the process than is apparent. Thanks to intensive efforts by Alan Stretton while he was Director of Standards, many of these imperfections were documented. Correcting those imperfections has required not only individual efforts but many meetings to iron out differences of opinion. This process is now approaching completion and the draft of the new document will soon be available to those who wish to study and comment on it. This is a necessary step to ensure that it represents “best practice” as issued.

The PMBOK document is a codification of knowledge that is uniquely relevant to managing projects of any kind. Project managers can improve their skills and be more successful in managing projects than they likely would have been had they not studied the concepts and techniques identified therein. This has been documented in several Showcase Project and other articles, including the story of the U.S. Postal Services Distribution Center reported in the October 1993 issue of PMNETwork. However, if you follow it and get in trouble, you will probably blame PMI. Thus, extreme care is required in creating the PMBOK document.

A revised PMBOK is in the final stages of editing, following workshops at PMI '93 in San Diego to ferret out final points of disagreement. Parts of it have been published in recent issues of the Project Management Journal. It will all be published soon in a format for review by anyone who wishes to participate. Those who have been critical of the existing PMBOK document will surely take the time to review this new document and provide their comments… in a timely manner. (It should be noted that only a handful of comments have been received as a result of the articles in the PMJ.) After a proper review period, those who have been volunteering to develop the draft will consider the comments and revise the document. Then it will be presented to the PMI Board for official adoption with a specific date for it to be effective for testing purposes.


For the sake of those taking the examination, the base of knowledge must be stable. Can you imagine trying to take an exam against a knowledge base that is constantly changing? That would certainly make passing the PMP exam extremely frustrating.

Thus, the exam will be changed to the new PMBOK document only after sufficient time has passed to allow adequate study material and study time for the convenience of those taking the exam, even if the world has changed since 1987, when the current PMBOK document was approved. David Frame, PMI's Director of Certification, is already considering what is required to revise the exam.

Remember, those who teach in the PMP Exam Preparation Workshops will have to revise their course materials, which requires them to study not only the new PMBOK, but some of the references on which it is based. Elvin Isgrig, PMI's Director of Educational Services, is already taking action to implement new workshops as soon as possible after the new PMBOK is approved.

Thus, workshops to prepare candidates for PMP certification must still focus on the 1987 version.

But that need not limit the continued search for better practices and the understanding of them. For example, perhaps every PMI chapter should initiate a program of offering advanced workshops exclusively for those who have earned their PMP, focusing on the practices and knowledge that have been developed since 1987. Not only would this advance the state-of-the-art of the practice of project management, but it would also lead to a basis for recognizing and documenting new knowledge and practices for future improvements in the PMBOK. Preparing and presenting such advanced workshops would also provide the preparation for writing articles for the PMJ explicating the new knowledge and practices. Elvin Isgrig is going to offer the first such courses at PMI '94.

Perhaps the PMBOK document and the PMP exam are not perfect, but it does not follow that they are bad. The reported successes in managing projects based on the PMBOK concepts and techniques certainly prove that. It is inherent that the PMBOK document will be a little behind the times, as it is the documentation of accepted best practices. The PMP exam must necessarily be based on, and follow, the approved version.

Perhaps it is a testimony to the vitality of project management as a profession, and PMI as the society serving this profession, that practice has changed and improved faster than our ability to document it formally. Consider the role that PMI has played in providing a forum for discussing and promulgating these new practices. PMI members should ask themselves, “How much have I learned about practicing my profession through the services of PMI, including the networking with other project managers? Has my affiliation with PMI had anything to do with the personal and corporate successes I have enjoyed in the past few years?”


Perhaps I have stepped on a few toes and been a bit preachy in these remarks. It is not the first time. As a father of five, I have on occasion experienced misunderstandings about the facts affecting the family. On such occasions, one solution has been to take the family for a drive to see some alternative life styles and remind them that “there but for the grace of God go we.” Furthermore, it has been the rare job or project which, given the chance, I didn't think I could have done better. When given the chance, it seemed far more difficult than it did from the other side of the fence.

The world is not perfect. PMI is not perfect. Neither the PMBOK document nor its process for revision is perfect. And the PMP exam is not perfect. But this much is for sure: there are some very dedicated people who are foregoing income and time they could otherwise enjoy by putting in a lot of effort to make all of these better. They also believe in the credo that has guided this old hand for a long time, “Always be happy but never be satisfied.”

Until the PMBOK document is revised and all the other changes associated therewith are completed, we must make the best use of what is available and speak well of it. We must not be blinded by the imperfections in the world but see them as opportunities to add to the program to overcome these imperfections. In the words of Lee Iaccoca, “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.”

While you are doing that, consider sharing with us at PMI Communications and your fellow readers some of the contributions that PMI has made to your success. You are the winners, the leaders, with whom others want to be associated. Be the best that you can be. img




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