The Project Management Institute (PMI) has gone through quite the metamorphosis over the past few years, positioning itself once again as one of the top authorities on how project management is practiced. However, those of us who just so happened to pick up or download a copy of the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK)® Guide Seventh Edition, the most recent edition published in 2021, may have noticed it’s quite different. More than the simple renaming of a Knowledge Area, adding two practices, slapping an additional theory or practice guide at the end, PMI has provided a completely new configuration with this edition.
The PMBOK® Guide still represents a compendium of project management’s best practices. Legacy editions (one through six) concentrated primarily on a prescribed best path for a project or program manager to take from the project start to the project finish, while addressing common considerations and exceptions. However, the newest edition prescribes the path to success as that of leading a team, managing projects, and delivering value through fulfilling relevant practices within eight primary performance domains. The newest PMBOK® Guide provides answers, but not necessarily “the answer” in the form of a solid “one-size-fits-all” process. Instead, the newest edition addresses many issues that previous editions did not, either in part or completely, and leaves the defined process up to the reader to decipher.
While some may view this new direction as a loss, others see it as a step in the right direction. From my reading of the newest edition, here are at least three changes I believe are most significant and positive to understand about what’s new:
#1 – There’s more than just the Waterfall
I was always told that term “waterfall” refers to the way project tasks cascade from the top left to the bottom right in a firmly scheduled project plan: perfectly predictable like dominoes. Sadly, some projects can resemble a shot-up target at the firing range after they’re over. Predictable budgets and successful outcomes make for easier and continued business, and for some industries a Waterfall approach is optimal and sometimes necessary. However, not all products or services are the same and a Waterfall or linear model of production or delivery doesn’t always successfully apply. PMI’s inclusion of the Agile Practice Guide with the sixth edition at least acknowledged that an alternative approach existed; the seventh edition is the result of what happens when that approach, as well as many others, are integrated into the central theory.
#2 – The product/service, its value, and the team providing it are the core message
Imagine if Henry Ford had not adopted a more optimized approach? Imagine if a certain video rental company had invested more in mail-in DVD services and eventually streaming services. In both examples, what is more likely to “win the market” is focusing on those things which best address what customers value, forming an efficient method of product and service delivery, practicing an effective method of design and development, and building a team who can enable successful outcomes. What I found to be significant was PMI’s integration of product and service lifecycle variations, systems engineering thinking, and holistic organizational synergy into their theory. Although these concepts were not entirely absent from previous editions, they are given priority and form the foundation for whatever processes are formulated from practicing the performance domains.
#3 – The new approach applies to legacy editions as well as contemporary practices
PMI clearly states in the Preface of the seventh edition that nothing in the new edition undermines alignment with the previous editions of the PMBOK® Guide. In fact, PMI currently maintains and makes available the standards and practice guides for requirements management, risk management, estimating, scheduling, Work Breakdown Structures, and others. At the same time, in an effort to promote the ever evolving and adapting field of project management, PMI has created a new service for its members through PMIStandards+™ which features media, blogs, guides, and other ongoing publications.
I will say that one of my favorite inclusions in the PMBOK® Guide Sixth Edition was that, for each of the Knowledge Areas, PMI provided a list of trends and emerging practices, tailoring considerations, and considerations for Agile and adaptive environments. Looking back on those lists now after having read through the Seventh Edition, I can’t help but believe this newest approach was inevitable. As with any great body of work that revolves around an ever-changing subject, there’s always room for improvement and advancement. I honestly believe PMI is heading in the right direction with this edition and I’m excited to see where it takes them in the next.
I hope you might join me for my two-part Overview of the PMBOK® Guide Seventh Edition webinar series. We will cover how the seventh edition captures both legacy and emergent practices within the realm of project management. We will explore the changes between previous versions of the PMBOK® Guide and the current, emphasizing the five primary contextual concepts defining a system for value delivery. And, we will discuss the 12 Project Management Principles that serve as the foundational guidelines for strategy, decision-making, and problem-solving as defined in PMI’s The Standard for Project Management.