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What’s Different About PMBOK Version 7?

PMBOK Version 7?

What’s different about PMBOK version 7? I fInally found time to review PMBOK version 7. It’s been on my “To-do” list for a long time but I just haven’t gotten around to it until now. I think it is a big step forward in the journey that more fully integrates an Agile approach to project management.

The Influence of Agile on Project Management

In the past, I’ve been somewhat critical of PMI® and PMBOK®. It’s been very clear to me for the past 10 years that the project management profession was on the cusp of a very significant change as a result of the influence of Agile, but PMI has been slow to implement any changes to reflect that:

  • Prior to about 2013, PMI had not even recognized Agile as a legitimate form of project management. 
  • 2013 – In 2013 PMI® released the PMI-ACP® certification, which for the first time, was a formal recognition of the importance of Agile to the project management community.  However, at that time, Agile and traditional plan-driven project management were still treated essentially as separate and independent domains of knowledge with little or no integration between the two.
  • 2017 – In 2017, PMI released the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) version 6 which didn’t really go very far to integrate a focus on Agile Project Management at all, but PMI also released The Agile Practice Guide as a separate document.
  • 2019 – PMI announced the acquisition of the Disciplined Agile framework which was a major move by PMI into being a player in the enterprise-level space
  • 2021 – PMI released the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) version 7 which laid the foundation for developing a more integrated approach to project management that included Agile as well as traditional, plan-driven project management.

I’ve often said that PMI is like a giant super-tanker that takes 20 miles to make a 45-degree right turn; and it does take PMI a long time to make any change, but we’re finally seeing some significant results with PMBOK version 7.

Explicit Versus Tacit Knowledge

To understand the issues with PMBOK, you first need to understand the difference between explicit and tacit knowledge:

  • Explicit knowledge is codified knowledge found in documents, databases, etc.
  • Tacit knowledge is intuitive knowledge and know-how, which is:
    • Rooted in context, experience, practice, and values
    • Hard to communicate—it resides in the mind of the practitioner
    • The best source of long-term competitive advantage and innovation
    • Is passed on through socialization, mentoring, etc.—it is not handled well by systems that try to document and codify that knowledge

An Agile approach relies very heavily on tacit knowledge. It’s impossible to tell someone explicitly and exactly what to do in a very uncertain environment and it often requires a certain amount of trial-and-error and adaptation to find the right approach. For example, Scrum is based on an iterative approach to continuously refine both the solution and the process for arriving at the solution as the project is in progress. That requires much more skill and judgement to adapt an approach to fit the problem and the environment. That requires much more skill and judgement to adapt an approach to fit the problem and the environment.

Prior PMBOK® Versions

Prior to PMBOK® version 7, PMBOK® has been heavily based on a traditional plan-driven approach to project management and an explicit knowledge philosophy. It has attempted to develop a fairly complete, explicit, and prescriptive base of knowledge about how to do project management.  The idea was that you could define a process and checklist telling you what to do and how to do it for almost every conceivable aspect of project management.  That leads to a somewhat mechanical approach to project management that just doesn’t work well in an environment with a lot of uncertainty.  In that kind of uncertain environment, standardized and prescriptive checklist just don’t work well, and a significant amount of judgement and skill is needed to implement a much more flexible and adaptive approach to project management.

For example, prior to PMBOK® version 7, PMBOK® defined a number of major project knowledge areas with a checklist of tasks to do in each knowledge area:

  • Project Integration Management
  • Project Scope Management
  • Project Time Management
  • Project Cost Management
  • Project Quality Management
  • Project Human Resource Management
  • Project Communications Management
  • Project Risk Management
  • Project Procurement Management
  • Project Stakeholder Management

What’s Different About PMBOK® Version 7?

PMBOK® version 7 has significantly moved away from a prescriptive, plan-driven approach to much more of a principles-based approach.  Instead of defining specific process areas with detailed checklists for each, PMBOK® version 7 consists of two major parts:

  1. The first major part is called “The Standard for Project Management“, and
  2. The second major part is called “A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge

Part 1 – The Standard for Project Management

The first part (The Standard for Project Management) is more focused on defining the principles that a project manager should follow and leaves it up to the project manager to interpret those principles in the context of the situation he/she is in.  That is much more consistent with a flexible and adaptive approach to project management. PMI® seems to have recognized that a highly-prescriptive approach no longer works in all situations.  Instead, PMBOK® version 7 defines some much broader principles as follows:

  • Be a diligent, respectful, and caring steward
  • Create a collaborative project team environment
  • Effectively engage with stakeholders
  • Focus on value
  • Recognize, evaluate, and respond to system interactions
  • Demonstrate leadership behaviors
  • Tailor based on context
  • Build quality into processes and deliverables
  • Navigate complexity
  • Optimize risk responses
  • Embrace adaptability and resiliency
  • Enable change to achieve the envisioned future state

Instead of attempting to tell someone explicitly what to do and how to do it, PMBOK® version 7 focuses on some higher-level principles which must be interpreted in the context of the situation. 

  • It also puts a lot more emphasis on creating value rather than the traditional, narrow project management emphasis on planning and control – The most important, whole first part of PMBOK® version 7 is entitled “A System for Value Delivery”
  • It also puts a lot more emphasis on the “softer” aspects of project management such as people skills and leadership skills

That should help to close the gap significantly between the Agile and project management communities; however, it can be a gut-wrenching change for many project managers who have been heavily trained in a traditional plan-driven project management approach. 

Part 2 – A Guide to the Project Management Book of Knowledge

The second part (A Guide to the Project Management Book of Knowledge) is more focused on tangible and explicit results (performance) that a project manager is expected to accomplish. It is somewhat similar to the process-orientation of prior PMBOK® versions, but instead of positioning it in a process orientation of explicitly telling you what to do and how to do it, it focuses on the results to be accomplished which I believe is a very healthy change.

  • In other words, instead of saying “here’s the process you need to do and here’s a checklist of how to do it”, it focuses on the results that need to be produced and some guidelines for how to produce those results
  • And there is a whole section on “tailoring” that recognizes the need to fit the project management approach to the nature of the project

Overall Summary

PMBOK® is a big improvement over prior versions of PMBOK and it helps to close the gap between the Agile and traditional plan-driven project management communities:

  • Instead of attempting to tell a project manager what to do and how to do it in almost every conceivable project management situation, it recognizes the need for some level of flexibility and adaptivity and the need to tailor the project management approach to fit the situation
  • It emphasizes principles and guidelines rather than explicit checklists for what to do
  • It puts a much stronger emphasis on producing value over planning and control

This is definitely going in the right direction but it will require a big adaptation by many project managers to develop a new approach to project management and it will require much more skill to implement a much broader project management approach.

You can find more information on PMBOK version 7 on the PMI website.

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3 thoughts on “What’s Different About PMBOK Version 7?”

  1. Great summary Chuck, many thanks. I have to do the same exercise, reading and evaluating the PMBOK 7 and you helped me with your article to put some priority on that, manay thanks! I am a PMP, ACP and Scrum Master, Product Ownet etc and I am working since years in “half-agile” or hybrid environments where such skills are indispensable. Greetings form Germany, Rainer

  2. Mark, thanks for this great review. I fully agree with you that version 7 is a big improvement.

    But version 7 inherits from version 6 the artificial division of the development approaches (and the projects) into predictive and adaptive – although this is contrary to the new principle of Adaptability and Resiliency. This maintains the gap between the traditional and agile/adaptive project management in the professional community.

    Here are some of the misconceptions that arise from the predictive-hybrid-adaptive model:

    – That some projects can and should be managed adaptively, while other projects cannot and don’t need to be managed adaptively.
    – That the stability of the requirements itself determines the level of uncertainty in the project (there are many other factors that affect the uncertainty).
    – That iterative development is always adaptive, and non-iterative development (even when it’s the only possible) cannot be adaptive and therefore it’s always “predictive” (“agility is a wide mindset” but agile/adaptive development is always iterative, says the PMBOK® version 7, although the Agile Manifesto doesn’t mention iterations).
    – That the iterative development is the only available practice for achieving adaptability (there are many other practices, including those mentioned in “Embrace Adaptability and Resiliency”).
    – That project teams can choose a predictive or adaptive approach, while the PMBOK® version 7 presupposes a “predictive” approach for certain types of deliverables, regardless of the circumstances.
    – That using a development approach called “predictive” makes the project predictable.

    Therefore, it is not surprising that many of the recommendations in PMBOK® version 7 about the predictive approach can be summarized as follows: this is the best approach when you don’t want, are not able, or don’t know how to use an adaptive approach.

  3. Mike van Eeden

    I found the article very though provoking, as well as the “predictive approach can be summarized as follow” comment by ALEXANDER APOSTOLOV. Great stuff.

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