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APM Body of Knowledge: What is it, Do You Need it?

The APM Body of Knowledge: What is it, and Do You Need it?

The APM Body of Knowledge (APMBoK) is the fundamental resource book for the UK’s Association for Project Management. Like its American cousin, the PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge (the PMBOK Guide), the APMBoK goes through periodic revisions. So, on 2 May 2019, the APM published the new 7th Edition.

In this article, I want to examine the kind of questions I expect you have:

  • What the APM Body of Knowledge is (and is not)
  • What’s in it
  • Who it’s for
  • How it compares to the PMBOK Guide
  • What I like and don’t like about the APMBoK
  • And my final thoughts and recommendations (for you and for APM)

Declaration of Interests

I should make a couple of things clear. Firstly, I am not a member of the Association for Project Management (and neither am I a member of the Project Management Institute). Second, I do, however, write a short column for the APM’s quarterly journal, ‘Project‘. But APM does not pay me for this, although the editor does send me a copy. Finally, the APM’s PR team did send a complimentary paperback copy of the APM Body of Knowledge, 7th Edition for me to review. This was at my request, and they have sought no influence over this article, and neither have they seen it before publication.

Language and Spelling

Because APMBoK is published in the UK, by a UK-based organisation, I have chosen to use British English spellings throughout this article – as APM does throughout its publications.

Comparison with the APMBoK 6th Edition

I seem to make a habit of skipping editions. I own the 4th and 6th editions of the PMBOK Guide, but not the fifth. And I am still working from the 2009 edition of Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2 and the 2007 edition of Managing Successful Programmes. These have both been superseded. Likewise, I have skipped the 6th edition of the APMBoK. I have the fifth edition. So, the upshot is that I shall not be doing a comparison to show how this 7th edition has changed. Rather, I intend to review it as a standalone document.

What is the APMBoK?

So, we’re looking at the 7th edition of the Association for Project Management Body of Knowledge. In recent years, new editions appear on around a six-year cycle, so we can expect it to be current until around 2025. It is also notable that this edition is the first new version since APM received its much-coveted Royal Charter.

Publication dates for the seven editions of the APMBoK:

  • 1st Edition: 1992
  • 2nd edition: 1994
  • 3rd Edition: 1996
  • 4th Edition: 2000
  • 5th Edition: 2006
  • 6th Edition: 2012
  • 7th Edition: 2019

The Authors

The authors are all eminent in the UK project management world. The writing team is credited as:

  • Philip Bradbury
  • Tayyab Jamil
  • Charles Mills
  • Dale Shermon

The two editors and the more public faces of the 67th Edition of the APMBoK are Dr Ruth Murray Webster and Professor Darren Dalcher.

By the way, a similar listing for the PMBOK Guide takes up 9 print pages. I think the APMBoK benefits from the clearer vision that a tight writing team has brought to it. They did, however, consult widely across the profession and with APM’s Special Interest Groups (SIGs). The SIGs provide a lot of the references that the APMBoK makes, to further reading.

Pricing

The APM currently sells paperback and hardback editions:

  • Paperback: GB £49.95 (c.US$38)
  • Hardback: GB £79.95 (c.US$60)

Members can apply for a 10% discount, but there is currently no mechanism to automate this on the website. What? Yes, I know. There is also no digital edition available from APM directly.

However, you can also buy from booksellers, and Amazon lists a Kindle edition. But, only the UK Amazon site currently lists a print edition, and that’s the paperback. I’ll update this if I spot changes.

APM Body of Knowledge online

While the APM doesn’t provide its own digital copy of the APM, it does provide, on its website, the APM Body of Knowledge online.

This is not a mirror of the book. It’s a digital resource that is structured around four main sections:

  1. Context
  2. People
  3. Delivery
  4. Interfaces

The online guide is a fabulous free resource, that includes definitions of core terms and techniques. It was the work of over 1,000 practitioners and specialists and I think it will be a great help to anyone using project management in their work or studying the subject.

What is the APM?

Before we look at the APM Body of Knowledge in detail, you may be wondering, who or what the Association for Project Management?

What is the APM Body of Knowledge?

All of this is very well but exactly what is the APM Body of Knowledge? This is an important question, because it is not the same kind of document as the PMI’s equivalent. Despite its superficial resemblance, this serves a very different purpose, which I’ll discuss below.

APM and the book’s editors describe the APMBoK as the Association’s ‘Foundational Resource’. It sets out their view of the concepts, functions, and activites that contribute to ‘project-based working’. We’ll come back to that term in a moment.

To me, the APMBoK is a sourcebook. It is the skeleton of a body of knowledge that guides readers and practitioners to where they should look, to seek out the muscle, sinew, and organs of our discipline. But it does not provide all of that information: it does not contain the whole ‘body’ of knowledge. It merely delineates what that body contains.

Example

As an example, page 32 (section 1.3.1) refers to a Responsibility Assignment Matrix as a way to clarify responsibilities and accountabilities within project governance. But in the glossary, a Responsibility Assignment Matrix is defined only as:

Responsibility Assignment Matrix
A diagram or a chart showing assigned responsibilities for elements of work. It is created by combining the work breakdown structure with the organisational breakdown structure.

APM Body of Knowledge, 7th edition – Glossary

I don’t demur from this definition, but it doesn’t show us how to create one, nor what it would look like. In the UK, the commonest form of a Responsibility Assignment Matrix is the Linear Responsibility Chart (LRC) – in the US, the RACI chart is more often used. Also in the US, the term RACI chart is increasingly used for what the British call an LRC. You can learn about each form of Responsibility Assignment Matrix by clicking the links in this paragraph. They will each take you to a short video.

Not a ‘how-to’

By the way, I am only intending this example to illustrate the nature of the APMBoK; not as a criticism of it. It is a deliberate choice by APM. The introduction compares the book to other bodies of knowledge and guides, stating that:

APM chooses not to describe ‘how-to’ in terms of methods, tools and techniques in the APMBoK, but rather uses it as a foundational knowledge resource, and a pointer to other sources of information

APM Body of Knowledge, 7th Edition – Introduction
The APMBoK 7th Edition

The APMBoK is the Basis of APM’s Qualifications and Accreditation

The APM Body of Knowledge forms the basis of APM’s qualifications and accreditation. And it informs and structures its research projects and publications.

So, if you plan to study for one of the APM’s qualifications, you’ll need to understand the APMBoK’s content.

The three principle qualifications are:

  1. PFQ: APM Project Fundamentals Qualification. PFQ is for people who want a broad understanding of the principles of the profession. It needs no prior knowledge or experience. It covers the key elements of the project management life cycle and the knowledge areas from the APM Body of Knowledge
  2. PMQ: APM Project Management Qualification. PMQ is for people who want a broad level of project management knowledge: enough to play a role in projects from individual assignments through to large capital projects. The PMQ syllabus assesses breadth of knowledge in all areas of project management and covers the knowledge areas from the APM Body of Knowledge. Applicants should have some pre-existing project management knowledge. PMQ is a next step for someone with the PFQ qualification.
  3. PPQ: APM Project Professional Qualification. PPQ is for any project professional that:
    1. works in project, programme, or portfolio management
    2. holds the APM PMQ (or an equivalent qualification)
    3. Wants to become a Full Member of APM (MAPM), or
    4. wants to achieve the Chartered Project Professional (ChPP) standard

And, if you are looking to provide these qualifications internally – or as a training business – it is the APMBoK against which your training offering will be accredited (or not).

Project-based Working

A major strength of the APMBoK is its use of the term ‘project-based working’ to refer collectively to project, programme, and portfolio management. It also uses the term ‘management of projects’ in this wider context too.

I think this is a wise move, for many reasons. It:

  • obviates the need to argue senselessly about whether your work is a project or a programme; a programme or a portfolio, or anything else
  • recognizes that our careers flow from one tier to the next
  • takes advantage of the fact that many techniques, tools, and ideas apply equally well to these different levels

Who is the APMBoK for?

I’ll start my answer to this question with what the editors say in their introduction:

The APMBoK is written for anyone interested in understanding more about achieving beneficial change through project-based working.

APM Body of Knowledge, 7th Edition – Introduction

However, they go on to point out that they wrote each of the four chapters with a different primary audience in mind:

  1. Setting Up for Success: Organisational Leaders – the strategic tier.
  2. Preparing for Change: Project, Programme, or Portfolio Leaders – the leadership tier
  3. People and Behaviours: Anyone involved in Project, Programme, or Portfolio Leaders – the leadership and delivery tiers
  4. Planning and Managing Deployment: Those involved in the end-to-end process of delivering a project – the delivery tier

My Assessment of who APMBoK is for

I don’t see this so clearly in the APMBoK. Firstly, there is plenty in each chapter that cuts across to other tiers. Not simply ‘for interest’ but as essential knowledge. And, second, this feels to me to be aimed strongly as new to intermediate level project practitioners (and programme and portfolio practitioners).

Therefore, I see primary audiences:

  1. Project Management Students who are studying for PFQ or PMQ qualifications. This is your syllabus guide and you will need to be as familiar with APMBoK as the PMI’s CAPM and PMP candidates need to be with the PMBOK Guide. That said, for CAPM, PMBOK Guide is everything you need to know. Here, APMBoK sets out the framework from which you need to work.
  2. Project Management Practitioners who want a wide-ranging and well-crafted guide to the areas of knowledge that any project professional needs to master, to rise to the top of our profession. It’s not all you could learn, but it’s a considered opinion about what the APM can reasonably expect of you, as a senior practitioner.

A Third Audience…

A third audience is ‘people like me’. That is, project managers who take our subject seriously and are curious about what other serious practitioners think. We like the short, almost reflective, articles, and we revel in new recommendations for high-quality reading. And we are delighted when one or two of the 80 topics introduces us to new ideas or new ways of thinking about our practice.

How Does the APMBoK Compare to the PMBOK Guide?

We can’t get away from the fact that, with similar names, people will want to compare the APMBoK with the PMI’s PMBOK Guide. I am a little reticent to do this, because I don’t believe they are designed to be comparable. But, they do have overlapping purposes:

Ways the PMBOK Guide and the APMBoK are Similar

Philosophically…

  • Setting out the expectations of their respective organisations, for what a senior practitioner needs to know
  • Documenting a syllabus for the principal professional exams

In Content Terms…

  • Knowledge areas across project management
  • Acknowledgment of Agile methods, that still feels a bit like an add-on
  • No preference for any particular Agile methodology

Ways the PMBOK Guide and the APMBoK Differ

Philosophically…

  • The PMBOK Guide is an attempt to document everything a ‘traditional’ project manager needs to know, including what tools and techniques to use. It’s very much a ‘how-to’ guide. APMBoK is explicitly not a ‘how to’ guide. It lays out the areas of knowledge and discusses them in mature and summary terms. It is more about setting out how experienced project managers approach each topic. A good example of this are the:
    • 8 pages that the PMBOK Guide gives over to a basic introduction to Earned Value Management, and the
    • 2 pages that APMBoK uses to introduce the principles of performance tracking, illustrate Earned Value Analysis as one option, and recommend three books, including one dedicated to Earned Value
  • So, while the PMBOK Guide is a textbook for learners, the APMBoK is an annotated reading list.
  • I’d also add that, in my view, APMBoK is a reading list for people who prefer to learn more deeply; while the PMBOK Guide lends itself too much to people who just want rote learning and an exam pass. I know that is not PMI’s intention. But it is the reality of how many of its candidates treat it.

In Content Terms…

  • The APMBoK cover a far broader scope of knowledge than the PMBoK Guide.
    • Not only does it treat additional topics, like PMO, Governance, or Diversity and Inclusion. But it also looks further upwards into strategy and the formation of portfolios and programmes. And
  • APMBoK is filled with over 200 references for recommended reading.
    • The PMBOK Guide is designed to be a free-standing resource, with its only direct link being to the Agile Practice Guide (which can easily be read as a stand-alone volume).
  • The APMBoK has a strong focus on Benefits – starting on page 1!
    • This is important and, in my view, a serious omission from the PMBOK Guide. I’d like to see PMI add an 11th Knowledge Area: Benefits Management.
  • As you’d expect, the APMBoK and PMBOK Guide use, respectively, British and US paradigms for key project management concepts.
    • The two biggest differences are the Iron Triangle and the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). I’ll outline those differences below.

The Iron Triangle

The APMBoK reflects the common UK practice of referring to the Time-Cost-Quality Triangle. The PMBOK Guide reflects the US practice of referring to the Iron Triangle of Time, Cost, and Scope.

Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

The APMBoK reflects the common UK practice of using a WBS to break down the work, or activities (and therefore to document the breakdown of products with a PBS – a Product Breakdown Structure). The PMBOK Guide reflects the US practice of referring to the WBS as a decomposition of the products into their component parts (and then using those to identify the tasks).

Production Quality

I have said it before and I say it again. The production quality of the PMI’s PMBOK Guide is a disgrace. Printed with a grey overlay of tamper proofing that stops copying is an insult to the people who paid a lot of money for the hard copy. It makes it hard to read and unpleasant to use.

The APM has produced a high-quality paperback with bright white paper and clear type (in a pleasing font, by the way). It’s nicely laid out and a pleasure to read. The diagrams are not as uniform in style as the PMBOK Guides, but they are all clear and easy to read.

I’m sure the hardback is lovely, and if APM sends me a copy, I’d be delighted to check and report back to you!

The APMBoK 7th Edition

What’s in the APMBoK?

There are so many topic sections in the new APMBoK that I love, that I really wish I had the space (and copyright consents) to share them with you. If I compare back two editions for a moment (to my 2006 5th Edition), I see a step change in the level of ideas and insight.

But I will confine myself to sharing three things:

  1. A description of how it is structured
  2. A contents summary
  3. An example topic

How it is Structured 

The APM Body of Knowledge is structured into 4 chapters, each of which has three main sections. Each section has between 5 and 10 Topics – there are 80 in total.

Each topic has an engaging two page spread with:

  • a thoughtful discussion of the topic
  • a (generally) helpful diagram that illustrates either a key point in the discussion or an important methodology that it refers too
  • recommended reading – usually 3 carefully-chosen items with a short description of how it is relevant to the topic

Each chapter has an introduction, as does each section. And each section also has a summary of the references to the recommended reading under each of the topics in the section. Many of the recommendations are to APM publications – but that’s not surprising, as APM has an extensive catalogue of authoritative guides. Some recommendations appear more than once, but the APM’s press release claims there are over 200 in all. Quite a reading list! I wonder if Dr Murray-Webster and Prof Dalcher have read them all between them…

Most of the sections are highly coherent. But some are collections of a variety of topics that broadly fit the heading. But, these topics are often the best and most thought-provoking, like many in section 1.3, ‘Establishing Governance and Oversight’.

Summary of the Contents

  1. Setting up for Success
    1. Implementing Strategy
    2. Life Cycle Options and Choices
    3. Establishing Governance and Oversight
  2. Preparing for Change
    1. Shaping the Early Life Cycle
    2. Assurance, Learning and Maturity
    3. Transition into Use
  3. People and Behaviours
    1. Engaging Stakeholders
    2. Leading Teams
    3. Working Professionally
  4. Planning and Managing Deployment
    1. Defining Outputs
    2. Integrated Planning
    3. Controlling Deployment

Example Topic: Conflict Resolution

Here’s a topic that both the APMBoK and the PMBOK Guide cover in a similar way. Both have a number of references to conflict in the index and also one main reference. In the APMBoK, it’s section 3.1.5 (and in the PMBOK Guide, 9.5.2.1, bullet 1).

And both guides use a familiar (to me) model: the Thomas-Kilmann model. There are differences:

  • APMBoK acknowledges the source
    • the PMBOK Guide does not
  • APMBoK provides three excellent references, including one to the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument
    • the PMBOK Guide offers no additional reading
  • APMBoK talks (admittedly superficially) about other skills that are important in resolving conflict
    • the PMBOK Guide does not
  • APMBoK links conflict to governance and escalation routes
    • the PMBOK Guide does not

What I Like and Don’t Like about the APMBoK

What I Like 

I suspect that, if you’ve read this far, you’ll be pretty clear what i like about the APM Body of Knowledge. To summarise my favourite points, I like:

  • the breadth of ideas it contains
  • the strong focus on benefits
  • and the focus on governance
  • the nuanced way it discusses many of the topics
  • the production quality

And I’ll add one other hobby horse. I’ve started to see a lot of PM writers refer to the triple constraint (Time-Cost-Quality or Scope, if you must) as out-dated. I am very pleased to see that my own perspective that it is not has been endorsed by the eminent team that wrote the APMBoK. While they, of course, acknowledge the many developments our discipline has enjoyed, I read the following two sentences with glee.

A central tenet of project-based work is the need to balance multiple competing objectives and challenges withi a defined set of time, cost and quality constraints in order to achieve beneficial change.

This makes the concept of the triple constraint, or ‘iron triangle’ as relevant today as when it was first introduced.

APM Body of Knowledge, 7th Edition – Introduction (I have introduced the paragraph break)

What I Don’t Like 

Of what there is, there is nothing I don’t like.

This is a sourcebook for me, and a good one. A thin soup rather than a heavy stew.

But, sometimes, I think the gruel is a bit too thin. For example, on page 32 (1.3.1 Governance Principles), there is a lot about what governance is and why it is important. But there are no principles, even, for what you need to do. I’m not expecting a ‘how-to’ guide from the APM, nor any Tools and Techniques in PMI ITTO style. But some principles to follow would be very helpful.

Partly, this is about clearer cross-linking within the document. Section 1.3.10, Governance Boards, goes some way to meeting that need. But there’s more to governance than these.

And this links into my biggest complaint…

Yes, APM, it’s the price. The hardback price is horrendous, but even the paperback, at £50 / $38 is a lot of money. Take off the members’ discount of 10% and I still see a big number.

I am used to the idea that technical publications are expensive. And I know this is cheaper than either the PMBOK Guide or Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2. But this does not feel worth the money. It’s a lot for an early career PM, who does not have company expenses to buy it. And, as with the other two publications, it feels as though the link to professional qualification exams means APM has decided to set a high price, knowing people will have to buy it.

APM Body of Knowledge 7th Edition

Conclusions and Observations

The editors and contributors should be proud of what they have created. But I do think they have failed to make the APM Body of Knowledge an indispensible guide for anyone who is not seeking an APM qualification.

The PMBOK Guide, for all its faults, appeals outside of the PMI community. I feel this APMBoK should likewise have appeal outside the APM community. But I doubt it will.

My Rating 

Despite the price, my recommendation is that you should buy this book.

If you are serious about project management, even if you aren’t UK-based nor following an APM syllabus, there is a lot here for you. Only the most seasoned Project Managers will find little here to inform them. The rest of us can learn a lot by reflecting on the ideas and picking up some of the recommended reading.

I rate this 4.5 stars out of 5.

What do You Think?

Have you had a chance to read (or skim over) the 7th edition of the APM Body of Knowledge? If you have, what did you think?

And, if you haven’t, is on your list of books to buy? Why or why not?

About the Author Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 13 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.

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