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PMBOK Guide 7th Edition: Your 20 Most Important Questions Answered

PMBOK Guide 7th Edition - Your 20 Most Important Questions Answered

The 7th Edition of the PMI’s Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge is out! And it’s a big change. So we’ll answer your 20 most important questions about the new PMBOK Guide 7th Edition.

We’ll be creating some detailed articles to give you a full analysis of much of the content. This article will give you an overview of the whole document.

PMBOK Publication Dates for Eds 1 to 7

And Here are the 20 Questions I will Answer

PMBOK Guide 7th Edition - 20 Most Important Questions Answered

The Number 1 question

  1. What’s the Headline, Mike?

The Pressing Questions

  1. How does PMBOK 7 relate to PMBOK 6?
  2. What about PMP and CAPM?
  3. What is PMIstandards+
  4. Do I need to buy and read PMBOK 7?

Your Questions About the Content

  1. Where are the Project Management Processes in PMBOK 7?
  2. What is a System for Value Delivery?
  3. How does PMBOK 7 Treat Governance?
  4. What are the 12 Principles in PMBOK 7?
  5. What are the 8 Project Performance Domains in PMBOK 7?
  6. How does PMBOK 7 Handle Tailoring?
  7. What are the PMBK 7 Models, Methods, and Artifacts?
  8. How does PMBOK 7 Address the Sponsor Role?
  9. Inclusion of the PMO in PMBOK 7?
  10. Let’s Talk about Product

Your Concluding Questions

  1. Who is PMBOK 7 for?
  2. How Useful is PMBOK 7 to Project Managers?
  3. The Layout and Format of PMBOK 7?
  4. The Quality of the PMBOK 7 Deliverable?
  5. What do I Think about PMBOK 7?

The Last Question…

  1. Is over to you…

Bonus Content…

Hear Core Team member, Nader Rad, talk with me about PMBOK 7. He shares his interpretation of some of the big changes, and his favorite aspects of the new PMBOK Guide.

The Number 1 question… What’s the Headline, Mike?

The headline is simple:

‘It’s Great!’

There is a lot to like in this new PMBOK Guide. I think the development team have done a great job.

They have started with pretty much a clean sheet of paper, and build a new, modern, PMBOK Guide from the ground up.

Everyone will find details to disagree with. I’ll bet even the core team members will have sections they would change if they could. This document has to be an article of compromise. But it comes across as a coherent and well-thought-out guide that does two things. It will:

  1. Serve the community well for the next four or so years
  2. Form a sound bas for building the next few PMBOK Guides upon

My Main Concern

I’ll say more below. But, if I had to find one concern it’s simple. It feels like the folk at PMI failed to read the heading of page 47. This articulates the 8th principle:

Build quality into processes and deliverables

One of 12 Project Management Principles from The Standard for Project Management,
in the PMBOK Guide 7th Edition
Project Management Institute (PMI), 2021
(My Emphasis)

It feels to me that the quality of the end deliverable has let down the hard work and high-quality thinking that went into its content. And don’t get me started on the price: at US$99, or GB£89.95, they should have done far better in production quality. And where’s a Hindi edition?

How does PMBOK 7 relate to PMBOK 6?

The seventh edition of the PMBOK Guide bears little relation to the sixth edition – nor to any of its predecessors. This is not an evolutionary change, and the core team has started from a clean sheet of paper.

Out go Processes, Knowledge Areas, and ITTOs.

In their place, come Principles, Performance Domains, and Models, Methods, and Artifacts.

And these are not cosmetic changes. The new components are not simply renamed and re-jigged versions of the old. They are substantially different in concept and usage. We will look at them all below:

Comparison of PMBOK 6 and PMBOK 7

And then, there is the matter of Predictive, Adaptive, and Hybrid Project management

With regards to incorporating Agile into the PMBOK Guide fifth edition, the sixth edition felt rather like a ‘cut and shut’. This is a British slang term, that the Guardian newspaper describes clearly as:

A cut and shut is where the remains of two or more cars have been welded together to create a ‘new’ vehicle. The remains that are welded together are likely to be write-offs. For example, a vehicle with a front-end impact could see its rear being welded to a vehicle that has been rear-ended.

As you’d expect, this is both dangerous and, in the UK at least, illegal. But that’s what the sixth edition of the PMBOK Guide did with the predictive 5th Edition and its accompanying Agile Practice Guide. It welded the two parts together.

PMBOK 7 starts in a very different place. The way I read it is that it says: ‘Project Management is Project Management. What methods and approaches you choose are up to you. It depends upon your situation. We won’t prescribe, nor weight out guidance in one direction or another’.

PMBOK 7 is agnostic about the approach you take. And to help you, it provides an excellent section on ‘tailoring’. Where PMBOK 6 gave this concept lip-service, we now have clear guidance about how to go about selecting the right approach for your project.

If this is true, what are the implications for PMI’s major exams, which rely on the PMBOK Guide as a primary reference?

What about PMP and CAPM?

The content and syllabus for all PMI examinations is in the relevant Examination Content Outline (ECO).

My guidance will be appropriate at the time I am writing it. But for current, up-to-date guidance, always download the latest ECO for your certification, directly from the PMI website. Navigate to the certification you want and the ECO download will be easy to find. And download the Handbook as well, while you are at it.

At the time of writing, those documents tell us that:

  • The PMP examination has a number of reference sources, including PMBOK 6. The ECO sets out a syllabus that is not linked directly to any documents. But it is clear to me that PMBOK 7 provides better information than PMBOK 6 for some topics. So, I would expect that PMBOK 7 will appear on the recommended reading list at some time.
  • The CAPM examination is based directly on the PMBOK Guide 6th Edition. And it will remain so, until PMI explicitly chages it.

PMIstandards+

I expect that the content from PMBOK 6 that will be relevant to the PMI’s examinations will all be moved to PMI’s new platform, PMIstandards+. Then, when it is ready, PMI will adjust its handbooks and ECOs. They will reference subsets of content from the standards+ website.

How PMBOK 7 will feature in each examination syllabus is not yet clear. I suspect that it will be seen as an essential reference for some exams, and maybe as a primary resource for others.

However, until PMI says otherwise, the publication of PMBOK 7 has no impact on the examination syllabus of any of its exams. But, as always, check the PMI website for announcements. And download the current ECO and Handbook for your exam.

What is PMIstandards+

PMIstandards+ is a standalone website, available to PMI members, at standardsplus.pmi.org. It offers access to the PMI standards, guides, how-to content, and its wider body of knowledge.

I think that this is where all the still-relevant content from PMBOK 6 will live, that hasn’t a home on PMBOK 7. Among other things, you should be able to find all the ITTOs and much of the Knowledge Area content in here. The open question is, ‘how easy will it be to find what you need?’

It is likely that PMI will increasingly use this as a primary reference-source for its certification exams – and also for gaining Continuing Professional Development (CPD) Professional Development Units (PDUs). These are necessary evidence of learning and development, which PMI requires to support your retention of its key certifications.

Do I Need to Buy and Read PMBOK 7?

Do you need to buy and read PMBOK 7? No. It’s not currently in the syllabus for any examinations and you have lived without it up to now.

Would you be wise to buy and read PMBOK 7?

Absolutely you would. For these reasons:

  1. If you are a PMI member, you’ll want to understand their latest thinking. And you will be able to join in the debate from a position of knowledge.
  2. If you are not a PMI member, but a professional project manager, this is still an important book to understand.
  3. There is a lot of powerful thinking in here, which is not articulated in this way, anywhere else. I think the content on the Value Delivery System and on Tailoring are excellent contributions for any Project Manager to learn from.

Where are the Project Management Processes in PMBOK 7?

They’re gone. (Almost)

The project management processes of previous editions of the PMBOK Guide all presuppose a Predictive approach to Project Management. Or, at least, a hybrid approach, within a predictive framework.

PMBOK 7 makes no such presupposition. The process groups are merely one model we can draw upon. Therefore, they appear on pages 170-1 in a few paragraphs, in the section on models.

Processes are not deprecated. They are simply identified as a useful model to draw upon when you need it.

Assessment of Core Content of PMBOK 7

What is a System for Value Delivery?

The System for Value delivery is part of the ANSI Standard for Project Management. And it’s also my favorite part of this version of the PMBOK Guide.

PMI defines it as:

A collection of strategic business activities aimed at building, sustaining, and/or advancing an organization.

The Standard for Project Management, within the PMBOK Guide 7th Edition
Project Management Institute (PMI), 2021

Put more simply, it’s what you do to create value. And the information flow that PMBOK 7 describes and the guidance it gives break new ground for the PMBOK.

Firstly, I am delighted that value has made it into the Project Management Body of Knowledge. But they have done better. They put it into the standard. This means that, any organization that wants to work to the ANSI standard, must prioritize value delivery.

the PMI’s downloadable explainer guide to the Value Delivery System in PMBOK 7 looks consistent. This is another excellent download, which I strongly recommend to you.

In essence, it links (through a series of feedback loops):

  • Senior Leadership and organizational strategy
  • Portfolios
  • Projects and Programs
  • Operations

I cannot say how welcome this is to me… Even though it does mean that I will need to update my Benefits Management course as soon as the new PMBOK 7 is published!

For my detailed training in this area, please do take a look at our Benefits Management course.

How does PMBOK 7 Treat Governance?

Huzzah! At long last, the PMBOK Guide is starting to treat governance seriously. I have spotted it in three places:

  1. In the Standard, we see governance as part of the System for Value Delivery. This refers to both the organizational governance systems and also within some of the functions associated with projects. For example,
    1. oversight (2.3.1)
    2. provide business direction (2.3.6)
    3. maintain governance (2.3.8)
  2. In the considerations for tailoring (though to a lesser degree than I’d like)
  3. Within the sponsor role in Appendix X2 (though I’d like to see it there as an explicit function of the Sponsor)

However, this is only a small start. I would like to see considerably more depth.

What are the 12 Principles in PMBOK 7?

Principles are statements of:

  • Standards of moral and ethical conduct
  • Widely agreed assumptions or truths
  • Fundamental laws or rules 

Whilst they will mostly be subjective matters of judgment, useful principles will be those that gain wide – near-universal – acceptance among a relevant community of practitioners.

PMI has adopted, as its guiding definition of a principle: 

A statement that captures and summarizes a generally accepted objective for the practice of the disciplines and functions of portfolio, program, and project management.

Mike Frenette, PMI Standards Member Advisory Group
from an article: Baking Principles at ProjectManagement.com
Retrieved 16 December, 2019

The 12 Project Management Principles

  1. Be a diligent, respectful, and caring steward
  2. Create a collaborative project team environment
  3. Effectively engage with stakeholders
  4. Focus on value
  5. Recognize, evaluate, and respond to system interactions
  6. Demonstrate leadership behaviors
  7. Tailor based on context
  8. Build quality into processes and deliverables
  9. Navigate complexity
  10. Optimize risk responses
  11. Embrace adaptability and resiliency
  12. Enable change to achieve the envisioned future state
12 Project Management Principles from PMBOK 7

What are the 8 Project Performance Domains in PMBOK 7?

Another big change we see in PMBOK 7 is the abandonment of the 10 Knowledge Areas that have been the basis for the PMI’s body of knowledge from the outset. Although, it was only at the fifth edition that PMI split Communications Management to create the tenth KA: Stakeholder Management.

Now we will see 8 Performance Domains:

  1. Stakeholders
  2. Team
  3. Development Approach and Life Cycle
  4. Planning
  5. Project Work
  6. Delivery
  7. Measurement
  8. Uncertainty
PMBOK 7 Performance Domains

What are Performance Domains?

Project Performance Domains take up around a third of the Body of Knowledge. PMI defines them as:

A project performance domain is a group of related activities that are critical for the effective delivery of project outcomes. Project performance domains are interactive, interrelated, and interdependent areas of focus that work in unison to achieve desired project outcomes.

Introductory paragraph to Chapter 2 of the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge
From the PMBOK Guide 7th Edition, Project Management Institute (PMI), 2021

I think of Performance Domains as the broad areas we focus on. They must, necessarily, overlap. This is because projects are complex and we need to integrate their parts. But each represents a substantial element of our work that we will focus on. So, they cross over a number of Knowledge Areas.

But, in the end, it’s just another way of reducing the complexity of a real into discrete chunks. Now, instead of 10 + 5 chunks, we will have 8. To some extent, they must always be arbitrary. 

Something I Particularly Like

I particularly like the layout of the chapter on Project Performance Domains. The definition boxes at the start of each section are helpful – and similar to those in the Principles chapter. But we also have relevant definitions and orange call-out boxes with helpful insights. This section is a great learning resource.

What about My Favorite Knowledge Area?

Inevitably, Project Managers familiar with earlier editions will want to know where the ideas from each knowledge area have gone.

This is maybe missing the point of the Performance Domains. However, let’s take an example.
Among the 12 Principle and 8 performance domains, there appears to be no mention of cost, or budget.

Can this be because the core team forgot about them? Or maybe they don’t think cost is important in modern projects?

Nonsense. I cannot believe this is true. It only takes a cursory glance at the text in PMBOK 7 under:

  • Principle 1: Be a diligent, respectful, and caring steward
  • Principle 4: Focus on Value
  • Performance Domain 5: Project Work

Between these three, the authors establish all the priority for project cost management.

Then, under methods, we see such things as:

  • Earned Value Analysis
  • Variance Analysis
  • Estimating Methods

And, under artifacts, we have:

  • Business Case
  • Cost Management Plan
  • Budget

Maybe you would have cut up the performance domains in another way. But don’t for one moment think this has not been carefully thought through. And, done so by serious people with a lot of experience and knowledge.

Cynthia Dionisio, Co-leader PMBOK® Guide–Seventh Edition Development Team, published a short article, setting out her answer to the question, ‘What are Performance Domains, and Why Should I Care?’

How does PMBOK 7 Handle Tailoring?

The short answer is ‘very well’.

This is the most unexpectedly delightful section of PMBOK 7 for me. PMBOK 6 only gave this the most cursory of coverage. But, here, we find some very helpful guidance.
Tailoring is the deliberate adaptation of your whole Project Management approach to the situation. At last, PMI will give us some clear guidance – that was missing from PMBOK 6.
In choosing an approach, Project Managers must be mindful of the:

  • Type of project …leading to the big choice of a predictive, agile, or hybrid approach
  • Nature of the Organization …driving choices around governance and assurance
  • The details of the project …that allow us to optimize processes and choices of tools

PMI already offers a very helpful extract, in the form of a simple explanatory diagram, which I recommend you download.

What are the PMBK 7 Models, Methods, and Artifacts?

Gone (or at least, relegated to PMIstandards+) are the stupidly prescriptive ITTOs that PMI (correctly) said ‘you don’t need to learn’ but most people thought they ought to.

In their place are the far more useful lists common models, methods, and artifacts available to project practitioners.
PMBOK 7 gives a brief description of each model, method, or artifact. And it maps them onto the project performance domains where the authors suggest they may be most useful.

PMI defines:

A Model…describes a thinking strategy to explain a process, framework or phenomenon.Examples include:Situational Leadership,Tuckman, and the Process Groups (yup, there they are!)

A Method…is the means for achieving an outcome, result or project deliverable.Examples include:Lessons Learned,Planning Poker,Risk Matrix

An Artifact…is a template, document, output or project deliverable.Examples include:Risk Register,Scope Management Plan,Stakeholder Engagement PlanModels, Methods and Artefacts Explainer

The examples are mine.
This is something of an expansion of the ITTOs of earlier PMBOK Guides. But it will take the idea far further, contextualizing them to:

  • Project type
  • Industry sector
  • Development approach (predictive, agile, or hybrid)

What I would like is a clearer statement that these models, methods, and artifacts are just a set of examples that the authors have used and value. It seems to me that they can easily come across as ‘the right ones’ to use.

As a result, this is a very welcome upgrade. ITTOs, will remain available through the PMIstandards+ website. And the Models also includes the Process Groups from former PMBOK Guides.

PMBOK 7 has some interesting Appendices. And the first of them is titled ‘Sponsor’. Without a doubt, this is an important topic. But placing it in an appendix seems to say either:

  • It’s not that important
  • We forgot about it, until it was nearly too late
  • We can’t really see how to fit it into the main body

Here’s a clue, PMI… Governance.

First, have a section on Governance. And second, now you have a place for the sponsor role. But, in fact, the biggest weakness of the whole appendix (which is fine as it is) is that it does not mention the word ‘Governance’ at all. Here’s something for the PMBOK 8 authors to get to grips with!

Inclusion of the PMO in PMBOK 7?

The second interesting appendix is titled ‘PMO’. Like the Sponsor appendix, this is a vast simplification of a big (far bigger) and complex topic. But I will give credit here for the focus (around a quarter of the four page section) on the role of the PMO in Benefits Realization.

Let’s Talk about Product

The final interesting appendix is titled ‘Product’. And it seems that one or more of the core team felt comfortable here – it’s a longer appendix than Sponsor or PMO.

It’s also an area where I have less experience. So., I shall just note that I found it interesting, but I am unable to assess it with any rigor.

Who is PMBOK 7 for?

PMI gives a long list of people they intend the PMBOK Guide 7th Edition to be for (on page 5 of the Standard). And that list is rightly long. There is real value in here for anyone who wants to make projects, programs, portfolios, PMOs, or any related professional role an important part of your career.

And, like the APM’s APM Body of knowledge, 7th Edition, this has a value way beyond ‘just’ being an exam preparation reference. Yet I fear this is how people largely saw editions 1 to 6 of the PMBOK Guide.

Instead, this is a valuable reference work that we can dip into and learn from. I’d argue that this is of less value to people at the start of their careers than for people with some real-world experience. It contains some rather sophisticated thinking.

How Useful is PMBOK 7 to Project Managers?

As a result, I am going to say that PMBOK 7 is very useful to Project Managers. It will give you:

  • Plenty of valuable food for thought
  • A lot of useful methods, models, and artifacts to learn more about
  • Reference material on the knowledge you need
  • A kicking-off point for further learning
  • An approach to thinking about projects (in its principles)
  • A guide for how to tailor projects
  • Insights into driving value in your projects

The Layout and Format of PMBOK 7?

The format of the PMBOK Guide 7th Edition reverses the order from the 6th edition.

  1. It starts with the Standard for Project Management.
  2. Then, there is a Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge.
  3. Finally, there are five appendices and a glossary.

What I really don’t like is that at the start of the Guide to the PM Body of Knowledge, the page numbering starts again. What! More than previous editions, this feels like two documents in one cover. [‘Cut-and-shut’?]

The pages are laid out clearly, with a big, easy-to-read, sans serif font. It does look a little ‘self-published’ to me.

But I value the use of color in the tables – even if I feel that all of the graphics could have benefitted from color. At the moment, it’s just what I guess the authors consider the core graphics.

The Quality of the PMBOK 7 Deliverable?

First, the good news…

PMI has abandoned the execrable use of copy-resistant printing, which rendered the pages of PMBOK 6 gray. This rendered them hard to read. There was poor contrast. Now the pages are nice and white – and god white, with clear, sharp black ink and good (PMI brand) colors for the graphics.

So, here’s the ‘but…’

The paper is thin, like PMBOK 6. I’ve not used a micrometer to get an exact comparison. And the cover is flimsy.
The result is a document that is nice to look at but nasty to hold. It feels more like a disposable catalog than a $99 book.

Yes, US$99. That’s a lot to pay for a 274-page trade paperback with cheap paper and thin card-stock.
Okay, I know:

  1. We are paying for the intellectual property. But come on – the development team and reviewers gave their time for free!
  2. It is a ‘disposable’ or certainly temporary document. It’s life expectancy is 4 years, plus or minus a year or so. Then, w’ll be onto PMBOK 8 #CountingDown. But… I know I’m not the only person who keeps these. I have PMBOKs 1, 4, and 6 as well. And PMBOK 4 has nice paper and decent card on the covers.

What do I Think about PMBOK 7?

In the end, there are only a few questions that really matter.

  1. Is this a good reference source for Project Manager? Yes
  2. Will I learn from it and do I expect others to? Yes, and Yes.
  3. Would I recommend it to serious Project Managers? Yes
  4. Would I recommend it t new or part-time/’accidental’ Project Managers? No
  5. Is it good value for money? With regret, I am compelled to say No. I think we have a case of opportunistic price gouging from PMI. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

I don’t expect knowledge to be free. But I do expect the largest professional body for Project Management in the world to take a little less of a commercial view. I’d like a little more enlightened altruism.

Is that too much to ask?

Tell me what you think, in the comments below.

The Last Question is over to you…

What other questions do you have? Ask them in the comments below, and I will try to answer you.

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 14 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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