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Project Management Knowledge Areas: How Many Are There? [Not 10]

Project Management Knowledge Areas: How Many Are There? [Not 10]

Whenever there is a body of knowledge, it helps to divide it up. So, we have Knowledge Areas. These are domains within the wider body.

The PMI famously divides Project Management knowledge into 10 Knowledge Areas (or KAs). But there are more.

  • Some, the PMI omits in its most recent (6th Edition) Project Management Body of Knowledge (the PMBOK Guide)
  • Others, the PMBOK Guide discusses in other ways.

But the choice of 10 Knowledge Areas is arbitrary. Although it may owe a lot to the ‘special number fallacy’. This leads authors to prefer special numbers like 5, 7, 10, or 12. At best, it’s just the way one group of experienced project professionals divide up their world.

So, in this article, I’ll discuss all of the Project Management Knowledge Areas I can think of. Do you aspire to a Project Management career? If so, this should be your lifetime minimum syllabus. There’s loads more you could learn, but you will definitely need all of this!

How We’ll Cover Knowledge Areas

Project Management Knowledge Areas: How Many Are There? [Not 10]

I think we need to start with the PMBOK Guide. That’s what a lot of people will know and where many will have heard the term, Knowledge Areas. Aspiring PMI Project Management Professionals talk about ‘learning their KAs’.

However, the PMBOK Guide is not the be-all and end-all of project management knowledge. Other organizations and methodologies are available. And, let’s not forget that the 7th Edition of the PMBOK Guide is due out in late 2021. And all the evidence suggests it will be substantially (maybe radically) different from editions 1 to 6. Will it be organized by knowledge area? We simply don’t know yet.

So, here’s how I shall organize this article:

What are Project Management Knowledge Areas?

A body of knowledge is everything anyone knows about a topic and has taken the trouble to document. The Project Management Institute (PMI) has one, and so does the Association for Project Management (APM)

Any substantial body of knowledge will quickly grow and become unwieldy. So, we need to divide it up… into Knowledge Areas. These are domains of knowledge that together form the whole body of knowledge.

Necessarily, these domains will interact and overlap. The skill of carving up a body of knowledge into sensible and useful knowledge areas is to make the set of all KAs ‘MECE’.

So, what is MECE?

MECE stands for ‘Mutually Exclusive and Completely Exhaustive’.

Mutually Exclusive

As I said, any domains of knowledge within one discipline – especially a complex one like Project Management – must overlap and interact. However, the goal must be to try and define a set where each is as self-contained as possible. Ideally, knowledge within one knowledge area will not need to appear anywhere else. That’s an ideal!

Completely Exhaustive

This is less of an ideal. It’s more of a requirement, if you want a comprehensive body of knowledge. Between them, your set of Knowledge Areas must cover everything that someone will need to know. Otherwise, your final Body of Knowledge will not be complete.

The Necessary Reality of MECE Knowledge Areas

Because Project Management is a large and complex discipline, the reality is that our KAs do overlap. And they cut across the stages of a project and its processes. By the way, stages and processes are different even though the process groups in the PMBOK Guide and PRINCE2 often have names that sound like stages!

It’s also a sad reality that no methodology or Body of Knowledge document can be completely exhaustive The PMBOK Guide certainly is not, and neither is the APMBoK nor the PRINCE2 manual, ‘Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2’. The latter, by the way, does not attempt to be a body of knowledge – although it is a substantial set of PM knowledge.

The PMI’s PMBOK Guide Knowledge Areas

For many project managers, the term ‘Knowledge Area’ is uniquely linked to the PMI’s PMBOK Guide. Indeed, the 10 Knowledge Areas occupy 65 percent of the 6th Edition. There, PMI define KA’s:

A Knowledge Area is an identified area of project management defined by its knowledge requirements and described in terms of its component processes, practices, input, outputs, tools, and techniques.

A Guide to the Project Management ody of Knowledge, Sixth Edition
Section 1.2.4.6

What I note from this definition is the intimate link that PMI draws between Knowledge Areas and…

PMBOK Processes

Although Knowledge Areas and Process Groups are distinct in the PMBOK Guide and cut across one-another in a matrix form (see below). There is no other indication that processes in the PMBOK are any the ‘property’ of the KAs than they are of the Process Groups.

The table also introduces the ten KAs, which we’ll look at properly, soon.

The PMBOK 6th Ed Process Groups
The PMBOK 6th Ed Process Groups. There is a full size version in our PMP Exam Prep Guide

Knowledge Areas and Processes

There is content in the five PMBOK Guide chapters on Process Groups that is not in the 10 Knowledge Area chapters. This means that the 10 KAs do not contain all of the body of knowledge.

Think about the requirement ‘Completely Exhaustive’. This means, to nit-pick, that any logical, non-PMI-specific interpretation would have the Process Groups as knowledge areas. (I used lower-case to deliberately distinguish the generic term from the PMBOK Guide’s usage.)

PMBOK ITTOs – Inputs, Tools and Techniques, and Outputs

ITTOs are a framework the PMBOK has used for many years. They contain the bulk of the knowledge about ‘how to do’ project management.

If you like this video and also want a short (2 minute) video describing the PMBOK Guide’s definitions of Input, Tool, Technique, and Output, check out ‘What are ITTOs Part 2: Definitions’.

How do Other Bodies of Knowledge and Methodologies Treat Knowledge Areas?

The APMBoK

The Association for Project management (APM) also publishes a Body of Knowledge, the APMBoK. This takes a very different approach to the PMBOK.

It seems more comprehensive in the breadth of its coverage, though far less so in-depth. Rather, it uses references to a huge number of other resources to provide the depth. It also organizes the knowledge in a very different way (see our article for the detail).

The four Chapters represent big themes:

  1. Setting up for Success
  2. Preparing for Change
  3. People and Behaviours
  4. Planning and Managing Deployment

These each contain three sections, that, to me, seem to be the APMBoK’s knowledge areas. Each one has between 5 and 10 subsections, detailing that knowledge area.

APMBoK Knowledge Areas

If my interpretation is reasonable, the 12 knowledge areas of the APMBoK are:

  1. Implementing Strategy
  2. Life Cycle Options and Choices
  3. Establishing Governance and Oversight
  4. Shaping the Early Life Cycle (overlap with #1?)
  5. Assurance, Learning and Maturity (two here, surely)
  6. Transition into Use
  7. Engaging Stakeholders
  8. Leading Teams
  9. Working Professionally (a bit of a portmanteau)
  10. Defining Outputs
  11. Integrated Planning
  12. Controlling Deployment

PRINCE2

PRINCE2 has 7 Processes, 7 Themes, and 7 Principles. The themes are the most like the PMI’s and APM’s knowledge areas. However, the PRINCE2 Manual, ‘Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2’, is full of project management knowledge. So, by my definition, the principles and processes must also be knowledge areas!

However, the seven PRINCE2 Themes are:

  1. Business case
  2. Organization
  3. Quality
  4. Plans
  5. Risk
  6. Change
  7. Progress

Learn More about PRINCE2

The 10 PMBOK Guide Knowledge Areas

Let’s start with a list of the 10 PMBOK Guide Knowledge Areas:

  1. Integration Management
  2. Scope Management
  3. Schedule Management
  4. Cost Management
  5. Quality Management
  6. Resource Management
  7. Communications Management
  8. Risk Management
  9. Procurement Management
  10. Stakeholder Management

The PMBOK guide Sequence of Knowledge Areas

This sequence seems to me to have nothing to commend it. It is not alphabetical (in English anyway). And, neither is it in any logical order that I can discern. Maybe the decision was because all are free-standing from one-another and equally important. So, a random order was best. I simply cannot say why the authors chose this order and not any other.

All I can tell you is that it matches (with a few minor terminology changes) the order of the 9 Knowledge Areas in the first edition (1996). The tenth, Stakeholder Management, appeared in the 5th edition (2013).

The Project Integration Management Problem

There are many people who find this knowledge area confusing, unnecessary. Some even don’t like it. I think it deserves its place on the list. But I would put it last (rather than first). Because this is the Knowledge Area that ties everything else together. It seems to be harder to understand upfront. But it’s easier once you have all of the other knowledge under your belt.

But, if you argue that this is the framework within which all of the other KAs and Process Groups fall, so it should come first… Well, I can respect that argument too.

Remembering them in Sequence

If you are studying for your PMP or CAPM exam, you may want to memorize the ten PMBOK Guide Knowledge Areas. If so, there are many mnemonics (memory aids) out there. Some are good and some are bad. And some seem to me to be harder to remember than the original list!

To avoid picking and stealing someone else’s, here is my own. I suggest you make up one for yourself, as the best way to memorize them.

I suddenly stopped chasing Queen Rosalind. Courtiers run pretty swiftly.

Mnemonic for: Integration, Scope, Schedule, Cost, Quality, Resources, Communications, Risk, Procurement, Stakeholder. Note that the word Rosalind is longer than the word run. And Courtiers begins with ‘Co’.

Let’s work our way through the ten Knowledge Areas.

Project Integration Management

This is the Knowledge Area that covers the coordination and integration of all of your project management knowledge. The processes, tools, methods…

To avoid unnecessary multiplication of Knowledge Areas, I would explicitly include Tailoring in this one.

Our resources on Project Integration Management are:

Project Scope Management

This covers the scope of the work you need to carry out and the products (deliverables) you need to deliver. It also covers the all-important change control processes that manage shifts in scope throughout the life of your project.

Our resources on Project Scope Management are:

Project Schedule Management

This is the time-based planning and management knowledge area. It’s also where you need to understand programmatic logic. So, it includes knowledge about dependencies and constraints.

Our resources on Project Schedule Management are:

Project Cost Management

This covers everything from the first estimates of cost,

  • through budgeting,
  • cost control, and
  • reporting,
  • to finalizing project accounts.

Our resources on Project Cost Management are:

Project Quality Management

From the design of your project to the sign-off of its deliverables, you have an obligation to get the quality right. This knowledge area gives you the understanding and tools to do it.

Our resources on Project Quality Management are:

Project Resources Management

In the original versions of the PMBOK Guide, this was focused on Human Resources. Now, it covers all aspects of all forms of resources.

To avoid unnecessary multiplication of Knowledge Areas, I would explicitly include Project Organization in this one.

Our resources on Project Resources Management are:

Project Communications Management

This focuses on the management of project information. It’s everything from what messages and documents to create to how to store them. And everything in between, like design, dissemination, and version control.

Our resources on Project Communications Management are:

Project Risk Management

Projects are inherently risky. So, risk management is one of the first knowledge areas people think of. Indeed, it is very much a specialist project management discipline in its own right.

To avoid unnecessary multiplication of Knowledge Areas, I would explicitly include Issue Management in this one.

Our resources on Project Risk Management are:

Project Procurement Management

Projects need resources and you need to buy them. That’s what procurement management is all about. Everything from selection to purchase to managing the contractual relationships.

To avoid unnecessary multiplication of Knowledge Areas, I would explicitly include Contract Management in this one.

Our resources on Project Procurement Management are:

Project Stakeholder Management

The only one of the ten KAs that was not in the original PMBOK Guide back in 1996, stakeholder engagement appeared in the fifth edition. That was one hell of an omission (and there are more coming up, below).

Stakeholders will Determine Your Success or Not
Stakeholders will Determine Your Success or Not

Our resources on Project Stakeholder Management are:

Other Primary Knowledge Areas

PMI is not the sole authority on project management. And their Body of Knowledge is not complete. Here are my thoughts about primary Knowledge Areas I’d like to see included among their existing ten.

Project Governance

There is woefully little reference to and even less guidance about governance in the PMBOK Guide 6th Edition. To my mind, this is an absolutely vital knowledge area for project managers to learn and understand.

Our resources on Project Governance are:

Project Leadership

Leadership is rising up the Project management agenda. It’s been important for as long as I can remember and more. But with the new PMI PMP Examination Content Outline (ECO), and their Talent Triangle, PMI is now taking it seriously. It’s time to bring leadership to the forefront.

Our resources on Project Leadership are:

Project Benefits Management

Project Benefits Management is just emerging into the conversation. We all know the importance of a business case to establish the value proposition of their project. And Program Managers have been practicing Benefits Management since the mid-1990s. But for us, as Project managers, this is still new. And I am still working on a comprehensive article!

Our resources on Project Benefits Management are:

Project Progress Management

Bothe PMI, in its PMBOK Guide, and PRINCE2 have Monitoring and Controlling as a process. So, I don’t say they miss this. But, in our listing of Knowledge Areas, we must acknowledge this as a clear skill-set. And therefore, treat it as a Knowledge Area.

Our resources on Project Progress Management are:

Project Knowledge Management

This could form part of Project Communications Management. But the whole discipline of:

  • storing,
  • managing, and
  • maintaining under strict version control the vast archives of data that large projects spawn

is a huge one. And then there are data security and knowledge sharing. I think there is enough here to merit a separate Knowledge Area in itself.

Secondary Knowledge Areas

These last few suggestions are not core to the day-to-day job of Project Management. So, I have labeled them as secondary Knowledge Areas. But they are all important areas of knowledge for a Project Manager to master. Especially if you aspire to make a long-term and senior-level career from the profession.

Project Management Approaches and Life Cycles: Agile, Predictive, and Hybrid

Maybe this is core. But for some Project managers today, you will stick with one methodology and that’s all you’ll need. But I do think that, for full credibility at a senior level, you need a good working knowledge of multiple project paradigms. And you need the ability to select and hybridize from among them to find the best approach for the project at hand.

All the references above here are about predictive (traditional) project management. So, our resources on Project Approaches and Life Cycles Management are all about Agile Project Management:

Project Management Software Tools

I would never expect any project manager to be familiar with every tool. And I don’t consider this Knowledge Area to be about detailed knowledge of any one tool. Rather, this is about an understanding of:

  • the range of tools available
  • what these tools can do
  • approaches to tool selection
  • good practices in implementing and using them

Project Context: Business Acumen

Business acumen is about understanding the wider contexts in which your projects sit.

Are There any Other Knowledge Areas?

I have worked hard to draw the balance between:

  • Not missing any areas of project knowledge that are truly essential. Whether to all or the vast majority of project managers, and
  • Creating loads of small or insignificantly niche knowledge areas that can easily be wrapped into others.

But that is not to say I have got the balance right. Nor that I haven’t missed something important. So, please do tell us what you think, below. As usual, I’ll respond to all comments.

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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