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Answered: Your Burning Questions about the PMBOK Guide’s ITTOs

Answered: Your Burning Questions about the PMBOK Guide's ITTOs

ITTOs – Inputs, Tools and Techniques, and Outputs. They contain the ‘How to’ of the PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge.

As a result, they amount to a vast amount of information. This makes ITTOs central to the PMI’s current examinations for PMP and CAPM. And it therefore means that aspiring CAPMs and PMPs often fear the work involved in learning them.

Now, the forthcoming PMBOK Guide 7th Edition is clearly on its way. So the future of ITTOs is perhaps in doubt. So, in this article, we’ll examine all the questions you have about ITTOs:

What are ITTOs?
And How Important are They?

ITTOs are the way the PMI expresses how to carry out the processes within its Project Management Body of Knowledge (the PMBOK Guide). If you like your summary in video form, take a look at this…

ITTOs make up most of the PMBOK Guide by page count. By my count, around 414 out of 756 pages contain descriptions of one or more of the ITTOs. That’s nearly 55% of the Body of Knowledge. Arguably more, because if we strip out the Project management Standard section of the PMBOK Guide, and also the appendices, it’s 414 out of 536 pages: over 3/4!

ITTOs are the ‘how to’ that glue the 49 processes together. ITTO stands for:

  • Inputs
  • Tools
  • Techniques
  • Outputs

Some Background on the PMI and it’s PMBOK Guide…

We’ve also done videos that answer the questions:

Inputs, Tools and Techniques, Outputs

While the PMBOK Guide does not formally define ‘ITTO’, it does define each of its components. I’ve reproduced their definitions below.

Input

Any item, whether internal or external to the project, which is required by a process before that process proceeds. May be an output from a predecessor process.

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, 6th Edition
The Project Management Institute (PMI)

Tool

Something tangible, such as a template or software program, used in performing an activity to produce a product or result.

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, 6th Edition
The Project Management Institute (PMI)

Technique

A defined systematic procedure employed by a human resource to perform an activity to produce a product or result or deliver a service, and that may employ one or more tools.

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, 6th Edition
The Project Management Institute (PMI)

Output

A product, result, or service generated by a process. May be an input to a successor process.

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, 6th Edition
The Project Management Institute (PMI)

Process

A systematic series of activities directed towards causing an end result such that one or more inputs will be acted upon to create one or more outputs.

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, 6th Edition
The Project Management Institute (PMI)
A process

Interpretation of ITTOs – How Processes Work

There are two approaches to understanding how PMI intends us to understand ITTOs. Or, put it another way: we can understand them in two different ways. And, I suspect, with the introduction of of PMBOK 7 sometime in late 2020 or in 2021, the interpretation will shift.

Formalistic Interpretation

When PMI first introduced ITTOs in the 1996 first edition of the PMBOK Guide, there were far fewer than in more recent editions. I think the original authors may have intended them as indicative of how processes work and the kind of tools ad techniques we have available.

But, in later editions, ITTOs became legion. I think some of the later authors came to see them as standardized statements of how to do things. It certainly seems to me that this is how recent generations of PMPs have interpretted them… Almost as prescriptions.

Indicative Interpretation

I have always seen them as a set of suggestions for available tools and techniques. And also as a starter for the inputs and outputs we should consider in each process. But i have never seen them as a definitive statement of processes, nor a complete list of available tools and techniques. Frankly, i think that would be absurd.

And, with its emphasis on principles over processes, and the need for it to address Agile and hybrid approaches as well as the traditional approach implicit, even in the 6th Edition, I think PMBOK 7 will eschew any formal interpretation.

The PMBOK Guide - ITTOs

Outputs as Inputs

The PMBOK Guide definitions of inputs and outputs make it crystal clear. The outputs from some processes will be the inputs of other.

And there will necessarily be a lot of overlap in the ITTOs for different processes. Some will have similar inputs and outputs and other will apply similar subsets of the available tools and techniques. I’ll talk more about this in the section on the content of the ITTOs.

How PMBOK Guide 6 Represents ITTOs

The PMBOK Guide presents ITTOs in three ways, for each of its 10 Knowledge Areas.

  1. In the Knowledge Area Overview, ITTOs are tabulated within each of the Knowledge Area’s processes.
  2. Each process has an ITTO summary – an extract from the tabulation above.
  3. Each process also has a data flow diagram. These show the inputs and outputs and how they connect the process to others.

A Full List of the PMBOK Guide 6 ITTOs

Creating a full list of ITTOs is a rite of passage for many aspiring PMPs and CAPMs. The exercise of trawling through the PMBOK Guide to collate your own table is a good way to get a thorough overview of all of the,

However, for those who don’t find that a helpful learning process (it really is though), we also suggest:

  1. Take a look at Appendix X6 of the PMBOK Guide (6th Edition). It is basically a single large tabulation (Table X6-1) of all of the tools and techniques and which Knowledge Areas they appear in.
  2. OnlinePMCourses has curated our own tabulation of all of the ITTOs in PMBOK 6. You can download it below.

What is the Content of the ITTOs?
What a Project Manager Needs to Know

Each of the 49 project management processes contains a set of:

  • Inputs to the process
  • Tools and Techniques to carry out the process
  • Outputs that the tools and Techniques create

When people refer to ‘the ITTOs, they are referring to the full set of these process components.

Common Inputs

The commonest inputs in the processes are:

  • Project Management Plan
  • Project Documents
  • Business Documents
  • Enterprise Environment Factors (EEF)
  • Organizational Process Assets (OPA)

Many of these have listed specific examples against them.

Others include:

  • Project Charter
  • Deliverables
  • Performance Data

Common Outputs

As you might expect, there is a far lager range of outputs from the 49 project management processes. The commonest outputs in the processes are:

  • Project Management Plan updates
  • Project Document updates
  • Organizational Process Assets (OPA) Updates

Many of these have listed specific examples against them.

Common Tools and Techniques

The commonest tools and techniques are:

  • Expert Judgment
  • Data Gathering
  • Data Analysis
  • Interpersonal and Team Skills
  • Decision making

Many of these have listed specific examples of tools against them. In our downloadable table (above), we include the examples given in PMBOK 6.

Learning the ITTOs
…for the Current PMBOK Guide-based Examinations

The huge number of ITTOs means many examination candidates see them as a daunting hurdle to leap. And I have two observations for you:

  1. Yes, indeed there is a lot to learn and understand if you want to become a competent project manager. And the vast majority of this knowledge is encapsulated in the ITTOs
  2. But no, this does not mean you need to learn all fo the process diagrams with their Inputs, Tools & Techniques, and Outputs by rote. This feat of memorization is not what good Project Management is about. And neither is it what PMI expects you to do.

Phew!!!

What to Learn… and What not to Learn

What yo do need to learn is how each process works and what it is all about. You need to understand them and the principles embedded in the Inputs, Tools & Techniques, and Outputs.

This means understanding why some ITTOs are right for a process and have a feel for how you would tackle the process in real life. The CAPM examination will test you on your understanding of these, as set out in the PMBOK Guide. The PMP exam, however, will be more likely to set you a situation and offer you options to choose from.

I suggest a 4-step process for understanding the ITTOs for a process:

  1. Study the data flow diagram, to understand what inputs and outputs relate to your process and how they feed from and into other processes.
  2. Think carefully about how you would carry out the work of converting the inputs into the outputs. What tools and techniques would you use? Now, look at the suggestions the PMBOK Guide offers in the ITTO summary. How do these compare with your ideas? Read the sectin of the PMBOK Guide to understand and learn about the tools and techniques.
  3. Mentally consider some real-life scenarios that you have either experienced or can envisage.
  4. Write up a summary – maybe as a flashcard – of what you have learned.

Examination Technique for ITTOs

There really are not very many ITTO-based questions in either the PMP or CAPM exam. Although,however, there are a higher proportion in the latter.

The technique you need is to find a way to get under the skin of the question. Usually, the answer will be implicit in the question itself. This is not because the examiners are pushovers, though! It’s because of how ITTOs work.

So, when you get an ITTO question, follow these 4 steps:

  1. Read the question carefully.
    Always do this anyway. All the clues you need will be in there.
  2. Clue Number 1: Process Group.
    What stage of the project does the question assume that you are in?
  3. Clue Number 2: Knowledge Area.
    What is the skill set you’ll need to deploy in the context of the question?
  4. Clue Number 3: What You Need to Do.
    What does the question tell you that you need to do?
    1. If you are looking for an input, what will you need as a starting point, to do it? And if that isn’t one of your answers, what will it be a part of? One of the answers will match.
    2. If you are looking for an output, what will doing what the questions suggests produce? And if that isn’t one of your answers, what will the product be a part of? One of the answers will match.
    3. If you are looking for a tool or a technique, ask yourself: ‘how would I do this?’ Which of the answers closely matches your thinking.

Notice how none of this requires you to have memorized anything. Understanding is the key.

Prepare for your examination by practicing this process on sample examinations.

The Future of ITTOs
What Do We Know about the PMBOK Guide 7th Edition?

As you probably know, at the time I am writing this, PMI is hard at work on the seventh edition of its PMBOK Guide. We have a full article for you:

‘PMBOK 7 is Getting Closer: What We Know…’

This means there is some necessary uncertainty around the future of ITTOs. Here is what we know or can reasonably speculate…

PMP Examination Content Outline

PMI published the new PMP Examination Content Outline (ECO) in the summer of 2019. It has twice put off implementation, which is now set for 2 January 2021. This means that if you are taking the PMP exam, it will be different in 2021 from now.

The first delay, from the start of 2020 to July 202 was due to a lack of readiness among PMI and its registered education providers (REPs). The second, to 2 January 2021 is due to the Coronavirus outbreak.

The new ECO is very different from the old one. Even under the old ECO, there have been very few ITTO-based questions. I would expect no more and probably fewer, from January 2021.

CAPM Examination

The CAPM examintaion is and always has been linked directly to the PMBOK Guide content and, in particular, the first section – Chapters 1 to 14. Until the new PMBOK arrives, I would not expect any change in the CAPM examination.

However, when the new PMBOK 7th Edition arrives, I would expect the CAPM examination to change accordingly.

ITTOs in PMBOK 7

I really do doubt that the 7th Edition of the Project management Body of Knowledge will contain the ITTOs in their present form. They do not accommodate Agile well and they do not seem to me to fit well with the Principles and Domains structure we are expecting.

Standards Plus

However, the PMI has recently launched its Standards Plus website. This already contains a great deal of the ITTO content. I expect it to be fully populated over time and also to grow. As PMI develops its thinking on ITTO content, it will update this site dynamically. In particular, I expect it will add content that is well suited to agile and hybrid project approaches.

What does this Mean for ITTOs in Future PMP and CAPM Exams?

This is just speculation, but I think PMI will always set situational questions where candidates will need to identify appropriate approaches to handling project processes. Whether the terminology of ITTOs remains with us in the long term, cannot say. But I think the underlying thinking will. And therefore, PMI will continue to examine candidates’ understanding of the thread from inputs, through tools and techniques, to outputs: ITTOs.

What are Your Thoughts, Experiences, and Questions about ITTOs?

I’d love to read them in the comments below and will, of course, respond to every contribution.

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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