The Project Management Body of Knowledge or PMBOK Guide

Founded in 1969 in the USA the PMI has evolved today into a global professional organization with over half a million members and credential holders in more than 185 countries. As the field of project management evolves, so do the standards of the PMI. It continues to expand and update its existing library of standards and publishes a variety of standards, including the PMBOK® Guide, which provide guidelines, rules and characteristics related to project and program management. The PMBOK guide lays down the standard methods and practices of project management as prescribed and recommended by the PMI and is approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

Guiding Light

Initially released as a white paper by the PMI in 1983 in its Project Management Quarterly Special Report entitled Ethics, Standards and Accreditation, the PMBOK Guide is considered the preeminent global standard for the practice of project management. Since then the PMI has revised and updated it several times and it is now in its 4th edition. It is also available in about a dozen languages, including Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.

Here are a few points that should help you get a better understanding of the PMBOK Guide:

    The PMBOK Guide is the most comprehensive reference model for project managers. It is based on 42 different processes and has been developed by drawing from global experience in many fields. Because of this, it is quite generic in nature and can be used in general with all sorts of projects and in different branches.
    It summarizes best practices on most projects most of the time. It does not go into great detail with respect to the instructions provided, nor does it mean that all of the processes have to be used all the time. The Project Manager along with the rest of the team should make a decision about what and how much should be apply in a particular situation. Its application is not unvarying across different situations, but specific to the individual project.
    The Guide is very comprehensive and rather self-consistent. On reading it from start to finish, you’ll find that it is integrated and the internal references match.
    It is not a theoretical guide but rather a very practical one as it draws from the experiences of thousands of project managers from different regions around the world.
    It doesn’t replace a company’s current processes but provides a standard language and environment for them. This standardizes project management practices and makes it possible for organizations to adopt a unified approach to project management.

The PMBOK Guide has been updated and revised a number of times and every revision has made it more mature. During the preparation of the 4th edition, a lot of emphasis was given to improving consistency, both internally and with respect to the other standards of the PMI.

The PMI has also developed Extensions to the PMBOK Guide for particular project sectors. These extensions outline in greater detail the standard processes for specific sectors, like Construction or (American) Government. Again they are only guidelines and this makes them more generic in nature than a methodology that explains exactly what you need to do.