Is the PMBOK® cursed? Yes if you believe less is better and more is worse!

Is the PMBOK® cursed? Yes if you believe less is better and more is worse! Do the numbers 176, 211, 403, 507 and 618 mean anything to you?  These are the number of pages of the PMBOK® and illustrate its growth rate.  This begs the question “Have these improved PMBOK® versions brought about better project management?

PMBOK Growth 2013I heard Mark Langley Project Management Institute President and CEO speak this November in London.  He stated based on recent survey data project management performance is worse than it was five years ago.  He also stated 8 percent of organizations globally are high performers.  High performers were defined as 80 percent or more of projects being delivered on time.  He then stated that in the United Kingdom only 4 percent of the organizations are high performers even though in the UK they have more standardized processes in place. Now I haven’t examined the data with a scientific scrutiny but the apparent conclusion is…

more standardization equated to less high performing organizations. 

Obviously there is a line you can cross where standardization decreases effectiveness. You may recall our discussion last month regarding the inverted U Curve.  The words of Dr. Jim Boren come to mind “Bureaucracy is the epoxy that greases the wheels of progress.

The PMBOK® has contributed heavily to an increase in project management professionalism.  Now I fear we have too much of a good thing. If you calculate the average growth rate of pages for the PMBOK® it is close to 40 percent.  If you conservatively assumed the future growth rate was 15 percent less than what has occurred historically and will be just 25 percent, the PMBOK® would be close to 1000 pages at the 7th edition and over 1500 pages for the 9th edition.

In addition to these astronomical numbers of pages PMI has added multiple practice standards and extensions to further assist in our project efforts. As I state in The Handbook of Program Management and whenever I speak, project management is simply “Structured Organized Common Sense.”  This doesn’t mean project management is easy, it doesn’t mean it is complicated.  It can be hard to do the simple, common sense practice in some organizations.   Successful project management is predominantly about leadership based on principles applied in the context of the organization.

After five editions why is the PMI still updating the PMBOK®? 

On Writing - Stephen KingPMI’s continual updating and expanding of this document is making it less and less relevant/usable to the business community in my opinion. If they continue to update this document they should heed the advice of  the famous writer Stephen King.  He states in his book On Writing, “Second draft equals first draft minus 10 percent.” If they want to update the PMBOK® then make it and all its supplements 10 percent shorter each update cycle.   What is the risk when longer is not producing better results?

Posted by Dr. James Brown in Project Management Solutions.


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