PMBOK Guide® 7th Edition:


How PMBOK Caught Up

With Value Driven Product Development


By Gary Chin, VP Innovation & Product Development for Action for Results, Inc.

PMBOK Guide® is a registered trademark of Project Management Institute (PMI).

In August 2021, the Project Management Institute (PMI) made the boldest change in 20 years to its core publication, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide®) – and it’s about time! 

In the early 2000s, around the time of the 2nd or 3rd editions, the PMBOK Guide® quietly established itself as a valuable and de facto standard for project management. It didn’t deliver groundbreaking innovation, but it provided sorely needed standardization to a critical industry practice. Unfortunately, the 4th, 5th, and 6th editions became increasingly more theoretical and process-driven – not to mention much larger – to the point where it seemed no longer practical to apply it to real-world projects. Of course, there were a few nuggets to glean here and there, but it was getting harder to find them and it seemed rare that any practicing PMO or project manager would be applying (a majority of the) content in their daily work situations.

Enter PMBOK Guide® 7th edition. I must admit that I had no intention of buying or reading another edition of the PMBOK Guide®. However, around 6 or 7 months after its release, I started to hear rumblings that “this version was different” with some people saying it’s better and others saying it’s more confusing. Curiosity got the better of me and I downloaded the digital version (free for PMI members) and dug in… and I was pleasantly surprised! I never would have thought that I’d be writing about the PMBOK Guide®, but here we go. I’m in medical device product development, so my comments are in that specific context, but they apply to project management in any type of product development environment. 

Here are my top takeaways:

#1: The 7th edition is smaller than the 6th.

It’s not just smaller, it’s much smaller! The 6th edition was 756 pages – and the 7th is 274 pages. This is not just slimming it down to take out the fat, it’s a total rethinking of the approach to project management! According to PMI, everything you learned from the 6th edition is still valid, but it’s conspicuously absent from the 7th edition. Does that mean they want you to buy (and reference) both the 6th and 7th editions? A little bit confusing, but PMI was always good at marketing!

#2: The focus shifts from “Processes & Deliverables” to “Outcomes & Value.”

The core reason that the 7th edition was made smaller is that it looks at project management from a different perspective. The 6th (and previous) editions had the primary emphasis on an adherence to processes and deliverables. You may recall the (infamous) “Knowledge Areas vs. Process Groups” framework?  The matrix of 10 knowledge areas vs. 5 process groups that maps 49 processes, each of which maps to multiple inputs and outputs, as well as 7 groups of 132 tools and techniques that tie everything in the project together. Wow! The implication to project managers was that to do project management right, you had to understand and apply this complex framework. The challenge was that so much energy and focus was needed to navigate the “process” that project managers couldn’t see the forest from the trees!

The 7th edition changed all that by taking more of a “begin with the end in mind” approach. Rather than focusing on the deliverables, it focuses on the outcomes that the project is trying to achieve and the related customer and/or business value derived from them. Do you still need deliverables? Sure, but creating the deliverables is not the end-goal. The team needs to understand how the deliverables will lead to outcomes.

I should point out that the above logic applies to both the project deliverables and the project management deliverables. The former are the final output(s) of the project given to the customer, whereas the latter are the outputs created by the team for the purpose of managing the project. When project management is made overly complex, the team’s attention gets focused on the process, and they can lose sight of what the project is intended to achieve.

#3: A “System for Value Delivery” is introduced.

To help make the connection between projects and value, the 7th edition introduces a “system for value delivery.” This essentially overlays a strategic portfolio management approach to link both the internal and external environments. This is not necessarily new thinking, but it is new to the PMBOK Guide®.
Since companies have limited resources, the key question is “what’s the best way to deploy them to achieve the desired customer and business value?” Companies generally understand this from the external perspective, but don’t always do a good job executing to it. In my opinion, a key execution challenge for companies is that their operational processes, organization, and functional capabilities are not aligned with their projects. PMBOK Guide®’s system for value delivery helps makes the connection between internal projects to improve the operational capabilities and external customer-facing projects, so that customer and business value can be optimized.

#4: “Process Groups” are replaced by “Principles.”

The previous format of 5 Process Groups, is replaced by 12 Project Management Principles. I feel that the 5 process groups (initiate, plan, execute, monitor & control, close) were arguably the most valuable part of previous PMBOK Guide® editions, so I’ll reiterate that they still apply and that project managers should continue to think along these lines.
The new principles include Stewardship, Team, Stakeholders, Value, Holistic Thinking, Leadership, Tailoring, Quality, Complexity, Opportunities & Threats, Adaptability & Resilience, and Change Management. As you can tell just by the names, the principles focus more on the leadership and interpersonal skills that are needed to navigate the organizational complexities and human behaviors necessary to deliver value through projects.
Intuitively, we always knew that these skills were more (or at least as) important as a technical step-by-step process for project management, so it’s nice to see PMI formally acknowledging that.

#5: “Knowledge Areas” are replaced by “Performance Domains.”

The previous 10 Knowledge Areas are replaced by 8 Performance Domains. The knowledge areas (Integration, Scope, Schedule, Cost, Quality, Resources, Communications, Risk, Procurement, Stakeholders) focused on what the project manager needs to know to navigate the 5 process groups. This is mostly theoretical “book stuff.”
The performance domains (Stakeholder, Team, Lifecycle, Planning, Project Work, Delivery, Management, Uncertainty) take knowledge one step further and put the focus on performance: just because you know a lot about project management doesn’t necessarily translate to excellent projects. Good project teams are able to perform! Does it help if you understand the technical details of project management? Of course, but it’s often the intangibles that enable some to succeed in environments where others struggle. The performance domains overlap the knowledge areas and when combined with the previously mentioned principles, set the foundation for performance.

#6: The focus has shifted from the Project Manager to the Team.

The previous editions were all about the project manager, whereas the 7th edition recognizes the importance of the entire team. This really makes the case for a team-based approach to project management. So, while there’s typically still only one project manager, team members need to have competence in project management.
In complex product development projects, including medical products, almost everyone uses some form of the “core/extended team” model. That is, a core team is composed of a project manager plus a single representative from each of the key functions that work together cross-functionally to align on key aspects of the project. In addition, there are functional extended teams made up of the subject matter experts doing the bulk of the project work. This model depends on the core team members managing their respective functional extended team members – and guess what? It helps if the core team members have some project management knowledge and skills! Probably the biggest challenge companies have executing on the core/extended team model is not necessarily with having competent project managers (although that is critical), it’s that they don’t have core team members who are fluent in project management.

#7: Predictive, Adaptive, and Hybrid approaches are clearly acknowledged.

Previously, PMBOK Guide® has mostly been about the predictive approach to project management, a.k.a., waterfall. PMI did create an Agile Practice Guide, but really treated agile (a.k.a., adaptive) as something outside of the traditional predictive approach to project planning and execution.
The 7th edition brings agile formally into the fold and acknowledges that there may be predictive, adaptive, or hybrid approaches and that the team should be the ones to figure out what makes the most sense for their situation and project.
This aligns well with medical device new product development, especially instruments with software, where agile techniques are already being used. The key challenge is in combining predictive and agile techniques to optimize project management based on the situation at hand. Specifically, the you need to look at the product under development, the team’s capabilities, and constraints of the governance process.

#8: Tailoring is emphasized.

Tailoring says that you should only apply those parts of the (project management) process that are applicable to your specific situation. Basically, PMI is acknowledging that there isn’t a “one-size fits all” recipe for project management. This seems like obvious common sense, but I’m still glad to see PMBOK Guide® formally calling this out. Believe it or not, there are project managers out there blindly following the process whether it makes sense or not! By telling the team to tailor the process, it forces them to do a little critical thinking. That is: 1. Understand the intent of each element of the process, 2. Decide which parts to use or not use, and 3. Justify #2.

Anything we can do to help project managers and team members become better critical thinkers will go a long way to making the shift from processes and deliverables to outcomes and value.

#9: Change Management is recognized.

For clarification, we’re talking about organizational change management here, not document or product change control. The 7th edition introduces the principle, “Enable change to achieve the desired future state.” This essentially means that projects fundamentally create change and value isn’t created until the deliverables are operationalized (put into use) by the business. We know that people have a natural tendency to resist change, so projects need to embed in their scope, the work needed to help the organization (and individuals) transition from the current state to the future state. This concept of change management really applies more to new process development projects. As we know, many new processes get bogged down, not necessarily in development, but in deployment because of change management issues.

In summary, the 7th edition of the PMBOK Guide® has shifted away from a detailed, technical, and prescriptive process designed for the project manager, to an overarching principles-based, and flexible approach to project management that applies to anyone involved in projects at any level.

This blog was written by Gary Chin, MBA, PMPVP, Innovation and Product Development Practice Area.

Gary has 25+ years of experience with medical device and biotech companies to improve their capability to plan, execute, and govern product development programs and projects. Gary emphasizes the importance of cross-functional integration as the key to delivering complex medical products with the right business and customer value.

You can connect with Gary on Linkedin (Click here to see his profile).

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