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Using the PMBOK Guide to Build a ®

Practical Project Management Process


©2007 Learning Tree International. All Rights Reserved.

1-800-843-8733 • LEARNING TREE INTERNATIONAL Position Paper

Many project managers, after passing their PMI Project Management Professional (PMP) certification exam,
find it difficult to apply the principles of the PMBOK® Guide (A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge,
3rd Edition) when managing their projects at work. That’s largely because using the PMBOK® Guide as the basis
for real-world project management requires a different approach than memorizing information and situational
Defining a practical and effective project management process is a daunting task for any organization; however,
basing the process on a recognized and stable project management standard, such as the PMBOK® Guide, makes
the task easier…if the standard is used appropriately. The current PMBOK® Guide offers a wealth of detailed
project management knowledge that can serve as an excellent basis for building a project management process
from the ground up, but its complexity can be an obstacle in defining a project management process in a simple,
straightforward manner.
Also, for all its strengths (and there are many), you must remember that the PMBOK® Guide is structured as a
reference manual, which can sometimes make it cryptic and confusing. Its purpose is not to provide a road map
with a clear “start to finish” pathway for a project, but rather to provide a checklist of what you should consider
during the journey, based on accumulated knowledge of what’s been recognized as being “best practices.”
At Learning Tree, we believe that for the best results, you should take your academic knowledge of the PMBOK®
Guide, mix it thoroughly with your own project management experience, sprinkle in the types of projects that are
done in your organization and then create a customized approach for successfully accomplishing projects in your
own work environment.

Strengths and Challenges of the PMBOK® Guide

Using the PMBOK® Guide effectively as the foundation for your project management process requires you to
recognize both its strengths and challenges. Its strengths include:

• High quality content focusing on essential project management knowledge and practices that
are “generally recognized as good practice for most projects, most of the time”
• Defining and describing proven skills, tools and techniques targeting delivery of acceptable
and consistent project results
• A common project management language and approach for project managers and their
organizations to use

Ultimately, this deeply detailed approach presents users with a two-dimensional view of what successful project
managers must do regardless of the type of project they are working on, arrayed across nine knowledge areas
and five process groups.

On the other hand, the PMBOK® Guide has some inherent challenges that impact successful implementation of
its contents. While it is a highly regarded, comprehensive ANSI standard that defines the discipline of project
management, it is organized like a project management reference manual describing what might be done, versus
a gate-driven project management road map. Typically, we define a project management process in an organization
by focusing on who does what activity when. This is in conflict with the primary focus of the PMBOK® Guide,
which is to provide details and options for doing a specific thing. Therefore, this lack of milestone and gate-driven
control points is a serious gap that must be addressed when defining a project management process.

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1-800-843-8733 • LEARNING TREE INTERNATIONAL Position Paper

In addition, when using the PMBOK® Guide in order to create management processes, you must build them with
their detailed inputs, outputs, tools and techniques into a useful set of activities and deliverables that fit your
projects and your organization. The necessary steps are:
1. Identify the required results, deliverables and milestones for your projects.
2. Build a set of activities to be done to achieve these results.
3. Support your process with deliverable templates, techniques and checklists
showing how necessary activities are performed.

Using the PMBOK® Guide Wisely and Well

Plainly stated, the goal of building a solid project management process for your organization will be influenced by
which of the PMBOK® Guide processes and supporting details you select and how you incorporate them into a
useful, practical approach that works for you and your own circumstances. It will require an understanding of the
types of projects that you work on and careful consideration of the PMBOK® Guide contents and principles and
their relevance to the work you do. But this front-end work isn’t the only aspect that makes achieving the goal
difficult. To succeed, you also need to resist the temptation to simply apply a “standard” view of project manage-
ment to define a process. Although it may seem easier in theory, it usually results in processes that exceed your
requirements or, more commonly, are at odds with the people and projects in your organization.
Right from the start, bear in mind that too much content and detail will result in a complicated, overwrought
project management process that everyone in the organization will resist and no one will want to use. In order to
be effective, PMBOK® Guide contents must be prioritized, streamlined and tailored to fit your business drivers,
your organization and your projects. While there are overarching commonalities in how projects are managed, the
PMBOK® Guide has it right in recognizing that the implementation is up to you.

Three Steps for Practical Application of the PMBOK® Guide

Step 1: Use a Gate-Driven Road Map
Because the PMBOK® Guide was not conceived as having gate-driven processes, the guidelines you give your
project teams need to incorporate them. Start by defining major gates across the project life cycle, then provide the
project teams with what’s required to successfully complete the work and meet the gate. It’s also important to build
in reviews and approvals at each gate as part of what must be passed before moving on to the next phase in the
project. Now you’ve set the stage for effective project control.
By providing project managers and team members with a project management road map, you’re giving them a
clearer direction and perspective on how to get where they need to go and what they need to accomplish along the
way. Best of all, by ascribing these additional review and approval responsibilities to the entire project team and key
stakeholders, you’ve added a critical element of control to your project management process.

Step 2: Select and Define “Must Do” Processes

Don’t let the rich contents of the PMBOK® Guide overwhelm your common sense. The fact is, most project
management processes work better the simpler they are, so begin by recognizing it’s preferable to build a process
that is both easy to understand and easy to use. By prioritizing and selecting a core set of processes and related
activities, you can quickly get your projects up and running and keep the project team engaged with the new
requirements of the process they are using.

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1-800-843-8733 • LEARNING TREE INTERNATIONAL Position Paper

Most projects do not require the full complement of 44 processes from the PMBOK® Guide in order to be completed
successfully; therefore, your job is to prioritize and select those that will be essential for your projects…and skip
the rest! This scalability extends to the detailed inputs, outputs, tools and techniques for your selected processes.
It is absolutely possible to build a gate-driven project management road map, populated with half the 44 PMBOK®
Guide processes, and still use it to get your projects done effectively and efficiently on a consistent basis.

Step 3: Add Relevant Details

In general, a good project management process contains elements enabling the project manager to guide and
control the project life cycle, the project phases and deliverables, as well as manage the project across all facets:
scope, time, resources, cost, quality, risk, and change.
But remember, a project management process is NOT a template or a checklist. It is a set of activities and steps to
be done in order to achieve a result. The template is where you collect and document that result and the checklist
provides the steps in the order they need to be accomplished. Once you have your road map and its associated
processes and activities, you must also provide the project team with the tools to get the job done. This requires fully
documenting and explaining the contents associated with the processes in the road map, including guidelines, roles,
activities, templates, checklists, and deliverables.
Wrapping It Up
Using the PMBOK® Guide wisely and well requires a realistic approach, a prioritization scheme and a solid under-
standing of your own projects and organization. While PMP certification helps you understand the content of the
PMBOK® Guide, it does not necessarily help you use that content appropriately on a real project. Don’t make the
mistake of thinking that frantically reading and referencing the PMBOK® Guide will make you an expert capable
of applying it towards building a practical process for projects at work.
Effective project managers in project-focused organizations use a process that enables them to:
• Repeat the same processes effectively for every project
• Produce consistent and timely deliverables
• Guide new and existing project managers and teams
• Create the process/method itself and then manage/improve it perpetually
Ultimately, once the process is in place, it will clearly define everything the project manager and the team need to
do, regardless of the type of project they are working on. It should be fully documented, simple to use and based on
proven principles and processes, such as those found in the PMBOK® Guide.
Remember to use the three steps we’ve described to help you define a project management process that is simple
and straightforward for your organization:
1. Build a gate-driven road map for your projects.
2. Select the high-priority processes and activities to place within the gate-driven road map to
ensure that you use the right PMBOK® Guide processes and techniques at the right time.
3. Add the supporting details fully documenting and explaining the activities in the road map,
such as guidelines, roles, activities, templates, checklists, and deliverables.

Apply as Needed: Using the PMBOK® Guide to

©2007 Learning Tree International. All Rights Reserved. Build a Practical Project Management Process 3
1-800-843-8733 • LEARNING TREE INTERNATIONAL Position Paper

Once you have the core processes mastered and in place, you can then consider the remaining PMBOK® Guide
processes, scaling and tailoring them as needed for the types and sizes of projects you are working on in your
We hope you find this streamlined Learning Tree approach helpful in overcoming the common challenges faced
when using the PMBOK® Guide as the basis for a practical project management process in the workplace.

About Learning Tree International

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IT professionals in business and government organizations. Since 1974, over 1,800,000 course participants from
over 13,000 organizations worldwide have enhanced their skills and extended their knowledge under the guidance
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