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“Study the past if you would define the future.” Confucius

“If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.” Michael Crichton

I was in a meeting a few days ago with some extraordinarily smart individuals who were trained in some highly technical areas, and we were discussing the best way to govern something. I made the comment that we didn’t really need to come up with anything new. While the fact pattern was unique within my organization, it was in fact common in other places. The knowledge that it was not a unique fact pattern and that there were already defined processes developed to address it emphasizes the point that you need trained project professionals involved.

That meeting caused me to think about the new Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®), an excellent reference document for most things related to projects. What exactly is the PMBOK? In my opinion, it is an Enlightenment-based document.

Stay with me. I promise I’m going somewhere with this!

“The Enlightenment” or the “Age of Reason” was a period in history where empirical observations and the scientific method were employed to use reason as the source of truth. In the United States, this movement had a profound impact on the Founding Fathers and the Framers of the Constitution as they sought to learn from history and the great philosophers. History revealed that the fate of most nations was tyranny, and they attempted to avoid that fate for their progeny through the structure and philosophy described in the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.

What does that have to do with the PMBOK? The PMBOK represents the accumulated knowledge of the Project Managers that have gone before you. It is based on the scientific method as new ideas are tried in the real world of projects, and they are either retained, adopted or disposed of. The environment is scanned and carefully observed in a search for new tools, techniques and areas of emphasis. New additions are subject to the same scrutiny and are either included or excluded based on their value. The document itself is has many contributing experts in the field of project management, ensuring diversity of thought in an attempt to be as inclusive as possible.

An example of this is the increased emphasis on “Agile” methods in the PMBOK, 6th Edition. I have taught hundreds of students to prepare for the Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification exam. I had been noticing an increasing disconnect between the predictive project management methods preferred and described in the PMBOK, and the real-world experiences of the students. Why? Many of the students are involved in knowledge-based projects, and knowledge-based projects are different! In most instances, they are much more suited to an adaptive (or agile) approach. The PMBOK is embracing this new reality by directly referencing agile methodologies.

When I teach Project Management Professional exam prep classes, I routinely ask a couple of questions:

Does your organization attempt to follow the principles, tools and techniques described in the PMBOK?  The vast majority of the time, the answer is a firm “no.” Continuing the discussion, the students normally blame the politics of the organization and a hesitancy to empower either the project manager or the project management office.

Do you think your organization will change how projects are managed based on the training you are receiving, and the certification you will receive? The majority say “no.” Most believe it is because there are so few senior leaders who have had formal project management training, and they tend to rely on advisors whose expertise is in other areas.

Consider the rather shocking fact pattern: The PMBOK contains best practices, tools and techniques attained through feedback and observation of project managers attempting to deliver projects all around the world. That knowledge is synthesized by a large group of experts who document those observations in a centralized location where it is constantly critiqued by experts in the field. Around the world, thousands of students pay to learn this information and document their experience to gain clearance from the Project Management Institute® to sit for an exam. They then have their knowledge validated by sitting for a long and difficult exam designed to test their knowledge of project management. To add even more rigor to the process, the exam is administered by a reputable proctor. Now, armed with this new knowledge and buoyed by their hard-earned certification, they go back to their organizations!

Where nothing changes….

What a fascinating outcome that is extraordinarily sad for those of us in the field.

And very expensive for their respective organizations.


Tell me your thoughts in the comments and let’s open a dialog. I would be excited to hear other opinions on this topic.

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Bill Holmes

Bill Holmes

Contributing Author

Bill has been an Executive in the Federal Sector for over 15 years and has been responsible for the delivery of many high profile, high risk, public facing projects.  He has worked for the same organization for 28 years, starting as a front-line technician and rising quickly to the rank of Executive.

He holds numerous trademarks and is the inventor and Unites States Patent holder of the SeaClutch®, an invention targeted at the boating and RV community. 

Bill is a sought-after speaker and has spoken at conferences around the world.  He is a published author in the field of Project Management, is an experienced Project Management Professional® certification instructor, and has successfully taught hundreds of students over the past several years.

He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Economics and Finance from Augusta State University and was named one of their Distinguished Alumni in 2016.  He holds Master’s Certificates in both Project and Program Management from George Washington University, and is a Senior Executive Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.  He holds the following professional certifications:  Project Management Professional (PMP), Program Management Professional (PgMP), Project Management Institute Agile Certified Practitioner (PIM-ACP), Project Management Institute Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP).

Bill is an acknowledged international expert in Data Management, Data Safeguards and Data Analytics.

He has extensive international experience and has worked closely with representatives from multiple jurisdictions around the world, personally visiting over 40 in an official capacity.


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Here are additional links to articles on this topic, both on our site and others.

  • Using the PMBOK® Guide to Build a Practical Project Management Process – CLICK HERE
  • Applying the PMBOK to Real Projects – CLICK HERE

  • VIDEO – Life After the PMP Exam: Pragmatically Applying the PMBOK – CLICK HERE

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