PMBOK Guide: Highway Code or Highway Map?

This content is syndicated from LeadingAnswers: Leadership and Agile Project Management Blog by Mike Griffiths. To view the original post in full, click here.

PMBOK Guide Most people studied the Highway Code before taking their drivers licence exam. They had to learn (enough of) it to pass the exam, but then most likely did not reference it again, except until helping a friend study for the exam. Maps on the other hand, in printed paper form, or digital like GPS, are referenced much more frequently. Maps help us plan, track progress, and get to our destinations and we refer to them often when travelling anywhere new.

So, is the PMBOK Guide like the Highway Code or a map? Do we only read it to pass our PMP exam and then it gathers dust, maybe picked up again to lend to a friend? I think for many this is the case. Maybe for the first couple of projects, people may refer to it for guidance on how to undertake a task or process, but just a soon as people have a few real world examples they no longer refer to the guide.

Recently I have spent hours revisiting Chapter 6, the Time Management chapter as part of the PMBOK Guide v5 update. It has got me thinking about “who reads this stuff?” and I expect mainly people studying for the PMP exam. So maybe some jokes would be in order, to lighten up the learning experience? “We now break from 6.4 Estimate Activity Durations to tell you about the two project managers who walked into a bar…” but I somehow think this would not get past the review committees and proof readers.

Because many people find exams stressful and unpleasant we tend to lump things associated with that stressful experience as unpleasant also. If you pick up a Highway Code book from a dusty bookcase many years after passing your test and leaf through it, it can bring back emotions of learning about road signs and stopping distances. I wonder if this is why many people never return to the PMBOK Guide, too many stressful memories.

So could the PMBOK Guide be more like a map, a useful resource we return to time after time before planning our project journey? How would it need to change, maybe with some checklists and how-to steps? Yet, for an industry agnostic guide aiming to apply to construction projects, IT, and bio science, how could these guides apply beyond the most generic items?


Instead, maybe we develop 50 PMBOK Guides, one for each of the major project types and then you could use the one closest to your domain. Although, given the debate around creating one PMBOK Guide I shudder to think about creating 50. Regardless, I would love to hear your thoughts on how to improve the PMBOK Guide.

The process of creating the PMBOK Guide v5 is really long going through 2011 and 2012 before the edition is out. So I need a way to stay energised. If jokes are out and how-to steps unworkable, what is left? I recently read about a student who hid Rick Astley lyrics in a college paper. Maybe some subliminal hidden humour might work, sounds like I have plenty of time to develop it…

Or maybe move the PMBOK Guide forward a little, beyond a paper book. Perhaps not as much as a collaborative wiki of PM practices, case studies and examples. I tried that with the APLN Leadership Wiki of Knowledge and failed to gain traction. Maybe that was too ambitious, perhaps most project managers would be happier with 1990’s technology. How about resurrecting Clippy in Microsoft Word to help project managers with their everyday tasks?
  PMBOK Clippy

Hmm, Perhaps the hours of conference calls on the PMBOK Guide might finally be getting to me!

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