What Is PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge Methodology)?

Wednesday, July 6, 2022
Michael Scheiner

As far as project management methodologies, frameworks and guides go, the PMBOK is a must-know. 

PMBOK stands for project management body of knowledge, by the way. It’s a meta-level look at project management—a means of gaining knowledge on scope and workflow processes and moving from project initiation to project closing.    

In this article, you’ll find all you need to know to get up to speed on PMBOK. We’ll define the term, outline PMBOK process groups and processes, and give some background and examples of the philosophy in action. 


What is PMBOK methodology? Our definition

For a PMBOK project definition, we could say that it is a guide to project management for every step of a project lifecycle, aimed to achieve a successful project outcome on schedule and within budget. 

Leaving a PMBOK definition aside and thinking about practical implementation, this guide to project management body of knowledge can be applied alongside a range of methodological approaches. For example, with agile methodologies favored by software development teams, or with other project methods.

Is PMBOK a framework or methodology?

Is PMBOK a project management philosophy or a project methodology in the same way as, say, the scrum system or critical path methods are project methodologies?

Well, not exactly. PMBOK is neither really a framework nor a specific method for projects or business processes. It’s a guide with various process groups and areas of knowledge all related to projects but can be applied to different project methodologies.

For example, you can apply much of the PMBOK to something more traditional like the waterfall methodology, or you can use its concepts in agile project management alongside tools like Kanban boards, Gantt charts. It can also be used in the application of more targeted methodologies, like the six sigma methodology driven by data and statistics.

What does PMBOK stand for?

Once again, the acronym PMBOK stands for Project Management Body of Knowledge. In other words, the PMBOK meaning is that of a guide to the project management body of knowledge. It’s released as a book for managers and companies to buy, study, and apply its practices.

PMBOK history: How & when was the PMBOK approach developed?

Let’s talk briefly about the PMBOK origin story.

There once was a range of project management techniques, but no central source of information on all of them. Then, in 1996, the PMI, or Project Management Institute published its first PMBOK guide, titled Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge

This text is positioned as the project management book of knowledge. Our project management overview notes its intended status as a kind of bible on PM writ large. 

In 1999, the PMBOK Guide was recognized by ANSI, or the American National Standards Institute. In 2021, the PMI published the 7th edition of the PMBOK Guide. 


PMBOK process groups and knowledge areas

When it comes to the PMBOK, there is a sort of grid-like collection of lingo that you must be aware of. These are the PMBOK stages, otherwise known as process groups, and then there are the PMBOK knowledge areas.

Imagine a grid where the list of process groups make up the top row horizontal axis, and the list of knowledge areas make up the left column vertical axis. In the squares which overlap between process groups and knowledge areas are the grids, and in each grid can be one or several PMBOK processes. 

Each process, in other words, is both part of a PMBOK stage or process group, as well part of a knowledge area.

We will list all the process groups or stages more thoroughly below, and further on, we’ll look at knowledge areas more closely. 

What are the 5 PMBOK process groups and 49 PMBOK processes?

Now that you’ve seen how knowledge areas intersect with process groups, let us lay out these PMI process groups, or PMBOK steps. Then, we will look at the processes that belong to each PMBOK step (or groups), and we'll point out which specific knowledge areas these processes belong to. The 5 PMBOK process steps are:

  • Project initiation

  • Project planning

  • Project execution

  • Project monitoring and controlling

  • Project closing

Project initiation process group

  • Develop a project charter (project integration management)

  • Identify your stakeholders (project stakeholder management)

Project planning process group

  • Develop a project management plan (project integration management)

  • Have a project scope management plan (project scope management)

  • Define your project scope (project scope management)

  • Create a work breakdown structure, or WBS (project scope management)

  • List your project requirements (project scope management)

  • Have a scheduling management plan (project schedule management)

  • Develop a project schedule (project schedule management)

  • Define tasks and activities (project schedule management)

  • Order your tasks and activities in sequences and by priorities (project schedule management)

  • Estimate the duration of tasks and activities (project schedule management)

  • Have a cost management plan (project cost management)

  • Estimate your costs (project cost management)

  • Plan a budget (project cost management)

  • Have a quality management plan (project quality management)

  • Have a resource management plan (project resource management)

  • Estimate your activity resources (project resource management)

  • Have a communication plan (project communications management)

  • Have a risk management plan (project risk management)

  • Identify potential risks (project risk management)

  • Do qualitative risk assessment (project risk management)

  • Do quantitative risk analysis (project risk management)

  • Plan risk responses (project risk management)

  • Have a project procurement plan (project procurement management)

  • Have a stakeholder engagement plan (project stakeholder management)

Project execution process group

  • Guide and manage the project work (project integration management)

  • Manage the project knowledge (project integration management)

  • Manage the project quality (project quality management)

  • Acquire the resources (project resource management)

  • Develop the team (project resource management)

  • Manage your team (project resource management)

  • Manage communications (project communications management)

  • Implement responses to risks (project risk management)

  • Do your procurements (project procurement management)

  • Manage your stakeholder’s engagement levels (project stakeholder management)

Project monitoring and control process group

  • Monitor and control the project work (project integration management)

  • Do necessary integrated change control (project integration management)

  • Validate the scope (project scope management)

  • Control the scope (project scope management)

  • Control the schedule (project schedule management)

  • Control the costs (project cost management)

  • Control the quality (project quality management)

  • Control your resources (project resource management)

  • Monitor communications (project communications management)

  • Monitor for risks (project risk management)

  • Control procurements (project procurement management)

  • Monitor your stakeholder’s engagement levels (project stakeholder management)

Project closing process group

  • Close the project or project phase (project integration management)

What are the 10 PMBOK knowledge areas?

As you can see from this mega list of 49 PMBOK processes above that is broken down into the 5 process groups or PMBOK steps, each process also corresponds to a  knowledge area mentioned in the brackets next to each process. Let’s go into more detail here. The PMBOK knowledge areas are:

  1. Project Integration Management

  2. Project Scope Management

  3. Project Schedule Management

  4. Project Cost Management

  5. Project Quality Management

  6. Project Resource Management

  7. Project Communications Management

  8. Project Risk Management

  9. Project Procurement Management

  10. Project Stakeholder Management

Project Integration Management

Integration management is like the glue that holds all the project team together. Integration management makes sure that other areas of the project all work together, from costs to resources to scheduling.

Project Scope Management

Project scope management is all about having goals and milestones, figuring out which metrics to use to measure a project’s results against the project goals, and successfully producing deliverables.

Project Schedule Management

Otherwise known as project time management, this knowledge area is about timeframes, schedules, estimating the duration of time per project task and controlling to make sure everything is on time or being ready to adapt the schedule if there are changes.

Project Cost Management

Project cost management knows everything about money, estimating costs, planning for expanses and making budgets. Like time management, one must also be prepared with contingency budgets if costs change.

Project Quality Management

Project quality managers are responsible for making sure that the desired quality levels are clearly communicated to the team members, and that these quality standards are maintained throughout the project and that quality assurance is there for the final product or result.

Project Resource Management

Project resource managers normally deal with human resources, that is, the number of staff and the workload for each team member. Human resource management picks teams, coaches them, and makes sure everyone is on board and happy with their role, and if not, HR management should be ready to make changes.

Project Communications Management

The communication manager decides how the team will be communicating, with which software, how frequently, and what is expected in regular team communications. It is also important to monitor communication to make sure there are no misunderstandings. 

Project Risk Management

Risk management means attempting to foresee all possible risks, making sure the team is aware of risks for different project phases, and having backup plans to deal with risks if they occur.

Project Procurement Management

Procurement managers must think through the eyes of the end user or customer whenever they are in charge of procuring materials or other goods and services which will be consumed throughout the project lifecycle.

Project Stakeholder Management

A stakeholder manager first of all defines who is a stakeholder and gets all the stakeholders together at the beginning of the project’s life cycle. Then, it is up to these managers to make sure all stakeholders stay engaged.


What is the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK) useful for?

PMBOK is useful for many project management professionals or anyone else involved in any way in the project management processes. 

How a PMBOK project manager benefits from the project management body of knowledge framework

A PMBOK project manager benefits from such project management tools like the PMBOK because it helps them create a team based on team members with different skills in different areas of project knowledge. 

PMBOK project examples

Here are two examples of the PMBOK in action as it demonstrates how the interaction of project steps and knowledge areas produce specific processes.

PMBOK example 1: Stakeholder management and project initiation

Imagine the project knowledge area is that of stakeholder management, knowing everything about and stakeholders and being in charge of them; and the process group is the initiation stage, meaning the very beginning of a project. In this vector of stakeholders and initiation, you get the specific PMBOK process that involves identifying all the stakeholders who are going to be involved and establishing their general role and relation to the project.

PMBOK example 2: Cost management and project monitoring and control

Another example: The knowledge area is that of cost management, meaning everything to do with budgets and expenses; and the process group is the stage of monitoring and controlling, which is during and after execution. The intersection of costs and control means the actual PMBOK process would be that of making sure that budgets are respected, and being ready to adapt just in case there are unexpected new costs.


Advantages and disadvantages of PMBOK

PMBOK benefits

The pros of PMBOK are as follows:

PMBOK provides an easy-to-follow system to advance through the project lifecycle.

PMBOK creates a standardized project management process.

The PMBOK produces lots of data and documentation which can be used for continuous improvement on the current project and future projects.

PMBOK drawbacks

The cons to PMBOK are:

PMBOK might require many team members to cover all the knowledge areas.

With excessive standardization, some team members will feel less motivated to be creative.

Following through all the processes and steps can seem time consuming.


Our final points on the PMBOK project management framework

The world of business is full of PMPs, or project management professionals. Today, many live and breathe by the PMBOK guide. To this effect, many great team leaders and project managers use some of the best project management software to help structure a project according to PMI’s guides in the PMBOK.

What’s more, if you want to obtain some PMP certification (or project management professional certification), having a working skillset of the PMBOK is guaranteed to help get that, no matter if you are a Kanban user, a run-of-the-mill scrum master or a bigwig doing portfolio management and doing company-wide workflows. There are no project management methodologies that don’t benefit from PMI’s PMBOK guide.



Is PMBOK still relevant?

Today, the PMBOK is still quite relevant for all manners of project management. This project management body of knowledge remains relevant because it is a guide which can be applied to other project management methodologies, like six sigma, scrum, the Kanban board system, and the waterfall method.

Is PMBOK waterfall or agile?

The project management body of knowledge guide, or PMBOK guide, does not specify absolutely whether this guide is better suited as an agile project management methodology or a waterfall method. There are many project managers who would sooner classify this as a waterfall because of its clear stages.

Is PRINCE2 or PMBOK better?

There is no clear superior project management system between PRINCE2 and PMBOK. Both of these are proactive PM systems that help with planning, monitoring and closing projects. PRINCE2 project management is a bit better than PMBOK for more clearly defining roles and responsibilities for each project team member.